Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Do You Do Requests?

This is one of the strangest phenomena that all DJ's experience, regardless of their reputation. In most cases I think that people who come up to me in the booth to ask for a requests just want to connect. They are saying in effect that we appreciate your music and share a similar good taste. However, not all visitors are so gracious. Most DJ's I know will report that at some time they have had heard one of the following comments:

1. "Can you play something we can dance to?" - I have heard this at times when the dance floor has been packed and bouncing. If this request comes from a man then the subtext is probably that he has his eyes on a girl who he wants to get off with. She isn't dancing because for example, she has told him that she only likes dancing to Abba so he is trying to negotiate Abba so that he can get her on the dance floor. Generally speaking it seems that girls prefer to dance to stuff with words or something anthemic. I was once advised not to follow request from the guys because often they are showing off their nerdy comprehension of dance music and will lead you into all sorts of obscure stuff that is guaranteed to clear the floor. Get the girls dancing and boys will follow.

2. "When are you going to play some good stuff" - bearing in mind that most DJ's spend many hours each week hunting down, sifting and classifying new music this is a bit of an insult and the subtext is that they want to hear something they already know. Generally speaking I have found that there is a division between people at gigs between those who don't get out very often and only want to hear what is familiar to them and those who go to a gig because they want to hear some of the new stuff that the DJ has uncovered.

3. Have you got any (fill in a name, any name). I have had people request Bob Dylan when the place has been full on dancing. I think part of this request stems from the fact that we are increasingly living in a demand led society. People can go to You Tube or iTunes and hear exactly what they want. For me, DJing from a computer and in some cases people assume that I am connected to the internet and can therefore play anything that is demanded. If someone asks for an artist that I don't have I have even had situations where people have tried to push me to one side so that they can browse my screen. At which point I have had to say, "Oh of course now I see the problem. You think I am a juke box." Frequently when I receive a specific request for an artist I like to say, "What flavour do you want?" i.e. "Do you like funky, deep, progressive, dub, hip hop, minimal?" Since I tend to play pretty long and eclectic sets there is a good chance that I will be able to fulfil their flavour request whatever it is.

4. "When are you going to play something we can dance to?" As I often play in cocktail and lounge bars dancing is not always a prerequisite. Clubs usually carry with them a sort of tyranny of the 130 beats per minute which is an ideal speed to keep people dancing. From my perspective I prefer playing in bars, terraces, beaches and private parties  because you can have more fun by altering the tempo. In fact sometimes when I've played several house beat tracks I have noticed that people start to adopt the same dancing moves and to my mind (as a regular dancer) this can get a bit boring. The problem is that it's very difficult to transit from, for example, funky house to reggae. Inevitably this means that there is a period when people find that the dance moves there were using don't work with the new beats but usually after a few seconds they adjust and adopt new moves which keeps it interesting. When playing bars my object is not usually to get people dancing but rather to entertain and enervate the conversation. I am a great fan of Nu Disco which often means that the tracks are based on familiar disco themes but often slowed down, often to around 100 bpm, stretched out and with a hypnotic big beat added. I can easily dance to this but but for some people it simply awakens the desire to dance and they assume because they are now enjoying the music that the next step must be that the music must be taken up a notch to full house dance mode. Sometimes I oblige and sometimes not as I'm paid to make that judgment call.

5. Something intelligible shouted at loud volume. Drugs have definitely impacted on dance floors through the decades. Personally I would much rather play for a group that are loved up on ecstasy that wired up on coke (which is sadly more and more common these days) which can make people rather insensitive and loud.

It's quite common for DJ's to develop hearing problems. I've had tinnitus now for around 30 years. I remember the moment well. I was at a reggae gig at the old Dingwalls dance hall in Camden. The place was rammed and I decided that I would join the slow moving crocodile of people moving towards the toilets. Unfortunately at one point the queue stopped moving at a point where I was standing by one of the speakers. I didn't notice at first but then felt a sharp pain in my left ear. I left the gig later that night with ringing in this ear and then noticed that three days later it hadn't stopped. It never did. Fortunately for me I have been able to phase it out so, generally speaking the only time I notice that I have a ringing in my ear is when I hear the word tinnitus - I can hear it now ;-) I have been very fortunate because I know that some people have it so bad that it drives them mad and certainly would prohibit a career surrounded by loud music. For me the sound changes from time to time. For many years until recently I lived in a place which backed onto some beautiful verdant gardens. Sometimes when I went to bed in the early hours of the morning I would lay in bed listening to the exotic sounds of the dawn chorus. Then, around six months ago my partner and I were staying with friends. As we lay in bed I remarked on how beautiful the birds sounded to which she replied, "There are no birds!" At this point I discovered that sometimes my tinnitus changes to the points where it resembles the most beautiful sound exotic birds randomly chirping and calling each other. What an amazing affliction to be blessed with.

Having said this I do try to protect my hearing wherever I can but the for me the most dangerous and often unexpected one is the screaming customer. Frequently cocaine is the cause. This wired up individual will walk right up to me and scream a high volume request in my ear. I now try to spot them first and put my hand up to protect myself or maybe slip my head phones on with the volume turned down.


So generally speaking I'm more than happy to chat to people while I am playing but please understand that I am working and there will be times when I have to break off and line up the next track or search for it. Forgive me if I am not that responsive to requests. I wouldn't dream of visiting someone in an office and suggesting to them how they should do their work. In fact I have never asked for a request from a DJ. What I will frequently do is complement them on their selection (everyone like a bit of encouragement) or ask the name of a track. If I don't like the music they are playing there is no way that my request is going to solve the situation and I prefer to let them get on with it or leave if it really is that unpleasant.