The cult of the celebrity DJs

Celebrities on the decks reached a nadir with Paris Hilton's festival debut. Alison King offers some advice to the VIP wannabes

When Paris Hilton made her DJ-ing debut with an hour-long set at a festival in Sao Paolo earlier this summer, it was a disaster. Wearing diamond-studded headphones, waving a flag and pointing her finger in the air, she looked crushingly out of her depth. What began with pitch issues during a mash-up of Avicii's "Levels" and Gotye's "Somebody I Used to Know" continued with her accidentally playing Rihanna's "We Found Love" having introduced a different track. When she finally touch ed the controllers, a sound-man was forced to come on stage to adjust the sound and correct her errors.

Talking about her performance, Hilton told Digital Spy: "Being a DJ you get to create the party and bring happiness to so many people with your music. For me this is something I am very excited about."

She was, predictably, slammed by critics. deadmau5 called her set apocalyptic on Twitter: "To be fair the Mayans saw this sh** coming." Jens Moelle of Digitalism called it "a slap in the face". Even Hilton's ex-boyfriend, the DJ and producer Afrojack, said on SiriusXM radio: "Everyone should do what makes them happy for the right reasons. Being a DJ is hard work. It's not just about pressing 'play'", He added that her set was pre-recorded. It is clear that Hilton's sudden foray into Dj-ing was partly due to Afrojack's influence, but if celebrities can't DJ, why do so many try to wing it?

The celebrity DJ is not a new phenomenon. Promoters want to fill clubs with a better draw than a two-for-one on cocktails, and hiring a celebrity to perform is a reliable way of getting people into a club. It's difficult to escape a party or event without seeing a DJ set from Daisy Lowe, Alexa Chung, Agyness Deyn, Taylor Momsen or Elijah Wood. Whether it is a big name like Ryan Gosling or Mark Wright from Towie, the public is drawn in by celebrity status and, so long as the club is filled, the promoter is happy. It doesn't matter whether the DJ can DJ or not. And for the celebrity in question, it is far less embarrassing to have a valid reason to be there ("I'm DJ-ing"), than to be paid a fee simply for turning up.

In most cases "DJ" is an honorary title. Showing up with a posse of their PR and "it" friends, VIPs sip drinks, sway by the decks and press "play" on one track until it finishes then play the next. It reduces DJ-ing to a paint-by-numbers, celebrity-picked playlist – it's rare to see a celebrity DJ bring more than the minimum requirement to a set. Some celebrity DJs even palm off the skills and production of other DJs as their own. It is a great charade playing the new BBC Radio 1 Essential Mix until the audible watermark "essential mix" voice-over turns up and the game is up.

DJs have nowhere to hide. They are alone with a crowd of people waiting for them to conduct the party. Hilton's haphazard turning of knobs and pressing of effects made her look helpless. Had the millionairess taken a year or two out to practise the basics and get to grips with the technology, she would have realised there was more to it. It is a skill that is reliant on knowledge of music, technology and experience, and it can make or break a party. DJ Samantha Ronson told TMZ website: "If you do the work, your work will speak for itself… If you're just going to be like, 'oh, I'm going to figure out how I can make some money this week', it just insults the people that really work really hard at it."

Solange (sister of Beyoncé) Knowles is on the right track. Introducing a set at Capitale, New York, she said: "I DJ for the love of music, for the love of the joy and the fun side of music... but I gotta see y'all dance. So stop tweeting, stop taking pictures, stop texting, and just dougie." The draw may be her and her sister's celebrity, but she can really DJ.

A a passion for music doesn't mean you have to call yourself a DJ, though, as Macaulay Culkin has proved. At Le Poisson Rouge in New York, Culkin hosts a night aptly named "Macaulay Culkin's iPod Party." Crowds come to watch him press "play" on an iPod. If a celebrity wants to be called a DJ, they should respect the practice by learning the skills before they go into it, otherwise their event is nothing more than an iPod party. Samantha Ronson said of Hilton's DJ-ing "It's like me reading WebMD twice and calling myself a doctor". If you can't DJ, learn. If you can't learn, don't DJ – promoters will still pay you to turn up.

Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power