I got an interesting insight into this many years ago when I played the happiest and also final DJ gig of my “career” (such as it was).
I had always been a hip-hop DJ. That never really reflected what my tastes were, nor did it reflect what I produced or would have liked to play, but I exclusively played hip-hop rooms and hip-hop events - that’s what people booked me to play, it’s what they expected from me when I played so it’s what I always did. Except once.
I’m not sure how or why it happened, but I was once booked to fill in for Daedelus at a show in Sheffield. There had been some issue with his papers or something - I’m not entirely sure what - but the bottom line was: Daedelus was booked for a show but hadn’t made it out of LAX and the promoters were stuck for an act. I was known to Sheffield promoters - it’s my home city - so plenty of people had my number. Maybe somebody thought of the stuff I’d done with the Warp guys or with Lex or maybe nobody else out of the dozens of Sheffield DJs could make it, but for whatever reason I was booked for the show. For one night only I was, to all intents and purposes, Alfred… at least for a small portion of the Sheffield population.
This was a responsibility that I took incredibly seriously and contemplated what people would expect… and realised I had no idea whatsoever! They would be told that i wadnt Daedelus, of course, but they would expect some kind of similar act. All I knew for certain is that they wouldn’t be expecting a hip-hop set so that was absolutely not what I was going to do. I dug through my crates for all the records I loved - things I wanted to share with people but never had done: strange electro records, obscure remixes of Japanese singers, proto-jungle tunes, experimental oddness - all blended into a coherent whole that made total sense… not just to me, to the crowd too.
The end result was a set that was the most enjoyable I’ve ever played and after doing that I realised that I never wanted to play hip-hop sets again. I knew, though, that only artists could get away with doing that and I wasn’t one. People who watched Alfred came to see a Daedelus set; people who watched me came to see a hip-hop set.
That’s what “being an artist” meant to me then and the knowledge that I wasn’t one made me stop DJing forever.