Duncan Beiny aka DJ Yoda is no ordinary scratch DJ. For decades this audio-visual pioneer has been recognised around the world as one of the finest to ever spin plates. The past decade Yoda has evolved from hip-hop beginnings. Using his world-renowned turntable skills and a truckload of diverse influences, from funk to trap, pop, reggae and drum n bass, he has become a producer of equal repute, making unashamed party music. DJ Yoda has headlined Soul Circus twice and is set to join us at our lakeside party in Portugal next May.
Ella Wroath joins DJ Yoda to discuss his experience of 2020 and what has kept him inspired throughout the weirdest year of our lives!
Ella: 2020 has been a difficult year for musicians and people working in the arts and live music industry. How have you stayed inspired and creative during this time?
Yoda: Well, lockdown continues to decimate the DJ industry and the whole world that I work in, so like many other DJs we’ve all scrambled around trying to figure out how to do it online. This was something that was on my mind before this and lockdown really forced me to sort it out. But it was, (laughs) hard work! Suddenly all DJs had to become tv editors, producers, web designers, directors, graphic designers and these new roles came with steep learning curves. To begin with we all started on Facebook and Instagram but there’s big issues with that with copyrights when you’re DJ-ing. Once the algorithm spots that you’re playing a song that is copyrighted to someone else it shuts you down. The platform that we all ended up on was Twitch, which was previously used by gamers for live gaming. This actually worked well for me because I do audio visual shows and it was always a challenge getting people to concentrate on a screen. DJ-ing on the internet meant this wasn’t a challenge anymore because people were interested in watching already so you end up with a really great audience. A community has built up around it, people have become friends over tunes, and they catch up with each other whilst I’m playing. So, it’s been nice for me actually. It’s interesting how the digital version - the music and the event - parallels the real-life version so much. I learned quickly that if you dj in certain places or certain times you get certain crowds. You have some gigs where you think “I don't like that lot, they’re an aggressive crowd or unfriendly.” Then the next time it’s a good crowd to play for.
Ella: When is a good time to play, when did you get the nice people?
Yoda: I found for me it’s not great to DJ at the traditional time, which is normally midnight on a Friday or Saturday night. I like playing 8pm on a Wednesday or Thursday. If people aren’t there to lose their minds and party, they want to see something that’s a little bit more cultural and interesting, so they concentrate and appreciate it more. Also, because of the nature of how I DJ I don't have boundaries in terms of genre or types of music I play. I don’t have to keep a dance floor packed so creatively I can play whatever I feel like, from films or kids’ music to classical music. I’ve been doing themed sets, one night I’ll only play songs about food and another night I’ll only play songs about animals and I’ll mix any song across the board that fits in with that theme. If I’d been the kind of DJ that plays the same venues and does the same set every night I don’t think I could have had the 25-year career I’ve had, because I would have got bored too quickly. I like the fact that I set myself a challenge. There’s an old Indian lady who lives nearby, she knows what I do for a living, so she’s been sending me Bollywood videos via WhatsApp every day and I’ve got enough stuff to do a Bollywood show. It keeps me interested - I did drum and bass one week and then Bollywood the next!
Ella: What's your favourite theme been?
Yoda: Weirdly I really liked the drum and bass one. I normally only play it sometimes, but I went all out and did old school drum and bass for two hours and blasted it in my studio. It was the closest experience I’ve had to a live music show all year so that was really nice.
Ella: You were one of the few DJs that performed live in 2020. Can you tell me about that?
Yoda: Early on in the lockdown I did a drive-in gig which was not good. I thought maybe this would be the new normal, so I tried it out. But what I quickly found is that what makes or breaks these kinds of events is whether people are allowed outside of their vehicles. This one they weren’t so I was just playing to a carpark, I couldn’t see anyone’s face and I didn’t have speakers. Everyone had the sound through the car speakers, it was absolutely draining. I felt bad for the comedians who were on before me, they were performing to silence, it was so brave of them. However, last weekend I was DJ-ing to seated people. From a personal point of view, I find that enjoyable, you don’t get drunk people coming up to you requesting Drake! People are not trying to touch the turntables; they’re not as wasted and are much more civilized. That’s nice from my perspective, but I have to say, for the people who want to dance, it must be frustrating!
Ella: I really struggled when you played at our Summer Garden because we weren’t supposed to allow people to dance but you mixed in some TUNES and I couldn’t not dance!
Yoda: Well, everyone was very well behaved.
Ella: It was amazing, I live for dancing, so I missed it a lot this year. But the little taste that night literally made my year so thank you for that.
Yoda: Ta. That's nice. I really loved it too. I had a great night.
Ella: Do you think the car park gig was one of your lows of lockdown?
Yoda: For me, variety is the spice of life. My favourite part of the job is I do something different every day and I got to experience that gig which was good fun. If it was car parks week in and week out that would have been a low point but to do it once was just fine. The low point was when I had some live events in the diary, then lockdown two was announced and that all got wiped out. That was really depressing because I had worked so hard to get that work but at least I’ve been streaming throughout this whole time. Even if I couldn’t stream, I would have been DJ-ing for myself. Nothing will stop me from DJ-ing, but it would be great to support my family doing it like it used to.
Ella: Have you had to take on other work or are you sticking to DJ-ing and doing what you love?
Yoda: I’ve been selling off parts of my record collection and equipment just to keep me going. I don’t want to have to retrain, I would be DJing anyway even if there wasn’t any chance of making money but yes, I've had to do what I can to keep it going and hope for the best.
Ella: I think that’s the key right now - staying true to what you love and your passions because it won’t be like this forever. Things are going to change, and things are going to get better.
Yoda: There’s a general feeling of positivity that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel and we’ll be ok. If you can keep going with what you love, then I think that’s the most important thing. That keeps me going because I get to spend my time doing something I’m passionate about every day and I can't imagine not doing that. I definitely don’t want to retrain, and I’ll do anything I can to not to. If it keeps on going like this, it’s going to get hard and I’ll have to find something. But whatever happens this is my passion, and I will have to devote some of my time doing it even if it isn’t for financial gain.
Ella: What do you think the future holds and what does 2021 look like for the music industry?
Yoda: Can anyone actually predict it?! My guess is that there will be festivals next year, but it won’t be anything like the norm. Things will be happening in some kind of a weird way but who really knows. We’ll have to think fast, roll with it and do what we can.
Ella: It’s exciting in a way. For so long we knew which festival was happening when, who would be headlining etc. Everything rolled along and we knew what to expect.
Yoda: Yes, the world has been turned on its head and not all of it has been negative. One of the things I’ve found interesting is that the DJ world had reached a point where you had a list of DJs that sell out stadiums. If you’re into DJ-ing at a technical level you know those DJs aren’t really talented, they’re just a brand and a light show, it’s not about skill. Once all this stuff moved online people were looking closely at how DJs were DJ- ing. These DJs haven’t excelled in the way that technical DJs have because their talent is basically exposed when you watch what they’re doing. That means those who have a passion for the craft have succeeded. Before the pandemic people weren’t really aware of this.
Ella: Is there anyone in 2020 that you’ve looked to for inspiration?
Yoda: Because I’m all over the place I find inspiration within every genre of music, film andTV. But my artistic hero has been amazing over lockdown is David Lynch. He’s been doing youtube videos called “What David’s up to” where, for example, he’ll build a weird bit of furniture or commentate on the weather in a comic way. For me he’s super inspiring and an artistic hero. I appreciate that he exists this year.
Ella: I feel like we’ve all felt closer to each other and to our heroes this year because everyone has been looking to each other for support and inspiration.
Yoda: And you’ve seen everyone at home in their bedroom!
Ella: Have you got any top tunes that you discovered in 2020 that you can’t get enough of?
Yoda: There’s a hip hop album I’ve been listening to the last few days by an artist called “Your old Droog” which is Russian themed using Russian folk music with rap over it. I’ve also been listening to loads of 50s stuff as well as Doo Wop and RnB and exploring that world. I’ve discovered an ambient artist called Harold Bert that I really like, I could go on for ages!
Ella: What do you think you’ll do differently going forward after this year?
Yoda: It depends how things pan out. I’ve almost completed my 5th album, so I’ve focused on production, I’ll continue with that and maybe try to make music quicker. This is album number five and it’s taken me 5 years to get it done! So that’s what I’m going to focus on in the meantime, how can I make stuff quicker. It doesn’t have a name yet although the music is 90% done, it’s under wraps right now otherwise people may be waiting for ages before I get it done!
Ella: Do you have any advice for artists who are struggling to stay positive and inspired right now?
Yoda: One of the great things about the age we live in is we have so much access to anything that we can think of. There’s so much to be found and so much inspiration to discover. I’ve appreciated having the time this year to learn more about any kind of thing I like. I’ll get into a YouTube wormhole for hours; I’ll lose myself in all kinds of old films or music. No amount of time will be enough for me to get the most out of what the world has to offer.
You can follow DJ Yoda and his music at: