Story+ Project

Digital Ethnography and Global (quarantined) DJs

(2020)

DJs in Quarantine

As we enter into the long night of the coronavirus pandemic, many are “bracing-in” and struggling to see the dawn. The entertainment and service industries have been particularly hard hit as musicians, technicians, service staff, and venues struggle to survive during a time of enforced isolation. However, the DJ community has had a swift response. The proliferation of DJ and collective livestream musical performances has soared in recent weeks. If so inclined, one could find DJ performances across genres on any given day. Such broadcasts take place on platforms like Facebook Live, YouTube, and more recently the videogame streaming platform, Twitch. DJs perform from bedrooms, backyards, or empty clubs and studios. All with an increasing attention to production value. Virtual attendees interact in chatrooms or organize break-out Zoom “rooms” where participants can dance, interact, and engage. All from the safety of their own spaces. It is a moment for the emergence of new forms of musical performance, participation, and sociality.

This project will engage at a crucial point in the coronavirus pandemic as technologies, sounds, and modes of engagement morph in response to the demands of social distancing. As such, students will begin with the following broad preliminary inquiries from which many more are certain to emerge: How are DJs and attendees creating new forms of socialization through livestream events? How does the relationship between DJs and technology contribute to the speed with which they have mobilized? Is this an emergent mode of expression that will last, or is it a stopgap during the isolation of the pandemic? Who is getting paid?

Following some preliminary readings, students will be engaging in Digital Ethnography. They will attend livestream DJ events, interact with participants, and make detailed records of their findings. Livestreams will also be evaluated in terms of genres, sound quality, broadcast quality, presence of ads or donation links for the DJs, number of participants, and region. This will also require substantial curiosity, initiative, and agility as students will need to adapt to different platforms and styles of performance as they continue to emerge and converge during the pandemic. While the form of the final product will be determined by the group, it will address not only the response from within the DJ community, but also connect to broader considerations about the ways that artists and musicians have innovated strategies for surviving the crisis.

screenshot of digital djs story+ team

Project Sponsor(s): 

Louise Meintjes, PhD and Cade Bourne

Graduate Mentor(s): 

Cade Bourne, PhD candidate, Music

Undergraduates: 

Sarah Derris, Courtney Dantzler, Francisco Banda

Outcome: 

The COVID19 pandemic thrust the world of live Electronic Dance Music DJ performance into a precarious virtual space. DJs around the globe responded to the prohibition on live musical performance by producing “Livestream” performances across a number of virtual platforms. The Digital Ethnography & Quarantined DJs Story+ Team developed and applied models of digital ethnographic research to these emergent spaces for music, sociality, and commerce as they were imagined and developed in real time. A sense of “liveness” is a foundational component for musical expression and sociality within the Electronic Dance Music community. As such, the team began their research by querying the status of “liveness” in virtual DJ performance. This led to more specific engagements with musical genre, community response to “trolls”, community fundraising and solidarity efforts, and the DIY mentality amongst DJs and participants that hastened the transition from live to virtual space. The team produced a video presentation that features original musical compositions as well as a website (https://djsinquarantine.tumblr.com) that features research journals, foundational readings, and playlists of the DJs that they observed in English, French, Spanish, and German speaking contexts..

Topic(s)

  • Art
  • Dance
  • Ethnography
  • Music
  • Global Health