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The Secret DJ: "New Year's Eve is amateur hour"

The Secret DJ on the most hectic and well-paid time of year

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 7 January 2019

“New Year is the busiest time for DJs, but I find it all a bit depressing and strained. I’m thinking of not working this year, though I need the money. What do you think – is New Year’s Eve over?” – R, Dublin

New Year has always been the most hectic and frankly well-paid time of year for DJs. It used to be all about racing up and down and across a country doing three or maybe even four gigs; getting silly money if your name sells tickets, and getting even more for the midnight set. In fact, you could say that it was midnight on New Year’s Eve at the last millennium that triggered the end of the golden age of DJing and rang in its fracturing. On January 2 2000 our industry woke up to a hangover of epic proportions in their bank accounts. A consensus was somehow reached that those fees would never be paid again – unless you were a mega beast. Promoters started playing themselves and booking first-timers who sold tickets to mates. Thousands of mid-range DJs would soon never work again. Those bells rang in something entirely unexpected, if not inevitable.

Now,cool kids wouldn’t be caught awake at that the final twelfth gong. They’re saving themselves for New Year’s Day, and even more insanely, January 2. For them, New Year’s is seen as something their parents do: consequently, a dutiful phone call is made to them at home before an early night. It’s squares on the TV getting it all wrong. A once-a-year party for people who don’t know how to party. A late night for people who go to bed early every other day of the year. Amateur hour.

I find it depressing, too; I always have. It’s all forced jollity and strange ritual. First a very busy night. Then later just a very busy couple of days. Then even later, something to be avoided if possible. There’s something about being forced to ‘take stock’. It’s an imposed ending to something that feels very much like every other day, while simultaneously asking you to look ahead.

It can’t seem to decide whether it wants you to forget it all and party, or solemnly make promises for the future, or take a long hard look at yourself and the past year. The melancholy that surrounds it has always interested me, which is why I chose this question to answer.

The winter rituals at the solstice on December 21 are as old as the planet. Christianity hijacked the party, but the original intent still lives. Once the shortest, darkest day has passed we celebrate the coming light. It’s that basic. So maybe the feelings you and I associate with it are biological – a sort of internal clock with an alarm telling us we are at a fulcrum, a crossroads. What we are feeling is the sense of emerging from the ‘lowest’ point of the seasonal cycle, and euphoria at seeing light at the end of the tunnel. The cognitive dissonance of those opposite feelings of low and high are the engine that drives the enigma. I’m just hazarding a guess; I’m a DJ, not an anthropologist. Who knows, though: maybe in the old days we’d be shamans, covered in feathers and coloured clay with people looking at us to provide answers and bang things so they could have a good old caper around a fire to stave off the dark.

Maybe not much has changed.I’m not sure what to advise in terms of solutions. I do think that we’ve split off from the mainstream in terms of our scene. If you like ‘amateur’ party people, do New Year’s Eve. More serious ravers should avoid it and do the aftermath. But of course, the real pros do the lot! Apart from the spring equinox at Easter (another ancient ritual that requires a formal dance), it’s my busiest time.

I wonder if, in fact, there might be great value in celebrating these key moments in the year. There’s a sense of release and of celebration, as well as some more complex emotions. And isn’t that our job? Rather than pick and choose what makes us look cool, perhaps we need to see what we do as a service: as something that helps other people, rather than just boosts our own egos. I’ve tried to stop seeing people as either ‘deserving’ or ‘undeserving’ of what we do and look at it more as a thing that belongs to everyone. Amateur or professional party-goers alike have valid human feelings, so maybe we should all come together for these semi-pagan dates in the calendar, rather than turning our noses up at the possibility of unity. Lead them back into the light.

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