Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Uphill Battle

The ones of readers following this blog may have noted that I've been M.I.A. lately (that stands for "Maudlin In Astoria"). I don't live in Astoria, but I live nearby. Close enough.

I'm at what pop psychiatrists refer to as "the bottom" regarding "DJ'ing." As previously noted in these Web pages, I no longer possess the internal engine of passion driving me to "DJ" and long for the days when I could simply produce records for other people to play.

I "DJ" solely for the money, and while I won't argue with the tiny, conflicting ego boost that may or may not accompany a well-received gig, there is no longer any momentum, no looking forward to the next gig. There aren't even fringe benefits to playing: I don't have an album to promote (I decided to stop recording music after I found out records are "whale blubber"), I'm too neurotic to screw groupies (as if I had any) or enjoy illicit substances (as if anyone offers me any), and, contrary to what most "DJs" will tell you, I don't think the enterprise is particularly creative. I don't even really like the travel; while the destinations can be wonderful, being too exhausted and/or rushed to see any of them isn't, and the prospect of hours in a cramped airplane seat causes me to plunge into despondency.

Admittedly, like the hipness of sampled piano breakdowns in house music, I tend to go in cycles regarding my outlook on "DJ'ing." For example, sometimes I step off a plane and marvel aloud, "My stars, someone flew me all the way here from New York City to have me play records in a mediocre fashion. How lucky I am to be the beneficiary of such idiocy!" And it's true: I do realize I am lucky, luckier than most. There are literally thousands (just in Williamsburg) of skinny-jeans-wearing, ambisexual twenty-somethings who would kill for my touring opportunities. I should be happy, but I'm not. After all, "lucky" doesn't equal "happy" - and let's not even try to guess what "happy-go-lucky" means. Let's just say it's currently at the bottom of my "favorite idioms" list.

When I'm down like this, it's never fun to play, and what would normally be a considered a small infraction on the part of, say, an audience member or promoter becomes something gargantuan and looming that seems to confirm every ill feeling I have towards the profession (calling the spinning of phonographic records a "profession" is definitely the most ridiculous thing I've written so far). I begin to replay the offense in my mind over and over, and - like a nightmare - sometimes it helps to just tell someone about it and get it out.

Earlier in the month, I played a long-running party series here in New York City with my partner, Darshan (formerly known as "Darshan" to protect his identity, I recently discovered the quotation marks were superfluous, since by pure coincidence I had selected his actual name as an alias). I had been relaxing out at the beach prior to the gig, and was therefore already in a foul mood for having to take a four-hour train ride back to the city to earn a few bucks. This party was described to me by many, perhaps unfairly, as a "techno party," so was already apprehensive about playing. While I'm certainly a fan of Detroit techno, I tend not to play modern "techno" because it all sounds like quantized dripping to me. (It also tends to attract a crowd that takes drugs because it makes the dripping sound "epic.") The point is I shouldn't have been so surprised or bothered by the minuscule interaction that I'm about to describe, bearing in mind the "culture" of the party.

Early in the morning, with barely anyone remaining in our room (we had been forsaken by most of the attendees for the dripping in the back room), the party promoter and his girlfriend dipped in for what I like to call a "pity dance." A "pity dance" consists of a promoter, friend or supporting "DJ" entering an empty dance floor and prancing about and/or yelling "Whoo!" in an effort to conceal and/or distract from the general hopelessness of the situation. By this point, my spirit was sufficiently crushed that I was playing slower records that only I wanted to hear, and it was while I was playing "Danger Zone" that the promoter's girlfriend came up to me and proclaimed, "This is the gayest song I've ever heard!"

Now, at another party, coming from another person (say, a gay man), I might take this as a compliment. But not at this party, and especially not from this woman who just came from the far more popular dripping room. For some reason, she reminded me of some of the more "provincial" (that's guilty New Yorker for "xenophobic douche") Poles I witnessed when I played Warsaw, who would come up to my Korean-American friend who was accompanying me on the tour, clasp their hands together and bow to him with their faces screwed up - as if that were a sophisticated joke, or as if he didn't notice that he was not a white Pole. This woman wanted to point out me that what I was playing was not the chic dripping she was used to, but that she was still willing to humor me. For a fleeting moment I even thought she might have meant what she said as a genuine compliment, but that ambiguity was removed when she squealed, "I love it! Keep up the cheese!" before "pity-dancing" out of sight (presumably to return to the techno).

I remember my Korean-American friend laughed his Polish experience off for the stupidity that is was, and I wish I could have followed suit and done so here. However, I just couldn't, and it haunted my dreams that night (which, to be fair, was a refreshing change from the usual recurring dream involving a giant Grover trying to touch my bathing suit parts). I certainly can see how "Danger Zone" might be considered "cheesy" to people who think the future is the sleek, icy sound of quantized dripping, but to me, the song is actually far less "cheesy" and trite and predictable than what most people dance to these days. Most importantly, it's music that is important to me, and I felt condescended to by someone who thought she knew better than I what was in good taste or not.

Regardless of the reason, I was amazed at how an insignificant bit of small talk could provoke such ire in me. Had my fuse become so considerably shortened by prolonged disgruntlement with clubs and the people inside them that it no longer functioned and I went directly to anger? Evidently so.

The following week was bleak; I could barely get off the couch to fetch my hourly glass of Rote Bete-Saft. However, I had another local gig to look forward to, this time at Cielo. Cielo is a popular club situated in the Meatpacking District, a locale I studiously avoid for myriad reasons ranging from the overabundance of ankle tattoo/high-heel combinations to the overabundance of raw meat juice in the street. Cielo is is described by its owner as a "European-style club." This in itself is enough to depress me, since I remember a time when it was sufficient for a New York club to simply be a "New York-style club," but since New York is now chock full of "paryorkers" (or the even clunkier-sounding "Cityorkers") and other "European-style" people, the club is understandably well-attended. In fact, its popularity earned it the attention of the NYPD more than once, and as a result, even working "DJs" like myself (hired by the club) are subject to a pat-down and bag search.

It was during my own TSA-like screening that the security man frisking me said, "Dude, you're the DJ? I hope you play better stuff that what they're playing in there, because this sucks!" Cielo's door person, stamping patrons' hands nearby, nodded in agreement. "These guys suck!" she said. "Please play some good music!" I should note here that it was Darshan's party, and if anything, the sounds I heard drifting out of the door were far more appropriate to the club than what I had in my record bag. I decided honestly was probably the best policy, since both the bouncer and ankle-tattooed, beheeled gatekeeper were so honest with me. "It's about to get worse," I said, and walked inside with my records.

Unlike my particular (and, perhaps, peculiar) sensitivity to the woman's comments at the previous week's party, I probably don't have to explain much about why this interaction worsened my already-dire outlook on "DJ'ing" - or at least "DJ'ing" in New York City.

Tomorrow I fly to gigs in Helsinki and Cologne, and if I can summon enough psychic energy after the gigs to write about them, I certainly shall.


  1. maybe you'd get offered more drugs and groupies...IF YOU SMILED MORE

  2. See, now if you went to Lesley you too could get credit for all this self-reflection. Something to think about.