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Championship mode: how Sally McLintock and the DMCs changed DJing

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Next time you’re at a DMC DJ competition, try spotting Sally McLintock.

It’s dead easy, even if you’ve never been introduced. Just look for the burst of blonde hair, zipping around the venue as its owner fixes cables, handles guest list and makes sure that every DJ is exactly where they’re supposed to be. Head to a DMC event in October – the World Championships, say, which are held in London every year – and that blonde hair will be moving at warp speed, like Boris Johnson doing a roadie run.

McLintock is the manager of the DMC World DJ Championships – the biggest competition of its kind on the planet. Every event – from the World Champs to the international heats to the online competitions – goes right through her. She’s an engaging personality – outgoing, open and quick to laugh. And as the public face of the organisation, she’s one of the busiest people in the industry. When she says that from February to October she goes into what she calls Championship Mode, she seems to be only half-joking.

You could make a very strong case that she’s one of the most important people in DJing – if not the most important. She’s not so sure. “I’m flattered – but there are lots of people involved,” she says. “I suppose some people would see it like that because I’m the point of contact for most DJs, because I organise all of them. But it’s not just me – there are a lot of people in DMC.”

What she doesn’t say is that most of those people are her immediate family. The competition was started by Tony Prince, a former pirate radio DJ who started it up in the 80s (it stands for Disco Mix Club). Prince and his wife Christine are still closely involved. So is Sally McLintock’s mother – she’s managing director – as well as her sister and cousin.

“I don’t think anybody has Christmases like we do,” McLintock says. “It’s crazy. I feel sorry for people who marry in, because they have no idea what they’re getting themselves involved in!”

She joined the family business when she was 18 – now 33, she says it took her a little while to adjust to a job where the work didn’t just follow you home, it had dinner with you and then plonked down on the sofa to watch telly.

“I found it more difficult when I was younger – and I didn’t have as many responsibilities then,” she says. “You have to see it as a job. But the brilliant thing about working with your family is that familiarity as well. We go to work, we do our jobs, and as long as that happens we can have a bit of fun.”

Despite the hard work and the familial bonds, the DMCs are not without their critics. Each DJ gets six minutes to impress the judges, most often with a whirlwind of cuts, scratches and mash-ups. If you’re not familiar with the intricacies of DJing, the routines can often be dull. Sometimes, it’s tough to know what separates a good performance from a great one.

The competition rules haven’t always been popular with the more traditional DJs either, such as when they took the decision, in 2011, to allow the use of DJ software like Traktor and Serato – a tweak which meant DJs no longer had to use real vinyl.

“We had quite a bit of a backlash in allowing it, but it’s the best thing for the competition and its future,” McLintock says. “If you can’t really buy new records anymore, how is a competition supposed to live and carry on?”

Over the years, the DMCs have adapted – going beyond a DJ competition and spawning downloadable mixes, a magazine and even an online championship. But of all the things we talk about, McLintock is at her most enthusiastic when discussing the DJs themselves. She has close relationships with artists like Switch, Shifty and frequent team battle winners C2C. She gushes about the latter’s recent show at the Kentish Town Forum: “I felt like a proud mum, sitting there watching them. I was so happy for them. We always knew they were incredibly talented, and they’re absolute superstars now.”

In the most recent championship, DJ Fly took the main title, one he last held in 2008. Following the event, McLintock took a rare holiday, heading to Paris. The moment she was back, she threw herself into a new website the company is planning to launch. She won’t be in true Championship Mode for a month or two, but that blonde hair never stops moving.

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