The best ways to open out a DJ set...

The Juan Maclean constantly moves in the fault lines between genres.

A producer, musician, and DJ who wants to open out fresh space, his work incorporates aspects of post-punk and industrial through to New York house and thumping Belgian beat techno.

As a DJ, his sets are even broader, with The Juan Maclean having developed a recognisable voice that thrives on eclecticism.

Starter For Five is where we ask DJs how best to open out a set, something the Juan Maclean was eager to grapple with - we discussed the utilisation of space, the importance of challenging your audience, and the ability to allow a set to develop...

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Killing Joke - 'Requiem' (A Floating Leaf Always Reaches The Sea Dub Mix)

I love opening a room, particularly if it’s because I am playing an all night set.

For some reason that I’ve never understood, there is often resistance from promoters to having a guest DJ play earlier in the night, when fewer people have arrived, let alone open an empty room. Maybe they think it’s a bad look. But I truly love starting the night to an empty room. Even when no one has walked in the door yet, there is a responsibility to respect the space and really consider what kind of energy you want to bring to it. I will usually put on something ambient, with no beat, until people start arriving.

This Killing Joke remix has long been a staple for me for bridging the gap into introducing a beat for the first time in the night. It has an ambient intro, so it’s easy to segue into, and it's pretty moody and dramatic. In the late 90’s when I first was learning to DJ properly, I would play a lot of post-punk stuff, as that was my background, so this was a nice transition from one world to another.

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The Cure - 'Pictures Of You' (Extended Dub Mix)

I’ve realised over the years that a lot of people are a bit intimidated by walking into a somewhat empty club, and it can take some sorcery to entice someone to be the first on a dance floor. If we are facing a long night of intensity, it can be nice to weave in a bit of familiarity in the beginning.

The Cure seem to be beloved across many demographics, so this one usually brings some smiles. It’s pretty slow, around 88 BPM, and has nice dub feel to it, with lots of spacey sounds that sound great in a club.

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Richard Wahnfried - 'Druck'

This one is pretty epic but slow and has a bit of a chug, hovering around the 90 BPM mark.

It’s definitely a journey, clocking in at 18 minutes, with lots of evolving elements, like Manuel Göttsching’s endless guitar soloing, to hold interest. Helps to establish a bit of a moody and head down vibe without being too intense or dark. Still has lots of percussion and an easy enough to track four on the floor beat so it’s one that can be danced to as well.

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Steve Reich - 'Clapping Song'

The version I have of this is around 92 BPM, so it’s at a good tempo for early in the night. It’s great for mixing in and out of multiple tracks, but I’ll also just let it play on it’s own for a while. It sounds very cool in a club, and is definitely a thing people aren’t used to hearing in that way, in that setting.

Handclaps are a staple element of house and techno, but to hear just two hands clapping in a club, playing through a big sound system can be an interesting way to re-contextualize a familiar sound.

Plus, I’m just a big fan of having extended periods of time with no drum beat playing In order to reset people’s ears so that things sound more powerful when they are introduced back in, like a kick drum.

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Nitzer Ebb - 'Let Your Body Learn' (Instrumental)

I ripped a vinyl copy of this while playing it at the wrong speed (played at 33 BPM, instead of its proper 45 bpm) and pitched up a bit in order to come in around 100 bpm. It’s a great track to signal ‘ok, now we are getting serious,’ while still playing at a relatively slow tempo.

One ‘problem’ I have when playing open to close sets is that this is the zone I get seduced quite heavily by, slow and chuggy tracks, in the 100 - 110 BPM range, that are driving and on the darker side. I could easily stay there for an entire night, if the dance floor would allow it.

There is this idea in the DJ world that ’slower’ necessarily equals ‘lighter’ or lower intensity, and I’ve always found that absurd. In general I wish there wasn’t such a universal adherence to having to play faster the later the night gets, and a preoccupation with BPM and genre correlations.

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The Juan Maclean's 'Manthony' EP is out now - LINK.

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