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The Secret DJ on walking the fine line between cool and commercial

"The thing is, cool doesn't entertain you"

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Alex Jenkins
  • 30 January 2018

I’d just walked in to one of Ibiza’s coolest clubs, As usual, the gossip was about one of their manufactured crises. Rather cleverly each year there would be a story leaked about how the venue was being oppressed by The Man, cementing its imagined status as an ‘outsider’ while quietly being just the same ferocious business as everyone else, if not more so. This week ‘The Council’ had said there could be no DJs performing outside. So the famous terrace had the music from the indoor section of the club piped out to it. I emerged outside to see everyone pointing towards an empty booth. There was no one in it. Yet everyone faced towards it and fixed their adoring gaze on the empty air, without exception.

This is the power of cool: the fetishisation of the club had created the Emperor’s New Terrace. And a huge part of a DJ’s job these days is to navigate this line between style and substance – which can come as a shock to anyone who thought it was just about making people dance.

The thing is, cool doesn’t entertain you. Cool cares little about whether people are happy. Often it just means scowling, heads-down, crow-faced techno goths hammering a crowd full of equally uniform sourpusses. Indeed, I’d go as far as to say some of our coolest venues are sometimes almost entirely devoid of atmosphere. But many commercial venues are the opposite: full of bouncy, shiny, clappy-nappies boinging about mindlessly to a soundtrack of Barney The Dinosaur’s greatest hits, a DJ fist-pumping at the crowd like they’re mid-way through some kind of puppet-less Muppet show (personally I’ve always thought it should be the music that should get people punching the air. The DJ shouldn’t need to demonstrate how the human tricep works).

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