Last Friday, when Jordan Roseman, better known by his stage name, DJ Earworm, stood and played his laptop for two hours, it didn't occur to me until after the show and after my interview with him just how different his mashup style is versus that of Girl Talk, and why. Even though the two artists are lumped in the same mashup genre, some obvious characteristics separate the latter's densely packed, bouncin' dance party shows and the former's somewhat scattered live performance. Girl Talk's stage presence is undoubtedly magnitudes stronger, and when he confidently invites the "people in the back" to put their "hands in the air," the resulting wave of arms seems neither forced nor out of place. At the other end of the spectrum, it's difficult to imagine DJ Earworm successfully inciting the crowd like this, and rather than a thrashing, gyration-inducing beam of confidence and barrage of seamless samples, last week's show initially rubbed me as clunky and dorky.
Distracting equipment issues kept the sound from reaching its full sensory potential, and though not by any means consistently so, DJ Earworm failed to nail some of the track transitions spot on and had to scramble to get the next song rolling. More often than not, the rhythmic movement typically indicative of the artist's focus on matching the next music's beats per minute was eschewed in favor of flat-out singing along with the crowd to the same chopped-up, chart-topping pop lyrics that made his studio work virally successful to a degree unmatched by even the likes of Girl Talk.
In this way, DJ Earworm seemed to view himself less as the conductor directing a sea of dancing fans and more as intimately connected to those experiencing the music, perhaps as caught up in his catchy creations, if not more, than the show-goers. In fact, whenever the audience arrested his attention by showering him with chanting and cheering, DJ Earworm seemed caught off-guard, unsure of how to react under the spotlight.
Such uncertainty and disregard for rump-shaking may be seen by DJs and listeners alike as a failure to put on the best show possible, but quite frankly I found it extremely humbling. Here in front of me was an awkward guy having the time of his life playing and remixing music live for a group of people who came just to listen to him, and, in light of the all-too-common and often unwarranted inflated ego-tarnishing personas of many run-of-the-mill disc jockeys, such candid passion for the music above all else was refreshing.
Critics may also rag on DJ Earworm for bringing a lot of his material pre-made and just hitting play rather than skillfully mixing everything on the fly, and this is where I found my chat with him after the show to be particularly enlightening - it turns out, his thought process for making mashups is less like a conventional DJ and more in line with a composer, albeit one who uses snippets of pop, chopped and looped on his laptop in lieu of a piano or orchestra, as the vehicle for manifesting his musical ideas. Girl Talk's rapid-fire sample-switching may have become massively popular from its sheer initial novelty and maximized nostalgic appeal, but by the sixth solar cycle of this same essential style, both through similar-sounding studio albums as well as unchanging crowd-interaction gimmicks, his mashups begin to all sound like the same stale regurgitation of the past half century's top hits.
With DJ Earworm, compositional musicality is the key, and his focus is on creating a new song, not deciding which old hits to rehash. So while it may be a few more years before his shows become as fluid and engaging as those of his peers in the DJ world, DJ Earworm shows promise in exploring uncharted territory with his mashups-as-compositions, and it will certainly be exciting to keep an eye on him as this new style develops, matures and perhaps even becomes the norm a few years down the line.
Curious to hear what DJ Earworm has to say about his origins as a mashup artist, what the future of the digital age holds for remix culture, how to get started making sample-based music and the tunes he jams out to in his spare time? Check out our exclusive 10-minute interview with the musician himself.
Dave Rosales is a McMurtry College senior.