In-depth with Eddie Halliwell

This New Year’s, UK whiz Eddie Halliwell brings his livewire DJ sets back to Australia for Summadayze. The renowned showman has had a big year, travelling far and wide, working in the studio on releases like the remix of Planet Perfecto’s Bullet In The Gun, keeping the Fire It Up Sessions rolling and mixing a compilation for Toolroom Records.

For many years, Halliwell was the exception to the rule that DJs had to produce to be noticed. Instead, he built his reputation on the technicality and riotous energy of his sets. These days, though, production is very much on his radar. As someone who knows the craft of DJing inside out, inthemix thought Eddie Halliwell was the perfect candidate for an in-depth discussion on how to fire up dancefloors.

Let’s talk about DJing. You are obviously a renowned technical DJ and showman, so I wanted to ask you basically what your philosophy towards DJing is. What elements do you think are the most essential?

There are various elements to think of as a DJ. Obviously a lot of people focus on technical ability, but I only think that that’s a small part of it. I think, to be honest, your presence as a DJ is very important and your connection with the audience is crucial. Your technical ability, really, sometimes doesn’t matter. You could be the most skilled technical artist in the world, but if you’re not connecting with your audience, it doesn’t matter. But I think if you’ve got technical ability you can use that to engage with an audience who perhaps isn’t aware of you – you can capture the audience with your technical ability.

I think your musical choice is key as well. The way you put records together and the journey, whether you take the crowd up or down, is crucial. Now, I think production is very important only on certain shows. I think on bigger shows where the DJ is set far back on the stage and isn’t very close to an audience, I think you could use visual production to help engage with the audience. Years ago, that wasn’t as important. I think as well in a smaller club, you can use technical ability to capture your audience because they can actually see what you’re doing, whereas that can get lost on a bigger stage. So there’s all sorts of different aspects.

Do you think that the advances in technology – say for instance the new Pioneer CDJ with a sync button – are furthering the craft or is it taking out some of that hands-on aspect?

There’s a lot of talk about stuff like this. There’s a lot of people online, especially, that give it flack. For me personally, I think it’s a fantastic thing having technological developments to help you be a better artist on stage. I mean, there’s always a factor that you can hide behind it and I think that does happen massively. You get people hiding behind it, because they haven’t got the confidence to actually use the technology that’s put in front of them – they just learn a few keys skills so they can stand on stage and get away with it. That’s always going to be a factor. If stuff was on vinyl you couldn’t get away from the fact that you had to mix two records together – you had to learn the craft.

For some people, it’s a very difficult thing to get your head around beat-matching. If you wanted to DJ when it was all vinyl, you had to have the will to learn to DJ – but now, you can get around it. But for me, beat-matching isn’t the art and craft of DJing. It’s something you used to have to learn, but you don’t anymore.

Now I can use the effects unit. I’ve created a new patch on my iPad with all the effects that will actually allow me to sort of remix and rehash tunes on the fly. Because when stuff was on vinyl, or perhaps before when the stuff was on CD, you were trying to keep the two in sync. Now, you can be mixing like four, five, six, seven different things because of that function and literally be remixing tracks live. It wasn’t like that years ago.

So some artists are using that to their advantage to make themselves a better performer on the stage. But the flipside to that is you have artists that are hiding behind the fact that they can stand there and play music. It’s just crap, you know – it’s just literally putting a CD in and standing on stage.

But I suppose you’ve got new producers from 16, 17 and 18 years old who don’t know what DJing is. They come through as producers who are amazing at their craft, but they can get chucked in a position where they’re thrown up on stage in front of thousands of people and they don’t know how to DJ. But this technology allows them to sort of learn the ropes. Literally, they’re chucked in the deep end, but they can get away with it. I’m learning the ropes of production as times goes on. But producers now come into the industry and their expertise is, specifically, in production.

Should a crowd care if a DJ is just “pressing play” and isn’t trying to do much more with it?

I think it’s all individual taste and individual preference. I think there’s an element with new kids going through who just want to go and see a show on stage, and that’s the most important thing for them. But you’re obviously going to get people in the audience who are DJs and want to see skills with the equipment, who would frown upon people just going up and pressing play. But I think for me, I’m not going to snub the fact that production is a massive factor to actually wow an audience. If you’re doing a big visual performance with pyro on stage, the reaction is phenomenal. Whereas if you do a couple cuts and a few scratches – yes, it sounds nice, but it’s not going to wow your audience unless you’re in a small club. So there’s always going to be different opinions.

The way I see it, when people criticise things I think it’s their naivety and not wanting change – it’s human nature, isn’t it? Like when stuff changed from vinyl to CD, the whole industry was, “Oh DJs are cheats? DJs are this, that and the other.” Everyone was frowning upon them when it came out. So if the crowd’s fixated on a DJ, whether they’re standing there and pressing play or doing more with it, as long as they’re a part of creating good show and doing a great job, then all credit to them.

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