One of the most important, yet often under appreciated, jobs for a DJ is that of the warm-up set. In fact, it’s a crucial role for any DJ worth his salt and is usually where most of the big names we know and love today earned their stripes. Playing a warm-up set typically takes a higher level of skill than most headline sets – ask any DJ and they’ll tell you, it’s no mean feat striking that delicate balance between luring ravers onto the dancefloor and keeping them there, while making sure you don’t overshadow the headliner(s). Maintaining a good, strong energy but not peaking too early. Of course, there are stringent rules to playing a warm-up set, you will always need to gauge the crowd – but, generally speaking, it must be said that slow and easy is often the best and safest way to begin.
Take MEOKO’s 50th podcast, Voigtmann b2b LamÂche warming-up for the legenadary Mr.G at Toi Toi Musik. Their vinyl-only three-hour set is a masterclass in warm-ups, starting off with just piano chords and working slowly and confidently towards stirring up the dancefloor. Check it out and hear for yourself, it’s a sublime set.
Voigtmann b2b LamÂche live recording from Toi Toi Musik – MEOKO exclusive
Having recently played a warm-up set myself, I can also vouch for their importance and difficulty. Everyone in front of you is there to party, that’s a given, but the party really gets started when the peak time sets are played. As a warm-up you often begin with a very slow, tentative approach to your set, easing your audience in with some uplifting yet not too “hands-in-the-air” tunes. Peaking too early is a cardinal sin, as is overshadowing whoever comes after you. Working up from the slow start, it’s sometimes useful to whet the clubbers’ appetites with some more familiar tracks – injecting some energy, yet not pushing it too far. As the set progresses you’ll want to keep the energy levels solid, each step of the way considering the fact that the night is only just beginning and it’s your job to start off the evening in the best way possible. Keeping a frim hold on how the crowd gets down is imperative to your job, the temptation to let loose and throw down some big tunes is always going to be there, but you have to keep reminding yourself that it’s early and there is a lot more to come.
Picture by Daddy’s Gotsweets
Another key thing to bear in mind and I’m stating the very obvious here, is to know who is on after you – purely to work out how and what to play. Every DJ has their own style, their own following, their own identity.. and this is something that will have a direct effect on what you play as a warm-up. Encroaching on their set is considered sacrilege, imagine unknowingly warming up for someone like Josh Wink and playing Higher State Of Consciousness – only for him to arrive later on and play it again. He may or may not have heard you play it, but the crowd has and they won’t forget. Leaving Josh looking a little bit silly, to put it lightly.
Picture by Nick Ensing
There’s a pressure from playing warm-up sets that is not as common in headline sets. When you think about it, the majority of the people who turn up at a party are there because they’ve seen one of their heroes on the line-up – which means half the battle is already won for said headliner. (Ok, there will be some chin-stroking critics too, waiting for them to fuck up – but most will be excited as soon as their hero jumps on the ones and twos). So, the warm-up DJ, who will always be lesser known, has the pressure of performing to a crowd who are waiting for their favourite DJ to appear, while also having to set the tone of the night. Great training for any wannabe DJ and, as I’ve already said, the starting point for many of today’s stars. The skills one acquires as a warm-up will stay with that person for their entire career and that is absolutely priceless.
So, next time you arrive early at a club night and you see someone warming up, remember their name because the likelihood is, in a few years time, they’ll be headlining.
By Marcus Barnes