An Irish friend of mine returned from a trip to New York late last year disgusted with a sight he saw in a fashionable bar in Williamsburg: a DJ working exclusively off mp3s on their laptop. Now in Paris it seems that every second 'DJ' is packing nothing heavier than a MacBook when they go out mixing; it took many years for mixing with CDs to get even remotely respectable - and even now it is usually accepted only as a bit of back-up for a well-stocked bag of vinyl - but mixing with equipment that scarcely justifies any of the traditional demands of DJing is alarmingly widespread.
In the Bottle Shop the other night this development reached its nadir when not one but three people turned up with a MacBook each to 'collaborate'. So, gathered around the mixing decks - which may have begun their inexorable slide towards ultimate redundancy, were three youngsters with computers, pretending that they were Richie Hawtin. Of course the music was much the same as played by any other DJ in the Bottle Shop - meaning it was a decent enough selection, if hardly too imaginative - but most of the other DJs do have the quirky habit of bringing old-fashioned black discs with a wee hole in the middle.
I know that I will be accused of being snobbish here but I don't think it is too much to ask that folks with what they take to be a fantastic collection of audio files to confine their broadcasting of them to their homesteads. I listen to mostly mp3s these days (though I still buy CDs), mainly because the cramped quarters of Parisian apartments have discouraged me from bringing my not-exactly-immense collection of vinyl over from Dublin, but I wouldn't dream of turning up to a bar with my laptop to offer to 'spin some tunes'. Not least because I could do it with a few carefully-chosen playlists stocked on my iPod, which has twice the hard-drive space as my old G4. But if a DJ flicks through their iPod to pick the music people will not be too impressed. Some people imagine though that plonking their computer down on a bar table makes them look like Orbital or Paul Oakenfold, while all the time 'programming' tracks by The Strokes and Franz Ferdinand. When one realises that one or more DJs are getting paid to play songs using equipment and applications that are already used by the bar to play music at other times of the day, well, that's just cheating. You may as well just sit in the corner, with your Nano hooked up to the PA and shuffle away.
The cheating is more acute still when the effort of putting together a vinyl collection is considered. Most DJing occupies, in my opinion, a place a few rungs below real creative activities but there is still a venerable craft exercised by many DJs as well a strong sense of curiosity and adventure. Good DJs travel hundreds of miles to get hold of that track that they could never find on vinyl (though they might already own it on CD or mp3), they reinvest huge amounts of their DJing pay into their collection, they haul back-breakingly heavy bags from bar to bar to club and they are forever on the look out for new or obscure tracks that might set them apart from their peers. And the best DJs never take themselves too serious. They are part of a music culture that owning 12,000 music files on a hard drive will never qualify you to enter. Now it appears that they might be on the way out because some geek with a shiny iBook wants to play the same tunes they hear on MTV2 in a vain effort to get laid. I'm quite serene about the effect of the file-sharing phenomenon - the music industry had had it coming to them for years, and it has allowed bands to reach new markets that they would never before have had access to - but this is one consequence that is certainly deleterious. A real involvement in music is much further than a click away.