What does it mean to be a ‘Selector’?

In a world where there any many forms of dance music and a myriad of styles that tend to all-too-easily pigeonhole DJs into certain categories, it can be hard to distinguish what being a DJ actually means. Of course we know what it means to stick on your headphones and mix one track into the next, but is the terminology a little more complicated than that?

On a basic level, the abbreviation ‘DJ’ actually means ‘disc jockey’, as I’m sure many of you will be aware of, but when you break down the actual meaning of this term it implies little more than to take control of disc spinning on a deck. Radio presenters are referred to as DJs in this context, but many within mainstream radio stations aren’t the sort of mixing maestros that you might associate with dance music. In that case, for those individuals that associate themselves with providing our raving culture an extended selection of their favourite tunes skilfully blended into one another, should there be a more appropriate term?

Enter the ‘selector’. Rest assured that this term is not a new phenomenon fabricated on social media in recent years, as being a ‘selector’ was one of the earliest incarnations of what an actual DJ was. Back in 1950s Jamaica, selectors were what we might refer to in the modern day as a dance music DJ, essentially marrying the term to this art form. In essence, it refers more to curating a selection of songs back-to-back and creating the illusion of non-stop music than to just simply jockey a disc. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with calling your favourite artists a DJ, but in the modern day is there a distinction between the two? Of course a DJ is a selector by definition, but has this term now become more than just another name for a DJ?

The point at hand is where the term is appropriately used in modern day DJing culture. Now there is of course the style in which you might curate a set, or perhaps it has something to do with actual skill. The term has been thrown about in quite an elitist sense, actually referring to a DJ that has achieved some sort of enlightenment behind the decks and now is a certified ‘selector’. There is nothing wrong with this in of itself, but does this use have a good effect on the scene? Dance music has always struggled with stereotypes so perhaps ‘selector’ being used to somewhat demean any DJ that doesn’t quite make the cut is quite detrimental to the industry as a whole. It appears more analysis is needed.

Does it distinguish a good DJ from a bad DJ? Let’s put it into perspective. Sure you’ve all been to see certain DJs that really put on a good party with a star-studded set-list of great songs, many of which you may be guilty of filming on your phone and posting on a certain Facebook group. These sets are always memorable as individual moments from particular tracks that the DJ might drop – with that unexpected gem from the mid-90s that you’d all forgotten about. Now let’s look at another style of DJing. This artist creates a non-stop set that blurs all the boundaries between tracks, taking you through the peaks and troughs that you’d want to expect from a DJ at the top of their game. You might remember this set for the overall experience rather than noticing a particular track getting dropped in. Now, let’s not degrade either of these approaches as worse than the other, but when you think about it from a ‘selector’ point of view – which would you label?

Maybe it’s time to put a bit more context into this argument. For instance, there are some DJs that are unequivocally, artists. This is evident through their prowess behind the decks, and in some cases, these DJs aren’t producers of music themselves. The likes of Ben UFO or Scottish maestro Jackmaster have never released any tracks that they’ve been credited for producing, but are some of the most respected figures behind the decks. Can this conform to the argument of what makes a selector? Sure it makes sense – a selector is a thoroughbred DJ that doesn’t cloud his artistry with the concept of music composition or production. But is it a justified use of the word that renders all DJs that produce music not a selector? Probably not.

Another concept of the ‘selector’ is identifying a DJ that is a true digger, an individual that plays out tracks that traverse the musical spectrum – quite frequently from some far flung bootlegged EP that was a vinyl only release in 1983. To name drop someone in particular that fits this bill would be Rush Hour favourite, Hunee. Surely the German DJ has made his way onto your Facebook feed at some point with a variety of obscure tracks that, via his incredible DJing technique, have been a hit with the house and techno community. In this case the use of the term certainly makes literal sense; the artist is putting the time and effort into ‘selecting’ hidden gems that will be appreciated in his set – but then again, don’t most DJs do this, irrespective of if they play sets that span genres or simply stick to one? This opposes some recent arguments on social media where certain DJs only source tracks via music sharing groups and are not actually discovering or ‘selecting’ these tracks for themselves. The term stands up to put these genuinely knowledgeable artists as revered members of the electronic music community.

The term ‘selector’ is quite evidently a labelling that has become a victim of its own ambiguity, resulting in a frequently used term with no clear definition or understanding. As a result, we must first and foremost recognise this ill-definition, preventing it spawning elitist sensibilities that hold back constructive discussion about the music we hold dear. If anything, it is pointing out the obvious calling a DJ a selector. This article wasn’t to devalue that, but to actually analyse its uses in the scene today and attempt to really understand how it can be used in a positive sense, or if anything, give you a basis to form a more informed opinion. Discuss.