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Think You Can DJ: Interview with DJ RamDog

think you can dj

In this interview we talked with Ramsey Anderson, aka DJ RamDog about his game show "Think You Can DJ."

How did the idea for the“Think You Can DJ” game show come about?

In 1995, while I was working at my first DJ gig I thought about ways to get DJs to experiment so the audience would get more out of the experience. And also I wanted to showcase how amazing these DJs are. My first thought was, 'how about we make a mix while blindfolded?' But then I immediately thought, 'oh that is way too hard.' So then I grabbed a pencil and a napkin drew the turntable but turned it into a "Wheel of Fortune" with genres of music inside the disc: Techno, Gothic, Industrial, Ska, 80s, Hip Hop.

So I had those 6 genres in the picture. Excited, I began to list every game show that I could think of then adapted it for DJs. Within a week I had a dozen challenges. This was way before reality shows and even the internet as we think about it now.

think you can dj

My goals with the challenges were to reveal secret skills the DJs didn't know they had while entertaining and educating the audience. I knew the "Wheel of Steel" challenge could be fun by itself so I immediately knew I had a solid round. So then I created two lists; one for trivia and one for stunts. Trivia rounds were fun to think about and talk with friends about because the information revealed facts about the culture or equipment that was commonly used by DJs. I initially saw the trivia round simular to Jeopardy. Some of the trivia rounds are: Name that Artist, Guess the B.P.M., Fix It, Female Artists, Price Is Hype and so on... 

The stunt round seemed more difficult to create because I didn't want to create challenges that seemed hokey or involving drugs or too much alcohol. Once I started to create a dozen stunts I found that some were for club DJs and certain challenges could only be performed by scratch DJs. So I decided to have two separate episodes to make it fair and also to bring out the best in the artists. Stunts included: Beer Run, Blindfolded, 3 @ Once, Scratch Like Me and Interfering Fans.

As the show develops and budget increases we are able to expand our options for challenges. Creating stunts and researching information for the trivia truly bring me happiness. I want our show to inspire new DJs and for veteran DJs to enjoy beat-matching or scratching for the amazing skills that they are.

think you can dj game show

Why do you think DJing is so popular now, more than ever?

In short, because of artists like Lady Gaga who brought marketing resources to dance music.

Do you think DJing is misunderstood by most people?

I love the honest perceptions of people at clubs. I remember hearing a person say when I was performing that he thought there must be a drum machine or computer included in the gear because the beats line up throughout the night. I had to explain that we hunt down certain tracks and mix those individual songs together to create the experience of them all blending together. Because people at night clubs enjoy drinking or other things their perception of how the music is made and how we get access to music is generally misunderstood. That is to say, when we are doing a all wax set we cannot take requests!

How much has the scene changed since you started DJing?

Great question! The attention DJs have gotten over the past 25 years has changed dramatically. In the past in the US it seemed like clubs and dance music was ignored by the masses which made it fun and exciting. There were less clubs and festivals and more warehouse parties or outdoor raves. There has always been a desire for folks to be DJs but since Lady Gaga started making club tracks for pop culture everything changed. All of a sudden it seemed hip in the US to like electronic music. To me that was a real shift. And once the money came into the market the 'Race to the bottom' began. In the past DJs performed rarely for money now DJs are more likely to do anything for fame including play pre-recorded sets, which to me is 'Jumping the shark'.

What have you learned from doing the show with non-DJs?

In the DJ game show the contestants perform one mix at a time. It gives the audience a chance to finally get what is going on.  I think lots of people want to understand what DJing is all about. Mixing and scratching is still very mysterious for the majority of people. I think DJing is like all forms of art, as people develop an understanding of how difficult it is they learn to appreciate all the effort that goes into it. Often I hear from the audience after the show how excited they are to know the basics of mixing and scratching. After all, DJs are at all the festivals, are in TV shows, commercials and at the Half Time show of the Super Bowl 2016! 

think you can dj

What does it take to be a good DJ these days?

Of course transitions are key. The point of great transitions is so the music doesn't stop and the dancers keep moving...thanks to Disco. For me number two is song selection and having a vision of how you want the night to play out. Number three is belonging to a community.  The best DJs did the work early on by supporting parties and doing what it takes to have consistent events with popping music. I think people tend to go to the same venues and seek out artists that they know. A great DJ will stay on their radar.

How did you first get into DJing?

Ever since I was 14 when CDs first came out I was hoarding music and blasting tunes on my portable boom box. While in the Army at Ft Bragg, NC when I was 21 my friend encouraged me to DJ at a dive bar because I had hundreds of CDs and he could see how passionate I was about music. After that night I applied at the local industrial club, Neo's, and beat out two other DJs for the open spot. It was then that I knew mixing dance music with visuals and lighting was my calling. I not only enjoyed being an advocate for the dancers, I was electrified by the opportunity to express pop culture and underground sounds as a DJ/VJ.

Who were your first teachers / early mentors?

In the late 90's I went to the big clubs in San Francisco like 1015 FOLSOM and also traveled through out Europe and heard what those artists were doing and that inspired me to expand to the far reaches of House music from Tribal House to UK garage and funky Chicago House like Green Velvet. I fell in love with the skills of Doc Martin, Dan and Garth as well as turtablists like QBert from the Bay Area and the X-Ecutioners out of New York. I was extremely fortunate to meet Jason Rasmussen/ DJ J Raz on Kauai and learn from him. As well as two great friends from the 707 crew: Tim Brown/DJ Diversion and Jesse Epperson/ Reverend.

In this modern digital world, which skills/values of traditional analog DJs remain important?

As an audience member I want all the focus of the DJ on us. I think the best value of a DJ is connecting with the audience. When that happens the evening turns to morning fast because everyone is enjoying themselves to the fullest. To be clear, that doesn't mean taking requests! It just means giving people the best show that you can do.

What is a DJ if he can’t skratch?

I appreciate lots of amazing club DJs that don't scratch. Also, there are turntablists that don't necessarily mix whom I adore. Since an early age I have loved tools. I think of the skill set of mixing House music as a tool. Each genre is distinct and therefore a tool for the DJs toolbox. Scratching is also a tool. When done in balance with the music it BLOWS UP the dance floor. But like any tool, if used too much then the dancing may slow down. And for some DJs the dancing is secondary to precise executions of scratching - and there is an audience for that. I created the DJ game show to inspire folks to expand their toolbox. We want DJs to find their voice and if scratching, beat-juggling or doing body tricks is your thing then we are lucky to have you in the community. 

dj ramdog
The next Think You Can DJ game show takes place at the The How Weird Street Faire Sunday, May 1st, Noon - 8pm.

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