When you’re not out watching live music it’s quite possible that you’ll find yourself at a club night with DJ’s often putting on a blistering set of tracks. In fact in more recent times the role of the DJ has crossed over into performing alongside or even as a part of a live music event. Without someone spinning those discs the world would be a much duller place that’s for sure. The modern DJ looks to be million miles removed from the old days of vinyl and a simple crossfader. But is that really true, what is involved, and what do you need to know to start out? To find out Gary Trueman chatted to Lais Martins Waring, a DJ who performs internationally and who also might be familiar to those of you who go to Download Festival.
What made you decide to become a DJ?
For as long as I can remember my main passion has been music, and I found myself increasingly becoming the one who was choosing all the music at parties etc. I started doing a radio show while I was at uni, and then a couple of friends of mine DJ’d at club nights and I thought it was something I’d be good at. A new club night (which later became Team Up) came to Cardiff and I was given an opportunity to open the night, and that amazing feeling of adrenaline meant I never looked back.
You’ve performed all around the world and notably at many UK festivals. What genres do you specialise in?
I have indeed been very lucky to play all around the world and at some of my favourite festivals! All of my American shows have been for Emo Nite LA, which is my ultimate favourite – from the name alone, you can probably guess what I specialise in. I started out at rock clubs so that’s the genre I feel the most comfortable doing! I could probably do that with my eyes closed. I also started out doing hip hop and R&B nights so that comes quite naturally to me too, but I do a huge mixture of events where I play most genres in existence.
So with your gear is the deck you use all yours? Or do you sometimes just bring the music and use club equipment?
So the majority of gigs I do are in venues or festivals where they already have their own equipment set up, but for some weddings and smaller gigs I bring my own laptop and controller. I definitely prefer the ones which are already set up for me – for ease purposes! – but it’s handy to have my own equipment just in case.
Many people will know DJs as people that cued up records and used a crossfader. Is that essentially what you do now but in a digital format?
I’d say so! I personally don’t do anything too technical – I’d say my type of DJing is more about reading the room and knowing exactly what the crowd want to hear at that point in time. I tend to use USBs when I’m DJing on decks in clubs, which means I can scroll through all my playlists, cue up the song, and cross fade my way into it. If I’m playing more dancey music, I’ll mix a little bit more but most of the time it’s a pretty simple operation for me.
Does being digital offer other options for doing mash ups etc?
I think it absolutely does, but the type of DJing I do is very low on the mash up side of things. I’ve always been the type of person who gets annoyed when a song I love is chopped in half because I’ll want to hear every element of it. But I have friends who are incredible at mash ups and they absolutely smash it! It’s just not so much the type of DJing I do personally.
What specific equipment and brands do you use and why?
Since I started DJing I’ve pretty much only used Pioneer because I think they are the absolute best in the game! Their CDJ 3000s are the dream – one day I’ll have my own, but for now my little Pioneer DDJ 400 controller will do the trick for the few jobs I do where I need my own equipment.
So the most important thing now is that you have your music to bring to a club presumably on a laptop? Gone are the days of lugging vinyl around, or do some DJs still do that?
So for the gigs where I use my own equipment I’ll take my laptop and controller and do it all off there, but for the ones where I get to use CDJ decks then I’ll just take USBs with me which hold all of my music. It’s the dream! When I first started – around 11 years ago – I’d burn hundreds of CDs and lug them around with me in a CD case, so it’s a million times easier just popping your USBs into a bag. But there are definitely still DJs who specialise in vinyl!
We’re seeing DJs being used more within a band set up now, even in rock. Do you think that extra dimension and skill in putting together music digitally is being valued more than it was?
I think for me growing up I’d see bands like Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park using DJs within their band, so it always felt quite normal to me to see that. I think it really depends on the artist, but if they involve electronic elements then I think it’s a really valuable addition to the band for sure.
How do you prepare a set? Do you for instance have a rigid structure laid out similar to a set list, or do you ‘wing it’ a little bit depending on the mood of the audience?
Oh I am absolutely someone who wings it! As I mentioned previously, I’m very much someone who reads the room, so I think it’s super important to do that – for me, there’s no point preparing a setlist because every crowd is very different, and what worked for the last gig you did may very well not for the next one. I do like to arrive prepared though, so think it’s very important to understand your brief – if it’s a wedding I like to ask for any songs or artists that are especially important to them ahead of time so I have them ready. There’s nothing worse than being underprepared and not having a key track that people want to hear.
Is it possible to pre-prepare combinations/mixes? Is that something you do?
It is! I know a few people who do pre-prepare mixes so they are ready to go, but those tend to be people who are more in the EDM world rather than the type of DJing I do. As I mentioned before, crowds tend to differ a lot so I like to be as free as possible to change the vibe / genre of the set as I go along based on how the crowd respond.
What would you say are the most important things to consider when putting together a set?
I think the most important thing is to know your audience – if it’s a private event, I like to find out as much as I can about their tastes so I can play to the crowd. I have thousands of songs in my collection but I make sure I update them regularly so that I have everything I could possibly need. It’s so important to keep up with what people are listening to or any trends so you’re prepared for any eventuality.
Let’s finish up with a little bit about you. What are your musical influences (as a DJ) and are they the same as what you would listen to at home?
As a DJ, I’m very much a crowd pleaser. People often comment on how many bangers I play and I really like to keep it that way. I love to keep people on the dancefloor and I love the chaos that ensues when you’re playing back to back bangers at a peak time. If I’m doing a rock set then I’ll play all the nu-metal and pop punk classics – Papa Roach, System Of A Down, Fall Out Boy, Paramore and so on. All the songs I loved growing up! But at home I listen to very different stuff – my favourite bands are The Band Camino, The Maine and Chase Atlantic currently – and they definitely wouldn’t go down a storm in a DJ set.
What are your favourite artists/songs to play, and are there any you really don’t like for some reason?
If it’s a rock set then my favourites to play are:
Evanescence – Bring Me To Life
Bring Me The Horizon – Throne
Fall Out Boy – Sugar We’re Goin’ Down
Limp Bizkit – Rollin’
A Day To Remember – The Downfall Of Us All
There aren’t many things I really don’t like, but I’m not a fan of ska so I always try and avoid that.
Do you have any less well known artists you like to throw in the mix?
Hmmm, I tend to find that especially in the rock world the older songs go down better, but I try and fit in as many recent bands as I can that I think will go down well. Holding Absence have been going down well over the past couple of years, which is fab as they are fellow South Wales pals so always love to see them doing well.
If someone were to ask you how they should go about becoming a DJ what would you tell them?
I think everyone gets into it in a different way but I would say you should get as involved with the music scene as possible and if you have any friends or know of anyone in that world, ask them if they can show you the ropes. And then if you try it and you have the passion for it, then take it from there. That worked for me rather than buying equipment and becoming a bedroom DJ first, because I think it’s hard to tell if it’s something you’d actually like to do until you are up there onstage. I’ve always really thrived on being onstage, but I know it’s something that brings others a lot of anxiety, so it’s definitely worth finding that out first.