Time for a new industry standard? Why one-hour DJ sets just don’t cut it…

In August 2018, Dubfire took marathon DJ sets to a new level with a 26 hour, 30 minute DJ set at the Sunwaves Festival in Romania, an event notorious for its mammoth sessions – tINI & Bill Patrick pulled off a 31-hour back-to-back in 2016.

The former Deep Dish man’s achievement came to mind the other day when we read an interesting exchange on Twitter, as Defected label head Simon Dunmore explained how he was “trying to give as many DJs as possible a full two hours” at Defected Croatia next August, sparking a heated debate over just how long the ‘optimum’ DJ set is, either in a club setting or, as in Defected’s case, at a festival.

The discussion saw some creative input from Hifi Sean (‘2 hours is always a great set length‘) and Terry Farley (‘3 better – my ears are mush by 4 though“), as well as from Twitter user KVZ (@pokahova), who suggested that there should be a ‘two-hour minimum’ set time, which drew the following response from the Defected boss.

And he’s not alone. Industry bible Mixmag rallied behind longer opening times back in 2017, saying extended DJ sets should be the ‘industry standard’.

“There’s something supremely satisfying for both the audience and the selector in a longer set,” the magazine explained. “It means the DJ has the time required to command a crowd, to build a set around a start, middle and an end and to really explore all corners of their record bags.

“The audience really gets an insight into what the DJ is about; it’s not just an hour of power where every track is dropped to get a reaction, it’s a chance for fans to see their favourite artists push themselves to their limits and more often than not, it’s a sight to behold.”

Berghain offers DJs time to ‘showcase their sound’

As Mixmag noted, this is where venues such as Berghain and Panorama Bar in Berlin “get it right”; each jock is given a minimum of four hours to “showcase their sound, selections and personality”.

Geography plays a part, of course. Here in Ireland, where 909originals is based, shorter opening hours (3am is a considered a ‘generous’ closing time) mean that anything other than two hours if a particular treat.

There are still the odd exceptions, of course – I distinctly remember a Sunday night set of John Digweed’s that ran from 9pm till close, circa 2002 – but these are far from being the norm.

So is there an optimum DJ set length? Or does it depend on a number of factors – booking fees, the size of the lineup, or just plain and simple consumer demand?

Take for example the recent Feel My Bicep night at Warehouse Project (as referenced by KVZ), which boasted an incredible lineup – Jeff Mills, Bicep, 808 State, HAAi, Midland and more. At that event, most DJs or live acts were afforded no more than an hour to 90 minutes; Mills’ one hour 45 minute closing set was the sole exception.

This is an all-too common factor when it comes to packed lineups such as those on offer at WHP or London’s Printworks – while both venues rank among the best in the world, and the atmosphere incredible, those hoping to absorb themselves in two or three hours (or more) of their favourite DJ will likely come up short.

909originals recently caught up with Andy Blackett of London nightclub Fabric, where ‘all-night long’ shows featuring one or two DJs (click here for an example from November, from London-based producer Pawsa) have become more regular occurrences, in response to the ‘festival-style’ approach of many major nights.

As he explained, many punters these days have “They’ve got used to these big large-scale events, where you get 10 DJs on the lineup for £50, and you get to see them each play for an hour, or at most 90 minutes.

“All of our fastest-selling shows this year have been the all-night long shows. The real music fan wants to hear their favourite DJ take them on a journey, and that’s what these nights provide.

“I think it’s probably mainly those aged 30 and above; the younger consumer wants more ‘instant gratification’, they can tick all these boxes and post their pictures on Instagram or whatever.”

The latter point is a valid one, and it would be very easily to resort to generational pigeonholing and say that younger consumers simply don’t have the patience to dance through six or seven hours of one performance.

But that would be an unfair judgement; the enthusiasm for new music among younger clubbers is as vibrant as it has arguably ever been.

As to whether we will see the re-emergence of longer sets, particularly at festival-style events, remains to be seen. But it doesn’t mean we have to all be like Dubfire, either. I’m with Simon Dunmore on this one – give us two hours, at least, and allow us to get ‘lost in music’… 🙂

Main Photo by Gavin Whitner

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