Friday, 26 October 2012

Listen to this

'Cus it's great. I've been obsessed with it for like a week now.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Offbeat DJs

This blog post is partly about where some of the society money goes, but also about how we support our music events, and my role in the society. I'm John Lapage, and I have been exec of this society for a period longer than the majority of undergrads have been at this University. I started as Vice President at the end of the 09/10 academic year, was treasurer the subsequent year, and now I am 'Live Events'.

We made a new 'Live Events' exec role for this year, because organising the DJs takes a fair bit of organisation, and it deserves its own slot. I'm also aiming to get a few gigs on, possibly next term, finances permitting.

When I DJ, people ask me 'John, how did you become some sort of badass music demigod'. Flashing my pearlywhites I can honestly reply 'because someone showed me what buttons to press, and I have practiced since'. DJing on some types of kit is really difficult, but we have invested in equipment that is really easy to learn. So when our hypothetical Idioteque goer from earlier in the paragraph asks 'can I learn how to DJ', the answer is an unequivocal yes.

Indie DJing is the piss-easiest type of DJing, so much so that anyone who can do 'real' DJing quite rightly looks down their noses at us. Fact is, most indie songs are designed to have a beginning, a middle and an end. Most 'club', 'dance', etc etc music that a real DJ might play are designed to have a good middle, but the start and the end are really there so that they can be mixed into songs with a similar tempo and sound. Therefore at worst, DJing a set entirely composed of straight indie songs sounds pretty much like putting your iTunes on '10 second autofade'. With only a couple of hours instruction, a rank beginner can be shown how to recognise how to cope with different songs, and make an appealing set. The real challenge is actually in song selection, either from planning out a really good set, or when you get good, knowing what songs will mesh well with what you are playing, and also complement the current mood of the venue.

Me, using the old kit at a 24 hour Trampolining Charity event.
DJing can be super lonely.

So why do we bother having DJs really? Fact is that most bars have music playing. Thing is, it looks better for a bar to have someone there, actively putting the music on, rather than just having an iPod playing. It's just about customer perception. Also if you are dealing with the SU or a big bar, they might be trying to sculpt an entertainment programme that covers a spectrum of music, and thus customers. These 'Indie Nights' (like Idioteque) come with strings attached - music policies, on what should and shouldn't be played. It's not very restrictive for us, but it gives the bar an air of legitimacy and variety that ultimately equates to 'more punters, more drinks sold'.

The level of simplicity might on the face of it sound lame, but that's enough for us to put someone on at Idioteque or the Zephyr lounge earlier on in the night, playing the music that they would want to hear in a bar, and getting a bit of experience. Later these people can be introduced to more complicated stuff like looping, effects, filters and so on, and you have the beginnings of a great DJ. With practice and a decent knowledge of the more electro end of the Indie/Alt spectrum, you can end up DJing just as proficiently the aforementioned 'real' DJs.

Our DJing is all MP3-based. Most DJs these days use CDJs, and honestly I don't really understand the point in keeping to that technology. Vinyl DJing is an art unto itself, and we also now have the kit to do this. We have two sets of 'Controller' that plug into a computer, allowing the program Traktor to operate to its full capabilities. The new controller we have just invested in allows up to 4 decks to be operated at once, both within Traktor, or from external inputs such as Vinyl Decks, or any stereo input. It's pretty boss, is what I am saying. This kit in total is the most expensive thing that we have spent society money on, so it's really important to us that as many members benefit from using it.

The Old Kit - Dinky, cheap and light.
The new kit. Fuller featured, robust and heavy as a motherfuck.

It really helps me if I can always find people to DJ. Therefore if you fancy being shown how to do this, and getting into it, get in touch with me (John Lapage) and I'll arrange a group session some time. You can get in touch by finding me on facebook, the uni email register (people search), or by messaging the Offbeat Warwick page. You have to be a paidup member to do this, for insurance purposes. There's no commitment, and we are all volunteers, even me.

Saturday, 6 October 2012

CD Swaps - A Guide

There’s a lot going on at Offbeat – playlists, radio shows, gig trips, quizzes and Idioteque to name, well, most of it. But as amazing as all those are, they pale in comparison to our flagship ‘event’, our world famous mixtape swaps.

The Haul
For those who have just joined us, or members who’ve been practising their cave dwelling skills, essentially we meet once or twice a term to swap CDs, have a few drinks, win some prizes, and generally have a good time.  You’ll be told much more about this nearer the time, but the basic ‘Rules’ are as follows.

1.    Pick up a blank CD (if needed) from one of the exec/previous social
2.       Think of a theme – the only limits are your imagination, your music library and the law.
3.       Pick 10-15 tracks (guideline number) and burn them to the CD
4.       Make some artwork – a little bit of thought and effort make a huge difference!
5.       At the least include a title, a track-listing and a name (yours, ideally)
6.       Come to the social and place your CD in the elegant and stylish receptacle.
7.       Once everyone’s arrived, it begins. If you’ve put one in, take one out.
8.       Then drink/mingle/find who has yours etc
10.   Joy.

It’s all very simple, but a lot of fun – to make it even more so, we offer prizes for the Best Theme and Best Artwork, as well as a few bonus prizes, hidden in random CDs by the exec.  It’s important to note at this point that Best Theme and Artwork are not judged by taste, but on Humour, Effort and Originality – there’s no music snobbery or elitism, we just reward things which are objectively ace.

The Exec debate Best Theme and Artwork

So that all sounds fun, but why should you get involved?

Well, first and foremost, it’s a great way to meet other Offbeat kids – talking about your CDs breaks the ice faster than a warmed up hammer (just go with it) and it’s an ideal way to discuss music tastes without asking the dreaded ‘so what’s your favourite band?’ We strive as hard as possible to combat elitism and snobbery, so everyone and every taste is welcome, whether you listen to bands that barely exist or stadium-hopping juggernauts – you’re guaranteed to meet a range of people, and we tend to think that’s a jolly good thing.

Not only can you leave the night with some new friends, you’re also guaranteed some new music – and often not just a random pick and mix selection, but tracks that have been deliberately and lovingly chosen.  Each CD can offer a little window into somebody else’s world of music, and frequently you come across gems that you might easily have missed.  It might even open your eyes and ears to whole new genres - it can be difficult to make headway into certain styles or eras of music, but having a personal guide in the form of a well-crafted mixtape can be invaluable.

It’s not all about the music you take away either, as the act of making a CD is perhaps the best way to explore your collection.  We all have records we love and remember, but trawling through your iTunes to find the perfect track to fit the theme can unearth some long forgotten treasures, as well as highlight things you passed over first time round.  There’s also countless layers of music nerdery to indulge in, be it beat matching, theme interweaving or just pun making.  Putting a song on a themed mixtape gives it an extra layer of meaning, something that even if it goes unnoticed by the recipient can still be highly enjoyable for the craftsman.

And talking of craft, the act of making a mixtape is a way of creatively and actively engaging with music, something I personally struggle to do otherwise.  With little to no talent at actually making music myself, I derive great satisfaction from shaping and rearranging the work of others into something unique and personal – there’s a fair chance I enjoy making the things more than the person does receiving them. The artwork is also pretty important - so little of my degree is hands on and ‘craft’y , so the opportunity to get stuck in with some felt tips and pritt-stick is one to gleefully seize.

Perhaps I’m over thinking the whole thing, and perhaps no-one needs to analyse the simple act of burning some songs to a CD, but the other day I came across a stash of Offbeat-made CDs in my collection, and it was heartening to think that I’ll keep those little slices of personality for as long as I can, and that perhaps one day someone will rediscover the ones I made in a dusty attic somewhere.  You can put as little or as much effort in as you like, but it’s a chance to make something unique, personal and potentially long-lasting, so why not give it your all?
Some of our lucky winners

So you’ve read through/skimmed the over-analysis and want to make a CD, but need some inspiration? Well, to help you out here’s a list of ideas and some we've had previously - the first few are simple ideas to get you started, and then there are some of the more esoteric examples towards the end. We hope that they ignite some form of creative spark, and we look forward to seeing what you come up with!

Best of [Year]
Childhood Favourites
Books or Films (inspired by or in accompaniment to)

Tracks inspired by Wikipedia’s Random Article Search
Songs with Violins (encased in a home-made cardboard violin)
Around the world in 80 Offbeats (80 indie songs from around the world, encased in a specially annotated Atlas)
Face Paints (came with a box of face paints)
Book of Birds (songs with birds in the title, accompanied by hand drawn illustrations)
Hangover Mixtape (came with a bottle of wine)
The Offbeat Guide to Revision (encased in a revision guidebook)
Random (included a selection of films, and a toy car)

The aftermath of the Face Paint CD