Jeff Mills on mistakes
I was reading a Resident Advisor forum posting for one of the latest podcats the site had put up (Tony Lionni, download it here) and truly shaking in my boots at the harshness of the comments: “His mixing sucks,” “dodgy…” and “not beatmatching using Ableton must be a skill in itself.” I thought “jeezus, what happens if one day I’m asked to do a podcast for RA” because I make mistakes in my sets all the time. They usually happen because I’m trying something or I changed my mind about the next track or sometimes, because someone’s talking to me and I’ve gotten distracted. I hate that this happens, but it’s the nature of the game, especially in small rooms where it’s less a booth and more like a shelf with some record players and anyone and everyone can come and try to talk to you while you’re in the middle of a set.
It’s the subject of another blog post, but sometimes it’s just rude to ignore people, and sometimes it’s rude to not pay attention to what you’re doing and fuck up a mix. It’s a balance, like anything else. But the point is, I make mistakes. If you’re a DJ and you’re reading this, you make mistakes too. I almost wrote “probably make mistakes…” but most DJs I know are pretty damn hard on themselves. We hear stuff no one else does, second guess, criticize every little detail of our sets, etc. Sometimes all that inner focus can be a bit heavy, but the point is, I am all too aware of the mistakes I make (in DJing and in life).
So it is with great relief that my idol in the DJing world, Jeff Mills, has a very balanced outlook on the subject of mistakes. From his recent interview in Time Out New York, here is the quote:
“Mistakes happen all the time!” [Mills] says. “I’ll be thinking
about something so hard, or I’ll be searching for some piece of music
and I’ll change my mind like four times, that the record that’s playing
will just end. But mistakes are human, and a human is playing records
for other humans, so it’s part of the process. It’s when you don’t hear
mistakes, when you don’t hear a human—to me, that’s not very
The first time I watched his Exhibitionist DVD, I was amazed to find that not all his mixes were laser-cut perfect. Naturally, being the pro he is, Mills fixes them in no time at all. But they are not all perfect. Hearing him catch a mix adds another layer of interest to the process, especially listening to someone as technically adventurous and brave as Mills. When I hear Mills live, and I’ve had the honor of hearing him live several times now, I’m never aware of the “mistakes” because everything that is happening is so amazing: musically, energetically. To focus on the “mistakes” seems like such a sour way to be.
Mills played last night at Sullivan Room and brought the house down. His energy was unrivaled. He played from 1:30am until nearly 6am and had everyone in the house who was still standing literally shouting their thanks to him from the dancefloor when the lights finally came up. We danced and sweat and swooned to Mills’ beautiful, hypnotic selections and intricate, layered mixes. The vibe he created was complex, varied, and powerful. He has been my #1 DJ for years and he secured this place in my own personal DJ hierarchy once again. I don’t just love Mills’ DJing, his records, and his label, but his intelligence, humility, dedication, passion, and unwavering focus (you can see it behind the decks; his expression is one of pure concentration). His performance last night inspired me. Coming off of DEMF just a few weeks ago and now Mills: if this is any indication of what music in New York will be like this summer, it’s going to be an AMAZING couple of months.
Kudos to all the DJs and producers out there, to all the dancers, fans, music lovers (don’t file share or rip from YouTube! buy and support electronic music!), venue owners, promoters, labels, and everyone else out there supporting this thing. Don’t be afraid of mistakes; we all make them! They are only bad when you can’t forgive yourself or when you let them cripple you to the point of not being able to move forward. That’s no excuse for sloppiness, but like Mills said, without mistakes, you don’t hear the human component, and it’s there that the real intimacy and personality resides.
PRAISE TECHNO! AND THANK YOU JEFF MILLS!!!