JEFF MILLS with GREG GOW , JELO , TOM KUO and CASPIAN RABONE at Boa-Redux (270 Spadina), Saturday (March 20). $40 advance, more at the door. 416-977-1111. www.boa-redux.com Rating: NNNNN
The recorded DJ mix has changed a lot over the years. Initially, the only way you'd be able to listen at home to a DJ in action was via the mix tape, which disappeared after authorities started cracking down on unlicensed compilations. The commercially released mix CD was the next step, but that format's hampered by the restrictions DJs face over which tracks they can include and by the trend toward mixing everything on a computer to assure that there are no mistakes. Unfortunately, a computer mix doesn't sound the same as a real DJ mix and can't capture the feeling of a party going off or hands on the knobs.
Techno icon Jeff Mills has influenced several generations of DJs, first with his radio show as the Wizard in Detroit during the late 80s and then as a globetrotting superstar in the 90s and since.
Always the pioneer, he's recently taken the concept of the DJ mix to another level and will release a DVD called The Exhibitionist at the end of this month that aims to take away the smoke and mirrors and expose what three-deck techno mixing really is.
It's a straight-up documentary of a studio mix, with several camera angles to choose from. It includes all the mistakes, and could serve as a how-to manual for DJing.
"The objective was to film me in creative motion, to document a DJ mix for people to understand what it is I do," the soft-spoken Mills explains from the Miami Winter Music Conference.
"There was no pre-planning. You get to see everything, from mistakes to changing my mind and putting records back in the crates. Part of DJing is the mistakes - the DVD lets you know that DJs are human."
It's interesting that he values the mistakes. On the one hand, he's revered as a technical master, and the trailer for the DVD makes it hard not to be amazed at how fast he is. On the other hand, he's also known for delivering at least one train wreck per set (also known as "shoes in a dryer"), something the bedroom DJs love to bitch about on message boards.
Over the past few years, Mills has become increasingly interested in the visual component of his performance. He now brings a projector to all his gigs so he can mix DVDs along with his records.
The debut of The Exhibitionist concept occurred at a Tokyo nightclub where he left the booth and put on some footage of himself DJing to see if the crowd would respond when they realized it wasn't live any more. They did, and the experience spurred the development of this project.
Mills is best known as a techno DJ, but like most American mixers, his past includes playing funk and post-disco, then hiphop and house, before the techno explosion hit Detroit.
Fifteen years later, he's still rocking the machine funk, but for how much longer before he gets bored?
"I can see techno moving away from me, rather than me moving away from it, if that makes any sense. Techno changes with each generation, so it's hard to say where it will go next or if I'll follow it there.
"In many ways techno's become stagnant. It's not attractive to a lot of people to experiment with electronic music any more. We're shown over and over that it's easier and more lucrative to copy what someone else has done.
"Techno is supposed to be a future music, but when I look around at the producers who are putting out music these days, there doesn't seem to be much fantasy and creativity going on." firstname.lastname@example.org