FAQ With DJ Gert
Extract from an interview for a popular DJ Magazine with DJ Gert
So DJ Gert, how long have you been a DJ?
DJ Gert :
Not very long officially, but unofficially for the best part of 40 years. When I was at varsity in the late 70’s and we had parties, I was somehow always responsible for organizing the music. My girlfriend at the time (she is still my wife) and I love dancing, so I started off by playing the music that I knew the rest of my mates also loved dancing to. Obviously in those days we didn’t have CD’s, laptops or MP3 players – we only had vinyl records and 4-track cassettes. And because I also wanted to dance I used to record the playlist onto a 4-track cassette or two and play them with whatever equipment I had available or could borrow. Sometimes even my car speakers had to do the job. No fancy speakers and lights, just solid non-stop dance music. Because it was impossible to change the playlist on the fly, I had to be very careful with the songs I chose and the order in which I recorded them so as to ensure a smooth flow of music throughout the evening.
And when did you start officially?
DJ Gert :
After varsity I continued to do music at parties for friends, albeit less often. It started with 30th birthdays, then as we grew older 40th and 50th birthday parties. I used a Sansui amp and a pair of Hi-Fi-speakers that my dad bought in 1969 and which I inherited from him. The speakers were state-of-the-art at the time with 12” bass, 2 woofers, 2 tweeters and a bass reflex. I still have those speakers, but more for sentimental reasons than anything else since they were the first decent speakers that I ever knew and eventually came to own.
Obviously I later moved to playing CD’s and MP3’s, and I had a real cheapskate mixer that allowed me to switch between the CD player and my laptop. This cheapskate mixer I originally bought to mix music and commentary into video recordings – I don’t think it cost me more than R100! As this continued, I realized that I would actually like to do this on a more regular basis, and also more professionally. But I just didn’t have enough money to buy a decent system.
Then, about 8 years ago I won a couple of bucks at a casino with literally my last R100 of the evening and then decided to use this money to buy myself a decent DJ system and to start doing it more professionally. Through nagging and begging people I was given opportunities to play at a few parties at our golf club and for friends, and they actually paid me. And for the first time in my life I earned money for doing something that I really enjoyed!
After a while I did my first wedding gig and from there it just took off through word-of-mouth and I started getting busier all the time. I calculated recently that about 90% of my gigs are from people who see me at a function and then book me for their own functions. I recently had a lady who saw me playing at a wedding and she flew me from Cape Town to PE to play at her 34th birthday party for about 100 guests. A fancy party with a Bedouin tent on the front lawn, fire shows, glass dance floor, party planners, rented barmen and the works – and DJ Gert from Cape Town – what an honour! I flew up with my laptop and my mixer, rented some speakers and lights from a local outfit and off we went!
You obviously love music. Where does this come from?
DJ Gert :
In the 1979 ABBA hit “Thank you for the music” they sing: “Mother says I was a dancer before I could walk, she said I began to sing long before I could talk” – this could have been sung about me. I grew up with music playing in our house most of the time. My mom loved her classical music. She had a beautiful voice and sang in choirs for a long time. My late father was more into pop music, but he couldn’t sing at all. So I got it from both sides. Come to think of it, my dad was also often the designated DJ at parties. I remember a party at our house for my mom’s netball club in about 1970 where he played “Sugar Sugar” by The Archies about 900 times on the very same Sansui Hi-Fi that I mentioned earlier!
I attended a high school which was the only school in the province where you could matriculate with music as a major, so there I was also inundated with music. But can you believe they didn’t allow dancing on the school grounds – only “volkspele”, but this I also enjoyed and I was the leader of the troop in my matric year.
I played cymbals and trumpet in the cadet band, and later taught myself to play the guitar. It was during these high school years that I really started to develop my own music taste. In res we used to listen to the top 20 shows of Springbok Radio with David Gresham on Friday nights and Clark McKay on LM Radio Sunday evenings. I used to record the shows onto my 4-track tapes and would listen to it again and again until the following week and then re-record the hits. Also, with so many musicians in the school, I was exposed to all kinds of music from classic to jazz to bubble gum and everything in-between through music evenings, bands, choirs etc.
This was also where my music collection started. I bought my first LP – Neil Diamond’s “Hot August Night”, a double LP, for R6.89! I went to the local OK Bazaar every afternoon after school for weeks on end listening to this wonderful LP, and eventually decided to forego movies and other treats for about two months in order to buy this LP.
During this time I also built my own “disco light” with an old record player that I was given by my grandmother. I took a bedside lamp and painted the bulb red. I cut the one side of the electric cable, put pieces of foil around an old vinyl record and placed the exposed ends of the cable so that they would touch the foil at the same time while the record was turning to create a contact and in doing so switch the light on, and off again when it touched the vinyl. Not very elegant and extremely dangerous, but I had a light that I could “strobe” at different speeds by varying the speed on the turntable between 33, 45 and 78 RPM. I could also move the pieces of foil around to create different rhythms.
But I think the thing that stands out most for me from this period is my realization of the effect that music could have on people – how music can make one sad or glad, smile or grimace and all other emotions. To this day I am still very conscious of this, and I still use this knowledge every time when I perform at functions.
So what is it about DJ’ing that you enjoy?
I own quite a selection of DVD’s of live music shows and when I watch these I always marvel at how it must feel to stand on that stage and see all these people who came (and paid!) to watch you perform. Robbie Williams at his Knebworth concerts performed in front of 125 000 followers per evening for three consecutive evenings – imagine that! Simon and Garfunkel performed in front of an estimated 500 000 people in Central Park in New York. When I stand behind my DJ desk, it is probably the closest I can get to that feeling – seeing people enjoy the music that I play! And that is what i love about this job. And as I mentioned earlier, I get paid to do something I absolutely love to do.
Are there certain types of functions that you prefer above other?
DJ Gert :
I like all parties, but if I had to choose one I would probably choose weddings. The interaction with the bridal couple beforehand and to see the excitement and expectation of the new life ahead of them is just special. And I like to believe that I am quite good at weddings, probably because there is normally quite a spread of people in terms of age that one has to cater for, and my age and experience helps me in that regard.
On the other hand, with so many speeches and formalities to be taken care of it is sometimes extremely difficult to get the momentum of the party going – you just manage to get the party going then the next announcement or speech or garter-throwing or whatever takes place and you have to start building the vibe all over again. So I enjoy functions where there is quite a variety of guests and tastes.
But on my bucket list I would like to DJ at a function where the dance is never interrupted, and it is “langarm” all night long.
I sometimes hear people referring to you as DJ “Oom Gert” – why is this?
DJ Gert :
As you can see for yourself, the moustache is getting greyer and the hair is thinning out, so I accept that I am getting older and therewith being called “Oom”. I view this more endearing than derogatory, and it is certainly not an indication that I am not able to put up a good show. On the contrary, I can keep up with the youngsters out there, and they are often surprised when they hear the music that I play.
Having said that, there are certain types of music that I don’t play. But that has nothing to do with age, only with personal preferences. For example, I refuse to play music that contains vile or explicit language, or racial or blasphemous content.
I also believe that my age gives me a bit of an advantage when it comes to parties for older people since I can more readily relate to the music that they know.
And as the Afrikaans saying goes, the girls may call me “oom”, as long as they don’t say “nee oom”!
Tell me a bit more about your system and the equipment that you use.
DJ Gert :
I started off with two different systems: one for small functions up to about 60 guests and another for big functions up to about 150 guests. I also combined the two systems for larger functions up to about 300 guests, and when necessary I rented in more equipment. Over time I invested more in speakers and lights, and now own quite a big system with 2 passive speakers and an amplifier, a subwoofer, 5 powered speakers (with a total output of alpost 6000 watts), and 2 rechargeable speakers which can be used as a standalone PA system or as backup in cases of power failure (albeit at quite a reduced volume). The two larger speakers are JBL PRX 715’s, and on their own supply enough volume for up to about 250 guests.
Furthermore, in my mind lighting is a very important complementary part of the whole experience as it helps to create a special vibe. So I have invested in an array of different lights and effects which are mounted on a special lighting truss to complement the sound. I use mostly LED lights to conserve energy. The modern lights mostly have a built-in function that listens to the music and responds accordingly, providing a very good show. I try to place the lights so that there is at least some light projected onto the dance floor. And if the venue is suitable I also like to project against the roof and the walls.
The latest addition to this is a so-called GOBO projector which I use to project a personalised message for the function. For example, at a birthday party, I will make a GOBO to project the name and age of the birthday person onto the roof or a wall of the venue. This can be done in colour and the image can be rotated. Just another little value-add that customers really enjoy and appreciate.
So, depending on the requirements of the customer and the layout of the venue, I mix and match these speakers and complement them with appropriate lighting.
The full system takes about 2½ hours to set up and 1½ hours to strike. The mixer, amp and CD player is built into a custom-made cabinet to reduce setup times and to ensure the neatness of the setup. This cabinet contains enough power points so I only need to run a single cable from this cabinet to the closest wall socket.
Whenever I set up, I try my utmost to hide any cables and to ensure a neat DJ area. Brides and function planners spend a fortune on having their venue decorated to their taste, and I don’t want to spoil that. So you will always see my wife running around with Velcro strips and cable ties tying cables to speaker stands or ducting cables to the floor.
To what do you ascribe your success?
DJ Gert :
This is an easy question, with a difficult answer. There are lots of other DJ’s who do things differently and are also successful in what they do, because different aspects appeal differently to different audiences.
- I believe it is important to create a good impression by having a neat setup, looking neat and acting accordingly. If the function has a theme, I try to dress accordingly and customers really appreciate that little bit of extra effort.
- It is also very important to have a selection of music that will cater for most tastes, to know what music you have, and to accept your limitations. I won’t do a gig if I don’t have a fair idea of what music the guests will like since I may just arrive with nothing they like, and that will be a total disaster. So I prefer to have a discussion with whoever is responsible for organising the event in order to guage what type of music would be required, the age spread of the guests and a few other factors that may influence my playlist.
- I always prepare a playlist beforehand, even if I think that I will change it quite considerably during the event. I spend between 2 and 3 times the duration of the gig in researching and preparing my provisional playlist.
- To me it is imperative to make the transition from one dance song to the next as transparent as possible. Quite often guests will tell me that this is the thing they appreciate most – the fact that I don’t only go from one song to the next without the dancers noticing, but that I can change from “langarm” to twist and vice versa almost without them noticing! And of course the fact that there are no silent periods between songs and guests arean’t stuck on the dance floor wondering what is going to happen next.
- I am extremely careful when accepting requests. As mentioned before I refuse to play songs that contain explicit lyrics or racial or blasphemous content. So it is important for me not to be lured into playing a song that I don’t know since it may offend someone in the audience. This is also part of the reason why I refuse to play songs off mobile phones or other personal music players. I mostly find that the quality of such music, when amplified through my system, is not up to the standard that I require anyway.
Is there anything you dislike about the job?
DJ Gert :
Some things that are more an annoyance than not enjoying the job is when guests request a song and expect the song to be played immediately. This is not always possible since I build on a theme throughout and may have promised someone else that their request is up next, or it may be impossible to mix this song into the current song or it may interfere with the theme that I am currently busy building on.
Also, when someone requests a song, and when it is played they are outside smoking only to return later to ask when am I going to play their request.
Sometimes people come up to me and ask me if they can have a look at the songs I have. I really don’t mind, but it is impractical to let people page through 24 000 songs on my laptop deciding what they like whilst I’m supposed to keep the party going.
But this is all part of the job, and I try to be as tactful as possible when telling people that I cannot adhere to all requests.
Lastly, do you work alone?
DJ Gert :
No, my wife Hesta acts as my assistant, and she accompanies me to most gigs. She is really a great help in setting up since she can mount most of the light truss while I get the sound going. She also has a keen eye for ensuring the neatness of the setup and as mentioned before it is her job to fasten and hide all the cables.
Then when the function starts and people are dancing she walks around the venue helping me to ensure that the volume levels are correct and that the lights are creating the desired effect. But mostly, she helps me to read the crowd and will tell me when she thinks it is time to change from one genre to another, so from that point of view we really make a great team.