This Guy Has Been Collecting All Your Embarrassing DJ Requests
We know what you requested last summer.
As anyone who's attended a house party since the advent of Spotify will know, DJing doesn't work as a democracy. Well intentioned the idea of a communal DJ arrangement might be, in which everyone gets to a pick a tune to play out, in practice it's a total shambles. Trying to share the decks with 20 other people inevitably leads to conflict rather than harmony. DJing, it seems, is better suited to autocracy rather than anarchy.
At 3am, when everyone's smashed and congregated in whichever room contains a pair of shitty desktop speakers, patience is at a minimum and mounting a laptop coup is tempting to even the least power hungry of us. Tensions often arise over some unspoken form of DJ etiquette: should I queue my selection? What if my tune isn't on the party playlist? And are there times when intervention is justified - like three minutes into to a twelve minute disco edit or a mistimed happy hardcore tune that's just cleared the dancefloor? Then DJing by committee has the all the shortcomings of democracies: being governed by an elite class of selectors not accountable to their constituents' tastes. Perhaps we should accept that this is one system better off with a single person in charge. No wonder DJs are so prone to messiah complexes.
Understandably, that's a settlement which not all people are content with, and there are those who don't see DJing as a divine right and continue to fight for some representation through making requests. Whether by bellowing over the club's PAs, gesturing at mobile phone screens or posting handwritten notes into the DJ booth: there's always clubbers who want to have their say.
For the last four years, Los Angeles DJ Mick DiMaria has been collecting the ephemera of DJing: the notes passed over as requests to DJs, the notices from club management and the preemptive, often exploitative, conditions set out by the DJs themselves. In 2010, DiMaria started the Tumblr blog, No Breasts No Requests, named after one of the first signs which he stumbled across, as a place to collect all the written requests he recieved while DJing himself. As word got out, he found himself inundated with contributions from DJs and clubbers alike. After a year of detective work, sourcing the original photographers, DiMaria is releasing a book that complies the greatest (or worst, depending on how you look at it) submissions to his blog. THUMP spoke to DiMaria after the release of No Breasts No Requests about the politics of DJ requests, the changing the medium of requests, and the ethics (or lack of them) of trading sexual favours.
When did you get the idea to start documenting DJ requests?
I've been a DJ for 14 years and a lot of the requests I get are spoken but some are written down and I started collecting the ones that were given to me. I was really getting into Tumblr at the time, this was 2010, and I decided to put some of the requests online. I found some others on the internet, it looked like there was a lot of DJs sharing these things and one thing led to another till eventually people were submitting 10 a day. Three years later I decided to collect some of the best into a book.
In the 14 years you've been DJing what's the weirdest request you've personally received?
I think probably one general one that I remember is someone asking: "Can you play something that people can dance to?" And it was at a time when the dancefloor was packed out and loads of people were dancing. I was just like: "Look out there." Another time I was spinning at a goth club and somebody requested Mariah Carey.
Where do you stand on DJ requests, are they necessarily a bad thing?
They're not always a bad thing; in general I do like taking requests. Part of our job as DJs is playing what people want to hear and sometimes when they tell you directly that's a great gift.
You have to use your judgment, there has been times when someone requests something and I play it and the whole dancefloor clears, including the person and their friend who requested it. But then if you're not clearing the dancefloor at least once a night, then you're not taking enough chances. I think it's a good metric to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Some DJs might contest the notion that they're there to give people what they want?
I think it's a combination of what people want to hear and what people don't know they want to hear yet. It's a mixture of leading and following but ultimately you're the captain up there and you're paving the way for a good time.
Do you think that DJ requests have become more common in an age where music is instantly available on-demand?
I think we do live in an on-demand culture in which people are use to getting what they want exactly when they want it. People are used to hearing what they want immediately and I think some of that thinking applies to when they go out to the club.
Reading through the book, I found myself having more empathy for the requesters than the DJs: most of the notes written by DJs are elitist and patronising. Do you think that maybe occasionally the DJs go to far?
When DJs say no requests I think that's going too far, I think you need to have a dialog with the dancefloor and the people out there. To me it's a little bit strange and off putting to not take any requests. There are a small percentage of DJs that give other DJs a bad name.
What about the title of the book, how did you choose that?
It comes from a photo I found online that was one of my first posts. When I was thinking for a name for the blog, I wanted something provocative, something that'll get noticed right away. A lot of people think it's a controversial thing and ask if that's my policy but it's not – obviously I'm open – but it comes from another DJ.
A number of the signs written by DJs in the book openly solicit women for sexual favours in return for requests. For me, that speaks volumes about why DJing is still a male-dominated culture that often excludes women.
There are a lot of women DJs out there but, yes, it is a male-dominated field. I think some DJs think they hold a powerful position and in exchange for some of that power they're looking for something in return. It's a lot of young people, a lot of alcohol and a lot of sexual energy so I'm not surprised that some DJs have fun with that. I'm sure they're not serious but I don't think they'd turn it down if it came their way.
I would never do it but I think it's funny when others do it and I encourage them to submit a picture to the blog when they do. There is something uncomfortable about it and that fun tension makes it entertaining to watch.
Uh, okay. With EDM popularising the role of the DJ-performer, is this the end of DJ requests?
I don't think so; I think with social media it's probably going to be even more present. I see a lot of DJs on Twitter asking their followers: "I'm spinning tonight, any requests that you want to hear?" Or even people spinning right now, where it's like: "What do you want to hear right now?" So I think it's probably happening even more now.
That does pose a problem for Vol. 2 of No Breasts No Requests if people aren't writing things down anymore.
Yeah, I've begun to see people just holding up their phones more and more rather writing stuff now.
No Breasts No Requests: Notes from DJ Booths Around the Globe is out now, you can buy it here.
English translation: "Whoever plays David Guetta tonight gets badly smacked in the face and buried behind the house!"
DJ Ms Butt
English translation: "REQUESTS ONLY AFTER ORAL CONSULTATION"