TF Archives

DJ School Part One - Trial By Fire

Author: Rhiannon Elston
Tuesday, June 5, 2007

My DJing career begins with the smash of my glass hitting the floor in a cramped Sydney club, sometime past midnight. The source of the impact is my friend Elliot, who had commissioned the decks in the back room that evening. He's attempting to jam a pair of headphones on my ears with his big, scruffy hands.

"You mean I really have to DJ-" I ask him as I clamber over the chair that separates the music from the party. "But… I only told them that at the door so they'd let me in for free!"

The room is hardly heaving, but the thought of taking over the music still scares the pants off me. With my drink destroyed and my favourite blagging technique busted wide open, I stare down at the decks from behind Elliot and decide to go for it. After all, it's all about having a good time, right-

"You've got a minute-fifty," Elliot yells, and then I really start to sweat.

In the absence of my laptop and the happily beat-matched genius of Ableton that I've used in the past to create embarrassing musical smush with, behind my closed bedroom door late at night, I scrounge some slimy CDs I salvage from the depths of Elliot's bag. I'm lucky, I suppose, that he even owns discs. For intents and purposes, Elliot is strictly a vinyl man.

"Forty seconds!" he yells and steps down. It looks like this is going to happen whether I'm ready or not. With gritty hands, I cue up my first track, playing it safe and going for Muscles. I take a few moments to fiddle with the decks and go through the starting motions - cue, rewind and play. Elliot kindly mixes his last track into mine, and now I'm up.

My song starts spinning - hooray! But now I need another one. In a panic, I flick wildly through Elliot's unfamiliar tracks with one ear in the headphone, and pick something that sounds vaguely like it would mix in to Muscle's friendly banter.

The song's intro takes way too long to warm up, and for at least ten horrific seconds, people are waving their arms confusedly, wondering what the hell is going on. Unknowingly, I've just committed cardinal sin number one: never play a track you don't know like the back of your hand.

The thumping bassline eventually kicks in, but I'm still recovering from that incident when I commit cardinal sin number two: I forget to mix. Elliot looks at me in horror as I systematically turn deck one off and deck two on. Here's the catch - mixing is way, way harder than it looks.

Elliot kindly tells me later that while bad mixing is forgivable, bad songs are not. I'm not sure quite how to take this, but given that they were his songs, I take a stabbing guess that he's trying to be positive.

Throughout the short-lived set I'm vaguely aware that I should be fixing volumes, adjusting speeds and counting beats, but for the moment, it's enough to find the next song to play. Eventually, Elliot steps in to take over again and the rest of the night plays out in slightly better form, but there's a clear moral to this story. If I want to continue in this scene (and I do), I'd better call in the experts.

Stay tuned for DJ School - Part 2: Mixmaster Mike and the spaceship tutorial