DJing is largely a performance role. The vast majority of most DJs make their reputations from the gigs they do, and the performances they give to live audiences.
But one crucial aspect of building a DJ reputation is to create mixes, and every so often a DJ drops a true classic, maybe catapulting them to greater heights, maybe cementing their status at the top table, often setting a trend that other DJs follow.
So, lets take a look at a selection of truly legendary mixes!
DJ Q-Bert – Demolition Pumpkin Squeeze Musik (1994)
If you are into scratch DJs, then you know all about Q-Bert – arguably the greatest scratch DJ ever to do it! On this mix he cut and scratched and juggled his way through the legendary Ultimate Breaks & Beats compilation record, the root of so many hip-hop samples! With assistance from Shortkut and DJ Disk, Q-Bert takes the listener on an immaculately compiled and technically insane journey through the heritage of rap music. This came out a year before Q-Bert invented the crab scratch, and some of the cuts will blow your mind! Its hard to explain just how far ahead of other scratch DJs Q was at this moment in time – like an alien from another planet.
Kaytranada – Boiler Room Montreal (2013)
Those few people who didn’t know about Kaytranada are about to find out about him, as he walked away from the 2021 Grammy Awards with 2 gongs! He’s been producing dynamite originals and remixes for about a decade now, and in 2013 provided the world with one of the most meme-able DJ sets of all time, his stunning 42 minute Boiler Room. Its a genuinely brilliant DJ set, perfectly encapsulatingly his swaggering, swaying, supercool style. But its also full of laugh-out-loud moments, courtesy of an incredibly enthusiastic (and lit!) crowd.
Caspa & Rusko – FABRICLIVE.37 (2007)
Caspa & Rusko were at the heart of the dubstep movement, and also were at the forefront of the more energetic and wobbly direction that took the USA by storm. FABRICLIVE mixes are a staple of the underground dance music scene, and every so often they catch an act just before what they do goes supernova – this is a case in point. Without these DJs, and without this mix, who knows if Skrillex happens, if EDM takes the form it did, and so on – this was a real landmark turning point for the dubstep genre (and not one that all dubstep fans ended up being too happy about in the end!).
Danny Tenaglia – Global Underground 010 Athens (1999)
Danny Tenaglia is a true legend of dance music. From humble beginnings in a 1980s Florida roller-disco, to being one of the biggest DJs in the world from his home in New York, Tenaglia has carved out a sound he terms “hard & soul” – deep, dark underground beats, matched with soulful vocals and instrumentation, often weaving between them in sets spanning 10+ hours. The Global Underground series spawned many contenders for “legendary” status, but this is the one that stands out for me, showcasing his mastery of tension, mood and atmosphere, while always keeping the dancefloor moving.
DJ Spinbad – 80s Megamix Vol 2 (2000)
Spinbad sadly passed away recently, which we covered here. He was legendary as a master of the DJ mix, and his pinnacle might be surprising to those who remember him as the exceptional hip-hop DJ he was. His 80s Megamix Vol 2 took the 80s megamix concept he’d developed, and ran with it to create a work of art – legendary pop and rock, interspersed with superb scratching and perfectly placed film soundbites, sometimes even mixing in vocals from movie scenes with matching songs! Several DJs have remarked on how they felt that this mix gave them “permission” to explore pop in a way they felt they weren’t supposed to beforehand – it certainly played a big part in the development of the open-format DJ as we know it today.
DJ Yoda – How To Cut & Paste Vol 1 (2001)
DJ Yoda is an old friend of the blog, having been interviewed here. He’s also a master of the mixtape, at one point laying down his own 80s megamix (but from a British perspective) after seeking permission from Spinbad (he didn’t want to seem to be jacking his idea!). He has many highlights in his mixtape reel, but this is a standout, and one that really helped him establish his approach. Inventive, witty, musically fantastic, anarchic, this set the tone for Yoda’s career, with one foot firmly planted in independent hip-hop, the other in sketch comedy of some sort! Endlessly entertaining.
Daft Punk – Essential Mix (1997)
Daft Punk have officially called it quits, and it was probably the right time – they’ve moved a long way away from the sound that they captured on this Essential Mix (the long-running and legendary BBC Radio 1 mix show), and ended up at some sort of smooth jazz thing – not that I disliked it, but it was a long, long way away from the Daft Punk I fell in love with – I actually saw them live in 1997 at Tribal Gathering! Disco-tinged, but full of oomph, and with a real edge to it – this mix is what I think of when I think of Daft Punk!
DJ EZ – Boiler Room x RBMA London (2012)
If you ask a DJ today to describe the most exhilirating drop ever caught on video, a lot of us will point to that mix by DJ EZ. You know the one… don’t you? Well, watch the 30 seconds above and you will. EZ is the king of UK Garage – and he’s a machine, in recent years doing multiple 24-hour sets for charity. The whole mix is worth checking out, as is any mix by this absolute legend.
Diplo – Essential Mix (2007)
What a career Diplo has had – now undisputably one of the biggest DJs in the world, and the man behind an enormous number of hit records, as Diplo, Major Lazer, or behind the scenes. This isn’t quite a “back when it started” mix, but its not far off, from around when he was just starting to blow up, and it showcases his genre-bending, crate-digging style brilliantly – what I would give for him to go back to this!
J-Rocc – Live At The Sex Machine (1999)
This one is a masterclass in live hip-hop mixing from one of the slickest DJs in the game, J-Rocc. Recorded live at the Sex Machine (hence the name), this is an immaculately selected and mixed collection of music from a very special point in time in hip-hop’s journey. J-Rocc has an uncanny knack for smooth, flowing mixes, and some of his trick mixing is so neat and tidy you can easily miss it! He’s one of my absolute favourite DJs, and is always worth listening to!
2ManyDJs – As Heard On Radio Soulwax Vol 2 (2003)
Released in 2003, this was hugely influential on DJs around the world, and much like the Spinbad mix mentioned above, it massively de-stigmatised using well known pop and rock records – something which had been viewed quite snobbishly for a long time. This heralded the start of the explosion in mashups in the mid 2000s, which was helped along by the likes of Erol Alkan and Diplo, and their popular internet forums. 2ManyDJs are also known as Soulwax, and continue to enjoy success to this day.
Coldcut – Journeys By DJ : 70 Minutes of Madness (1995)
Arguably the king of them all, this masterpiece by the founders of Ninja Tune Records covers a LOT of ground, and is often #1 in round-ups of the greatest DJ mixes of all time. Taking in rip-roaring jungle, hip-hop, techno, breakbeat, funk, ambient and more, this “drunken stagger home” of a mix (as one of the creators dubbed it) is one for the ages.
As you can see, these mixes cover a lot of musical ground – and there’s so many DJs I could have easily included, from Funkmaster Flex to DJ Shadow to Four Tet to Jazzy Jeff and so on.
The thing that links all these mixes – they are FULL of the personality of their creators, they don’t just rinse the same old tracks as everyone else, and they often surprise with the way they combine tracks and styles.
So – get yourself over to the Heavy Hits pool, and start assembling YOUR masterpiece!