Imagine this situation, it’s 1965. You’re living in a big city and going out for a night on the town. You don your slacks, groom your mustache, and head to the nearest club. When you arrive there’s a small crowd twisting and shouting on the dance floor but the vibes are off. The crowd isn’t really into it; there’s something wrong. When you look up to the stage, you see why. The music isn’t coming from a live band. It’s coming from an awkward looking man with a solitary record player. When the track ends the room is filled with palpable silence as he clumsily replaces the record.
Believe it or not for most of the 20th century this is exactly what a club Disc Jockey was like. DJs were nothing more than human jukeboxes. They were buzz killers. Only the venues that couldn’t afford live bands would resort to hiring them. It wasn’t until the late 60’s and the rise of Disco Fever that DJ’ing became what it is now. And it all started with a legendary pioneering DJ named Francis Grasso while he jockeyed on a pair of Thorens TD125 turntables.
The Early Days of DJing
Back in the early disco days Francis was the talk of the town. He rose to prominence in 1968 as the all-star DJ of the Sanctuary, a popular disco club built out of an old Baptist church in New York. Unlike most DJs before him, Grasso was a highly charismatic crowd-pleaser but his brilliant knack for innovation was what really set him apart. Unlike most, he was always trying new techniques and adopting new tools.
When he first joined the scene turntables lacked all of the modern features; there weren’t any speed or pitch controls, tempo adjusters, jog-wheels, cue buttons, blend buttons, or B.P.M readers. They were just your regular old turntables; simple platter and tonearm setups with start and stop switches. So Grasso resorted to using the best turntables on the market at the time: the ultra-reliable Swiss made Thorens TD125s. Thorens were the sturdiest, most well-built, and versatile belt-drive turntables on the market; and they allowed him to innovate in ways previously unheard of.
Unlike any club DJ before him, Grasso stepped it up a notch. He took two Thorens record players and set them side by side. A technique unheard of in clubs. He then connected them with the first ever mixer made specifically for clubs, a handy little gizmo named “rosie.” A prototype he acquired from his colleague Alex Rosner, the famous inventor of the club mixer. Grasso then connected a pair of headphones to his setup, making him the first man to adopt the iconic look we associate with DJs.
Francis seen here with a TD 124, he changed things up every once in a while.
Revolutionizing DJ Techniques
With all the necessary equipment in place, Grasso went on to invent some techniques that revolutionized dance halls: he was the first DJ to start beat-matching. According to a Disco historian:
He invented the trick of “slip-cueing”; Holding the disc with his thumb while the turntable whirled beneath insulated by a felt pad, he would locate with an earphone the best spot to make the splice, then release the next side precisely on the beat.
If being a DJ is more than just being a human jukebox then Francis Grasso was the first real DJ. His setup, with the Thorens 125 turntables, prototype mixer, and headphones was the first real disc jockey system in a club. The concepts of mixing, beat-matching, and cueing, were all brought into existence because of Francis Grasso and his Thorens tables.
Eventually Thorens introduced models with more features for club DJing. When Francis Grasso got Thorens turntables with speed controls, he supplemented his cuing technique with speed changes that enabled him to match up the records perfectly in tempo.
Eventually, Thorens was eclipsed in the club scene by the release of the Technics Sl-1200 turntable, which quickly became the household name for DJ equipment. Similarly, Grasso faded away. Nonetheless, Grasso’s legacy, and the role his Thorens turntables played in the history of clubbing will always have a place in the history boks. DJs around the world owe him a debt of gratitude.
Thorens is one of the oldest brands around when it comes to Turntables and they are still producing them today. One of the more popular turntables is the TD 203! You can check them out in our store by clicking the Thorens the button below! We also have an article on them here.