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"They scare me to death": The Secret DJ on everyone you will meet at a music conference

From gunslingers to Patrick Bateman types, The Secret DJ prepares you for conference run-ins

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Calum Heath
  • 4 June 2019

I’ve done a lot of music industry conferences over the years. They used to be way more fun, but then again, so did I. My view back then was that they were basically a jolly. A very, very expensive tear-up. This would mean getting up at the crack of 2:PM, totally avoiding anything remotely businesslike and only going to the dancing bits in order to behave in a very childish manner. The more serious-minded natives, especially in the US, would be utterly appalled at us, literally hiding the drugs and booze and openly asking what was the purpose of us even coming if we didn’t do any business? I can only answer in retrospect that they now have EDM and we have techno. Case closed, I think.

I’ve since completely turned around. I have a different and highly positive view of conferences now. The Ibiza part of the IMS conference is literally opposite my house. Mates queue to use my toilet. I issue brown wristbands for the privilege. I not only attend the talks and panels, I even get something out of some of them. The closest I get to the old days was last year watching a random man giving a keynote lecture to a wall in ’Bossa on ketamine. Yes, before you ask, he was on the drug and it was the topic of his discourse. Of course, my new positivity doesn’t preclude the usual mockery. In the spirit of Mixmag’s fine ‘Clubland Creatures’ series, let me introduce you to the sorts you will definitely encounter at any dance music conference.

​The Gunslinger:

From handshake to pocket to putting a business card in your hand in less than three seconds... and then poof! they’re gone. To them it’s a simple game of how many cards they can give away, then sit back, cross their fingers and hope someone calls. It’s like going angling and shouting at the water to give you some fish. Sometimes a Gunslinger is actually a Relic (see below) who’s just woken up and feels guilty.

​The Stat Machine:

Statto will corner you, and you will very much wish they hadn’t. They always seem to have a job that you didn’t know existed in the dance world: ‘Oh, you’re a data analyst! Wow, I didn’t know we had them’. Blockchain is the future of everything, streaming is brilliant, and they say things like ‘Music is just numbers, really’ without any trace of irony or shame. Sometimes they’ll be there to champion a new device or idea like a mad inventor: “Have you seen this!? It’s a box that holds MP3s! it’s like a virtual record box!” “So it’s a…. hard drive, then?” You can tell a Stat Machine a mile off as they’re always on their own, avoid long trousers, and look a bit loopy around the eyes.

​The Relic:

He (it is always he) thinks it is still the 90s. Everything should be free for the Relic cos he is very very important and gets very very loudly annoyed when it isn’t gratis. Staggering drunk by lunchtime, he thinks the panels are for other people and is basically there to get hammered on an expense account. He’ll have his shirt off at some point and be bellowing famous people’s names across the room as if he knows them, even though they’re not there. He’ll still be at the hotel a week after everyone else has gone, cry-wanking through his comedown.

​The Enthusiast:

These total weirdos have breakfast meetings. No, they really do! These Patrick Batemans would have a meeting while running alongside you if you let them. They think everything is awesome, and look on in horror as The Relic staggers by. They are in bed by 9:PM, they’re vegan and they DJ sometimes off a laptop with a tiny vest on ‘for fun’. Stat Machines love Enthusiasts because they’ll actually listen to them, and probably give them money. Enthusiasts think all dance music is brilliant, everyone is ‘nice’ and only stop smiling to put on their serious face at lectures or to fire someone. They scare me to death. You could run the whole industry off Enthusiasts and Stattos and just give everyone else the rest of their lives off.

​The Sophisticate:

This one is aloof from everything. They hate every minute of conferences but go anyway, arrive as late as possible, go into talks for five minutes or sometimes pop up at the end to loudly ask very difficult and combative questions like, “Yes but what is the point of what you said?” to establish that (1) They very much think the whole thing is a waste of their valuable time, (2) The scene is an art form not a business and (3) You awful people are ruining everything rather than actually keeping it alive. Yes, they used to be a DJ.

Honestly, I’ve been all the above at some point. Conferences are like capital cities: you find exactly what you are looking for when you go. If you only want to see the obvious hits and miss anything authentic or valuable just get drunk and sit on the bus. Or you can go deep. For every interminable, awkward and self-congratulatory ramble there are hours of genuine fascinating insight. Most of all, if you’re serious about what you do, you really need to be in a room with other people like you. It’s really that simple. So, did I give you my card already?

Follow The Secret DJ on Twitter and get the book at amzn.to/2Pv5Kjr

Calum Heath is a freelance illustrator, check his website

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