Why the "warm-up" is the royal class of DJing

Dominik Anré, Tsri.ch Von Dominik André am

Dominik André was recently a guest at Club Zukunft. There, he already got "electro and breakbeats blasted around his ears at an unnaturally high speed" during the warm-up set. In this column, he explains the importance and different requirements of the "warm-up", the "main time" and the "after hour".

45rpm.ch author Dominik André writes a monthly column on Tsri.ch in German. This is the translated version, edited for our readers.

A while ago I was a guest at Club Zukunft. I think it was the first time after the pandemic break. In the still young night, I didn't want to miss my friend Audrey Danza's set under any circumstances. Arriving on the dancefloor, it was 01:20, I can remember that exactly. This is because I consulted the watch on my wrist several times, because somehow what the DJ was playing didn't match what I was expecting at that hour, let alone what would have encouraged me to dance.

There is a lot of philosophising about what music a DJ should play and when, and there is no universal formula. However, a rough distinction can be made between warm-up, main time and afterhours. Afterhours are known to drag on, so DJs are expected to keep the dancers going while they can still stand. Those who play at the main time usually create the climax of the party and musically this is reflected by a high energy level and often a hit or two. The warm-up is, as the name suggests, a warm-up.

«Playing "Titanium" during the warm-up seems a bit excessive even to me as a DJ who is not familiar with the genre - unless the warm-up DJ is called David Guetta.»

The visitors arrive, first having to find their way around, greet their friends and then slowly join them on the dancefloor. They should stay there, which is supported by the right choice of music by the DJs. There are usually smooth transitions between warm-up, main time and after-hours. The energy is passed from one DJ to the next because nowadays these slots are often filled by different people. An exception is the allnighter, then one DJ plays alone for the entire duration of the event.

On the night in question, the BPM counter hit 148 BPM, which is basically very fast. All the more so because the DJ responsible for it played the warm-up and especially in this club, which I know very well myself, on the one hand, the music speed and on the other hand the choice of music did not match the time.

Warmed-up discussions

The discussion about the same topic is currently boiling up on Twitter, which has spilt over from the EDM corner to the entire DJ scene. The trigger is the EDM star DJ Afrojack, who is mocking the fact that a DJ before him played the track "Titanium". The problem: Afrojack co-produced the song, which appeared on David Guetta's 2011 album "Nothing but the Beat". In my DJ Twitter bubble, too, everyone has an opinion on this, and so new statements on what a DJ must be able to do for a warm-up and what they may and may not do are now appearing regularly.

«The visitors hadn't even handed in their jackets yet and were already being bombarded with electro and breakbeats at an unnaturally high speed.»

It is actually rather unusual to play music by the following DJ, which seems to have happened with Afrojack. However, since "Titanium" is already over ten years old and not everyone knows that Afrojack co-wrote the track, this is rather a trifle. However, playing "Titanium" during the warm-up seems a bit excessive even to me as a DJ who is not familiar with the genre - unless the warm-up DJ is called David Guetta.

What can be said for sure: The slot of the warm-up DJs is filled with special requirements compared to the main time and afterhour. That's why this task is usually entrusted to experienced DJs. A DJ also knows that bookers plan their programme in such a way that there is a thread and a development over the duration of a night and that there is a consideration behind each slot.

Irritations on the dancefloor

In Club Zukunft, Audrey Danza stood next to me and watched the scene. There was no real atmosphere yet. The movements in the room tended more towards the bar than the centre of the dancefloor. How could they? The visitors hadn't even handed in their jackets yet and were already being bombarded with electro and breakbeats at an unnaturally high speed. For me, who had already played several warm-ups at this venue, the whole thing was a bit strange. Especially because the task of the warm-up is something like the royal class of DJing for me.

Of course, this task is a bit thankless. Because once you have brought the dancers to the point where you can really turn it up, you have to hand it over to the next DJ. The fact that you have slowly manoeuvred the people from the bar towards the dancefloor with a lot of patience, track by track, carefully raising the energy level bit by bit, usually goes unnoticed. At the same time, you did the perfect job.

When Audrey then stood at the DJ booth, she started with a track that immediately introduced a completely different mood, and after three or four transitions, the dancefloor was full. The visibly relaxed audience danced themselves wet with sweat during Audrey's set. That night I learned that fortunately, it's not all up to the warm-up DJs. An experienced DJ can always turn things around, despite the warm-up DJ's failed preparation.

Words by Dominik André. He writes about DJ culture, music nerd stuff and sometimes shares thoughts about the music business. He runs the record label Subject To Restrictions Discs.