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The Secret DJ: Being a promoter allows DJs to stand up for what they believe in

Our mystery spinner is taking the promoter plunge (again)

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustration: Tiago Majuelos
  • 25 June 2019

We’re taking the Secret DJ on the road with a series of parties in Ibiza. It’s not the first time I’ve turned promoter; in fact, if you are serious about the game it’s inevitable. Eventually you’re going to want to control your environment. Very few DJs are long-term successful; most get a very short year or two in the light. If you’re smart you’ll want to make something more sustained out of those moments. Your representatives are usually not thinking too hard about your future; they’re too busy milking your present. So you need to think carefully about where to go next. Because if not you, then who?

At the start of the scene the focus was very much more on promoters than DJs. Indeed, you could spend a year raving in the 80s and easily not know who was playing the records– or even care. Then in the 90s there was a slew of wacky promoters with far bigger personalities and profiles than the DJs (which, let’s face it, isn’t hard to achieve). Is there a collective noun for wacky promoters? There should be. “A giggle of promoters”? “an accounting of promoters”? “a circus of promoters”? Now, more than ever, there seems to be nothing but the DJ. The DJ has become everything.

But the party, the people, and the DJ should be forever intertwined. Every momentous milestone in our scene came from events rather than individuals. The Loft was about a shared audiophile experience, not Mancuso himself. The Chicago Warehouses and New York bath houses of the 70s and 80s were a scene. Acid House was a movement. Drum ’n’ bass, techno and raves were always about the wider cause. These days there are a lot of heritage gatekeepers trying to lay claim to history. But the true spirit still exists. In Scotland, Optimo still do parties for the people. World Unknown in London let Andy Blake and Joe Hart take their values beyond the records they played. The Black Madonna’s ‘We Still Believe’, Annie Mac’s £5 warehouse series, Evian Christ’s Trance parties: they’re all about individual DJs creating an environment that’s about what they stand for, not just turning up and getting a fee.

Jaymo & Andy George are good examples: two DJs who have almost binned touring entirely in favour of designing, running and programming their own festival, Lost Village. At the top level people such as Carl Cox or DJ Harvey have so much pull that they essentially make all the calls on how everything works at their gigs. These things are to be applauded. We need to retreat from the idea of the DJ as a person to be ‘seen’. and return to being party-starters. Even the word ‘promoter’ feels wrong. ‘Event-makers’ is what we must become.

“When you get your hands dirty, you gain appreciation and understanding”

When a DJ turns event maker all manner of things come to light. The greatest film director of all time might be Stanley Kubrick. He understood and worked meticulously on everything. When a shot he’d visualised didn’t work he invented new lenses. When he needed a location he sent dozens of people out to take thousands of photographs. He created worlds. Being a DJ/promoter lets you get involved in as many aspects as you like. If you’re forever a specialist that is all you will ever be. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this, but isolation is a very real danger to specialists. More importantly, there is a greater need than ever before to connect with people. When you get your hands dirty you gain an appreciation and understanding of the others you work and play with. You understand the economics more fully. You come to see what is absolutely necessary and what is superfluous. Most importantly, in any enterprise anyone undertakes there is vision. And if you don’t understand all the angles, your vision cannot guide the reality. When you engage with the whole, then you can truly drive it.

With The Secret DJ we’re trying to do something real. Something we believe in. It’s much easier to get people enthusiastic about something they can see you are emotional about. So we’re covering over the DJ booth, switching off every light, discouraging mobile phone use, announcing no names and hiring not a single cracker, glitterbomb or CO2 cannon. We did get the best sound man in the biz though, and the best speakers, amps and booth tech. The Secret DJ isn’t a person; it’s an idea. The idea is that music is more important than the ego. What’s key here is that we really give a shit. Everyone involved believes that things have gone too far,
with egos both in the booth and on the dancefloor. Everyone involved thinks music is the only thing that matters: enough to take a very great risk. And this belief, we hope, is the thing that will register with people, even if they can’t describe it. And even if this fails there is something to be said for doing it. It contains a truth in its heart.

I don’t know if what we are trying here will grow or die. I know we can’t do anything but try. Ibiza usually accepts or rejects. People will get that cameras are killing the vibe, or protest at being asked to do something about it. These things are almost impossible to call without first putting them out into the world, and this is the crux of it: you have to be in it to win it. You cannot do a party on a computer. It’s a bunch of humans doing what humans do. The true test is going out there and failing. Then you’ll realise that even getting it wrong is better than doing nothing at all.

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

Tiago Majuelos is an illustrator and animator, follow him on Instagram

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