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The Secret DJ: "The ritual of preparation helps to rebuild shattered confidence"

More words of wisdom from the mystery spinner

  • Words: The Secret DJ | Illustrations: William Davey
  • 25 October 2018

I’ve been a DJ a long time, at a medium level. Recently, after 20-something years, I’ve found I’m having panics and making cock-ups, and I’m not enjoying it any more. It’s like the mistakes and the anxiety are feeding off each other. Any tips before I hang my headphones up? KM, ipswich

Hey listen; first of all, don’t do anything drastic! Let me tell you, this is both quite normal and you are not alone. I often say to anyone who will listen (ie my dog) that the number one tenet at the heart of playing records is confidence. Like a lot of performing, or sports, or business… look hard enough and in the middle you’ll see a plucky little nut of confidence. What else is standing up in front of lots of people in a position of authority?

These panics and anxiety are down to a lack of confidence, and it can slip for many, many reasons. I can’t comment on your life, or what might be contributing to it, but I can tell that you are experiencing a very commonplace crisis. I had one, too. Sure, on the outside everything was fine: the nature of the subconscious is such that you often don’t know what’s going on inside until it’s too late and it’s manifested itself as something odd on the outside.

Firstly, you’ve got to learn to be OK about making mistakes. They’re the sign of a real DJ at work, rather than a plastic mimer, and the less you worry, the less they’ll happen. Circles can be virtuous, as well as vicious.

It might sound peculiar, but some of my own issues were tied into health. I was unfit and unwell, and that had an impact on my confidence. When you’re not looking after yourself, your self-esteem suffers.

The changing scene can be intimidating, too. I know I find all the impossibly good-looking young DJs and their new toys quite oppressive. And I look out at the dancefloor sometimes and think, “What the hell are you all staring at?” All that gazing at the DJ is a relatively new thing for me. That carries a lot of weight on its own (as does my pelvis).

I always have and always will try to play future music, but sometimes the DJ before is basically playing records from the 90s, or another is purely genre-driven. Sometimes I stick out like a giant throbbing arse because I don’t mime along to seamless syncs. Just playing a breakbeat can be a radical act.

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