We realised how spoiled we’d been, getting to play festival gigs all summer, only when we were asked to DJ the party to close this year’s Edinburgh Film Festival - an hour into the gig and we started to wonder what was wrong…
The dancefloor was full, the beer was free, the set up in the booth was fantastic… so why did it feel like such hard work?
Short answer: the crowd.
Now I know it’s not cool for a DJ to bitch about the people they’re paid to entertain, and rightly so – playing records is fun and it’s not like you have to get up early and wear a suit to do it – but…
Imagine spending your summer going on road trips around the country with your best friend (who just happens to be your DJ partner), arriving at a muddy festival site where everyone there is there to party – you grab a warm beer and get behind the decks and - bang! – we’re off, everyone in the soggy tent dancing ‘til their legs wobble…
Now imagine you’ve been enjoying these ‘warm and fuzzy’ gig experiences for the last few months and you’re now in a club – a nice club, granted – but you’ve got 250+ punters, with an age range of 20 to 60, who want to let off some steam after weeks of working flat-out to host an event for demanding film and media types from around the globe…
They’re tired after working 16 hour days, and this makes them a little tetchy… it also means it only takes ‘em about two drinks to get pretty wasted!
You’ve got to keep everyone happy, and that means playing at least a handful of tracks that each and every person can dance to.
We did a pretty good job (well, I would say that!) – in 5 short hours (that felt like a lot longer) we journeyed through soul, funk, disco, hip hop, breaks, mash-ups, house and electro, featuring no small number of dancefloor classics and rump-shaking surprises…
We knew this crew would be hard to please – one 50 year old’s Motown delight is another 20 year old’s idea of cheesy wedding-music hell – but some of the requests we received and conversations we had with the more objectionable and intoxicated in attendance still had our jaws dropping.
Can we have more soul? More funk? More electro? More cheese! Less cheese? Banging techno? Some 80s? Something to take me back to my student bed-sit days?? Our heads – my mullet and Semtexgirl’s dreads – were spinning….
One girl told us that she and her friends wanted to have a ‘dance off’ to The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’, and then asked if we could play ‘Boogie Nights’ as their warm-up track… When we were clearly in hands-in-the-air house heaven, a bespectacled chap – who was carrying a briefcase(?) – asked for ‘9 to 5’. Another girl, who was clearly young enough to know better, asked if we could play anything by Bryan Adams. Our answer was short, but polite.
Yeah, a DJ is there to fuel the dancefloor... but not to merely bang on the ‘lowest common denominator’ chart tracks in an endless row. A DJ’s job is to try and get everyone involved, which means mixing styles and genres to suit that particular crowd... but if they’re any good, they’ll try and weave tracks together in a logical progression.
Remember this next time you book a DJ or decide to go over and make a request in a club after a few beers/lines/pills - the DJ is not a jukebox and a club night is not your birthday party! If this sounds unreasonable, don’t have a DJ – just plug your iPod into the PA and hit shuffle. (This also works out cheaper.)
Every DJ knows there are ‘good’ gigs (when everyone loves what you’re playing and is happy to find out where you’re taking them next) and ‘not so good’ gigs (where a booze-soaked or coked-up minority decide to tell you that you’d be doing a better job if only you’d play some gabber when the rest of the room is obviously blissed-out at your current BPM rate) – similarly, all of us know the frustration you can feel as a clubber when the DJ just isn’t hitting your (special) spot!
Believe me, DJs WANT to please you – their sole purpose is so that you, the party, can get off in style – but there are ways to coax the girl or boy behind the decks in the direction you want, with only the tiniest application of charm!
Take a second before you head over to the decks and look around the room. Is everyone else enjoying the music? If they are, and you’re about to suggest a radical change of direction, you may meet some resistance from the jock in control. Remember, a DJ is there as a party-starter - yeah, it's your night out, but don’t forget it's everyone else's too!
If you want this person to play a record for you, DO wear a smile, however fake – the DJ is much more likely to spin your tune if you rush up to the decks smiling and say, ‘Hey – great night – I’ve hardly stopped dancing! I’d love it if you could play…’ – conversely, starting your request with ‘This is shit. Can’t you play…’ is likely to be met with less enthusiasm – trust me!
Even if you haven’t been dancing, taking a quick trip to the bathroom to apply fake sweat patches from the cold water tap before going to the DJ booth couldn’t hurt… (Which brings me to another pet peeve for all jocks – if you ask for a track, it’s only polite to dance when it’s played…)
If the party is dying a slow and painful death however, you should definitely reel off some requests to the funeral director at the decks – bear in mind that an empty dancefloor is more excruciating for the DJ than it is for anyone else, however much you might be suffering – the DJ’s probably at a loss as to why things are going badly and should be grateful for your insider knowledge… In this situation, I would list my favourite tracks AND my favourite tipple – hell, if the records you suggest revive the dancefloor, I’d expect to drink on the DJ’s tab all night!
Remember, above all else, we’re all in this together – the DJ, the crowd, the bar staff, the cloakroom attendant (OK, maybe not the bouncers…) – and whatever else happens, don’t let my ranting put you off giving your spinner some feedback the next time you hit a club… after all, if no-one comes to talk to us when we DJ, how are we ever expected to get cute girls’ phone numbers? ;)
Genuine DJ/clubber conversations I’ve enjoyed:
Punter: Can you play Madonna?
DJ: This IS Madonna...
Punter: Yeah, well, not this one.
Punter: Have you got DJ Shadow?
DJ: Er, yeah…
Punter: Can you play 'Organ Donor'?
DJ: Aw, c'mon - look at the dancefloor - it's the last half hour! Sorry, man - I can't bring it down now...
DJ: Tell you what... have you got the album at home?
DJ: Well, you know in half an hour, when you go home...
DJ: You could listen to it then.
Punter: You know you were playing soul earlier?
Punter: Can you play it again?
(from a girl who didn’t dance the first time we played it…)
DJ: Er... hi?
Punter: I've just been watching you...
Punter: And I was thinking... what would you play now if you could play anything you liked?
DJ: Er, well I kinda am...
Punter: But what are you really into?
DJ: All kindsa stuff... hip hop, breaks, funk, house, electro, grime, baile funk...
Punter: So what would you play now, if you were playing from the heart?
DJ: Er, are you asking me to play something for you? You know... like a request?
Punter: No, no - I just think you're being a bit generic.
Punter: Well, anyone could play this...
(while playing a still-warm CDR of our re-edit of Deee-Lite’s Good Beat/Good Beat Acapella we'd put together that very afternoon…)
Find Fabulous Les at http://www.radioasbo.org