I started a new class tonight and I noticed this girl as she came in the door late. She looked familiar and an unsettling feeling came over me. I was sure I had unknowingly insulted her at a party or something. I don’t insult people (you know, to their faces) but sometimes in the night when the libations are flowing I often think I’m being funny and sometimes people get rubbed the wrong way. As I sat there in class I was trying to remember what I might have done…
I want to talk about the worst DJ gig of my life. Keep in mind, I’ve had a few REALLY bad DJ gigs that include nearly falling off a ten foot ledge in pitch blackness into a well of broken beer bottles and piss, threatened by a crazed rasta drug lord type who nearly punched me for not playing his request, and also the time I was held captive along with the bartender at a bar on Ave. A in NYC by an out of control homeless guy. At one point he started throwing pint glasses at the bottles behind the bar which were smashing and exploding over my head. 5 NYPD cars showed up that night… That was really fucked and I nearly stopped any work with bars/clubs after that. But you know what, it gets worse.
How can it get worse than all the potential for injury, the violence, aggressiveness and fear? I’ll tell you how. It has to do with humiliation. Nearly getting beat up by a rasta is not humiliating. Being terrorized late at night in a bar is not humiliating. It’s scary, traumatizing yes, but not humiliating. No, it takes that extra something special to really ruin the usually positive and eager to please attitude of this DJ. It takes humiliation.
Here’s how it went down.
It was a few years ago and I had been asked to DJ a friend of a friends house party. This place was known for parties and it seemed like it could be fun. How wrong I was. First off, this is Austin Texas and it was the dead of summer, boiling at night, no let up from the heat. Obviously this was a big old doors open Austin house party so obviously no air conditioning and yeah, it was twice as hot inside as it was outside. I set up my CD mixer (I prefer turntables but their floor bounces the needle off the records) and surveyed the party. There was no music playing when I showed up so I thought, “This is going to be casual, no worries, just have fun”. I had been asked to bring some commercial stuff to mix in, specifically that ridiculous(ly awesome) “Walk it Out” song so I went out and dropped about forty dollars on crunk and also some reggaeton too, to keep things lively. I brought other stuff as well, but I almost felt like I had been asked to not be,
how do I put it, too much of a DJ, as in playing house or other more specific forms of underground dance music.
One of my problems as a DJ, and maybe in life, is that I often forget to follow my instincts and do it the way I would want it done. In this instance I pandered and I noticed that while people loved it when I dropped my beloved “No Diggety” remix, they seemed dis-interested when I went to the more commercial hip hop that I had been told they wanted. My stuff was working, yet I felt obligated to mix in the top 40 radio jams. Plus it was way too hot to sustain any real type of dance, people would die if they danced for more than 10 minutes at a time. To compensate for this I brought out the microphone and had people passing by get on the mic and talk, give shout outs, it was great. People were laughing and being silly and even though I was melting I was having fun. It was around midnight when a girl, drunk, came over to me and said she wanted to hear some music.
Just take a moment here to think about what you do when you want someone, a stranger, to do you a favor. What is the logical way to approach the situation? Hmmm, maybe friendliness would work, a hello, or wow, even an introduction. But no, this was another one of those all too common situations, any DJ who’s played out enough knows the scenario. I’m talking about the white chick (sorry to be racist against white chicks but I am) who for whatever reason wants to be up in your business, like they are intimidated by the control that a DJ can wield. And what’s sad about it too is that I had already decided to relinquish that power by involving the random people passing through the room. I knew because of the heat this wasn’t going to be a dance party, so I went with fun party rocker instead.
So this drunken, wanna be hipster chick who radiated the vibe of I fucked ten Mexican guys when I studied Spanish in Monterrey last month so now I’m sorta Latina, I want Manu Chao now!! I bring in the extra racist element only because I got the feeling that one of the hostesses was Chilean or something, and she was lovely. There was just that annoying summer abroad kind of vibe with her friend and I went with it. Usually what I do when confronted by some obsessive music trainspotter or kantancarious DJ groupie is to give an over the top compliment like, “Wow, your eyes…” or, “Cool dress – do you sew?”. Both of those handy frazes have worked for me every time, except this fateful night.
I could tell she was fucked up and hostile so I just took the CD and asked what tracks she wanted to hear. She said something like, “Just play all of it, I want to dance!” I somehow surmised that it was indeed Manu and I thought I would play a cut or two and move on. But no. The CD wouldn’t play in my machine, and I use professional CD players that even read MP3. I honestly tried to get her music on, because I like Manu Chao too.
I’ll put it into turbo here so as not to ramble. After being completely distracted and thrown off course by one out of a few hundred people at the party, I decided she had already taken up too much of my time and I went back to finding other tracks to mix in. She wasn’t having it. I tried to explain that her disc didn’t want to play in my machine. I showed her, it was the truth. She became not enraged, just sort of single mindedly determined to hear her CD, right then, right there. I watched as she yelled at her friends for a computer, which someone finally procured. A mac none the less. Somehow she managed to plug in to the stereo in the living room (the party people had brought in a PA for me) and now there was a skipping CD blaring through the room. The very hot, very unfun, very annoying room.
I said fuck it and pressed stop on the mix. She could have it. Get me the fuck out. Home girl, you win. Within moments my brother and a few friends had come over and I didn’t need to explain much, as by now there was a small group of anorexic girls surrounding the original troublemaker and they were now blaring a clicky, skipping CD of Latin pop hits, dancing along even though it sounded like shit and people were staring.
I had cumbias. I had Latin funk, I had No god damn Diggity for fuck sake. Needless to say I felt completely humiliated by this one drunken woman as I packed up my gear. The saddest moment for me was when one of the gracious hosts came to me as I was leaving with my few friends that I came with and silently handed me like $50 in cash. I remember it was all folded up like she was sneaking it to me.
When I was back home I had to force myself to again unpack the DJ gear and set it up on the table where it lives near my fireplace. I was so disgusted and cursed the people in Austin and the anti fun DJ thing that goes on. I was thinking of new forms of negative expression to describe this pasty drunk bitch that had ruined my night and embarrassed the party hosts. It was so awkward because I felt that I had failed the party by packing out, but what could I do?
A secondary sting came later when I had a conversation with the guy that had originally asked me to do the gig. Obviously I said WTF? about the crazy chick and this dude didn’t really defend her, confirmed that she was WASTED but also suggested that I had freaked people out by using the microphone. He suggested that people didn’t understand that. My heart sank because these supposedly hip, in the know, party in the house people didn’t get a DJ using a mic or letting people do shout outs? This was not an austere underground Berlin or Detriot techno club with a Phazon soundsytsem and bottles popping, this was a sloppy summer kegger in a house in central Austin. If anything I should have just played reggae and chilled out dub all night, but no. I had bought the over priced mix CD with “Walk it Out” extended remix etc and wasted my time trying to have fun with a crowd that is still just getting up to speed with Daft Punk.
Oh and by the way, the girl I mentioned getting a funny feeling about in my class tonight? I figured it out.
I guess I have to say thanks because I have never really delved into what happened that night for the simple fact that it was so embarassing and uncool and I wanted to forget about it, but it’s huge part of how my view of Austin was shaped. It’s alway cathartic to put feelings about those situations down and I did. It also reminded me again of the multiude of DJ stories I have in the back of my mind, floating around like a distant dream. So, in many ways pain and humliation can be inspirational in coming to understand who we are and why we end up in certain places, certain situations I am a careful person and I learn from my mistakes, and I feel certain that when all was said and done the annoying party girl probably felt pretty stupid later, and probably feels pretty stupid often if her actions that night are par for the course. That is if she even remembers, and something tells me she probably doesn’t.