Mixing and remixing are skills in DJ (“disc jockey” or music selector) folk art in the dance music scene. Mixing refers to matching up the end of a song in cadence with the beginning of another song without interrupting the beat. It may also involve bringing together two songs for an extended segue in which both songs are playing simultaneously. Remixing refers to remastering a song in a sound studio so that different rhythms, voices, instruments, and sound effects are added to the original, which is extended and set to a strict 32-count pulse to make it easier for DJs to mix with another song. Many of the innovations that led to mixing and remixing were started in the Manhattan-Fire Island Gay male club scene during the 1970s.
Mixing began in the discotheques of Manhattan, New York City, in the 1960s with DJs such as Terry Noel, a flamboyant man who started out as a male go-go dancer at the celebrity nightclub Peppermint Lounge. Noel was hired to spin records at the renowned discotheque, Arthur. He used two turntables, and would time a song to begin on beat from the prior song, creating a new experience for the dancers in which there was no clear beginning or end from one song to the next. Noel’s two-turntable innovation would spread to Gay male venues that opened after the 1969 Stonewall Riots. With the addition of DJs such as Bobby Guttadaro, Nick Siano, Steve D’Acquisto, and Michael Cappello, the folk art of the DJ included the technique of mixing records on the fourth beat of a 4/4 song’s pulse. Tom Moulton explained the innovation:
By carefully watching how people danced, I noticed that they would always finish the step. In other words, they would go one-two-three-four and then they would walk off the floor on the one beat. The trick was to get them to begin dancing to the next song before they realized it actually was another song.
Other DJs with connections to the Gay male club scene added innovations such as slip-cueing: holding a record stationary on a soft pad that sits between record and turntable as the turntable continues to move under it, then releasing the record onto the spinning turntable so the record instantly comes up to speed. Francis Grasso is often credited with the invention of slip-cueing. The use of headphones by the DJ in order to listen to the upcoming song in advance and synchronize it with the previous one is also attributed to Grasso.
DJs would spin at the Gay male clubs on Fire Island (Sandpiper, Ice Palace, Monster) in the summer and then spinning Manhattan Gay clubs (Loft, 12 West, Sanctuary, Flamingo) in cooler months, taking the latest music and technological advances to and fro. Eventually, those technologies were transferred to Straight clubs such as Studio 54 and to clubs in major cities around the world.
DJs who learned to mix songs would also mix copies of the same song on two turntables to stretch the length of a song’s percussive and melodic sequences. The aforementioned Tom Moulton brought remixing to Gay male dance clubs in tapes he would prepare beforehand, eventually getting a name for himself as a remixer. This led some record companies during the disco era of the 1970s to remix songs and produce disco singles (also known as twelve-inch singles), long-playing versions of songs that could go from five to fifteen minutes.
Three elements dealing with duration are important in most remixed songs. The beginning and end of the song is extended, but only its percussion, not the melody or vocals. This allows the DJ time to mix the song in and out with other songs without fear that melodies would clash. The second element is the extension of portions of a song that are particularly suited for sonic driving, that is, a song that impacts the dancers in such a way that they are inspired to move. In the context of the discotheque, sonic driving results in dancers that move with greater enthusiasm for longer periods of time. A third important element is the addition or subtraction of sounds, such as vocals, percussion, musical instruments, human speech, and sound effects.
It is through remixing that house music came to be, once again with input from DJs in the Gay club scene. House music gets its name from a club called the Warehouse in Chicago, residence of DJ Frankie Knuckles who was originally from New York City. Knuckles and his friend Larry Levan of Manhattan’s Paradise Garage became icons in the underground dance music scene for their innovative DJ and remixing skills.
House music has roots in the Gay male communal dance, and was further refined into progressive and tribal house. Gay DJs in the late 1980s began to produce their own music tailored specifically for Gay men in ecstatic, altered states of perception, resulting in progressive house music with strong and intricate percussion, vocals by African American divas, and featuring consistent pulses at the 4, 8, 16, 32, 64, and even 128-count iterations. This progressive-house style of music (often classified as tribal house) is the favored sound for Circuit parties, weekend-long dance events for Gay men and their allies. Some of the DJs who have become iconic remixers in the Circuit scene are Ralphi Rosario (Chicago), Tony Moran (Los Angeles), Abel Aguilera (Miami, who teams up with Rosario, forming the duo known as Rosabel), Victor Calderone (New York), Barry Harris (Toronto), Chris Cox (with Harris, formed a remixer-duo called Thunderpuss 2000), Peter Rauhofer (Vienna, New York), Junior Vasquez (New York), That Kid Chris (Chris Staropoli, New York, Miami), the Freemasons (James Wiltshire and Russell Small, Brighton, Britain), and Bimbo Jones (Lee Dagger and Marc JB).
House music, which had Straight fans and DJs from its inception, is no longer based out of the Gay club scene, although British DJ/remixer James Wiltshire of the Freemasons stated that, “House music’s natural habitat is in Gay clubs.”
Computer Mixing and Remixing, Turntableists
As sound technology progressed, more DJs switched to compact discs (CDs) instead of vinyl, and fewer clubs featured turntables. Further innovations allow DJs to play music from their laptop computers and has led to the folk movement of bedroom DJs, amateurs who mix their own sets and produce their own remixes from home. Nevertheless, there are DJ traditionalists who insist spinning vinyl (some who call themselves turntableists), ensuring that the art of mixing vinyl continues for another generation.
Brewster, Bill and Frank Broughton. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey. New York: Grove, 2000.
Cheren, Mel. Keep on Dancin’: My Life at the Paradise Garage. New York: 24 Hours for Life, 2000.
Fikentscher, Kai. “You Better Work” Underground Dance Music in New York City. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University, 2000.
Reighley, Kurt B. Looking for the Perfect Beat: The Art and Culture of the DJ. New York: Pocket, 2000.