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From the first time a record was played over the airwaves in 1906, to a modern club economy that totals $3 billion annually in New York City alone, the DJ has been at the center of popular music. Starting as little more than a talking jukebox, the DJ is now a premier entertainer, producer, businessman, and musician in his own right. Superstar DJs, from Junior Vasquez to Sa From the first time a record was played over the airwaves in 1906, to a modern club economy that totals $3 billion annually in New York City alone, the DJ has been at the center of popular music. Starting as little more than a talking jukebox, the DJ is now a premier entertainer, producer, businessman, and musician in his own right. Superstar DJs, from Junior Vasquez to Sasha and Digweed, command worship and adoration from millions, flying around the globe to earn tens of thousands of dollars for one night's work. Increasingly, they are replacing live musicians as the central figures of the music industry. In Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, music journalists Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton have written the first comprehensive history of the mysterious and charismatic figure behind the turntables -- part obsessive record collector, part mad scientist, part intuitive psychologist of the party groove. From England's rabid Northern Soul scene to the birth of disco in New York, from the sound systems of Jamaica to the scratch wars of early hip-hop in the Bronx, from Chicago house to Detroit techno to London rave, DJs are responsible for most of the significant changes in music over the past forty years. Drawing on in-depth interviews with DJs, critics, musicians, record executives, and the revelers at some of the century's most legendary parties, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is nothing less than the life story of dance music.


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From the first time a record was played over the airwaves in 1906, to a modern club economy that totals $3 billion annually in New York City alone, the DJ has been at the center of popular music. Starting as little more than a talking jukebox, the DJ is now a premier entertainer, producer, businessman, and musician in his own right. Superstar DJs, from Junior Vasquez to Sa From the first time a record was played over the airwaves in 1906, to a modern club economy that totals $3 billion annually in New York City alone, the DJ has been at the center of popular music. Starting as little more than a talking jukebox, the DJ is now a premier entertainer, producer, businessman, and musician in his own right. Superstar DJs, from Junior Vasquez to Sasha and Digweed, command worship and adoration from millions, flying around the globe to earn tens of thousands of dollars for one night's work. Increasingly, they are replacing live musicians as the central figures of the music industry. In Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, music journalists Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton have written the first comprehensive history of the mysterious and charismatic figure behind the turntables -- part obsessive record collector, part mad scientist, part intuitive psychologist of the party groove. From England's rabid Northern Soul scene to the birth of disco in New York, from the sound systems of Jamaica to the scratch wars of early hip-hop in the Bronx, from Chicago house to Detroit techno to London rave, DJs are responsible for most of the significant changes in music over the past forty years. Drawing on in-depth interviews with DJs, critics, musicians, record executives, and the revelers at some of the century's most legendary parties, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is nothing less than the life story of dance music.

30 review for Last Night a DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey

  1. 4 out of 5

    Meredith Enos

    This book is clearly well researched, but the prose bogs it down. It takes a fascinating subject and makes it sometimes painful to read about--painful as in laden with pedantry and cliche. It feels like it was written by one of those fanboys who loves "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and knows why Angel was wearing that bracelet in that one episode and will tell you about it for 15 minutes got turned on to hiphop. The interviews were good, though. This book is clearly well researched, but the prose bogs it down. It takes a fascinating subject and makes it sometimes painful to read about--painful as in laden with pedantry and cliche. It feels like it was written by one of those fanboys who loves "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and knows why Angel was wearing that bracelet in that one episode and will tell you about it for 15 minutes got turned on to hiphop. The interviews were good, though.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Carlex

    (My apologies for mistreating the English language) Four and half stars. If you have seen my profile you may think that this book is quite far from the usual, but not so much if we consider my interest in popular culture and, in addition, for my studies of sociology (although I am not working in this discipline) that has left me "installed" the curiosity about social phenomena. Of course as a young “dancing king” I frequently attended nightclubs, so from my own experience this is familiar to me. On (My apologies for mistreating the English language) Four and half stars. If you have seen my profile you may think that this book is quite far from the usual, but not so much if we consider my interest in popular culture and, in addition, for my studies of sociology (although I am not working in this discipline) that has left me "installed" the curiosity about social phenomena. Of course as a young “dancing king” I frequently attended nightclubs, so from my own experience this is familiar to me. On the other hand, I did not know the phenomenon in itself, that is, the cultural meaning and the history of the music that today has derived in dance music and in our case with the figure of the DJ. A fascinating story of counterculture, working classes and racial minorities (actually not really minorities), gay subculture and drugs, a lot of drugs. The elements (that is, the technology) for the first disc jockey to be born more than a century ago are: 1 gramophone + 1 radio. And this is how all starts (including the first disputes over copyright and the interests of the record companies). Although of course there is a third element missing: the dance floor. Over time, there will come the many and varied ways to mix and alter the music. This book is an extensive work that very accurately analyzes the DJ "without going into philosophical questions" (or sociological ;-) in the words of the authors; that is, a book written from the dance floor: (the authors have a long experience as music journalists), with historical data, quotes from relevant people, etc. In this brief review just highlight some unknown aspects of this story. As an example of counterculture: the diffusion of the first rock and roll by the independent radio DJs, before their "whitening" and popularization, or the irruption of acid-house in UK in late eighties, as a form of rebellion in the hard years of Margaret Tatcher’s era. The great role of the dance floor in the black subculture (hip-hop, funky, break-dance), or the “disco” in the gay subculture in the 70s (until it was almost devastated all by the AIDS epidemic in the early eighties). In the middle I leave many episodes: for example, you can search the therms of "Nortern Soul" in the 70s UK, or the historical influence of Studio 54. About Studio 54, I cannot resist to explain the experience of the disco group Chic, when they were not allowed to enter in the New York most famous disco -even if here they were playing their own songs- and in revenge the group composed "Fuck Out", a song that retitled became the great hit "Freak Out". The book is full of anecdotes like this one. So, maybe, the the only criticisms of the book is that it is excessively detailed in some moments, and perhaps a chronology a bit confusing. I can not extend more in this rich and prolific story, only to say that currently the disc-jockey is an entrenched figure that in some cases have abandoned the purity and anonymity of the “deejays” (strictly the protagonists are the music and the dance-floor) have achieved stardom as musical producers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Tosh

    A super interesting history of the DJ and his record collection. This book basically covers the time when a man or woman played a record in front of an audience. It covers stuff from the 20's to of course the Disco era to the Northern Soul. I am not into dance music or DJ culture, but saying that this is truly a fascinating history of records and the role it plays in individuals lives as well as social groups of all sorts. The Northern Soul cult is beyond fascinating. DJ's locating old Motown, St A super interesting history of the DJ and his record collection. This book basically covers the time when a man or woman played a record in front of an audience. It covers stuff from the 20's to of course the Disco era to the Northern Soul. I am not into dance music or DJ culture, but saying that this is truly a fascinating history of records and the role it plays in individuals lives as well as social groups of all sorts. The Northern Soul cult is beyond fascinating. DJ's locating old Motown, Stax recordings that WERE NOT HITS. Yet are beautiful records. The DJ's would protect their source with their lives. Also the connection between Gay sub-culture and disco clubs is one fascinating read. Really this is truly a great book. One doesn't have to be a music lover to appreciate the history of DJing (that goes beyond discos, etc.)

  4. 5 out of 5

    Anna Bogdanova

    So I'm in two minds about this book. On the one hand, it's truly unique and it tackles an important and undernarrated history. On the other hand, it really shows that the authors can't really handle either the popular non-fiction genre, or the genre of the academic essay. It's a bit all over the place: the structure goes by musical genre, but you end up skipping decades back and forth. Instead of offering analysis, it usually devolves into listing names of DJs and clubs. And don't even get me st So I'm in two minds about this book. On the one hand, it's truly unique and it tackles an important and undernarrated history. On the other hand, it really shows that the authors can't really handle either the popular non-fiction genre, or the genre of the academic essay. It's a bit all over the place: the structure goes by musical genre, but you end up skipping decades back and forth. Instead of offering analysis, it usually devolves into listing names of DJs and clubs. And don't even get me started on all the biases that the authors seem to be oblivious to. In short, I'm glad that this book exists and I enjoyed rummaging through it to make a few discoveries. But, unfortunately, it fails as a "history.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Gregarious cline

    This book is my bible. I reread it every couple of years and get something new and vital out it every time. I'm glad I initially read it years after I started DJ'ing or it might have over loaded my circuits. It's fascinating that the principles that made these historic DJs, DeeJays, and DiscJockeys amazing still hold true today. A must read for anyone who has ever attempted DJ'ing once or more. This book is my bible. I reread it every couple of years and get something new and vital out it every time. I'm glad I initially read it years after I started DJ'ing or it might have over loaded my circuits. It's fascinating that the principles that made these historic DJs, DeeJays, and DiscJockeys amazing still hold true today. A must read for anyone who has ever attempted DJ'ing once or more.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Chuck Pee

    I teach "electronic music history" because of this book!!! I teach "electronic music history" because of this book!!!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Tony Calder

    This excellent book does what the title claims - it presents the history of the DJ from the very first time a record was played on a radio broadcast (in 1906) through to a century later when the revised edition of this book was released. While it does look at the role of the DJ on radio, the vast majority of the book is devoted to the DJ in clubs and parties. In doing this, what it also does is provide a comprehensive look at the history of dance music from the rock n roll era onward because much This excellent book does what the title claims - it presents the history of the DJ from the very first time a record was played on a radio broadcast (in 1906) through to a century later when the revised edition of this book was released. While it does look at the role of the DJ on radio, the vast majority of the book is devoted to the DJ in clubs and parties. In doing this, what it also does is provide a comprehensive look at the history of dance music from the rock n roll era onward because much of the development in dance music trends was driven by DJs. Indeed, the chapters are broken down by musical genre rather than by specific time periods. The book is very well researched and many of the top DJs (from the 70s onward) were interviewed and their observations have been incorporated into the text. At the end of the book there are 17 pages of playlists from various DJs or from various clubs, which provide an invaluable resource for anyone who has an interest in the different genres of dance music.

  8. 4 out of 5

    John Defrog

    A lengthy history of the disc jockey, tracing the evolution from radio and the concept of playing records in dance clubs (both of which enraged musician unions everywhere, claiming it would put them out of work) to the rise of disco, techno, house and superstar DJs. At 600 pages, it’s a bit of a slog, but the thesis of DJ as shaman leading celebratory dance rituals – along with the idea that DJs have done as much if not more than music artists to shape the evolution of music – is rather convinci A lengthy history of the disc jockey, tracing the evolution from radio and the concept of playing records in dance clubs (both of which enraged musician unions everywhere, claiming it would put them out of work) to the rise of disco, techno, house and superstar DJs. At 600 pages, it’s a bit of a slog, but the thesis of DJ as shaman leading celebratory dance rituals – along with the idea that DJs have done as much if not more than music artists to shape the evolution of music – is rather convincing, though it probably helps if yr a regular clubber or raver. Still, it’s worth reading to learn the real story of how disco evolved. Hint: there was so much more to it than the Village People and the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Caden Mccann

    A entertaining and well-researched history of DJing, ending with the onset of the new millennium. Reflecting my own tastes, I particularly liked the sections on the disco scene in New York, and the techno scene in Detroit. I would recommend this book for anyone with an interest in club music.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Bill Stepien

    I cherry-picked chapters around my musical tastes, so I can heartily recommend the parts on reggae and hip-hop. The authors admit that their treatment isn't comprehensive, but focused on their experiences and connections. Still, great stuff on the origins of DJing and the musical forms it spawned. I cherry-picked chapters around my musical tastes, so I can heartily recommend the parts on reggae and hip-hop. The authors admit that their treatment isn't comprehensive, but focused on their experiences and connections. Still, great stuff on the origins of DJing and the musical forms it spawned.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kirk Chantraine

    Do you mark a book as read when you have to stop reading since it makes you so angry? Sexist, inaccurate, pretentious and condescending - if you have any attachment to DJing or appreciation for music stay away. Gag...

  12. 4 out of 5

    Johnpaul

    This is the other half. Read "The Oral History of Punk Rock by Legs Mc Neill" before during or after reading this book. The characters, music, moods and ideas all collide. This is the other half. Read "The Oral History of Punk Rock by Legs Mc Neill" before during or after reading this book. The characters, music, moods and ideas all collide.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Hood

    Serves as a view on the evolution of subcultures as well a history on the music scenes within them.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jovaughn Brown

    Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is a comprehensive history of DJing over the last century and how innovative techniques spawned new genres of music. It's also a testament to the artistic merit of DJing which is commonly despised by people who think that DJing is nothing more than playing one record after another, without any sort of musicianship or skill. DJing is, in fact, a momentous artistic force that has helped to define eras in musical culture. This book goes well with other music history bo Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is a comprehensive history of DJing over the last century and how innovative techniques spawned new genres of music. It's also a testament to the artistic merit of DJing which is commonly despised by people who think that DJing is nothing more than playing one record after another, without any sort of musicianship or skill. DJing is, in fact, a momentous artistic force that has helped to define eras in musical culture. This book goes well with other music history books like Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation by Jeff Chang, and Energy Flash: A Journey Through Rave Music and Dance Culture by Simon Reynolds. There is a deep overlap between all three of these books which I found very satisfying. Unfortunately, the problem with all music history books is that the subject matter is based around an auditory experience, so it's frustrating not being able to hear the music that these books are referencing. Luckily there are places like YouTube now where you can go and hear a few examples here and there, but that can become time-consuming. Last Night a DJ Saved My Life would inundate me with so many facts about songs and people that it became dizzying. It would be nice if there were comprehensive multi-part video documentaries about this stuff so that people can simultaneously experience the music while learning about it. If you're reading this review and have any suggestions, please let me know. As a "bedroom DJ" myself, I found Last Night a DJ Saved My Life to be super inspirational whenever I went to read it. It's full of lessons that inspired me to work on my craft more, and for the right reasons. I'd recommend this book to any aspiring DJ, especially those who sense a deeper meaning to the craft.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Maarten Wagemakers

    You could divide this book into two parts basically: the historical, canonical history of the DJ in eras and settings that the author wasn't part of (featuring lots of talking heads, well-researched facts, song name-drops that paint a very clear picture of the scene), and the more modern UK-era from the eighties on that he seems to know *very* well. From major DJ movements being described with a mostly objective and detached style, we suddenly move into numerous UK micro-genres and spin-offs (no You could divide this book into two parts basically: the historical, canonical history of the DJ in eras and settings that the author wasn't part of (featuring lots of talking heads, well-researched facts, song name-drops that paint a very clear picture of the scene), and the more modern UK-era from the eighties on that he seems to know *very* well. From major DJ movements being described with a mostly objective and detached style, we suddenly move into numerous UK micro-genres and spin-offs (not all of which fleshed out to the standards set earlier in the book; I still don't really know how to interpret 'rare groove' as a movement for example. Is it just a jazz-funk revival in the eighties?), the prose suddenly becomes a lot more poetic, and every one of the last six chapters seemed to work to a climax as if each of them was intended to be the final say on the subject. I'm not sure if that's because I've been reading the extended, updated version, but the book was surprisingly back-loaded as a result - also to the point of fatigue at times. While my interest started to wane a bit anyway half-way the book by the time disco rolls around (I listen to an awful lot of music and don't mind dabbling in spinning records publically myself from time to time, but I've never really warmed to techno, house and its later spin-offs), the descriptions of this club and that DJ and this great breakthough in mixing and that legendary night of 'perfect storms' do tend to get repetitive at some point. Perhaps you had to be there, as Brewster seems to demonstrate by his rising enthusiasm by the end. Definitely an interesting read however. I might return to it later if I find myself (re)discovering certain genres; the helpful club charts tucked in at the end don't hurt either.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jack

    An incredibly robust and well-rounded history of DJing, popular music, and especially dance music culture. However, Brewster often writes about women (whose contributions to DJing and dance music are given a mere two pages in the five-hundred-plus page book) with a sexist bent, and though he highly reveres the music, the way he writes about people of color behind many of the music styles showcased in the book is rather insensitive and results in more than a few eye-rolls. There are quite a few bo An incredibly robust and well-rounded history of DJing, popular music, and especially dance music culture. However, Brewster often writes about women (whose contributions to DJing and dance music are given a mere two pages in the five-hundred-plus page book) with a sexist bent, and though he highly reveres the music, the way he writes about people of color behind many of the music styles showcased in the book is rather insensitive and results in more than a few eye-rolls. There are quite a few books on dance music in my to-do list that, I'm hoping, will fill in the gaps LNADSML leaves unfilled, and offer other more diverse and illuminating points of view on the subject. Despite its shortcomings though, I came out of LNADSML with a much greater appreciation for DJing and dance music culture, as well as its "unsung hero" status within popular music, and I think people, whether they're interested in electronic music or not, should give this book a try.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Maya Angelica Hernandez

    Very knowledgeable about the music world, nice prose, but history itself seems to repeat itself too much: new music comes out, initially people reject, then embrace, lots of dancing in clubs, then becomes too mainstream, some new music brewing underground somewhere till it resurfaces, and etc. Got tiring after a while, but that’s not the writer’s fault. Made me appreciate DJ’s a lot more though.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Gary Fowles

    Damn fine doorstop of a book that attempts the almost impossible of charting the history of the DJ. From it's humble beginning in the scratchy age of valve radio right the way up to the Digital DJ. Of course there are areas that don't get covered as much as one would like, but when it's good, such as the rise of Hip-Hop, the Jamaican sound clashes or the Disco era, it's pretty much perfect. Damn fine doorstop of a book that attempts the almost impossible of charting the history of the DJ. From it's humble beginning in the scratchy age of valve radio right the way up to the Digital DJ. Of course there are areas that don't get covered as much as one would like, but when it's good, such as the rise of Hip-Hop, the Jamaican sound clashes or the Disco era, it's pretty much perfect.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Field

    Informative, and at times pretty interesting, but I thought the prose was terrible, and the writing style was pretentious and frustrating. It felt like the writers wanted to get through the first couple hundred pages so they could name-drop house and techno DJs that they got to interview for the later chapters, which was mostly why they wrote the book.

  20. 5 out of 5

    xmikerx75

    A game of two halves. The pages about the early days of it all are superb. It's also interesting to read about the European scene. However, the later UK scene chapters descend into cliche and error which feel far less researched. One day someone will treat the UK rave scene with a little more respect. A game of two halves. The pages about the early days of it all are superb. It's also interesting to read about the European scene. However, the later UK scene chapters descend into cliche and error which feel far less researched. One day someone will treat the UK rave scene with a little more respect.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Asheg Brom

    I read this many years ago, but I remember it being staggeringly thorough in its knowledge of genres that I knew very little about, and where, when and why these genres emerged. When I discovered many years later that it's seen as a venerated text within musical circles, I wasn't surprised at all. Very highly recommended. I would class it as one of the essential texts of sociomusicology 101. I read this many years ago, but I remember it being staggeringly thorough in its knowledge of genres that I knew very little about, and where, when and why these genres emerged. When I discovered many years later that it's seen as a venerated text within musical circles, I wasn't surprised at all. Very highly recommended. I would class it as one of the essential texts of sociomusicology 101.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Brian Gee

    The amount of new musical knowledge I've gained from this book is unbelievable! It also features well told stories about the clubs and dancers where musical history was made. Very inspiring and sent me on many journeys of musical research. The amount of new musical knowledge I've gained from this book is unbelievable! It also features well told stories about the clubs and dancers where musical history was made. Very inspiring and sent me on many journeys of musical research.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Michael Shpilkovsky

    The books tells the story of the 20 century DJ up until these days. Lots of information about DJs, music styles, clubs, eras, people and so much more! A must book to whoever loves music and history. Really helped me to step up as a DJ.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jonny Brick

    I wonder if future editions will remove the fact that Jimmy Savile invented the Disc Jockey. Key voices explain why they deserve praise for essentially creating vibes in otherwise vibeless rooms. Superstar DJing is the latest wheeze.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Francisco Manzano

    The best book I've ever read about electronic music. It doesn't only show you the story and evolution of it, it shows the story of one of the most important person at a party/club, etc...The DJ, if you are into being a DJ, produce music, or want to know more about these things, this book is a must. The best book I've ever read about electronic music. It doesn't only show you the story and evolution of it, it shows the story of one of the most important person at a party/club, etc...The DJ, if you are into being a DJ, produce music, or want to know more about these things, this book is a must.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Megan

    interesting primer on DJing and the development of different club cultures, prose was at times painfully heavy handed and long-winded. spotify playlist of every song mentioned in the book definitely elevated the reading experience

  27. 5 out of 5

    Killian

    Really in-depth and fascinating take on dj and electronic music in all forms. Incredibly well researched. Brilliant

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brett McDowall

    Brilliantly detailed book about all things DJ covers so many genres and era’s Superb

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kayleigh Robinson

    This book took me SEVERAL months to read but I learned a LOT. I wish I was alive for raves pre-cell phones :(

  30. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    A history of club culture and dance music the people who made it happen.

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