There’s a status associated with owning a record player and having a great record collection, just like there is with doing anything ‘properly’ or ‘the old-fashioned way’. Owning a first edition of a book or a classic car is a statement, betraying our desire for authenticity in a world that keeps churning out new stuff all the time. When laptops started to replace CDJs, like any new technology it was met with resistance and hostility on the one hand, and excitement on the other. Laptops mean you don’t have to carry around CDs that can get scratched or lost, but you lose something too; the physical pleasure of actually putting on a record. Loss is what technology tries to prevent but can’t: we want the new, we purchase the new, but in doing so we automatically lose the old.
Technology aims to do more things for us all the time. Here’s an electric toothbrush so you don’t have to move your hand as much to brush your teeth; here’s something that means you don’t have to bend down to wash your feet in the shower. We’re constantly convinced that the world is improving all the time. ‘Gillette Fusion ProGlide razor is our most technologically advanced razor to date.’
The concept of progress through technology is critiqued most famously by Adorno and Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment. For them, history is not the history of progress, but the process of man’s increasing enslavement to standardised technologies and commodities concealed in a narrative of technological advancement.
So does the resistance to new technologies, even in an area like DJing that is relatively new and technology-reliant, show us that despite the advertisements telling us to get the new this, and the better that, we remain a little bit unconvinced?
Products are standardised: apples and socks all look the same, each physical album produced by an artist is exactly the same as the next one in look and feel and sound. But when you get out your decks or whatever you use, you take all the music you like and put it in whatever order you like, change the tempo, take out the bass, loop it, and generally alter it.
Technology’s insatiable desire to make everything easier, though, leads to innovations like the ‘Synch’ button, so you don’t even have to bother manually matching the tempos of different tracks. This level of standardisation is what people resist, because it removes the human element from what we perceive as an art. Like buying a hand-made throw and noticing imperfections in the stitching, when you change the tempo manually on a CD or track, you’ll never get it perfectly in time. Those imperfections, though, are what makes it real. The resistance to ever increasing standardisation and automation in technology, even in arts as new as DJing, show us that even in popular culture that relies on the newest technologies there is still a tangible resistance to the standardised commodity.
Still, to change the track, loop it, mix it and make it your own, you need to go out and buy the standard track, buy the laptop, buy the leads… The desire to create something organic and real by yourself is catered for by companies who produce technology that enables us to do this. We detest the standardisation of music and culture so much that we want to change it, so we support the culture industry by buying things that help us to feel like we’re creating something, even though loads of other people have had that very same idea. And if you’re lucky, you could get really good at DJing, and have your mixes packaged up and sold as ready-made products, so that the stuff you made your own becomes part of the cycle of commodity production.