The Anatomy of The Warm Up
Interview with Dave Juric
The warm up. Regarded by DJ’s as the most important set of the night, but quite regularly disregarded by the masses. We’ve often heard about ‘why’ the warm up set is so important, yet we’ve rarely heard from someone on precisely ‘what’ makes a great warm up set. So, we decided ask one of Melbourne’s most highly regarded warm up specialists, the legendary Mr Dave Juric.
You’re a bit of an expert when it comes to warming up for big DJ’s, what do you think is the role of the warm up DJ?
I think the warm up DJ has two key jobs: get the crowd ready to hear the international in the best possible mood, and to provide the best possible musical platform for them to shine. Simple as that really. It’s not easy, but when all else fails that simplicity is what helps drive my decisions when selecting music for my playlist and choosing what to play on the night.
What are some of the key things that warm up DJs should do?
I’ve broken it down to these 3 key points:
- Know the DJ.
You have to do your homework. I generally go and listen to a whole heap of different sets, not just the peak time festival sets. Knowing what kind of music the DJ likes to play will help in knowing what to play before them. An example that comes to mind is Henry Saiz. I know that he loves to play a whole range of different styles which gives me the freedom to go to different places in my warm up. In my most recent warm up for him, I had the confidence to play some broken beat stuff and big warm acidy synthy stuff based on the fact that I know his music inside and out. You really need to be a fan or become a fan of the DJ you’re playing before to do it justice I reckon.
I remember back in my early days of clubbing Danny Howells did a bit of a rant on one of the music forums. He was playing at a club in Perth and the DJ before him was playing banging peak time tunes like Laurent Garnier’s – The Man with the Red Face, leaving him absolutely nowhere to go. He’d just released a Renaissance CD which was almost entirely deep low slung melodic house stuff at around 118bpm. He literally had to reset the night and start again. I like to keep reminding myself of that story to never go too hard!
- Know the crowd / venue / promoter
While it might make complete sense musically, to play a deep obscure dub-techno set before headliner, if you’re playing at a venue that has never heard that kind of music before or is used to house music, you have to be prepared. (That said, you’d hope the promoter has booked the right venue for the act and attracts the right crowd, but sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way). If you can, get to the venue before your gig and suss it out. Find out what sort of music normally gets played, what sort of music works / doesn’t work in that space. Sometimes it’s not possible so I do the next best thing and ask friends who have played in that venue and to that crowd before for advice. Never be afraid of asking people for advice. I think that’s something that doesn’t get done enough to be honest. Initially I had the fear that people would judge me if I asked for help, but the quicker I lost that fear, the more confident I became. Knowledge is key. Try and find out as much as you possibly can to help influence your decisions. A lot of that just comes down to experience though. You eventually know what works and what doesn’t.
- Know your music.
This is possibly the most important. You have to know your tracks. How the energy progresses and if there’s any sudden changes. Knowing how the intros / outros work is also important. You have to be able to build tension through mixing in key and know when to mix out of breakdowns if they go too long or ruin the flow. Also, I really believe you need to have a deep appreciation for a wide variety of music styles in order to be a successful warm up DJ. Being able to take a crowd to unexpected places is the best part of the job.
Wise words! Who are your favourite warm up DJs?
I think we’re really lucky in Melbourne that we’ve had such good examples over the years. My first real exposure to DJs and in particular warm up DJs was through Sunny. I remember getting there early because I always really loved the way that guys like Ozzie LA and Gav Keitel would take an empty club and build it perfectly for the headliner. Those guys were the masters.
Over the years, I’ve seen a heap of great warm ups from Rollin Connection and Lister Cooray. Working with them both at Darkbeat pushed me to become a better DJ because they always played so well. More recently Jacob Malmo is one of the go-to guys in the scene for good reason, he just knows his audience so well. Andrew Wowk up in Sydney is another multi-genre specialist who has the range to play before just about anyone. He’s always been a big inspiration for me. Isaac Fryar recently played one of the best warm up sets I’ve seen in years before Nastia. The list goes on. Shit, how could I forget Mike Callander. I’m sure I’ve missed a heap of mates who are gonna’ hate me haha. Sorry guys!
Your Henry Saiz warm up in 2015 was voted by Red Bull as one of the Top 10 sets of the year worldwide. How was that set for you?
Yeh, that one was pretty special. For probably the last 5 years or so he’s been my favourite DJ / producer, so getting the opportunity itself was amazing. For it to go as well as it did and get in that list was really just icing on the cake. Something I’m really proud of is the fact that still to this day I feel like it was one of the best sets I’ve played, so I’m glad it got noticed and in turn has opened up a heap of opportunities for me. I remember that night was pretty quiet early on and Henry was on relatively early, as we had Wehbba playing straight after, I him. I started pretty slow and pretty deep (115bpm from memory) and I just wanted to keep it super tight and slowly build the tension.
RED BULL FULL TOP 10 ARTICLE – https://www.redbull.com/au-en/10-best-dj-mixes-of-2015
Any other favourites?
There’s a few sets that I really felt like I did my job well. The Danny Howells Balance Boat party, Wankelmut at Railway Hotel was rocking and while I didn’t really consider it a ‘warm up’ set as such, playing before Patrice Baumel with Rollin Connection at Rainbow was pretty unreal as well. We didn’t really have to ‘hold back’ too much coz it was peak time on the market stage, but I still wanted to make sure that a) the crowd were amped for Patrice and b) that we left him at a place where he could do what he does best; and I felt we did that.
Any failures you’d care to share?
While I don’t think I’ve ever ‘tanked’ a warm up. Over the years there’s definitely been moments where things haven’t gone to plan and its generally because I didn’t stick to the process. I remember one time playing a track that had this weird BPM change right at the end which I didn’t know about (didn’t ‘Know my music’ well enough!) and it totally killed the floor. Another time I played a track that had this huge breakdown just before the international took over and it didn’t kick back in very well and it sucked the energy out of the room. It happens, but you gotta’ take it as learning experience and make sure you’re better prepared the next time.
Who’s still on your list?
The guy who has always been on the top of my list is James Zabiela. I’m pretty bloody stoked that I get to cross him off the list next month when he tours for his new Balance CD. He was the first DJ I ever saw at a club back in 2004 and has been a huge inspiration ever since. Even more so than Henry, he has this huge range so it’s gonna’ be so much fun creating a set that taps into all these different styles.
Other than that, Sasha or Digweed would be another dream gig. I’d love another crack at Guy J. He was one of the first internationals I warmed up for and I know I could do a way better job this time around. I’d also love to warm up for someone like Peter Van Hoesen, Midland or Donato Dozzy. That would be a real challenge!
You’ve also created a special mix for us, can you talk us through that.
Yeh, I’m really excited about sharing this one. I recently had two amazing warm up slots before Khen at the Rainbow Serpent Urban Gathering party at Ceres and before Oliver Schories at the Global Underground 20 party at Platform One. I didn’t record either but I had all this amazing music that I wanted to share so I decided to put a mix together incorporating a whole heap of tracks that I played at both those events.
The first 60-90 minutes is a kind of like a warm up to myself. The last 30 minutes or so is more like a peak time progressive set.
Any final advice for those up and coming DJ’s wanting to become a great warm up DJ?
It’s all about just having a love for the deeper side of music. Find tracks that sit back a little and build a groove. And build your collection. I’m always digging deep into my old folders finding shit that is obscure or different. Study those who do it well, ask questions and build great relationships with venues and promoters. Also, make mixes that showcase your warm up capabilities. It’s easy to make a 60-90min mix full of bangers that gets people amped, but there’s only so many of those sets available on a night (and quite often they’re reserved for the international or a veteran local). Let promoters know that you want to play early (even if it’s in the side room) so that you can practice warming up. People will soon get to know you as being ‘a warm up DJ’ and you’ll soon get your opportunity. Lastly, be patient and stay humble.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and vast experience Dave, looking forward to hearing what you have in store for us all at Zabiela!
You and me both mate!