The ‘warm-up’ is the term used to describe the first DJ set of the evening, before peak time and the guests are on, when the club is first filling up. The warm-up DJ generally isn’t considered as ‘important’ as the guest DJs – the ‘names’ will command bigger fees and will get to turn up when the room is packed and ready to go stratospheric, drop a couple of big tunes and take all the glory as the roof blows off. However, good DJs know that the warm-up is vital to the rest of the night, and that to play it well requires the whole suite of DJ skills.
The art of the warm-up is a subtle, nuanced affair and is all about restraint. If you’re always playing the main room at peak time, then you don’t get many chances to tease your audience, to coax and to seduce. More often than not, you’ll be inclined to cane it, to hit it as hard as you can, to rinse them out and give everyone a bonkers night they’ll never forget. Which is fine, that what headliners do.
The warm-up, however, is all about setting the mood and dictating the direction, at one of the most important moments in the lifespan of a night out. The atmosphere at this time is fragile, its a precious thing that needs to be nurtured and cherished. The room isn’t full, so people aren’t feeling that they can get lost in the crowd yet. Its early, so many people might be on their first or second drink and haven’t dropped their inhibitions yet. The warm-up needs to gently loosen everyone up, and slowly lead them all to the same place, creating a welcoming vibe purely through selections and transitions.
It’s likely that most of your audience won’t have come specifically to hear you, so of all the DJ sets that you play, the warm-up is the one where there is the least room for your ego. Which is not to say that you won’t get to indulge yourself. Playing a warm up is a chance to dig out all the weird and wonderful pieces of music that you can’t drop in a peak time set: the oddities, rarities, the esoteric, obscure, wilfully-weird tunes.
What’s more, playing a warm up frees you from the tyranny of having to maintain a constant pulse to keep the floor moving. You don’t have to smoothly mix between similarly tempo’ed tunes for your whole set, you can switch it up, move between genres, play songs with long drifty intros, or that don’t maintain a rigid tempo.
If the art of DJing is all about selection (and it is), then the warm-up DJ’s job is the epitome of this. A good warm-up set should be the distillation of all your DJ knowledge, together with all your experience of group-psychology, all bought to bear on a roomful of strangers with the sole purpose of delivering them, perfectly ripe and ready to pop, to the guest DJ.
Get it right and you’ll watch as the room magically unfurls before you and your selections will turn an empty floor into a seething mass of fun-filled action and adventure.