Dance music legend Moby has lived quite the life over his 50 years, going from suburban Connecticut kid to starving New York artist to internationally acclaimed superstar, and from a “vegan, sober, nonsexual God-botherer” into the kind of drinker whose quiet night out, as he puts it, would wind up “at 8am, with strangers in my house, bags of drugs, I’d had about 15 drinks, having sex with a complete stranger”.
Moby has now sat down to chronicle some of the best stories in his autobiography Porcelain (which is on sale now for $29.99 through Allen & Unwin – you can order a copy here), and after giving it a read, inthemix can confirm it’s one of the finest pieces of music writing in recent memory.
Moby sets up each chapter like an anecdote told drunkenly at a bar, and he’s got more than enough stories to go around, from being spat on by drag queen divas while having the time of his life at Tony Humphries seminal New Jersey house club Zanzibar, to making extra cash as a dominatrix’s assistant, and encounters with everyone from Miles Davis to Madonna.
We’ve picked out one of our favourite tales from Porcelain below: it’s 1990, Moby’s two years away from becoming a rave scene star with the release of Go, and he’s making money as the resident DJ at New York club Mars, a venue frequented by “gay black and Latino kids from the outer boroughs” and crack dealer gangs from the inner city. Read Moby’s tale below of how he was almost lynched by the gun-carrying crowd one night for a serious live turntablism error with Run-DMC.
By the summer of 1990 Mars had become a big hangout for rappers and drug dealers. The dealers would roll in, order bottles of champagne, and drunkenly throw crumpled $20 bills at the DJs to get them to play Audio Two’s Top Billin’ or Big Daddy Kane’s Raw. The dealers rolled in packs of ten or twenty, and they all carried guns, so these weren’t really requests and I never considered refusing. When their favourite songs came on the drug dealers put aside their bravado—for a few minutes, they’d turn into happy kids, singing along to Raw or Scenario.
Mars was also a hangout for gay black and Latino kids from the outer boroughs. They’d show up at ten thirty pm, dressed in light-weight clothes, and dance until we closed at four or five am. They loved the melodic house tracks of the day: A Promise, The Poem, Break 4 Love. When the dealers showed up and demanded hip-hop, the sweet outer-borough gay kids would look hurt and slightly defeated, but they understood. You didn’t say no to crack dealers on the street and you didn’t say no to crack dealers in a nightclub.
There were even a few songs that the crack dealers and the outer-borough gay kids agreed on: I’ll House You by the Jungle Brothers, Let It Roll by Doug Lazy, and pretty much anything by De La Soul. When the DJs played these songs there was relative dance-floor harmony.
One Friday at midnight I was on the second floor, spinning house records and hip-hop records, when suddenly I felt a frisson passing through the room. Terrance, the second-floor busboy, ran up to me, his eyes glowing, and shouted, “Yo, Moby, Kane is here.” I looked over at the bar: Big Daddy Kane was standing there, a glass of champagne in his hand, looking like a demigod. Kane and Rakim were the biggest stars in Manhattan; everyone played their records and revered them. Rakim might have been a slightly better rapper, but Kane was the reigning king.
In the previous few months I’d had visits in the DJ booth from the guys in 3rd Bass, De La Soul, and the Ultramagnetic MCs. They’d get drunk and get on the microphone as I played instrumental B-sides and they freestyled over them. I wanted to get Kane to rap over one of my tracks—I held up the microphone and tried to catch his eye. He just leaned against the bar with his fade and his linen suit, looking like a hip-hop Frank Sinatra, but cooler.
After thirty minutes Kane left, passing Joe and Darryl from Run-DMC as they walked in. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Here we were, mere mortals, witnessing three of the mightiest rappers in New York shaking hands and nodding in the doorway. Run-DMC were the biggest hip-hop stars on the planet, but by 1990 they weren’t nearly as esteemed among New Yorkers as Kane or Rakim or De La Soul. A few months earlier, though, they had put out a B-side called Pause, and it was re-storing some of the credibility they’d lost due to commercial success. Klark Kent played it, Duke of Denmark played it, Red Alert played it—the song was beloved and sanctioned.
Darryl marched over to the DJ booth and said, “Yo, boy, give me the mic!” I promptly obeyed. I had sampled the loop from The 900 Number on my sampler, so I played that and he started freestyling. Most MCs said the same things when they were freestyling—standard shtick, heavy on the “Oh shit!” and “Throw your hands in the air!”— but Darryl was unique. He had grown up freestyling, and his skills were flawless.
I segued into a loop of Funky Drummer, and he lost himself in the flow, getting better and better. The crowd was yelling, the crack dealers were dancing and waving champagne bottles in the air—even the sweet gay kids from Queens were smiling and excited. Then I played the instrumental of Pause and the crowd exploded— this was his hit. Darryl was sweating and he had a manic gleam in his eye while he rhymed. He was doing his parts from the record; the crowd was screaming and dancing; I was dancing myself; and then I bumped the turntable.
The record skipped. Not a gentle “oops” hiccup of a skip, but the sort of skip that involved the needle bouncing loudly across the vinyl and ending up in the dead empty zone at the end of the record.
I had killed Christmas. I had stopped joy dead in its tracks. The crowd booed and Darryl looked at me with dismay and derision. He said, “What the fuck was that?” threw down the mic, and stalked away. The crowd kept booing. I tried to come back by playing I’ll House You, but in a room of five hundred people nobody wanted to dance. The drug dealers were loudly jeering: “Stupid white boy! Fucked up DMC!”
I stood before the crowd, wide eyed and ashamed, and felt my soul disappear through the top of my hairy scalp. Could I hide? Anywhere? The busboy came over, patted my back, and said, “Bro, you fucked up.” I knew. I had fucked up. My life was over. I would get fired, move back to Stamford, and hope that I could return to my old room in the abandoned factory. Or maybe I could put my twin mattress in my mom’s basement and sleep there. At least I had options.
“The drug dealers were loudly jeering: ‘Stupid white boy! Fucked up DMC!’”
I kept DJing, without enthusiasm, and eventually the night ended. I packed up my records and my sampler and trudged upstairs to the office to get paid. [Owner] Yuki had a voracious and legendary temper. He screamed at everyone, even people who didn’t work for him. I had once watched him scream at a potential employee for what seemed like five straight minutes. The poor guy stood there, head bowed, while Yuki yelled at him. And he was just applying for a job.
Yuki was sitting in the office with some friends. He saw me and said, “I heard you had a fuckup with DMC?”
“Yes,” I said sheepishly. “I skipped Pause while he was rhyming.” I braced myself.
Yuki smiled and said, “Ha, maybe DMC was drunk! Maybe it was him!” The tension disappeared. I had caught Yuki on a good night: it seemed to me he was the right combination of drunk and high. Whatever the case, he had not fired me, stabbed me, or even yelled at me. He paid me and I went home.
After I unloaded my records and equipment into my bedroom I found Lee and some of his friends sitting on the futon, smoking pot and listening to a Klark Kent mixtape. I told them what had happened and they were stunned.
“Are you fucking kidding?”
Then one of Lee’s friends asked, “Did you tape quarters to your needles?”
“Quarters?” I asked.
“Yeah, all the hip-hop DJs tape quarters to their needles. It makes them heavy so they never skip. You can use nickels, too, but I like quarters.”
So that was the trick. Tape quarters to your needles and your records won’t skip. I vowed, like Scarlett O’Hara if she had been a stringy-haired DJ instead of an antebellum grande dame, that I would never skip a record again.
It was five thirty am. I’d humiliated myself in front of five hundred people and one of the biggest hip-hop stars in the world, but I still had my job and I’d learned something: tape quarters to my needles. It was time for bed so that this miserable night could come to an end, but first I needed to use the bathroom. I went down the hall to the bathroom, sat on the toilet, and picked up the toilet paper roll.
A huge cockroach fell out of the toilet paper tube and grabbed on to my penis.
“Aaaaah!” I screamed as I started swatting at the cockroach that was stubbornly clinging to my penis. Finally, I knocked it into the toilet and immediately flushed it. My harm-no-animals philosophy fell by the wayside: all I wanted to do was send this giant mutant cockroach very far away from my home and my penis.
I went to bed, still hyperventilating from my genital brush with the giant cockroach. I tried to calm myself down by imagining my obituary in the New York Times:
Local disc jockey Moby, best known for skipping a record while the most legendary MC on the planet was freestyling, died last week. He was crushed by the weight of his own terror and humiliation after a cockroach grabbed on to his penis. He is survived by his mother, his cat Tucker, and a few friends with whom he was known to play Super Mario Bros.