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The Secret DJ: “Beware other DJs. Some will say or do anything to get your slot”

Top tips from our secret selector

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 22 November 2018
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Once, back when people still had fun, I set fire to a Jimi Hendrix record while it was playing and promptly set the whole club on fire. That place did not forget me. Nor did they re-book. It’s not only the bad things people remember, though. For a while I was literally the only touring DJ with Pioneer CDJs and I took them in a flight case to every gig. This made an impression. I used to cut and paste a bit and some club promoters looked on in awe.

Perception is relative to the beholder. I was once called into an Ibiza mega club to fill in for one of the biggest DJs in the world. It was such a vast, dark room that only a handful of people at the front could be relied upon to identify anyone in the booth. To this day I’ve never felt anything like it. Sheer electricity in the air. Every tune getting huge cheers. It wasn’t until I played exactly the same records in the same room the following night that it was clear that it was nothing to do with me, the music, or indeed anything but the hype and expectation that name commanded.

These days the market is so saturated with DJs that a lot of promoters book you for very odd reasons and are pretty much looking for reasons not to book you again once they have. Sadly, I’ve personally taken many steps to tone things down to avoid this kind of criticism. I used to enjoy playing a fun record at the end of the night, only to discover the next day it was the only thing people remembered. Doesn’t matter that you did an extended six-hour set of unheard-of newness; you’re shit because you had fun at the end. I always say “a DJ is only as good as their last record”, which is a real shame.

A booker on a bad day won’t like anything they hear. Ultimately, the character of the promoter is all. A good, professional, clued-up organiser will always see the value in what happens at their event. But some people will look on in awe while others will be disgusted by everything you do or say. It’s so hard to call.

I’ll never forget the story of a famously rock ’n’ roll DJ who’d been on a long tour with a slightly more sensible one, and on the last gig in Amsterdam the naughty DJ was particularly bad and everyone on the tour was convinced they would never play there again – or indeed be allowed back in the city. The slightly more sensible DJ managing a quick fumble with an interested party in the backstage toilets was nothing compared to naughty DJ’s behaviour. On leaving at the airport with the promoter, sensible DJ apologised for his colleague. The promoter laughed. “Are you kidding!? I got into the business for this! I love this guy! [Naughty DJ] is always welcome in my city!’ ‘Thank god,’ replied Sensible DJ; ‘I can’t wait to come back!’ The promoter’s smile switched off like a light. “Oh no, [Sensible DJ]. For you, there is no next time.” The fumble had been with their spouse.

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