The cult of the club DJ and the disc-spinner’s increasingly important role in the pop music world are put under the microscope in “Hang the DJ,” a pumped-up, rhythmic slice of contempo dance culture. Occasionally perceptive, mostly entertaining docu, which opened in several Canadian cities Sept. 18, will not be the easiest title to market since its core audience of young club-hounds don’t tend to be avid moviegoers. But it should appeal to anyone with any interest in today’s dance scene and may attract specialized distribs. It will certainly be a strong seller in small-screen settings.
This never-dull first effort from 26-year-old twin brothers Marco and Mauro La Villa kicks off with the debate over whether the samplers/scratchers are really artists. Comments come from a wide spectrum of the music world, including record company execs, hip-hop and rap artists, record store owners, club managers, fans and, of course, the DJs themselves.
Film focuses on a number of well-known disc-spinners, including celebrity DJ Roger Sanchez on a global tour, and legendary New York DJ Junior Vasquez, the most memorable character here by virtue of his almost fanatical devotion to the craft and take-no-prisoners approach to his competition.
Various musical subgenres are mentioned — notably house, techno and jungle — though it may be difficult for non-fans to fully understand the subtle lines dividing the categories.
There are plenty of glimpses of the jockeys in action, and pic’s style attempts to mirror the break-neck, adrenaline-crazed feel of the music itself; for the most part, the La Villas succeed, effectively balancing talking-head segments with more dynamic club footage.
Docu perhaps roams too broadly over the map, and it might have helped to make Vasquez or another DJ a central figure in the story. Given the move many turntable stars have made into re-mixing or producing, a fuller discussion of this evolution would have proved enlightening.
The music is front and center throughout, with loads of hip-hop performances, frantic rave tunes and hypnotic house ditties. Helmers include shots of the various cities they visited, and often speed up and slow down their footage images. Their visual sleight of hand helps give the pic a distinctive look far removed from stodgy docu form.