We examine the curious condition of the flash in the pan DJ and how to handle yourself when dance music’s big time beckons.
Yesterday a DJ friend told me they’d had a knock back for a stage they were curating. The DJ is a well respected artist and had requested a newer DJ who had a big breakout year in 2016 to play on the bill. The new DJ refused to play with the DJ curating the room and said they would only play if it was alongside a well known disco veteran.
This irked me. More annoyingly, I almost coughed a cup of tea over my computer. Not only was the newer DJ making the kind of demands usually made by someone of a much bigger stature. But the block could have cost the DJ curating the party their own booking, if the event had been handled by a more unscrupulous promoter.
It's hardly crime of the century but moves like these, artists refusing to play with other artists or bickering over flyer billing, go on every day in the world of DJ bookings. In many cases it is warranted. The bigger profile DJ does deserve to be higher on the billing, despite the efforts of hard-hustling agents. And an artist playing vinyl only electro, probably shouldn’t be playing a party for Beatport Tech House chart DJs. So there are situations in which it is advisable for a DJ to pass on a party, particularly if it means they will avoid playing to the wrong audience and ruining someone’s night out.
But when this card is dealt by a DJ who has only just rocked up to the big time, it is indicative of a classic trait of the DJ condition: the cringey tendencies of the above their station DJ.
Sometimes I wonder, should we feel sorry for those flash in the pan DJs in that brief but glorious run when a new star burns bright like a comet blasting through the dance music atmosphere. Artists often go from nothing to the centre of the world in a matter of weeks. Gig diaries fill up over night. Email inboxes become deluged. Your phone starts buzzing with texts from randoms from the weekend and people you haven’t heard in ages. Your bank balance suddenly goes into credit and starts adding zeros. The dinner table goes silent in the restaurant as everyone listens attentively to what you’ve got to say. The scenesters invite you to stay at their luxury pad in Tulum or Ibiza. The afterparties become more and more glamorous and next thing you find yourself doing lines with a supermodel and a Hollywood A lister.
The call to the agent goes from a discussion about five hundred pound gigs to a discussion about dropping them for a bigger agent, to a discussion with the new agent about passing on Glastonbury because the fee isn’t good enough.
By this point the confidence is coursing through your veins like never before. The old, anxious you has been replaced by a snappy, motor mouth. Except perhaps the banter isn’t as funny as you think it is, although most people laugh anyway. A couple of years in and you haven’t had time to go the studio in ages and the cracks start appearing.
That superclub that booked you three times a year ago isn’t returning calls. Your agent is staring at an empty release schedule because you haven’t had time to produce. And the holes start appearing and multiplying in your gig diary as THE NEXT BIG THINGs all stride in to take your place.
There are two ways this particular fork in the road usually goes. If your karma control has been good all the while, if you always made an effort to be polite even if you couldn’t remember the name of the person you were talking to. If you didn’t completely sack off that loyal club for the better offer. If you didn’t cock block your other contemporary DJs. If you took a weekend off here and there to make time for the studio, you will ride out the rough patch and graduate to the intermediate DJ booth in the sky.
You will be on borrowed time there of course, and whatever you did to get your first burst of success, you’ll need to repeat and repeat again to achieve longevity and maybe even, if you’re lucky and dedicated enough, legendary status.
If your karma control wasn’t really top of your priorities all along however, you’ll soon find yourself in a world of turned backs and deaf ears.
If you are lucky to experience that first great burst of success, yes look around and smell the roses. Enjoy the moment because moments don’t last. Be nice. Be courteous. Be mindful. Be professional, because unless you have the cards keep your place at dance music’s top table, all of those dick moves you made will eventually catch up with you.