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Midnight request line: the Secret DJ shares tales of 'booth wankers'

Our new regular columnist explores the DJ life - and dispenses DJ wisdom

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Laura Breiling
  • 13 January 2017

Settled in? Sometimes it takes an hour, but once you’re comfortably at the controls it’s time to look up (you’d be surprised, but some DJs never once look up from their work to read the room). It’s time to make the connection. Now you are in the moment. Time stops. A record that is clearly marked as nearly 10 minutes long appears to pass in moments. Your five senses each reduce to a tunnelled version. The pressure of 2,000 eyes demands your own focus. Like reading a score, you are simultaneously in the moment and also two or three bars ahead.

Have you ever tried too hard at something physical – a sport or game – only to find you’re never better at it than when you’re not thinking at all? It’s that thing. The lights are too much, and close down your vision. You barely focus on anything visually apart from the tunes themselves, and even then it’s fairly intuitive. You know exactly where the one you want is. You break the surface now and then to focus on individuals and they lock eyes with you. You know you’re doing it right. Now and then the connection breaks, and you make a change to compensate. But not tonight.

In my darker moments I curse myself for not being more ‘professional’ about it all, but even when I try it all falls apart, melts away in the heat. This is a thing I do, and do well. The subconscious plays a big part. If you’re ever at a loss to know what it is you’re good at, ask your dreams. I dream of being up there, and there’s a fault with the equipment: a simple, everyday, technical fuck-up. But the crowd doesn’t know. They think it’s me. Everyone has an anxiety dream some time. This is mine. It’s also how I know I am a DJ before anything else.

There is a flow. Of that there is no doubt. It’s a by-product of the whole. The party is everyone and everyone pitches in – yourself included. These big gigs are a breeze when every soul in there sincerely wants it to be. When it’s working it’s a real high. Hyperbole aside, it just happens, and you are part of something special.

But just as you are lost in it all there’s a tap on your shoulder. Pro booths are allegedly inaccessible, but again, it depends on who you are. You feel them before you see them in your peripheral vision: Booth Wankers. They aren’t happy unless they’re in there next to the DJ, soaking up adulation by association, like a deluded lizard basking under a sun lamp in a basement. It happens top to bottom. They might be crackheads or billionaires. My own view is it’s an occupational hazard and part of being a professional is to deal with it with a measure of grace. Give me enough room to turn around to reach my tunes and move my elbows and you’ll hear no complaints. Don’t talk to me, please. Don’t talk to me. I am at work. I’m also in a state of reverie. Break my vibe and you break the vibe for everyone. Doesn’t matter what I want, though, it won’t stop it happening.

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