29 January 2012

The five phases of the DJ

Sound system life has a very transient nature and all club relationships are shallow? Wrong. Some of your deepest and longest lasting friendships can occur within the party scene. Yeah, you might lose them for a while, for a variety of reasons, but they'll always be there when you need them most. It is a journey. With 5 phases.

The Puppy Dog

love me; I'm keen to please
Somewhat fascinated by the machinations of DJ culture an overwhelming drive and urge to be part of it overtakes your life. Gone, now, are the days of frivolously spending money on things that never glittered; obtaining that elusive floor filling tune that make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up is all that matters; finding slots to play these tunes to people is all that focuses your life and all that you live for; you go out more, hang out with sound systems and other DJ’s, listen, oh listen, oh so hard to music, dissecting, understanding, solving. those intricacies. The DJ slots begin to come and you are ever so grateful for them; so what if they are for half an hour while the sound guys set up and the club is empty; so what if you wait till 9am at a free party to get on them decks. As long as there is one person there – and they are lying down on the edge of the dance floor, asleep, damn it; their foot is still tapping. That is who you play for. And it is the most wonderful feeling on earth. You’ve had it! You’ve had a taste, a tantalising taste of what it could be like. All you need now is 10,000 hours of deck time – including two hours of practise every single day - or one year, whichever comes first before that gestalt moment arrives and you can truly call yourself a DJ. You get your round in. You are like a puppy pissing on the laptop; it's wrong but we understand your intention is honourable.

The DJ
top of the world ma
You’re starting to move up the ranks of your local sound system playing order a bit; no more blagged sound check warm ups you are now accepted as a fully functioning member of the local sound system fraternity. You can beat mix, have an ear for a great tune, can read a dance floor like a pro and are starting to produce a few tasty little tunes of your own. You have new friends that you’ve met on your travels, you talk about music a lot, you now have a fabulous social life and people want to be your friend and be nice to you. Yes you still have to put up with collecting, humping equipment around and setting it up and taking it down; yes you still have to wait for your turn that lasts oh so briefly; yes your spending has gone up on digital downloads or records or new cartridges that everyone else uses but doesn’t thank you for; but you absolutely love it. You are living the dream come true. You have a great friend, work, DJ balance; you are happy in your relationship; everything is great. The world is your oyster. You are now sticking money in, or investing shall we say, to help buy a new amp or mixer or some leads for the sound system; you’re designing the odd flyer and doing your bit to publicise the parties; you have truly become a respected member of the underground music scene in your area. This phase can take from one to five years to accomplish. But there has to be more? Doesn’t there?

3.      The Popstar

suck my cock
Your drinking and drug taking begins to increase noticeably alongside your ever inflating ego. The sound system is here to serve you. You think, no, you know, the grass will be greener on the other side. You begin to tire ever so slightly of the healthy provincial music scene you helped to build and your vaguely boring friends who tell the same jokes every week; your girlfriend suddenly doesn’t seem as dedicated or as good looking as you once thought she was. You think your personality and DJ talent improve exponentially when you are drunk and on cocaine. Oh, where is the excitement you muse? You begin to get offered gigs from other promoters and sound systems as your tune hits the top 100 on Beatport; you play in London more regularly; the late Saturday nights soon become late Sunday afternoons and your work, home and social life begins to suffer. You can no longer compartmentalise. Gone, now, are the lovely personal texts to your friends' inviting them to the parties. Gone are the witty party reviews and blog entries. Gone are the hours spent listening to and buying music. Gone are the flyer designs you loved doing. Gone are the countless hours spent humping and setting up equipment and just hanging with the crew. You now turn up for your top of the night slot 10 minutes before you are due to play with a bunch of hot tunes that you have not heard, still in their shrink-wrap, that have been given to you by eager producers desperate for some positive feedback. You never fill in reaction sheets. You never drive; you get taxis now darling, you are a superstar DJ. Your hours of intense rehearsal are no more; you now love to ‘wing it’ and you think you are all the better for it. You don’t drink pints anymore either you drink doubles and charge them to the promoter; besides you got to go after your set because you’re playing another set with your new trendy promoter rich friends’ that you only just met last weekend in London. Oh, they are ever so funny. And so are you.

4.      The recluse

You realise things had got out of control. You don’t drink anymore; or take drugs; you now hate house music. You hate the scene. You now hate standing on a beach DJing to the rising sun with all the people who love you by your side. Your girlfriend is pregnant and pressuring you to give up your weekend, now severely bleeding into weekday, lifestyle of late nights, long hours, expensive habits. Everyone thinks you turned into a bit of a twat and is not really speaking to you any more anyway. You decide that is it, fuck it, to retire from DJing and instead ‘do the family thing’ or/and ‘focus on my career’ or travel; it’s the right thing to do and you know it, ‘it’s about time I grew up’ you say and ‘accepted my responsibilities’. That job you nearly lost because you were becoming a lunch out is now the main provider for you and your family and you’re glad you didn’t blow it during ‘the dark days’. The job is a bit shit and boring but, you know, it’s all you could get after blowing your degree and getting a third because you partied too much ‘back in the day’ as you now call it. You feel faintly embarrassed for being so hedonistic and the shame you will carry for many years. First thing to go is your decks. If you are lucky you put them in the attic alongside your once loved and treasured record collection and forget about them for five years. If you are not lucky you sell everything. You don't drink doubles anymore. You like a couple of pints a couple of times a week. You drop all your sound system friends and find some new, nicer chums from the school or parents group. Suddenly all the women in your life don’t seem as glamorous as they once were. No need to dress up and glam it. Clothes covered in baby sick are inherently unattractive. You now field calls from your old DJ chums. You have withdrawn, you are a recluse.

5.      The comeback.

remember those days?
It comes back slowly. It could be a conversation, hearing the fragment of a snatched tune or  a recording of an old set, a birthday party or wedding you had to go to and some of your old crowd were there. It’s a spark with an imaginary Ray Mears blowing with full puffed cheeks to get the embers alight. You may be on the dance floor in that dark corner just swaying to an old dance tune you once loved when your brain goes; ‘I used to love this fucking tune’; it ignites something. You weep openly at the realisation. A very small flame that once burnt the size of a house. You actually find your old friends really miss you and are keen to catch up with you again. You realise that, hey, they weren’t as bad as I perhaps once thought they were. I fact I quite miss them. I did become a bit withdrawn and perhaps was a bit of a twat for a while, but, hey, I’m not any more. I’m together again. My drinking is in control. The narcissism is gone. Your old DJ chums want you to play with them but only on a weekday night, just me and you, why not? Ey? Why not? You come home strangely energised and you had a good night. You feel connected again. A little bit. ‘I might get a deck out and listen to a few old tunes’ you promise yourself. The kids are getting older; the parent thing needs something to interrupt it a bit. I need to be myself and music was such a part of me for such a long time. The midweek mix for a hour with a chum on a Wednesday night turns into you, once again, putting a little bag of tunes in the back of the car, just in case, as you head off for that little party. I'll only stay a few hours you promise yourself. Oh OK, you say, as you are asked to play a few tunes, just for your close friends, just this once. You see the joy that brings to their big, beautiful faces, the smiles, the hugs it engenders. All that love, see, you caused that to happen. You. You big gorgeous hunk of DJness. We see you love your music and us again and we are ever so glad to see you back amongst your old, dear friends doing the thing you love and getting such a buzz from it. You can feel yourself lift as you feel a part of something that you thought you had lost. You can now proceed slowly back to step 2. Not do it all; in your own time, just do the bits you want, when you want. You pick your parties now; you only play the tunes you love; you do not compromise, you buy very, very carefully. You love house music again. For a while anyway ;-)