I’m not entirely sure when the DJ went from being a mere intermediary in musical experience to a bona fide cultural meme. It started as a profession — the disc jockey in his huge headphones with a smooth voice at the local radio station circa 1950 — and has somehow morphed into a lifestyle. That’s not to say that DJs weren’t always revolutionary, because they were. Popular legend says that they set off the creation of youth culture when they championed Chuck Berry in his quest to create rock ’n’ roll. The thing is, they always benefitted from radio’s powers to conceal, exploiting the paradox inherent to being a visible persona and an invisible person simultaneously.
Since I am a lazy rock ‘n’ roll historian, I’m not sure if I can tell you why things changed — I think it has something to do with DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and Kraftwerk, turntablists supreme and a lot to do with the MTV VJ as well. But here we are, 75 years after the advent of the term ‘DJ’, looking at a class of people who have garnered artistic merit and celebrity status. The DJ has always filled the dual role of personality and curator but we just so happen to belong to an age that values those qualities highly.
Which brings us to Ben Lasman. I see him around campus from time to time though I do not believe we have ever exchanged words without the assistance of Gmail. Two features of his always stand out to me: his wire-frame glasses and his guitar case. The glasses are downright progressive in an age where most people try to one-up each other with bigger and foggier glasses. Ben doesn’t seem to care; he just wears his glasses. The guitar case is somewhat self-explanatory — he is into music.
I mention this only because it underscores the expectations I brought to his work when I sat down and began listening. I expected someone who didn’t care and liked music.
Though this mantra is vague, I think it provides an apt framework for listening to his new project, Pissing Crystals. To his listeners, Lasman has revealed that he is looking to assume the role of DJ both literally and metaphorically. The songs he has posted on his project’s Myspace are electronic and some wouldn’t be too out-of-place at one of the raves I went to high school. One mix even interpolates reliable rave standards. The music speaks to a creator who is equal parts guru and observer, with one hand on cultural flashpoints, another on the needs of his listener and a third superhuman hand reaching for artistic achievement in way that even the likes of Rusko should aspire to.
I think I only felt the need to mention the history of the DJ to talk about Pissing Crystals because I honestly think that Ben Lasman is the future of the DJ. He transcends the DJ stereotype because he’s not European or from the ‘hood. Rather he’s a guy, a cool guy, but just a guy that you know, with seemingly impressive musical skill who is out to drop some good beats. It’s admirable. What a nice guy.