SUNSET NIGHTS CD RELEASE PARTY with DJ META4, BLISSOM & ASHEN, DENISE BENSON and PAUL E LOPES at Surface (12 Brant), Saturday (April 12). $10. www.garage416.com
Long before he was a DJ, Vancouver-based DJ Meta4, aka Ian Menzies, began his career in electronic music working for distributors, which led to starting up the Mo' Funk acid jazz label.
His experience behind the scenes prepared Menzies for the reality of how compilation CDs are actually made, and equipped him to deal with the difficulties involved better than someone whose skills are based only on buying and mixing records.
When electronic music started crossing over to the mainstream in the early 90s, it quickly became apparent that 12-inch singles marketed to DJs weren't the best way for a label to stay solvent. Suddenly, an avalanche of mix compilation CDs appeared in stores, targeting listeners who weren't spinning records for a living.
For better or worse, mix discs are generally presented as showcases for the DJ who mixed the compilation, yet they're often very different from what you'd hear from that DJ in a club.
"People will sometimes listen to a compilation and assume that these are all the DJ's favourite songs," says Menzies from Vancouver, "but that's not true. You have to compromise a lot with this kind of thing, depending on your budget and what songs you want on the mix.
"For me, because of my experience in the business, that's built into my process. When I'm looking for music for a compilation I'm always thinking about what I can get and discarding tracks that will be too hard to license. That way I don't have to change too much later on, and the finished product is closer to what I planned."
Menzies moved to Vancouver from Toronto in 1995 and started up the now defunct Mo' Funk label, which initially focused on compilations. Among its other accomplishments, Mo' Funk released the first album by the New Deal, licensed early tracks by Thievery Corporation and made contacts with Bill Laswell and through him the New York downtempo scene.
Running the label also pushed Menzies into DJing; people assumed he could spin since he was putting out so many records.
"I'd been introduced to DJ culture through people who'd been into it for years. Because I was part of the Mo' Funk posse -- both of my partners were DJs -- I could get gigs right away. But I was reluctant because I knew what a real DJ was and realized I wasn't there yet. By 99, I'd started taking my DJing seriously and was finally comfortable calling myself a DJ.
"It seems funny to me that very few people position DJing appropriately. Either they write it off as pointless drivel that anyone could do with their eyes closed, or they look at DJs as gods who can do things with records that no one else can.
"Frankly, I think neither is true. It's definitely a skill that takes time to learn, but I think most DJs would admit behind closed doors that it's also really not that hard. And like anything, popularity has a lot to do with luck and timing."