How to Spot a Professional DJ

The party is not going so well. Something is off. The crowd is edgy, some people are dancing, sporadically, but most everyone is milling around the bar and the promoter is looking stressed. The DJ is playing some good tunes, every now and then, but he’s mostly just building castles in the air for himself in a corner of the room, and doesn’t seem to know or care how to get anyone to play with him.

Now he’s trying to compensate for the lack of energy by creeping up the tempo, but it’s only working against him, it sounds harsh and he is literally out of sync with the crowd – he starts to pay less and less attention to them, and it’s a mutual thing.

A lot of people are looking at their watches and craning their necks for the exit, drinks nearly empty and dangling loosely from tiring fingertips.

In groups and couples they stand idly by, discussing whether to invest in another round before heading anywhere but here, and the music goes on and on and on and on and on and on.

Nothing’s happening here so I duck into the in the cotton wool silence of the men’s room, not so much to pee but to get briefly into a space where the sound is somewhat deadened and I can splash a pick me up of cool water onto my face. It’s a calm space, even if it’s only for a second or two.

When I step back into the sonic fray something has subtly changed.

Fingertips are tapping on empty glasses in time with the beat – it’s not even conscious. Heads are starting to nod too. A groove has permeated the room and it’s infectious. It has even spread to the bartender who has a different spring in his step from two minutes ago. He is smiling as he splashes a sudden round of fresh drinks into glistening shot glasses.

A new DJ has taken control of the floor.

But I am not yet convinced. The previous DJ has done this so many times already this evening; play a good track, starting the funky ripple, only to mix it into oblivion, and then drown the groove along with it.

I think I’ll wait it out, see where this goes; I don’t trust him.

But the groove doesn’t dissipate. With the rhythm of a craftsman hammering in a nail with unfaltering timing and precision the beat goes on and on and on, but this time it is being built around us, for us, and invites us to come and play.

I head tentatively out onto the dance floor, my interest piqued.

I’m not the only one.

The floor is fuller than it has been all night but secretly everyone is still waiting for the groove to falter, to whimper out as it has done so many times before on this evening, but it doesn’t – the beat curls itself gently around the primitive and starts to shake some inhibitions loose.

I still wait though, I have expectations. I can’t give myself over just yet. How will this DJ get out of this melody? Where is the DJ taking this thematically? Is he going to get synthetic or organic? What story is unfolding, if at all? What surprises are coming?

Blah blah blah blah blah blah.

The music massages at my mind racing, obliterates fears and trepidation, builds trust, gives me something to play with and explore.

Fall into me – follow me.

A conversation has started, emotions are stirred and I start to let go.

“Do you hear this quiet sound in amongst the others?”

“Where?”

“Deep, deep down.. here? Hiding behind the snare drum.”

“Yes!”

“Recognize it?”

“Not yet…”

“It’s coming.”

“I know.”

“Follow it.”

And we do.

It’s subtle at first, the softest hint of a primal sound. It could be a vocal or a melody or a drum waiting to unfold. It is being edged in very slowly, carefully, lovingly – oscillating on the very peripheral of perception.

Meanwhile the music pounds, envelops, and shakes loose smiles and cheers. The drums drum, the bass lines the walls with velvet and the hi-hats shimmer in the lights. The primal sound darts in and out like a child playing hide and seek in long grass and a momentous roar peels through the crowd.

We recognize it now!

We recognize in it the countless conga lines of our foredancers who, for time immemorial, have also gathered around thundering drums to play in dazzling firelight and share in the primal ecstasy of dance.

Suddenly the kick drum drops away, the bass along with it, and it feels as if the floor has been ripped away from beneath our feet, everyone gasps.

We are held aloft by smoke and laser beams – motes of dust in a million candied sunbeams – our limbs dangling over empty space.

The primal, percussive sound swells.

It’s coming.

The groove, however, has not gone, it’s teasing, its falling away from grasp merely an illusion, just at the edge of experience, but it’s okay because the primal sound is coming closer, closer, louder.

It compels us, draws us in – captivates us.

The lasers and hi-hats sizzle. They merge and dance and swirl and we feel like an arrow notched onto the string of a powerful bow being drawn back, pointed at the sky and slowly, slowly, slowly lowered and aimed at a target.

The DJ holds tight, taking time, building tension – focusing attention on eternity…

…holding it…

…just a little bit –

And then lets go.

The drums pound into our chests, out beating our hearts. The bass line thunders through our feet straight through our guts and explodes out the tops of our spinning heads. The primal sound we have all been invited to follow — have been following — bends the space time continuum around us, connects us to the past, snaps back to the future and thrusts us far, far into the aether.

This is what it feels like to be shot into infinity at the hands of a very good DJ and very few people who experience it ever forget.