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If you agree with Deadmau5’s recent contention that most big DJs and acts are just ‘button pushers’, then getting in position to push the buttons is starting to become a key part of the whole exercise. These days your average touring DJ, playing two or three gigs worldwide every week, spends far more time travelling than playing records. ‘Don’t get them started on airports’ is one of the key pieces of advice we give to new Mixmag writers who are about to interview a DJ. With the exception of pilots, stewardesses and professional junket chasers working for FIFA or the Olympic Commitee, there has probably never been a class of people in history putting in so many miles. They are their own strange nomadic tribe; stateless wanderers with no real home. Coping with the constant movement is arguably becoming a more essential skill than beat-matching. Packing is the new rock and roll. And those who don’t adapt just aren’t going to make the big time.
DJs in 2012 are particularly unfortunate.
In previous eras, air travel was a luxurious, glamorous exercise on a par with polo, or breaking in your new handmade leather loafers. Perhaps nostalgia has slightly tinted my memory, but essentially you could roll out of your taxi on the tarmac next to the plane, drunk and smoking a huge cigar, to be guided to your seat by a model in a miniskirt and plied with cocktails until touchdown at your destination, perhaps after a random sexual encounter in the plane’s toilet. These days, as you stand in line for hours to be treated like a convicted paedophile with a long record of successful jail breaks being processed for routine castration, the only sexual encounter you’re likely to experience is when the over-zealous security guard checks your testicles for explosive devices and waves your soiled underwear around like a battle flag as he searches your carry-on, and the minimum- wage flight assistants on most budget airlines are as friendly, attractive and welcoming as a perineal abcess. No wonder most touring DJs have such a strong aversion to toiletries over 100ml that a simple trip to Superdrug can bring on a panic attack. One poor trance jock had to have counselling to cure his inability to walk through a doorway without first taking off his shoes and holding his arms out to his side for a pat down (eventually he was discovered naked in his own bathroom in that position by his agent, after not responding to calls for three days, but between us we hushed it up). Others find the only way they can feed their addiction to long, interminable queues is to go to theme parks on bank holidays. You can spot them by the way they take their laptop out of their bag before they get on the ride, and keep looking for the stewardess button on the log flume.
It’s only a matter of time until the altitude, increased exposure to cosmic radiation, disrupted sleep patterns, thin air and dehydration start to enable what scientists call an ‘evolutionary leap’. DJ booths around the planet will have to be specially tailored for this new race of naturally selected ‘plane people’. The DJ of the future will be zig-zag shaped, so as to fit more comfortably into an economy class seat. In order to retain moisture, their skin will take on the rough, scaly texture of a cactus plant, while their digestive system will adapt to better extract a day’s worth of nutrients from a matchbox-sized can of diet Coke and packet of peanuts. Black-out eyelids and retractable ear skin flaps will allow them to settle down for a disco nap in the middle of an explosion, and their lung capacity will be on a level with the sherpas of Nepal.
And with their main forms of human contact limited to promoters, other DJs, airport security staff and those guys who try to sell £40 tickets to win a Ferrari on stilts, it’s no wonder the big DJs can seem a little out of touch. Never mind not knowing how much to tip in a restaurant, some of these guys haven’t paid for their own evening meal since 2009. Living out of a 56 x 35 x 23cm trolley bag and whatever’s in the hotel minibar might be a strange existence, but there is something attractive about never having to do your own laundry, make a bed, buy loo roll, cook a meal or change a lightbulb. It must be like being the Queen – and you have to turn up to huge gatherings of people, wave frequently and pretend you’re interested in them... in fact, it’s exactly like being the Queen.
“All the things you probably hate about travelling,” says George Clooney’s constantly moving character in the film Up In The Air, “the recycled air, the artificial lighting, the digital juice dispensers, the cheap sushi – are warm reminders that I’m home.” I often wonder if successful DJs think the same.