EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: BEHIND THE DECKS WITH CRISTINA DiGIACOMO
You gotta love the fans. Everyone knows that without them there would be no scene. Of course, there are different types of fans. There are the those who simply enjoy the music however and whenever they get it and support it by purchasing what they like, attending events and so on. And then there are the hardcore fans, those who dig deep to find out everything they can about their favorite DJs and their latest productions, where they’ll be performing next, and so on (we won’t give any props to the fans who leech off the scene downloading illegally and never supporting the artists or the scene).
Now there is a different type of fan all together. The type that takes their love for a particular scene to the next level. No, I’m not talking about groupies, I’m talking about those who become part of the scene by supporting it and its artists via altruistic means. I’m not talking about people who work at a record label or a some PR agency, or even as a coat check girl or a bouncer at a club. I’m talking about people who possessing a skill set of their own -often completely unrelated to the scene- contribute of their own time and money to provide services to those in need of them, even if they don’t know they need them. Cristina DiGiacomo is one such person.
Cristina DiGiacomo fell in love with dance music as a young girl growing up in New York. She immediately became a fan, keeping up with her favorite DJs, artists, and record labels, and of course going to raves and clubs. DiGiacomo soon became completely enamored with the DJ, the skills required to master the craft, and the power they would wield over the crowds. She was so drawn to the DJ she wanted to be more than just a fan, she wanted to be an integral part of the scene, to contribute and help by bringing her particular skill set to the table, or tables as it were. And what exactly is her skill? With a Masters of Science in Change Management from The New School, DiGiacomo founded a coaching/brand consultancy practice. Essentially, she advises DJs on everything from their careers to their brand management, something many aspiring DJs overlook in their haste to make it behind the decks – and which is even more important in this new digital age.
DiGiacomo is actually taking it a step further and is currently busy creating a creative process course she hopes will one day be added to the curriculum of DJ schools worldwide. In this way, aspiring DJs all over the world will start off with some extra and useful intellectual knowledge in their arsenal alongside thier mp3’s.
I am not the only one who finds what DiGiacomo does fascinating. Her work has earned her a little recognition of her own. She has a syndicated advise column on SheJay.com and was also voted on to SheFM’s Top 100 2012 female electronic artists list. When you come across fans like this they need to be appreciated and we wanted to show her some of our own. What better way than getting to know them in a one on one interview? Party people, we introduce you to Super fan, Christina DiGiacomo, or as she is known in some circles, the “shrink for DJs.”
1200Dreams: So, your bio begins by stating that you heard your first Techno song in 1990, and the rest is history. What was that song? And while you’re at it, can you share with us your first experience at a club?
Cristina: The song was “Only For The Headstrong” by Psychotropic. My first experience wasn’t at an actual club. It was an outdoor rave in upstate New York. I was 16 and this was at a time when raves were slightly innocent, just a bunch of nerds who grew out of the electronic synthy sound of the 80’s and wanted something with bite. There was no such thing as “raver” or “candy” kids then – we were more music snobs than anything else – not relating to the emerging grunge or hip-hop scene. Dmitri from Paris was spinning in a tent. There weren’t that many of us compared to the outdoor events today so there was something intimate, sweet and chill about it. It was also before the drugs really hit so I didn’t experience that too much as a young person. As far as actual club is concerned then that would have to be a Danny Tenaglia “Be Yourself” night at Vinyl . . . on his birthday! Absolutely sick experience.
1200Dreams: Loving the music DJs play is one thing, but what was it about DJs and the art of DJing that touched and inspired you to do what you do?
Christina: I am a true believer that DJing is an art form and can be an incredible mode of expression for everyone involved – the DJ and the audience. It has the same exact creative process and storytelling format as other art forms. This is a non-negotiable opinion I have, I will defend it to the death.
1200Dreams: So you’ve been called a “creative consultant” and a “shrink for DJs.” Tell us what that means exactly.
Cristina: Artists get stuck. They get distracted. They allow their insecurities of what others think of them keep them from being authentic in their art. There’s a lot that goes on mentally and emotionally. My purpose is to educate and counsel DJs about what is going on in terms of a process and investment of self. Like with any creative pursuit you need to have people to talk to and help shed light on things you are doing or not doing that are holding you back. That’s where I come in. I listen to DJs when they need someone to bounce mixes or ideas off of but more importantly I listen when DJs are at their most frustrated with their direction. I’m really good at helping DJs stay true to themselves, find their style, and keep them from derailing into things that are totally irrelevant to the work they need to do on their art. I believe that a lot of challenges and frustrations DJs face always come down to not honoring their creative process and being authentic – even if on the surface it seems to be a business/scene related issue, it’s usually not if you dig deep enough. I’m the one with the shovel.
1200Dreams: Is there anything that you’ve learned about DJs or their lifestyle that surprised you, that the average person would never know unless they really spend time with a DJ?
Cristina: I think people don’t realize that DJs are like any other artist. They really, really want people to enjoy what they do. I’ve had DJs tell me “I don’t care what the audience thinks” or “I don’t care what’s popular” and that’s fine and in certain cases I encourage that attitude as a starting point to finding your style. However, deep down inside, everyone, even the toughest shelled DJ wants to be respected and appreciated and that can be a very sensitive spot for a lot of DJs to be honest about.
1200Dreams: In case no one has realized it yet, you’re a girl. As sad as it is, that poses a set of challenges guys can’t, or won’t ever realize. Can you share with us what you see, have experienced firsthand as a female DJ trying to make it in this game?
Cristina: I have listened to a lot of horror stories. I do coach female DJs and let me tell you it’s heartbreaking when you hear that promoters and venue owners have asked female DJs if they will go topless or dress more sexy. It makes me sick when I see T n’ A on a flyer, especially if there’s a female DJ in the lineup. On top of that you have a contingency of fellow DJs who hate because you are a female. That’s the conversation I’m most concerned about – not necessarily that we can’t do it (which I think is a discourse that is diminishing) but that we are where we are because we have it easy – aka another “set of cans”. If we had had it easy because we are girls, we would have “made it” decades ago, so shut up please.
1200Dreams: DJing has obviously seen some drastic changes in just the past 5 years, let alone the last decade. What are your thoughts on the proliferation of all this new technology and how easy it has become for anyone interested in the art, or appeal, of DJing to just walk into a retail store and come out with a few hundred dollars of equipment and a DJ name?
Cristina: I’m going to use a traditional art metaphor here. When the Impressionists came on the scene everyone thought they were hacks. Warhol, Jackson Pollock were called hacks. In the minds of more traditional venerated art circles all they did was buy some supplies, put some paint on canvas and call it art. However, it was good; it was thought provoking – because they had talent and a point of view. We all start somewhere, but it’s those that have a point of view or an intense understanding of a certain audience that rise to the top. I have no issue with the proliferation of technology or ease of access because I still believe that the creative process of real DJing and storytelling weeds a lot of people out. For me, I love the fact that more people are getting into it – it is an important life changing art! While the concern may be more competition, my belief is that it should only motivate those to distinguish themselves and work hard to do something different and unique.
1200Dreams: Speaking of equipment, I always ask this in my interviews; what is your experience with the Technics 1200 turntable? Have you ever owned a pair or used them extensively? If not, do you feel a void somewhere in your DJ heart?
Cristina: I’m smiling at this question as I look at my Technics 1200 MKII’s that I bought (used!) eleven years ago. They still work.
1200Dreams: Now, I’m not going to front, I might come from the old school era of vinyl, but I love the portability of today’s technology. Do you find yourself torn between the old and new school when it come to all these changes?
Cristina: Not. At. All. I think a great DJ uses all tools available to them. Multimedia and multiform factor to the max – be creative!
1200Dreams: Someone once told me that just because you bought a stethoscope, it doesn’t make you a doctor. He was trying to say that too many people claim to be a DJ too freely. That unless you’re truly working and living as a DJ you shouldn’t call yourself one. Do you think there are a lot of posers out there?
Cristina: When DJ’s say things like this, I get upset. It’s about the “other” guy, what the “other” guy is doing or saying. This is the point where I get a little tough love on DJs. Everyone on this planet has the right to express themselves creatively. Everyone has the right to aspire to a higher state. If DJing is their channel that’s amazing, you should be happy that your art form was chosen among all the possibilities. That you contributed to something that is so great to someone else that they want to be a part of it – they want to be just like YOU. Don’t minimize someone’s belief in themselves or what they are trying to identify with just because they haven’t “paid their dues”. We all started somewhere and I am convinced that we all called ourselves DJs way before we were ready and seasoned in the grand scheme of things.
Here’s another way to think about it – in order to become extraordinary these days you not only need to know how to DJ really well, but you have to know how to remix, produce tracks, have a foundation in musical education, in some cases know how to sing, be a sound engineer and come up with your own visualizations or visual shows. That doesn’t include all the other intangible emotional things that make a DJ great such as musicality, sensitivity, empathy, and guts. Remember, the cream always rises to the top, so what if someone who has been practicing for six months, or just walked out of the store with a bunch of gear, is calling themselves a DJ – stay in your lane, focus on what you need to do to be awesome, and deliver on what this art form now promises to contribute to society at large.
1200Dreams: Since we’re on this subject, what are your thoughts on the discussion of “real” DJs vs “fake” DJs? That battle that exists between the purists who say all digital DJs are fake because they don’t spin on wax and the new breed who says it’s about how you use what you have?
Cristina: Honestly, I think it’s a waste of time. DJs should have better things to do than argue amongst themselves about this. It doesn’t matter what you use, it’s HOW you use it. You can be super creative and interesting using just vinyl and a complete dud and lazy with digital and its many many options and tools. It’s about the person, so the argument that focuses on the equipment is irrelevant and misdirected.
1200Dreams: I must ask, who are some of your favorite DJs? Who sends tingles up your spine, who should we look out for?
Cristina: I’ve been a fan of Lee Burridge for a long time. James Lavelle is another favorite of mine. Richie Hawtin has blown my mind of few times (DE9 is still on my regular listening rotation). I really appreciate DJs who are multi-genre and not one-note. Currently, Maceo Plex is doing it for me.
1200Dreams: What do you see happening in the art and culture of DJing in the next 10 years? Will we even recognize tomorrows DJs?
Cristina: I theorized a cycle of an art form in my article “Open Question: What’s Next For DJing?” and if I’m to believe that we are in a Peak part of the cycle now, then in about 10 years there will be a Resurgence. We’re about to experience overexposure and a plateau in DJing which will scatter and weed out those that aren’t serious about it, and only the diehards will survive to bring it back around in 10 years. As far as what DJs will look like I’m definitely excited about the touch and body controlled interfaces I’m seeing people hack for DJing. This was a mode of DJing I had dreamed about when I first got started and I’m now seeing it come true. It’s not just what the DJs will be doing but also the innovations in sound and influences on sounds in 10 years because above all, it is about the music.
Keep up with Cristina on her official website Behind The Decks.