Friday, July 05, 2013
COLUMN: DJ Nerd
If you happened to have read my column last week, you'll know that technology and I haven't been getting along so well. In the course of last week, I somehow managed to break not one but TWO laptop computers, my computer workstation, my iPod, and the circuit board that runs my entire car. Either the machines are about to take over or I've ticked off a robot god somewhere.
This is an odd situation for me to be in, because I'm usually the guy running TOWARDS the latest technological advancement, not away from it. I've never lived in fear of technology one day making me obsolete. But I now fear a worse fate may have befallen me: technology is making me look old and uncool.
As many of you are aware, mild-mannered newspaper columnist Shane Brown leads a double life. When the weekend arrives and the sun sets, you can usually find me moonlighting as a DJ at an assortment of nightclubs around the area. This wasn't a hobby I just happened into -- this was a hobby born of necessity.
I love dance clubs. Always have, always will. Thumping bass beats, crazy light shows, cute girls... what's not to love? There's just one problem: I can't dance to save my life. I look as natural in a dance club as a beach ball in a snowstorm.
Apparantly when I was a pre-toddler, I started walking before I learned how to crawl. This is a bad thing, since babies use the crawling phase to develop motor skills. But I didn't care about motor skills back then. All I cared about was getting to my parent's stereo as fast as possible. Who could blame me? It had lights, it made noise, and it had that big black platter that just spun round and round.
My mom likes to tell the story of her friends freaking out when a barely-able-to-walk mini-me came toddling through the living room with an album in my hand.
"Sherry!" they'd yell at my mom. "He's gotten into your stuff and he's about to touch the stereo!"
"No worries," my mom would reply. "He's just putting on a record."
That's right -- I was DJing in diapers.
My love for music never waned, and my years playing drums in marching band taught me the importance of a good beat. By the time I got to the age when girls miraculously began getting cured of their cooties, I was already something of a dance music aficionado. I just did that aficionad-ing while seated motionless. If I was feeling especially funky, maybe you'd see a toe tap every so often. To this day, the only dancing I do is in my basement with doors locked and blinds drawn, and I'm pretty sure most people would mistake it for a seizure.
When my hometown opened its first teen dance club, my world changed. One step into that place, one whiff of the fog machine, and I knew I was home. The shiny floors and fancy lights made the place come alive like my wildest dreams. And the music? OH, the music. So loud you could feel it in your chest like it was rearranging your own heartbeat. Home sweet home, other than my inability to do anything but stand around awkwardly hoping against hope that I somehow looked cool.
Then it hit me -- there was one place at a dance club where a motionless person could fit right in: the DJ booth. I could hang out in this Eden every weekend AND pick all the songs AND get paid? Every weekend was Christmas.
Back in those days, if you were a DJ, you didn't have to worry about being cool -- you were too busy worrying about being a DJ. Records had to be bought, equipment had to tracked down, and mixes had to be practiced to perfection. Having the hottest music meant routine trips to Chicago and even staying up 'til 4 a.m. to place overseas orders with your favorite London record shops. DJ's weren't cool. We were nerds who were slaves to our passion, and all we had was hope for a day when DJs finally got notice and respect.
Well, that day is now, and let me be the first to tell you: it stinks. It may have taken a couple decades, but the mainstream world is finally starting to warm up to modern dance music. Suddenly DJs are showing up on the Top 40 charts. Guys like David Guetta and Calvin Harris are becoming platinum artists. Tiesto earns $250,000 to spin tracks for two hours to an arena full of people. To compare, last weekend a guy handed me $2 to play Journey.
At the same time DJing came into vogue, it also became a LOT easier to do. Thanks to new tech, instead of spending countless time and money tracking down all the hottest tunes, they're just a download away to anyone who wants them. Instead of lugging pounds of equipment to every gig, all you need now is a laptop. Instead of night after night practicing the skill of beat-matching, you can buy DJ software that does it for you. Go look up a video of Steve Aoki, one of the top tier DJs in the world. 10% of his set is spent actually mixing. The rest of the time, he's jumping around the stage like an over-caffeinated breakdancer.
And now it's gotten even worse. Traktor is one of the top names in DJ software, and this week they released their very first DJ app -- for smartphones. For a $4 download, you can now pull out your iPhone and do everything that used to take me a carload of equipment. I used to be able to hide my rhythmically challenged nerdiness behind a wall of gear. Thanks to modern technology, now I can just stand there furiously tapping on a cell phone looking super-duper awkward for the whole club to see. Thanks, technology!
Suddenly DJs are no longer the pasty-faced chubby nerds of yore who only came out of their basements for gigs. Swedish House Mafia look more like Swedish House Models, and have you guys actually SEEN Bauuer, the guy who came up with the Harlem Shake? Dude looks like an Abercrombie catalog. Some of these new DJs can even (shudder) dance. The era of nerdy DJs is over.
The odds are stacked against me. Try all I might, I'll never be the cool guy at the club. I'm fat, I can't dance worth a lick, and I'm now officially closer to 50 than 30. Yet the passion remains. When I walk into a club, the hairs on the back of my neck still stand up. I still love being blinded by strobe lights, the smell of an oily fog machine, the feel of headphones around my neck, and that magical rush when you mix into just the right song to send the crowd over the edge. As long as there's a club willing to put their trust in an aging nerd, I'll do my absolute best to fill that dancefloor, even if I have to do it with a phone in my hand. I have no choice -- it's my passion.