Defending the Indefensible: Bad DJing
Perhaps, just perhaps, it's time to give terrible DJs their shine.
Defending the Indefensible is a semi-regular series which sees us trying to find merit in the abject, the terrible, and the deathly dull. We don't believe that there's such a thing as "guilty pleasure", so this series sets out to prove that even the most shocking and schlocky corners of dance music can find a home in somebody's heart.
No one really likes bad DJs though, do they? Not really, anyway. No one walks into a club and gets jazzed everytime the first act on the bill — the promoter's mate, another DJ's cousin, the bloke who's spent the last month stuffing inboxes with increasingly desperate pleas to "just play a few tunes, please mate, cheers," — trainwrecks through mix after mix, clanking off key synths into mismatched hi-hats. No one finds their dancing come to a grinding halt as a direct result of fuck-up after fuck-up and thinks, yeah, you know what, I liked that, I liked the flow being wrecked beyond repair, I liked that moment when I wanted the sticky floor beneath me to open up and swallow me whole, five pound can of lager and all. Do they?
I do. I revel in it. I find myself inextricably drawn to bad DJs, to DJs who look perpetually flustered and uncomfortable, to DJs who, as each mix approaches, adopt the face of someone who's definitely left the front door open, the gas on, and forgot to sort out their tax return. These, sadly, are my people.
I'm not drawn to them out of any sense of piss-taking. I'm not stood about in a club praying for the inevitable clang. I don't smirk to myself and nudge my mates in the ribs. Instead, I sympathise and I empathise. I want to slide up to them, with a beer in my hand to proffer for their services. I want to console them and promise them that next time — and yes, there will be a next time — it'll all go well, that there'll be more time to practice, that they'll fucking nail it, that everything'll fall into place and next time they watch the next DJ patiently reset the club after a jittery jumble of fluff ups and fuck ups, it'll be with a smile on their face. I want to do all this but, of course, I don't. I just silently stand and feel my chest tightening, beginning to worry how they'll spin it out to the lads in the group chat after. Will it be a terse, "went alright cheers" or a more eloquent extension of the truth? I want to ask, to know, to delve in, but, of course, I don't. I just silently stand there, crying on the inside.
The thing is, there are a few different types of bad DJing and bad DJs. Most of them don't deserve defending. The self-serving selectors who rigidly stick to their self-ordained gameplan to nosedive into utter tedium don't deserve defending. Neither do those DJs who flat out refuse to read a crowd, ignoring any possibility of crafting a discourse between themselves and their audience, nor, for that matter, do the DJs who disregard the unignorable variables that have to be factored into the equation — the set time, the clientele, who's playing before and after. Those DJs deserve our scorn, our harsh looks, our walk-outs and cigarette breaks.
The bad DJ that does deserve defending is the the DJ who's either too nervous to mix, has built up the mix in their head so much on the bus to the club that reality and fantasy diverge horrifically, or plain can't mix at all. Now, I'm not saying that terrible mixing, or shite song selection, or an inability to do a job — and, yes, DJing is a job — properly is always worth defence. After all, as I've already said, no one pays money, or pesters a mate for guestlist, to listen to an extended fuck up. What I am saying, however, is that there's a naive charm to sloppiness in which we can find merit.
Naivety has a bad reputation. We think of the naive as, well, a little naive, a little inexperienced, not quite of this world. Scorn pours on them as freely as rain during an English summer. We distance ourselves from the naive because to admit to being naive about something is to admit an ontological weakness on our part. And if I've learned anything in 25 years of trudging through life, it's that having your ontological strength brought into question is a low-blow on par with an actual low blow.
The naive DJ, then, if we are to speak of such a construction, is the DJ who has the best of intentions at heart. This is the DJ who knows, in their head, in their heart, what'll work on a dancefloor. Bedroom-bound weeks pass in fantastic daydreams of stardom and acceptance, of engendering communality through dance.
The naive DJ steps up to the mixer in their head and deftly flits between genres and timings, surfing perfectly on the choppy waves of taste and temporality. Everything, up there, tucked under the blanket of responsibility free imagination, is perfect. Every track lands. Every transition is seamless. Every part of the story that's being told is told with the panache and flair of Nabakov, every element of the narrative under construction is as punchy and to-the-point as in a Raymond Chandler potboiler. In there, it's perfect. In there, the naive DJ is Laurent Garnier, Seffi, Jackmaster, Nicky Siano, Marcel Dettmann and the Black Madonna rolled into one. In there, it's perfect.
Out here, in reality, in the horribly real reality of the nightclub, it's perfect too. We're just not quite ready for it yet.
Perhaps, just perhaps, we've all been wrong all along. Perhaps adequate mixing is antiquated. Perhaps picking records that compliment each other is for fuddy-duddies. Perhaps being able to tell a story through sound is about as useful in 2015 as real books are. Perhaps, just perhaps, we've all been wrong all along. Perhaps, just perhaps, it's time to give the bad DJs their shine.
You'll see me there, next time the DJ fucks up, with a smile on my face and a kind word in my throat. I'll be there, picking them out of the ruins of the trainwreck. I'll be there.