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The Secret DJ: "‘Paying to play’ is a genuine threat to dance music culture"

"It’s pernicious, and it’s widespread," says our mystery spinner

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Tiago Majuelos
  • 13 April 2018
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But whether it’s playing for free, paying to play, funding their own trips or otherwise trading on privilege to smooth their path, DJs who give themselves a leg-up aren’t just making the business harder for those around them, they’re not doing themselves any favours by trying to skip the hard slog and fierce competition that the rest of us have endured and learned from. Because believe me, short-cuts tend to backfire in the long run.

Ever wondered why so many bookings in our supposedly youth-led culture are dominated by older DJs? Ever asked why a generation that came up in the last century have such staying power, while many younger models blaze brightly and then burn out? Maybe older DJs have lasted the distance because they cut their teeth at a time when genuine hard work and talent were absolute requirements, and the only possible foundation of a career. Paul van Dyk built his first set of decks himself. Carl Cox got his break rigging up soundsystems in Streatham. You couldn’t buy your way to the top back then, because the business infrastructure didn’t exist – so those that managed to make it 20 years ago had to have total dedication and a lot of skill.

And while the apparent meritocracy of acid house may in fact have favoured a demographic that was disproportionately male and white, the lack of real financial barriers meant that there was a lot more class diversity, and greater opportunities for the dedicated, the hustlers, the poor.In the face of today’s narrowing of opportunities, and a fall in the perceived value of DJing, we have to fight the global epidemic of pay-to-play. My fellow DJs: heed me. Attach value to what you and your colleagues do. Ultimately, the reason DJs pay to play or play for free is that other DJs do it. This distortion of the business in favour of the moneyed does the scene we love no favours– but it’s something that only we can fix.

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