A couple of weekends back, electro-house gun Fake Blood was ejected from the DJ booth mid-set in Seoul, South Korea. The reason for his unceremonious exit? Playing a Fake Blood set, which didn’t go over well with a table of VIPs. (We’re not sure what they expected to hear.) As the producer laid it after afterwards: “Those ‘VIPs’ spend a lot on tables and drinks, but usually are into garbage douche-y music. So if they complain then it doesn’t matter what the kids on the dancefloor are doing – the DJ gets told to fuck off.”
Seems like you’ve heard this story before, right? In dance music’s recent history, a succession of DJs have had their sets interrupted by a recurring dancefloor character: the Demanding Douchebag. Sometimes, the douchebag in question even has 57 million fans on Facebook. So, what tactics can DJs learn from the clashes in the booth that have gone before them? Here’s five approaches to douchebag deflection, courtesy of names you know. We can’t recommend them all, but at least they’ve been tested.
In 2013, most DJ booths come equipped with a microphone close at hand. Usually it serves a feel-good function, reached for only when it’s time for a “let me see your hands” or “this one goes out to Chad in VIP – it’s his birthday!” shout-out. Sometimes, though, the mic can be turned against a dance floor offender.
Case in point: the now-infamous face-off between the usually cool and collected Calvin Harris and the girl who heckled him to play something “original” in Miami (never mind the fact there was a Calvin Harris production booming through the club). You can watch the video below to see how the headliner reacted to that request. A tip for young players, though: Don’t get drunk on the power of the mic. After all, not everyone is Calvin Harris.
If every DJ had a dollar for each time he or she were asked to play hip hop in a dance club, the annual Forbes dance music rich list would be a whole lot flashier. Never mind if the whole room is locked in a four-four groove, some drunken warrior will always make it to the booth on a bloody-minded mission to bring the people what they definitely don’t want. When it happens, the smartest response a DJ can offer is a tight smile and a shrug of the shoulders. However, when it’s a famous millionaire claiming the set is giving her a “migraine”, then all bets are off.
Way back in 2009, before she was the proud owner of bedazzled headphones and member of Amnesia Ibiza’s DJ roster, Paris Hilton apparently couldn’t stand dance music. In one of the most talked-about incidents of Miami’s Winter Music Conference that year, the heiress made the mistake of telling Steve Angello he was hurting her head. “For someone who claims to make records,” he wrote after the fracas, “don’t come into a booth and ask me to play hip hop and then have your doorman slap me.” Sometimes, public shaming is the sweetest revenge. However, it’s best followed by a streak of good humor, like Angello showing up to a Beatport pool party with his handmade ‘I Heart Paris’ t-shirt.
(Just a few months after the WMC incident in 2009, Paris ‘Hip Hop’ Hilton struck again, proving that name-and-shame isn’t always effective. Aussie electro-house producer Sam La More was playing an exclusive party in Beirut, Lebanon, for you-know-who, and recounted this story to inthemix. “It was some Paris Hilton VIP party, whatever that means,” he told us. “They had the Lebanese army flanking the dancefloor, armed with machine guns. Anyway, it all started out rather well until Paris arrived and started telling me what to play. ‘Play some Bob Sinclaire,’ as she calls him, ‘I hate techno.’ So I played some Steve Angello. She didn’t know the difference.
“Five minutes later though, she had me kicked off the decks for not playing hip hop. Well, after a bottle of Belvedere I thought it may have been appropriate to flick her the middle finger a few times, plug my headphones into the mic input on the mixer and blast her with a little Larry David-style ‘Fuck Huuuugh!’ The Lebanese army did not agree. I was escorted out of the booth and interrogated by a rather angry minder who kept spitting in my face.” That’s one risky name-and-shame.)
Any time you fear your set might be turning out to be “too future” for the bottle-service crowd, take some advice from DJ Shadow on how to handle yourself. Last year, the legendary turntablist proved he’s a true professional after a VIP table failed to read up on who the night’s headliner was. At Mansion in Miami, Shadow’s bass excursions earned him a tap on the shoulder to cut his set short, much to the vocal disdain of his fans on the dancefloor. “I’ve waited a long time to play here,” he told the dance floor on the mic, looking both confused and slightly amused, “but they said this shit is too future.”
The lesson here? If you are touring under the banner of “All Basses Covered”, you’re known for playing everything “from hardcore rap to footwork to juke and beyond” and your name is DJ Shadow, you have a right to be pissy about falling prey to a douche brigade. But if he can handle it with class, so can you.
Somewhere along the line, the dance music world decided DJ booths look better crammed with bodies. Why stare at just a DJ when you can have 35 hangers-on up there, spilling drinks on the CDJs? When there’s that many people crowding around the star of the show, there’s always the risk of that one over-enthusiastic Grey Goose-swigger getting up in the DJ’s face, hassling for a track ID, photo or just a casual chat right in the middle of a mix.
So how does the DJ deflect the douche who doesn’t think he/she is a problem? Well, if you’re taking your cue from techno kings like Gesaffelstein, Carl Craig or Richie Hawtin, you learn to stone-wall where necessary. It takes practice, though. Here’s how Carl Craig explained his legendary poker face to inthemix: “When I’m DJing, even though it’s supposed to be fun for people, I have to kind of concentrate on what I do. Sometimes there are guys who’ll come up in your face and start pumping their fists like, ‘Come on, play harder!’ It’s just like, ‘What the fuck? I’m here to do a job.’ How’d you like if I came into your job and got in your face saying, ‘Make that hamburger better!’”
As we don’t need to tell you, Michael Woods is a bit of an EDM shape-shifter, moving between progressive house, big-room anthems and even some techno when the occasion calls for it. One thing you shouldn’t expect to hear in his sets, though, is rap. As we’ve already learned in this feature, the average DJ-booth-invader tends to ignore that kind of nuance, especially if the douche in question is Justin Bieber.
As Woods wrote on Facebook after that now-infamous night at Eden Club in Seoul a couple of months back: “The story is Justin Bieber and his army of heavy security muscled in to the booth halfway through my set in S. Korea demanding hip hop. So when I told him to fuck off and put some clothes on, he took a cheap shot at my tour manager and instantly fled behind a wall of even more of his security.”
The lesson here is a simple one: If Michael Woods doesn’t let the hired muscle of a global mega-star deter him from the job, you can probably handle a drunken lone ranger who hates what you’re playing. And don’t forget to throw your douchebag a withering look just like this one…