DJ Harvey exudes an intoxicated wizardry behind the decks, the figurative lovechild of Gandalf and Keith Richards. He’s been ensconced in the booth for four decades – a veteran of the scene, a true custodian of dance music. At the mercy of late nights, the party lifestyle and air miles one would think the career of a professional DJ would be a short lived affair. But whilst burnout is not unknown, many first wave of DJ’s which cut their teeth in the late 80’s (DJ Harvey, Sasha, Andrew Weatherall, Laurent Garnier, Carl Cox, Greg Wilson, Francois Kevorkian, Mike Pickering, Colin Dale, Jeff Mills etc.) are stoically plying their trade today, impervious to the widening generation gap between the DJ pulpit and punters.
Equating the life of a professional DJ to a sports star is fair analogy – glamour, admiration, travel, fame and fortune all commonalities – but when it comes to longevity, the DJ ironically outlasts Mr Fit. The shelf life of most athletes expires in their mid 30’s, where upon they graduate to a life commentating, gambling or depression. But for the pro DJ, the mid 30’s represents career adolescence – not necessarily hormonal tantrums and break outs, more that their careers are starting to bloom, growing a pair of gonads and stepping into the fray.
The occupational hazards are slim. Navigating around falling monitors, crippling episodes of DVT from weekly flights or the syphilitic risk from one too many post gig orgies isn’t exactly a treacherous obstacle course. The most serious complaint from the ageing jock is a little buzzing in the ears. The sonic penance of Tinnitus is an irreversible side effect of listening to too much boom boom music; hardly a career ending injury – remedied in the short term by adjusting the volume dial to 11 and pre ordering some hearing aids. It’s a small price to pay for career longevity.
In contrast to a sports star, a jock’s stock keeps rises; their encyclopaedic knowledge compounding over the years, multiplied by dance music’s propensity to regurgitate a genre every decade; minimal and deep house recent resurrections. This recycling gives the veteran spinner a competitive advantage over the millennials, who, armed with their faceless libraries of music data, seized illegally and stored inconspicuously on a USB, cannot begin to compete.
These hard-yard journeymen rose in the pre-internet era when music collecting was a different beast – the level of commitment financially, physically and spiritually is incomparable with today’s boil-in-the-bag ideology. Searching for a rare vinyl in the basement of a damp Soho record shop required Buddhist patience, considerable financial input and advanced yogic posturing to flick dextrously through ill positioned crates. It was a heavy sacrifice, and not without casualties. But for every bankrupt, arthritic, embittered ex dj, jaded by a misspent youth, there are some highly tuned sonic athletes that carry the baton greedily through the years, oblivious to the handover posts, un-bothered about the age rift and still beating in sync with the scene.