Dial back the clock. DJing isn’t anything new. From the invention of vinyl records to today, musicophiles have been selecting and building their names by playing back recorded music to wake up the room. Stick around, this isn’t a history class. You just might need to show a little interest in the artform at your next gig. So keep learning to DJ by checking out some of the key moments in the evolving lifespan of DJing.

1800s - 1950: Point Of Origin


Ever think about why it’s called a track? Recorded sound was invented in 1857 with the phonoautograph, which may have looked like a cement mixer but made history by using a needle to leave grooves (‘tracks’) in sheets of paper. That’s right. The first records were paper sheets! Then came wax cylinders, acetate plates, then vinyl discs. The phrase ‘disc jockey’ only came about in the 1930s, but selectors were spinning records as early as 1909 when a 16-year-old guy called Ray Newby started broadcasting music he’d selected via radio while still in college. But it was probably still a little weird if you went out to a party in the 1940s and danced to a guy playing records instead of a band. But by the 1950s, dance parties and nightclubs playing recorded music were as normal as they are today.

1950 - 1970: Getting The Groove On

Kingston, the capital of Jamaica, gets some serious cred for its contribution to DJ culture. Groups of party promoters started calling themselves ‘DJs’, hijacking the term from radio presenters. They created brat packs of entrepreneurs called ‘sound systems’. Reggae, ska and dancehall fuelled the fire for the dancers at all-night street parties. Speakers were stacked one-storey high, and still are today!) Meanwhile, discotheques continue to pop up around Europe and the United States. Beatmatching also started in 1969, allowing the crowd to dance continually for the first time. Like learning to DJ today, skills and styles started to develop when it became clear that DJing wasn’t just something anyone could do without practice.

1970s: Hit The Streets

Hip hop and disco took off in the 1970s. DJ Kool Herc began throwing block parties in the Bronx of New York City, mixing two identical records to extend the ‘break’ of a song. This was where the technicality of DJing began to command respect from crowds. Turntablism started to be considered an art form, and DJs were elevated beyond mere selectors of popular music. A hip hop DJ called Grand Wizard began revving his audience with a new technique called scratching.  Sampling found its way into electronic music productions. With the blending of hip hop and electronic music, disco music started to take off. Check out a great piece on the history of hip hop DJing.

Coming up: the arrival of warehouse parties, day-glo nights and the digital music of tomorrow. Getting excited about the future yet? Sign up for an online DJ course to join the force of music curation as it evolves.

John Bartmann is an award-winning music producer and DJ.