Playing to an empty room

Yesterday we celebrated my wife’s birthday in our home town of Birmingham (UK).

It was a three-part event.  Sixty of our family and friends had a private viewing of the classic movie High Society in the small screen of the lovely Art Deco Electric Cinema, then a Chinese meal at Barbecue Village – who looked after us brilliantly.

And then we moved on to cocktails and dancing at Sence – a brand new bar/club on the premises of what used to be 52 Degrees North.  Again the staff there were lovely, helpful and thoughtful but they were rather let down by the young DJ.

I was concerned when we arrived at about 10pm. As Sence has only just opened, they are still building up their reputation, so it was far from crowded.  The (big) dance floor was empty and the DJ was playing banging commercial dance, very loud, over the punchy sound system. Classic error: trying to create a happening atmosphere, when actually it makes stepping onto the dance floor very forbidding.

We’d given them a steer as to the sort of stuff that our lot would like and he made a desultory attempt at playing that (but he clearly didn’t have any/much 70s stuff, for example). A few danced, but he very quickly went back into his comfort zone and cleared the floor again.

Technically, he was fine.  Good mixing, consistent levels and so on. But DJing is about atmosphere, mood and energy – assessing the mood in the room and moving it gently in the direction you want, which eventually is a dance floor full of people having a good time.

But you can’t do that in one jump.  If he had:

  • stepped onto the dance floor a couple of times to feel how isolated a dancer would be there under that relentless beat,
  • used his eyes to assess the people who were there (older, in black tie),
  • thought about why most of us were staying behind the glass in the VIP area, rather than venturing out onto the dancefloor,

he might have played some more mid-tempo, possibly some older tunes, and gently enticed more and more of us – and the other customers – into having a dance.  Once he’d got us in the right mood, we’d have danced happily to the vocal 4/4 and a lot more besides.

We’d have had a better time – and so would he.

The man who taught me to DJ

I was reading an article in yesterday’s Guardian about makers of “How To” videos who have a big following on YouTube, and a name jumped out at me.

When I started getting interested in DJ-ing about ten years ago, I could find very little guidance on the web about the practical skills involved.  But I eventually found one fount of knowledge, on the site of a Scottish film-editor-by-day-DJ-by-night who went under the name of DJ Recess.

I printed out dozens of pages of advice.  They were my bible as I practised the new (to me) skills of beat matching and mixing. And then, as I started to play professionally, I forgot all about him, because that’s the sort of ungrateful guy I am.

Well, he still has his site.  It looks a bit fancier and it’s garlanded with videos now, which you can also see on his YouTube channel.

And he’s written a book: DJ-ing For Dummies, which was published last year and has an Amazon sales rank of 6,374.  I’m pleased to see that all the free effort he put in to helping people like me had some financial payback for him.

And I’ve discovered his real name:  John Steventon.  So let me take this opportunity to say: thanks, John.

DJ Recess website

DJ Recess YouTube channel