After celebrating his birthday earlier this year Skream tweeted “Been in the ‘industry’ since I was 14/15…fuck knows how I’ve lasted long…#alwaysbenice”. Just one look at the news and the atrocities that are taking place in Iraq and Gaza, show that there are plenty of people that don’t share Skream’s idealistic sentiment. By and large the clubbing fraternity are a happy-go-lucky bunch, that live by the immortal words of Jip in Human Traffic “The weekend has landed. All that exists now is clubs, drugs, pubs and parties. I’ve got 48 hours off from the world, man.” What about the guys and girls who are responsible for soundtracking those parties? With DJs now being popstars who regularly rub shoulders with A-listers, how nice can you remain when your ego is as big as your bank balance and your ‘girlfriends’ boob job?
Unfortunately, I don’t have Calvin Harris or Steve Aoki in the old address book, but I have several first hand experiences to draw from and know plenty of promoters who have been happy to share their anecdotes over the years. Do you need to act up and get your Mariah Carey on, just because your star is on the ascent? Or can you get just as far, by keeping it real and being nice? I was fortunate enough to speak with several DJs that are well known within the industry as being a pleasure to work with. I asked them whether there is any truth in the old adage ‘Nice Guys Finish Last’?
I caught up with Todd Edwards initially. A stone cold legend, that has remained relevant throughout his lengthy career, even though he humbly admitted that he had to take a job in a phone call centre to keep his head above water “I believe there are those that do mistake kindness for weakness. Of course you can use people and walk all over them to get ahead in life, but that’s far from the only way to succeed. I’ve never taken this approach, and after almost 20 years in the industry, I think I’m doing ok. Who wants to work with an asshole?” He certainly has a point, but you can’t always control who you work alongside. Todd left me with quite a poignant quote
“Anyone that is making music or DJing full time to pay their bills is living a charmed life. Anyone that says differently should go work for the phone company for a few months.”
When coming up with a little ‘Nice List’ I had one name on it that got a ‘REALLY?’ from a promoter pal who had recently booked this singer, turned DJ, turned top ten slaying artist. I have followed this guy from playing to six people in the Bacardi Tent at the Isle Of Wight Festival and generally being a bit of a Stan. My own experiences have been open and friendly, however the same person that turned up that night with the big entourage, was pissed off with sound levels, wanted everyone stuck in the queue, in the venue pronto as he was playing soon. He even had his tour manager tweet about how shoddy the booze rider was. Not really the behaviour of an upstanding gentleman, right?
I managed to speak to one of the kings of disco Dave Lee aka Joey Negro. A very friendly and approachable DJ, who I’ve had the pleasure to talk absolute nonsense with, over a nice bottle of red, at silly o’clock around his house once. He was as frank as ever with this to say
“When I first started in the business I was pretty young and sometimes quite unprofessional. I guess once you’ve been in it a while you learn the ropes and now I always do my best to be decent”. Is it really that difficult to be courteous when venturing from club to club whilst playing tunes for a few hours? There are various elements that can conspire against you, like the DJ equipment rider not being adhered to, or you miss your flight. These things could wind up the mildest mannered DJ although Dave remained level headed on this topic “Trust your gut feelings about right and wrong. It’s important to not get carried away with ego and fly off the handle”.
It’s all well and good me waffling away about artists that grace the charts and earn some serious wedge, but it’s fair to say only a very small amount of DJs make that grade. Most DJs will spend their life grafting away grabbing what gigs they can. What about the local heroes? I know of one that went from hero to zero, who needed to end up buying his own club to eventually get work again. This little pest would always crack out line upon line in the DJ booth – so far, so standard DJ behaviour – and then constantly clap his way through his set like a performing seal, whilst subsequently trying to nick other people’s girlfriends, as he was under the delusion that he was famous due to him ‘starring’ in Ibiza Uncovered.
Have you ever wondered why Toolroom Records became such a force to be reckoned with in a relatively short space of time? Mark Knight and a solid track release schedule are primary factors, but behind all of that, is a work ethic underpinned by good manners and one man that deals with plenty behind the scenes is Mark Knight’s sidekick Mark Storie. Mark gave me this little pearl of wisdom
“There are many wannabes and bandits in this industry that just take take take and will happily rinse the paying public. That helps the honest, genuine, nice guys shine through, because you are someone that can be trusted”. Trust: a small word with big meaning.
How do you behave at your gigs now? Do you behave slightly differently to how you would at your day job? Do you get a bit pissy when you can’t get the AAA bands at Ministry when you’re playing the Baby Box? Do you throw your toys out of the pram when your mate can’t get in, because the club has ID Scan and your pal hasn’t got ID? Maybe if you made some overly compressed EDM, joined forces with a few fellow countrymen, then when you make it, you too could ask for TWO security guards (one walking in front and one behind….of course) to escort you twenty metres from the festival stage to the backstage VVIP toilets, so that those VVIPs couldn’t stop you for small talk.
One DJ that’s got no time for that type of behaviour is Seamus Haji. You’d think that if your record label was called Big Love, you’d be getting some wise words from one of the scene’s positive people, and you’d be right. My initial question elicited this response
“If you’re working in the stock market, being nice may mean you finish last, but in my world I think it pays to be nice to people”. At times though, the industry can be equally as cutthroat as the banking industry and Seamus added “All I can say is ‘Check yourself before you wreck yourself’. What goes around comes around, so be careful who you tread on on your way to the top”. Cliché’s or just home truths? Either way those sage words ring true in life in general.
Is it unrealistic to live in this bubble of positivity myself and the DJs I’ve spoken to try to exist in? With poverty, war and the x-factor, is it any surprise that there’s plenty of hostility in a dog eat dog environment? I mentioned Calvin Harris at the start of this article and although he’s not in my iPhone, he is in a Tour Manager pal’s iPhone. He hangs with him regularly in Vegas and I could not coax a single bad word out of him, however hard I tried. I wish I could conjure up some clever equation to surmise, but I never did excel at maths. You are going to have to make that call all by yourself. Roll that dice………Be nice and have a long, enjoyable DJ career? Be a twat and alienate people one by one? Or be a bigger twat, but make sure you continue to make tracks that can make you and others money, as the green stuff has a propensity for making people turn a blind eye to all sorts.