Spinning in Kingston

A look into the life of a student DJ

Allan spinning at Ale House in downtown Kingston.
Credit: 
Supplied by James Allan

It’s Friday night, the week is over and you’re ready to dance your sorrows away. 

That’s where James Allan comes in. Having spun at Kingston’s handful of nightclubs, including Fluid, Ale, Stages and the newly-opened, Trinity Social, Allan is no stranger to the DJ scene. 

I caught up with him to discover what it’s like as a student and resident DJ at Kingston’s nightlife destinations. 

Q: When did you first start DJing?

Allan: I first started DJing as a hobby, probably in my sophomore year — so probably in my second year of high school. 

I went to boarding school in the States and I lived next to this guy who was actually the DJ at our school. 

I constantly heard his music through the walls. I was always asking for his music, ended up borrowing his turntable, started messing around and really picked it up. I loved it so much, I eventually assumed his job when he graduated. Been DJing since then.

Q: DJing is considered an art. How does this relate to you? 

Allan: I’d say the art in DJing is probably in the connection with the audience. 

I like my sets to progressively be building in energy until they eventually crescendo, at which point I can start bringing the energy down — usually around 1:30-2 a.m. But along the way you have peaks and valleys of small spikes and more relaxed moments. 

I think there is a real intimacy in building this energy with the crowd, because at the end of the day I’m there for them.

Q: What’s it like performing in front of a student crowd? Is there pressure to perform?

Allan: When you perform enough times the pressure starts to go away. It’s probably because I’ve become familiar with the crowd here at Queen’s, but more importantly I’ve gotten a good sense of my own skill and what I can expect in my own performance. 

When you get into a good groove with the crowd, good music choices just seem to come to me. It’s all about finding that groove.

Q: What are some of the most challenging aspects of being an resident DJ in Kingston? 

Allan: I remember when I first started DJing at Ale, and in general, it was the technicalities of it — having the seamless transition, some people can be very OCD about that and it has to be perfect. 

I would say I focus less on transition and more on song choice. I think people really care about what the next song is and the DJs ability to read the crowd. One mistake would be to ignore the crowd and focus too much on the particulars of the actual work you’re doing. 

Q: Do you have as much creative freedom as you would like DJing in Kingston? 

Allan: That’s a very political question. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of it, Fluid used to have a very liberal music agenda. You could play whatever you wanted, which was pretty nice. 

Ale was very strict, very conservative; they said strictly top 40 or songs people knew, so you have no creative freedom in that sense. 

I despise top 40 music. I’m never happy when you see me playing top 40, but back at Trinity, I can play pretty much whatever I want. I kind of want to incorporate the old Fluid vibe.

Q: In what direction do you see the DJ scene going in Kingston and as a whole, going in the next few years? 

Allan: I am probably less in touch with the EDM culture as a whole. I don’t go to a whole lot of festivals. 

I would say as far as Kingston goes, you would see a further consolidation of the hub clubs – mainly Stages and Ale becoming more top 40 and more pop, which 

I just don’t enjoy. You’ll see Trinity, for example, kind of become the outlier and play everything else that people appreciate. 

Q: What particular night stands alone in infamy/memorability for you as a DJ in Kingston?

Allan: So I had a night last year, I was the junior DJ at Ale, there was one guy who was a year older than I was, and we had this Bieber versus Gomez night. 

Unfortunately, being the junior guy I had to take team Gomez. It was brutal. 

I spent more money than I should have on Selena Gomez’s recent albums and I just begrudgingly played every single song.  

Q: If you were perpetually trapped in a single year’s music scene, which year would you pick?

Allan: I would definitely say the 90s. A lot of the rock is really good, alternative rock. I love playing that especially at the clubs, people love a throwback. 

Q: Do you record your own tracks? If so, do you get the opportunity to play them?  

Allan: I’ve messed around with making my own music. Never played any of my own produced music, but I definitely have a bunch of mashups and bootlegs that I play at the clubs all the time. 

They are a lot of fun and always get a great reaction from the crowd. 

Q: What are some words of wisdom you might offer somebody wanting to enter the DJ scene in Kingston?

Allan: DJing in Kingston: nepotism. Its all who you know, so feel free to reach out to me. Honestly as much as these clubs hire based on merit, you also have to know the right people. 

So my words of wisdom would be: be persistent, definitely try to figure out who the DJs are at all the clubs because we are a very close-knit group, so if you talk to one of us, you can talk to all of us. 

Q: Has DJing in Kingston inspired you to pursue it at a more serious level? 

Allan: That’s the dream, right? Realistically, I’ll probably never be a DJ again, but I think in some fantasy you could see me on the stage at Coachella or Ultra in Miami.

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