Marathon DJ Sets :: So What?

Words by: Kristan Caryl
Posted: 3/4/18 15:17

The Martinez Brothers & Marco Carola @ Space Miami, photo credit: Instagram

Last week, we caught footage online of a 33 hour set at Space Miami from Marco Carola and The Martinez Brothers. A lone voice in the IV office shouted 'who cares how long they play? It doesn't matter!'. Kristan Caryl counters by saying that, in the current climate, maybe it does...

Back at the birth of DJ culture, it was the norm for one person to play all night long. 
Look no further than Larry Levan at The Paradise Garage for proof: his 12+ hour sets were known as Saturday Mass for the way they took people on a quasi-religious journey through disco, proto-house, dub, synth pop and funky rock. They almost single handedly persuaded people that DJing was about more than just playing one record after the other; that it was an art form which, at its peak, can tell stories and evoke feelings so powerful that people can be brought to tears.   

You can’t do that in a hour-long set. It’s hard even in two hours. But that is generally what DJs have to work with today. And there are many reasons for that. Firstly, and mainly, competition amongst promoters is so rife that they need to pack as many names as possible onto each flyer. It means that, after an inevitably long list of sub-standard residents have played, headliners only have a couple of hours to make an impact so have to bang out a fairly high octane set with little room for nuance. [Editors note: at a night at Sankeys Ibiza last year, we noticed that one of the side rooms had five b2b sets programmed, with each set being 45 minutes in length. That is about 2.5 records each]

Secondly, the advent of shows like Boiler Room and Mixmag style Lab events—as well as the explosion of festival culture—mean bite-sized, hour long sets have become the norm. Again, these are about showing off your skills and grabbing the attention of people who happen to be scrolling Facebook when your stream is being broadcast. They certainly aren’t the right arenas to show off another side of your collection or to try and build an atmosphere. A wider truth is that attention spans are shorter than they have ever been. There are so many distractions in the palm of everyone’s hand now that if a DJ requires any level of patience from their crowd, they risk losing them to Instagram/WhatsApp/Facebook etc. 

But that shouldn’t be how it is. Wouldn’t you feel rather short changed if you went to an art exhibition and there were only five pieces on show? If a TV series was launched with only three episodes, would you even bother? Probably not, because brevity is the enemy of true character, emotional connection and narrative. 

  Danny Tenaglia - Marathon Master. photo credit: Facebook

It’s the same with DJing. The longer people play, the more they can say. That might not be the case with everyone—given a longer set time many one dimensional DJs would keep on doing their same old do for more hours just for the sake of it—but quality selectors generally always want to play for longer. Danny Tenaglia is one of the most celebrated marathon DJ specialists: his sets in New York managed to keep the vibe alive for up to 20 hours at a time, while Carl Cox’s extended sessions at Space are equally the stuff of legend. Anyone who has seen Ricardo Villalobos play for days will know that he manages to do so without ever repeating the same trick or treading the same ground over and over. For DJs like Floating Points or Jeremy Underground, longer sets are a chance to start off a world away from their normal sound, with funk, jazz and soul selections that slowly segue into house. 

Extended sets are about clever pacing and restraint. They’re about teasing and holding back as much as giving people what they want. The art of a successful all night session is in mixing up experimental passages and curveball selections with sections of classics and more functional tackle that gets people back on side before you push them again. It’s about DJs indulging a side of themselves and really drawing it out for maximum impact because, after all, the thrill is often in the chase. 

The ultimate aim is to make 12 hours pass as quickly and effortlessly as two, but to really take people somewhere in the process. Without these extended play times, we run the risk of sets becoming ever more homogenised and driven by instantaneous impact; of being stuffed with attention grabbing bangers and lacking real character. Instead, DJs need room to breath and express themselves, and we need to give them that or the true art of DJing will be lost forever. 

Steven, Chris, Marco - we salute you.


Now treat your ears to an hour-long podcast. Well we cant do marathon podcasts! Can we?


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