8 DJs tell us the worst thing that’s happened to them behind the decks
If you’re familiar with inthemix’s Disaster Gigs series, you’ll already know of the horrors that can strike behind the decks. From bad requests and awkward banter to getting spat and jeered at (you’re in our thoughts, Duke Dumont), DJing isn’t all velvet ropes and free drink tickets. To find out just how bad a crowd can get, KISH LAL asked some of Australia’s busiest selectors for their horror stories – read on and take this as a lesson in what not to do next time you’re at the club.
“A few years ago I was booked to play in Sydney (I’m based in Melbourne) and was travelling there straight after a bunch of shows in New Zealand. After the last show in Aukland my laptop died, no biggie as I had back USB sticks. But then I started feeling really sick. By the time I got to the club I was really dizzy and not coping. The warm-up DJ was killing it, but with really, really, really cheesy remixes of 90s hits.
I had 2 USB sticks with nothing but wonky club music and my own production. When I started, the promoter, who had booked my flights, hotel, everything, was standing right behind me. They had to watch me clear the entire room. After 20 minutes it was literally just me and her on stage. It was actually the most awkward I’ve ever felt. But after a while, it completely filled up again, everyone was really open minded and it was one of the best sets I’ve ever had. I played way overtime including a bunch of unfinished tracks. What a relief!”
“Someone asking me to play Daft Punk, whilst I was playing Daft Punk.”
“I jump up behind the decks at a super-cute hip hop party I was booked to play, and I’m no more than 30 seconds into my first track when three complimentary yet condescending male punters pulled through and took up residency next to the DJ booth. You would’ve thought they were paying a premium to act out with the way they were clocked on and showing no signs of leaving. What ensued was an hour of mansplaining and inaudible dialogue. Catch them leaning over the CDJs, checking tracks, suggesting tracks I should and shouldn’t play, twisting the dial to change tracks – while managing to mansplain DJing and their preference for vinyl.”
“I guess the worst was someone throwing their drink at me. They came up to compliment me on the track I had played, to which I was gracious, but seemed to know better than me what musical direction I should be going for the rest of the night, so I just turned away and completely ignored him. Next thing I know the promoter is pushing him back and telling him to leave and my arm is covered in his drink.”
“Generally speaking, I’d have to say annoying requests in a club context are THE worst. Most of the time the requester has only been one the premises for a total of five minutes before making their way to the DJ.
Think aggressively tapping DJs on the shoulder, lingering near the decks with puppy dog eyes, hovering your drink over the equipment while you struggle to stand, climbing onto a stage, typing requests into your phone or a text message…I was DJing to a full venue when a guy started yelling at me and threatened to call and then actually call his sister (a supposed promoter for a defunct night) if I didn’t play his obscure drum & bass request – one of the strangest displays of drunken entitlement I’ve encountered. Chill out, and maybe listen to the Chainsmokers before you hit the club.
Also asking or demanding that DJs smile. Usually it is an older male patron that seems to enjoy making joker-like gestures with shoulder nudges and yelling “stop looking so sad” or even worse… the whisper in the ear. The only thing it would take to get me to smile would be for them to exit my personal space. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a DJ, male or female, who smiles for a whole DJ set. Everyone needs a second to think about what’s coming next. DJs that do smile for a full hour are probably playing pre-recorded set or serial killers. Doesn’t a forced smile defeat the purpose of smiling in the first place?”
“Two particularly horrid experiences stand out in my mind: The first one was when an angry, middle-aged skinhead shoved his way to the front of the booth at the Goodgod front bar in Sydney back in 2015 to personally congratulate me and V Kim on being “the worst DJs he’s ever heard,” that “it was the biggest waste of $10 he’s ever made” and that we “shouldn’t quit our day jobs”. Sadly, he stormed out before we could say thank you.
The second was when a particularly incensed “grime fan” in Adelaide tried making a request (by way of using my friend’s phone – the club was REALLY dark and foggy) at a club night that my mates and me run. Upon seeing me shake my head and go about my business, he absolutely lost the plot: he started stomping his feet with intense vigour, not unlike a baby suffering a temper tantrum, before yelling an incomprehensible range of profanities and stomping his feet along the way. The whole time, he was holding on to my friend’s phone – we weren’t sure whether he was going to come to his senses or whether we’d have to jump out of the booth and grab it from him. Luckily, he calmed down and gave it back to her.”
“Something that I’ve encountered a few times that really throws me off while I’m playing is intense eye contact. The first time I ever played I had a girl stand front and centre and just kind of stare at me seductively, occasionally giving me cheeky smiles. The night is called GIRLS so naturally a few people at first thought it was a lesbian night – it wasn’t, but I was extremely flattered by this encounter. That same night I had a girl stand behind me, take her top off and shake her bare chest to Know Me From by Stormzy.
Two other times I remember feeling distinctly uncomfortable was on the weekend that just past, I had another “stare bear” who would peer over the decks every now and then to check what I was going to play next. This was beyond annoying. And a few Saturdays ago I had another guy who would dance while attempting to lock eye contact, when we would, he would pull a face like “what is this dumb song your playing?” in a jokey flirty way which I found irritating and not at all endearing.”
“I am a multi-genre DJ, and sometimes this really pisses off people. Their main issue is when I pair up tracks that really don’t belong together. I do it as a tongue-in-cheek statement on how legit amazing all music can be, but also because it’s hilarious. This one time I played Soulwax’s remix of Tame Impala’s Let It Happen into Justin Bieber’s What Do You Mean and this dude got in my face asking whether it was a joke or not and why I thought it’d be okay to play something they didn’t quite understand. Music heads do that all the time though and pissing them off gives me so much joy. Heck, in the last year I’ve ended every set as a support DJ with Only Time by Enya before the main act comes on stage. The reactions are always amazing.”
Kish Lal is a Melbourne-based writer. You can follow her on Twitter.