The 21 year old deejay JOHNNY CASSWELL playing at Plymouth's Sound Factory.
21-year-old Johnny Casswell belongs to a new wave of DJs making an impact on the mainstream club scene. He is a fortnightly resident on a Friday at a club called Sound Factory in Plymouth ("very underground and open until 6am every week") and plays once a month at Club Loco in Bristol and Az-Oz at Kingston's in Taunton. On the Christian end he plays regularly with West Country's Psalmistry at their live gigs, will be playing Abundant over the summer and Christian festivals like Cross Rhythms and Soul Survivor. His style is eclectic "although I play mainly garage I like to build my sets so that after two hours it's more on the house tip."
What is good about today's sanctified dance scene? We asked Johnny. "There are lots of new good Christian dance acts with a variety of styles and more DJs are coming to the fore which is really encouraging. Dance music is definitely the growth area of Christian music at the moment and more people are starting to appreciate and take notice of it. There are some brilliant records coming out on Christian labels such as Preacha's 'Geography Of A Journey' and the Rhythm Saints' 'Golden' which contain songs that could easily sit in a Digweed, Sasha, Morales or Macintosh set. Also gospelly records are getting more play in clubs through both Christian and non-Christian DJs who play them not just because there is a message, but because the music is actually good as well. It's good that there are now 'big' Christian DJs, eg, DJ Disciple, Cameron Dante who has prominent radio shows to play Christian dance music to the nation, and also that Christian dance groups such as Nu Colours and Overjoyd are getting in the charts and clubs. The fact that dance music is also playing a major role in festivals is testament to its growth and validity to the Christian message and faith."
But in Johnny's opinion the sanctified dance scene has plenty of problems as well. "The production of a lot of Christian dance music still sounds very 'cheesy' and a lot of bands are a couple of years behind in their sound/style. The best Christian stuff is still on the secular labels, such as AmPm and Hysteria. There needs to be better studio facilities for Christian dance acts that really will compete on quality with the secular labels. The 'up and coming' Christian DJs need more chances in what is really a very cliquey scene I'm sorry to say. Christian organisations and event organisers seem to revolve around about five or six Christian DJs when putting on events and fail to recognise there are other DJs who are out there, possibly better as well. Just like the secular club scene, it's 'who you know, not how good you are' which dictates your opportunities. Many DJs have to put on their own events just to get some DJ'ing work. Even myself, despite playing a lot in secular clubs and starting to play with the big names and getting a following in the South West, I am finding it hard to get involved with Christian activities because the organisers just don't want to know and seem scared of booking someone they might not know, no matter how good their tapes might be, and they don't even reply to your letters! The Christian organisations book the same DJs because 'they'll do and we know them' instead of making a concerted effort to push for a variety and developing line ups. If the Christian dance scene is to develop and have a real say in this country then the organisations need to take a risk now and then and push the boundaries as opposed to sitting on what they have already got. On another slant there also needs to be more Christian nightclubs like Abundant spread around the country, so that Christians into house or whatever have somewhere to go on a regular basis."
What advice would Johnny give to DJs seeking work in I secular clubs? "First of all, go round all the shops where you live and take a load of flyers for all the club nights you can. Phone up the info lines on the flyers and enquire where and who you can send your mix tapes to. Then send copies of your tape to the promoters. One good piece of advice is to be creative with your tape cover. Don't just leave the TDK AR 90 cover in the box with your name and number scribbled on with a Bic biro.M Promoters, particularly with the bigger clubs, get loads of tapes each week and can't spend all their time listening to the tapes, so put a picture or slogan on the cover, use colour, do a track listing for example. The promoter will notice this, see the effort put in and may then listen to your tape first ahead of a lot of others. Also try and do a couple of quick mixes at the start of the tape. Don't leave your first track in for 10 minutes as more often than not the promoter will only listen to the first 25 minutes or so if they have lots of tapes to listen to and you need to show them what you can do. After a couple of weeks phone the promoter and ask if they got the tape, did they like it, what the chances are of a slot sometime. Don't be afraid to keep phoning them up and hassling them as you will show you are keen. Stay in their mind and eventually they'll let you play even if it's to get you off their back! If you play well the first time then they may invite you back. Get to know the people in the business. Also, don't go charging £200 for your first two hour set. If you're doing a warm up set then you won't get that much as other DJs will require more. Start off happy to get what they give you, even do it for free if needs be (we've all been there!), and then gradually as you play more clubs and build up more of a name you can charge a bit more. Finally, don't expect success to happen overnight. It took Dave Seaman 18 years of DJ'ing to get to where he is today and he still isn't one of the 'big' boys!"
Finally I asked Johnny what plans he has for the future. "I finish my degree at the University College Of St Mark And St John in Plymouth this summer and next year I am doing a PGCE course to qualify myself as a primary teacher. Over the next year and a half I hope to develop the DJing more, so that after my PGCE year I can possibly concentrate on that and live off it. I would love to do DJing as a career and I shall see how it develops over the next year and a half. I am interested in being more involved with dance music in a Christian way full time as well, whether it's working for an organisation like Abundant, or NGM, playing at Christian festivals and events or producing records even. I feel it's something that God is calling me to be a lot more involved in the future, and I welcome any opportunity to do so. There need to be more Christian DJs working for God both in the secular world and within Christian circles so we can reach to the people of today. Dance music is fast becoming the best way of reaching out and communicating with youth. It is a major part of their culture. Let's not let our chance to develop within this slip us by."The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.