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The Secret DJ on the problem with being off your tits when you perform

The mystery spinner will now be answering your DJ questions each month

  • The Secret DJ
  • 30 July 2018

“I find it difficult to DJ without being a bit pissed or high. It started off as nerves, and now it’s a ritual. How can I shake it?”
- A, Ibiza

Thanks for this, A, it’s very brave of you. It’s also timely, and something that has concerned me for a very long time.

You are experiencing something that is habitual as well as emotional. I’ve been through it, too. It’s a Pavlovian response, a vicious circle where the body and brain recognises a specific situation and immediately demands the substances to medicate it. It starts with an emotional need – in fact, a state of panic is the best way to describe nerves – and a quick fix for that is depressants, especially alcohol.

Then, when you discover you are always nervous stepping into the booth, you need ‘medicating’ every time, which reinforces the need/habit. This is known as ‘associative learning’. If you only have this problem at this one specific time, then that’s not so bad! Look at the positive of it, if nothing else.

Show me a DJ (or indeed anyone who works in the spotlight) who says they aren’t nervous beforehand and I will show you a bare-faced liar. For a long time I thought in my conscious brain that for me it had all become mundane. I didn’t ‘feel’ nervous at all. However, why was it that I had to go to the toilet about three times immediately before? And why do I have anxiety dreams about equipment not working? I’ve seen DJs who are genuinely nice as pie become highly irritable and neurotic before a gig. I’ve seen more than a few ashen-faced big names throw up. These are seasoned pros. I know one who can’t perform without a fistful of valium, and if you knew the irony of his stage name you’d be staggered.

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