Glen J. Scrymgour’s portrait of Adelaide’s DJ scene is both a love letter to the art and passion (and frustration) of the modern disc jockey, and an open letter of dismay and despair at the seemingly irreparable damage done by the lock out laws which have wrecked havoc in Adelaide (and in Sydney). Melbourne has come out unscathed, having been the guinea pigs, but, for a only a few months before they were scrapped. But enough about Melbourne.
Adelaide once proudly proclaimed itself the Dance Capital of Australia. It is the home of Cam Banchetti, the legend known as DJ HMC, and even more famously so as Late Nite Tuff Guy, Australia’s “Godfather of techno”, a champion of the proper DJ, who respects the music and understands the dance floor, “It’s all about dancing, yeah? Right.” He is one of numerous Adelaidian DJs and industry figures who wax lyrical about the state of the art, and offer their opinions on the ever-changing, evolving landscape of electronic dance music.
While much of the first half of the doco - with it’s oh-so-cute title - feels like its preaching to the converted, skimming the breadth of genres and sub-genres of electronic dance, each interviewee offering their take on their beloved style. It’s certainly an overview, and to the nightclub greenie or newbie, the doco offers a superficial look at what makes these musical styles tick and tock, but it feels very locked into the four-to-the-floor sensibility, with the exception of drum and bass and dubstep, and it’s a shame it doesn’t offer anything about the DJ roots of electronic dance music; funk, disco, soul, rare groove, new wave. Still, the predominately house music soundtrack, using a lot of local producers, is excellent.
Fresh 92.7FM is regarded as Adelaide’s bastion of overground and underground dance music. Many of the DJs who feature in Decks also have shows on the station. While they acknowledge the importance of radio and community, many of the older DJs bemoan the current club scene as increasingly full of wannabes and rising DJs who have little respect for laying the foundations. The contemporary scene within the industry means that online stores, such as Beatport and Traxsource, feature a plethora of producers and a glut of music. Gone are the halcyon days of the physical record store where DJs would gather on shipment day to listen to a crate’s worth of new vinyl. Sure, there are a few boutique stores scattered here and there, but that era has passed. Instead DJs are now expected to be high calibre bedroom producers, and with technology being so advanced and relatively cheap, on one hand it makes it much easier for up-and-coming producers to deliver stuff, but the vast ocean of content actually makes it increasingly harder to be heard, or singled out. There is irony in that there groove.
The digital vs. analogue argument rears its head, as it has been doing for the past ten years, and rightly so, LNTG says it shouldn’t be about the technology or format, the heart of the matter is the quality of the music. Fresh FM station manager Troy Been chimes in on programming local acts that have raised the bar, enough so that their stuff can play effortlessly back-to-back with the big international names. But the crux of Decks and the City appears to be the issue of the lock-out laws, its inevitable damage to Adelaide’s underground club scene, and the insidious effect the exempt casinos have had. This section of the doco occupies the last thirty minutes, and one can’t escape the feeling this was the impetus of making the documentary in the first place.
Decks and the City is essentially an archival piece, capturing mostly the veteran X-Gens, with a clutch of dedicated Millennials, but hopefully it will end up as a date stamp, so when the lock-out laws are reversed we can look back on the dark period and say, thank God that misguided attempt at dealing with alcohol-related violence is over with. At the least, Decks is a solid tribute piece to the city’s diverse DJ personalities, and to the aesthetics of the profession. It’s made by someone with a genuine love of the DJ and its realm, and is aimed squarely at those who love nightclubbing, who love the healing power of electronic dance music.