4 Steps to Being the Very Worst in a World of Shitty DJs
This is a story about the death of a dream. To be less succinct, this is a story about a dream and his dream wife taking their dreamlings to the Dreamopolis Zoo to see the dream hippos. There, they are infected with a rare virus that causes microscopic hippopotamuses to accumulate in their hippocampi, until their skulls explode into geysers of hippo scat. The virus swiftly evades quarantines and overwhelms emergency services, until Dreamopolis itself is a sunken city, trapped under a merciless, roiling tide of river-horse shit.
Imagine this, but a billion times over, on an atomic level.
But to be more succinct, this is a story about my DJ career.
Step #1: Suck
When I was 15, I decided to become a DJ, because I didn't do sports and musical theater wasn't doing me any favors.
Mystifyingly enough, my dramatic turn as the rabbi in Fiddler on the Roof did not make me
the most sexually active teen in the ninth grade.
I saved my birthday money to buy a "DJ Starter Kit" I saw in the back of The Source, next to the phone-sex ads. The kit consisted of two rickety belt-drive turntables and a mixer that was likely gummed up with baby rat skeletons. I had to wait another birthday to save up for a single non-garbage turntable, the Technics SL-1200MK2.
The Technics was the mastodon of turntables: heavy, fearsome, and now extinct.
Nowadays, most everybody DJs on laptops. But in the post-impeachment years of the Clinton administration, you needed vinyl. (You could've bought CD turntables if you were a billionaire from the future or something.) This meant cobbling together a sizable record collection. Mine mostly consisted of thrift-store garbage gems, like Jesse Ventura's heavy-metal single and that one record that's at every Salvation Army that everybody's grandfather wanked to.
You know, this one.
I also had a copy of "Strawberry Letter 23" by the Brothers Johnson that Satan hid in my Sunday school classroom to tempt me with funk, plus a few new albums. The new records cost more than $2 and weren't riddled with spider eggs or haunted by jazzmen. They were mostly by rappers who chided other rappers for not being rap enough.
I really had no clue what I was doing. I didn't know any DJs. Given that my previous hobby had been Magic: The Gathering, the only parties I'd ever attended were pizza parties. In my idiot man-cub brain, the party solely existed for the DJ's edification. One day I'd swagger down to Ibiza and drop a He-Man audiobook over Kraftwerk, and Josie and the Pussycats-era Rosario Dawson would be so agog she'd let me see her butt from a few yards away and we'd kiss with no tongue forever.
"Dear 2001 Me, I have sent you a gift from the future. It is a DVD copy of director Danny Boyle's Trance.
You will not own a DVD player for another three years, so hang in there champ! Yours, 2014 You."
Back then, a sliver of my record collection even nominally qualified as party music. You had one request, Mystikal's "Shake Ya Ass" (and by "you," I mean "my Labrador retriever, who didn't give a shit because music isn't hamburgers"). My heroes were producers like RZA, Prince Paul, and Dan the Automator, guys who had dismissible luxuries like "studios" and "a basic understanding of 4/4 time signatures." I, on the other hand, owned more than four Alvin and the Chipmunks records and worshiped Public Enemy during a period in human history when DMX was responsible for half of America's GDP.
"Hey guys, who wants to listen to Fear of a Black Planet?"
So, yeah, despite my lack of usable equipment, musical training, social capital, melanin, wholesale awareness of the entire universe, and an audience who defecated indoors, I practiced for hours. I mostly practiced scratching, because one can mix a 1967 ethnographic survey of kabuki theater with Quiet Riot's "Cum on Feel the Noize" only so many times.
And guess what? I didn't completely suck at scratching. In fact, after two years of dutifully dicking around, I wheedled my way in to my friends' band. Sure, it was mostly a Weezer cover band, but that didn't matter. The year was 2001, and to be a band of note, you needed a DJ who stood behind the drummer and read a magazine.
"Dear 2004 Me, it's 2014 You again. Stop watching Trance. My timeline is crumbling around me. Untold thousands are dead.
You forgot to take the SATs. Alexander comes out in November, you stupid son of a bitch."
I ghosted away after a few months because lugging a turntable that weighed as much as a small cabin to a four-hour band practice (only to spend 39 seconds making The Beastie Boys sound like The Beach Boys having sex with each other) wasn't really worth it. (Plus, it was cutting into my busy teenage schedule of discovering mysterious caches of XXX mags hidden in the trees behind my house. When you live next door to the Boo Radley of porno, you better get your priorities straight.)
Step #2: Forget You Suck
After the band, I didn't really DJ for three years, as making fart noises with phonographs all the livelong day is a fine ploy to get a dormitory full of strangers full of Natty Ice to hate you. But after four years, I moved to an off-campus flophouse. The basement was empty. It was the perfect party space, if you ignored the asbestos and mycotoxins and Hantavirus. So, in September 2005, I resurrected my solo DJ act for a bipedal audience. I never could mix, so I replaced the dog-shit turntable with a third-generation iPod.
I grew haughty, as the iPod did not smell like burning rubber when you turned it on.
For a few weeks, I DJed cast parties for a campus sketch comedy group. Like my old dog, they enjoyed hamburgers. But unlike my dog, they were nonjudgmental and drunk and not dead, so my gigs worked out better than anticipated. My signature flourish was to wear a Jagermeister flag as a toga, either because I was lampooning college assholery or because college had turned me into an asshole. I don't remember, so don't go to college.
Anyway, I was banking on having the photo of my Jagermeister sarong for this article, but I lost it. As a placeholder, here I am in my 10th grade production of Annie.
Please imagine this song playing in my head.
I'd be lying if I said there weren't good times. But I also know that's not how the Internet works. You didn't click on this for the good times. The only way you'd want this story to have a happy ending is if it was about a friendly mule who turned out to be my long-lost father (and even then, a third of you would be secretly rooting for my dad to die of mule cancer in the second-to-last paragraph).
No, you didn't come here for the good times. You came for the worst night of my life ... well, and this:
You always wanted this. You just never realized it.
Step #3: Remember You Suck in Front of 100 People
The worst night of my life fell approximately mid-October '05. I don't remember the exact day. And, to be objective, as far as worst days go -- in both nonfictional and fictional contexts -- it was a solid D+. Nobody died. The dread cans of the whore of Babylon did not blot out the sky, nor was the Earth pockmarked by fumaroles of diarrhea goblins. Yeah, my Lifetime original biopic would just be an 11-second commercial for dietary fiber.
"Some shit happened. FIN."
What happened was this: a girl I liked asked me to DJ her housemate's birthday party. She asked because I charged nothing (and she'd somehow failed to notice my 1:4 ratio of Destiny's Child to Sesame Street records). I agreed because I was eager to impress (as I'd utterly botched it a few months earlier. We had a misalignment of priorities -- she wanted me to go salsa dancing; I wanted to misread Schopenhauer and drink Night Train out of coffee mugs.)
My only marching orders were, "My roomie likes reggaeton." OK. One warm cup of the only fortified wine endorsed by Axl Rose later, and I was armed with enough Daddy Yankee to fuel at least nine half-supervised quinceaneras. To my credit, I wasn't a complete dummy going into this -- just 99 percent dummy. That sage 1 percent of non-dummy knew to abandon Hall & Oates and compile an annotated bibliography of Ja Rule guest appearances. But that other 99 percent, the raw-unfiltered-angel's-teat-pure-dumbfuck dummy? He never foresaw that her boyfriend would be the one swinging by to pick up my equipment.
Her boyfriend was a normal guy. But for narrative purposes, I'll need you to imagine him as this 1901 painting of a bedonged titan.
Boom, your new Tinder photo.
At this point in the story, I should've said either ...
A) "Sorry, I just wanted to steal your girlfriend! Time to get hammered and watch Ronin."
B) "Is this a surprise party? Because a real surprise would be ."
C) "My house has a carbon monoxide leak. Time to get hammered and watch Ronin."
... but I didn't. My free-falling gut told me panicked gibberish (like if I backed out now, Afrika Bambaataa would never induct me into Zulu Nation). I'd taken a sacred oath to furnish a bunch of strangers with no less than three hours of tenuously mixed Top 40. Yes, I'd suffer for The Party. Yes, I'd be their DJ messiah, magnanimous from the mount, transforming Milwaukee's Best into fishes and condoms into loaves. That's right, I'd rock the party so hard, nameless men would wear baguettes on their dicks.
"Aw yeah, make some noise for DJ Starchy Prophylactic!"
We arrived at her house. The boyfriend sequestered me in a musky corner of the basement, between the keg and a brick wall. I sat in the basement alone, idly getting loaded and playing mid-'90s hip-hop for an intimate audience of nobody. This suited me. I could handle this crowd: just me, my incipient buzz, and Lil' Kim yelling about tits. I knew these guys. Old friends. I'd survive the night as long as everybody hated the birthday girl.
They didn't. Ninety minutes later, the fashionably late sloughed in by the dozen, ripe with pregame miasma. I deployed the reggaeton. The birthday girl danced with three friends. Gladdened, I lobbed out some more. This was the wrong reggaeton. Wronggaeton. Nobody danced. I doubled back, frantic. "Big Poppa" to Missy Elliott to Aaliyah. Somebody complained that I was playing "old stuff." What fucking monster doesn't like Aaliyah?
Here's the only photo of me from that night. In retrospect, I should have been flattered. People mistook me for a real DJ, albeit one they hated.
All pro DJs use bookshelf speakers.
In 30 minutes, I'd lost the crowd. (I knew this because a sebaceous clog in a popped-collar polo kept bellowing, "You've lost the crowd!") Here is a real conversation I had:
SURLY WOMAN: I need you to play this CD.
ME: Um, I don't have a CD player. Sorry.
SURLY WOMAN: My sister is paying you to be here, so you better play the songs she wants.
ME: Uh, well, I'm doing this for free?
Look, "being ignored by drunk people" is inevitably part of a DJ's job, but this shit was ridiculous. This was not the sketch comedy crowd. Three minutes of Dangerously in Love-era Beyonce was greeted as if it were 90 minutes of Billy Ocean and a ripe durian. "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" might've well been "Heal the World."
Or an unplugged stereo and me waving around the alternate album cover to Ben.
Song after song accelerated out the gate only to collapse spectacularly, like a liquid tungsten Irish setter filled with urine and rabies. The girl I liked had disappeared hours ago, loopy and semi-aware she was complicit in this mess. To help me articulate how I felt that evening, here's a picture of a young Arnold Schwarzenegger high as dicks and wearing a T-shirt that says "ARNOLD IS NUMERO UNO." My mood was the exact opposite of this photo.
My mood was the emotional inverse of "balancing a platter of meat on your junk."
Another point of comparison: I felt the way my 11th grade yearbook photo looked.
I'm pretty sure Cracked has to fire me for publishing this.
I don't remember when the cops showed up. It was before the slobberknocker between two bros who double-majored in testicular atrophy and hoagies, but after some guy -- whose forehead was so varicose it could hide a minotaur -- tried to pin the noise violation on my bookshelf speakers. What I do remember is trudging home alone around midnight, bearing the dead eyes of someone who'd spent four hours locked in an abattoir full of warthog prostates.
Step #4: Give Up?
I know this isn't one of those truly harrowing firsthand Cracked articles about people who adopt a swarm of locusts or whatever, but there is a lesson here: never in the name of poorly researched romance volunteer for five hours of total strangers yelling at you.
Again, could've been worse.
Why'd I tell you my sob story? I lost something that night. It wasn't my equipment, even though it took me two months to retrieve it. It wasn't my iPod. That vanished a few months later. (Some say it was stolen, but I like to think he went solo.) I somehow even remained friendly with the girl, though she'd ferried me across some undiscovered New Jersey runnel of the River Acheron.
No, my first-ever real gig massacred my joy. I haven't DJed since, save 1.5 small gatherings in '06, for maybe 20 minutes a pop. (Soon after, I learned how a security deposit works, and that was that.) Now I'm 30 years old. The kids are all DJing on their phones. Next, their phones will be their shoes, and then their shoes will be their hats. Shit, dude, I can't wear orthopedics on my head. I'll never headline one of those big EDM festivals, like the Electro Vaginitis Zoosylvania. I've been out of the game too long. Have you ever seen David Guetta DJ? It took him 47 years to learn his DJ face.
It takes a Faustian bargain to produce a Black Eyed Peas song.
It's been nearly a decade since that party, but fuck it, I'm taking it back. That's right, I'M DJING A SET FOR YOU. Using YouTube videos. On the Internet. Let's not overthink this.
This being Cracked and not one of those Second Life raves where everybody is either a dildo or a zebra, I'll keep this short. Two songs, Half bangers, half babymakers. The first is this Italian Michael Jackson cover:
This video is so perfect, I have nothing more to add.
The second is this absolute howler by K-Ci & JoJo, as you were all clearly wondering what K-Ci & JoJo were up to these days:
It's way better if you imagine that K-Ci & JoJo are singing from a bunk bed.
So, by all means, pop a bottle, even if you're reading this from your job. Begin some beef with Drake's entourage. And if Drake doesn't work at your office, go start some shit with Deb in HR. Address her as "Drizzy." Please. It would mean a lot to me.