A lesson in breakbeats



Veteran DJ Wes Smith had music lovers screaming for more

Wes Smith, a veteran DJ of the club scene in Washington D.C. and New York city, made the long journey to Chennai for a surprising set on the decks of Pasha, The Park. For a city hardly exposed to foreign DJs, or to the more cutting-edge elements of electronic music, Smith's repertoire was an apt introduction.

With a position somewhere between mainstream house music, and alternative trip-hop and drum `n' bass genres, a breakbeat set provides something different that still appeals to fans who are novices.

"Breakbeat is kind of hip-hop speeded up," said Smith, "I use the same beats as a hip-hop track, just broken down, quickened and mixed differently. James Brown is one of the most influential acts for this genre because he also remixed his beats in a unique way."

The interesting effect is that a DJ can make a well-known song sound completely different, yet still recognisable.

That night, the crowd heard remixes of the White Stripes, The Killers and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, for example. "Rock songs work well with remixes, because they have a recognisable beat. You can mix it up without ruining the song."

Wes moved smoothly between those remixes and house, tech-house, progressive and even trance elements during the set. "I tried playing all that stuff earlier in my career, so I can still throw in the little tricks, like manipulating the equalisers or adding some scratching. In the end, it doesn't matter what music I play, the job is to get people to dance."

And dance they did. A seemingly empty club at about 10 p.m. was transformed into a throng of screaming, dancing fans by the end of the night. "I even dropped a lot of my underground stuff, and the crowd stayed with it."

Of course, everyone had their preferences, with different pockets of the crowd moving on and off the dance floor with the change in style, but overall, the Chennai crowd was receptive to the high level of skill that DJ Wes Smith displayed.

When it comes to a successful set, two elements are paramount: seamless mixing and reading the crowd, both of which Smith did successfully.

"Song to song, I have to look at the crowd, but I have to think at least three songs ahead, so that I don't drive too many people away," said Smith, who doesn't plan his track list ahead of time. This interaction between the crowd and the DJ is what makes a night special, and thankfully, it wasn't lacking. "In the end, I hope it was worth it for everyone," said Smith on his first club performance in India. "It isn't easy to get a foreign performer into town. Chennai has a lot of restrictions when it comes to nightlife. Everyone puts so much work in, relative to the reward, and I hope this kind of event encourages the city to open up, and for the clubs to bring people in and try more new stuff."


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