Dedicated to Dance Music: What motivates you to keep going?

Over twenty years ago I used to go to a Wednesday night party at a local club in Essex. It was a very popular club at the time, often populated by professional footballers and glamourous girls, often on the lookout for the aforementioned ‘ballers. However ,Wednesday nights were a bit more of a serious musical affair with some of the cream of the UK House and Garage scene playing. DJs like Bobby & Steve and Tuff Jam would spin some of the freshest music emanating out of the UK Underground scene. Unsurprisingly, before and after those guest DJs, the residents would do their thing.

After a little bit of badgering via a record shop working pal, I managed to get a gig of my own at the club and became friendly with the residents that I’d been paying close attention to. Being a resident for Kinky Malinki I played there a few more times over the years and this same one resident, Stevie, was always present and always as friendly as he had been the first time I met him. Just the other day, news reached me that Stevie was still resident at the club twenty years on! Personally, I think it’s rare a club stays open that long (without a name change) let alone have a resident that’s played for the club that long. But it did leave me with the question: What motivates Stevie to keep doing his thing at the same club, week in week out, twenty years later??

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To give some alternative context, I was out Saturday and bumped into a younger DJ pal that a few years back was super eager and looked like he was going to make a good crack of it. Now the story is very different. He’s settled down with his girlfriend, telling me, “I just can’t be bothered anymore.” I didn’t ask what parts of DJing he couldn’t be bothered with exactly, but to have a DJ career, even on what I call a ‘grass roots level’ is no cake walk. Patience and determination are big factors as well as having some DJ skills (and often a good line in blagging) and some DJs will just want to prioritise other things in life. Which to me makes the question even more poignant when you look at DJs across the globe who have been DJing for a really long time. If you’re not in the top tier of DJs, what keeps YOU going?

There are going to be loads of people that do it just for the cliché, I mean for the love. There is no doubting that the feeling of finding a killer track is exciting for any DJ that is in it for the love. Bear in mind though that you’ve got to plough through several hundred tracks to find that banger. Plus there’s every chance that the crowd that you regularly play to won’t catch up on that tune for another six months until they hear it on Radio One.

“To be honest it’s probably a rare thing these days, but I do it for the love of the music, not for the fame or to get a girl. I got into DJing when it wasn’t the thing to do. It is harder to balance family life and working till 6am in the morning, the recovery time is longer. I don’t get to layabout on a Sunday watching TV and ordering a takeaway. The kids need dropping off at dance rehearsals or my youngest plays football on a Sunday morning. Trying to balance both worlds, that’s the killer!!” – Paul Gardner (Soul Avengerz)

I mean what is life without hope, right? Maybe you’re hoping on a chance meeting with someone in your club that could change your life. It has happened before and it sure as hell will happen again. In my opinion, a large dose of positivity can go a long way in an often bitter, selfish world of music. David Dunne, broadcaster, producer and DJ best known for his radio shows with Hed Kandi on Kiss FM, Galaxy and Jazz FM believes DJ stay in the business for the love of discovering new music and sharing it with their crowds. “Nothing beats getting hold of some new music that still gives you a buzz and getting to play it out.” He told me recently, “The other thing I’ve learned this last year is to take any opportunity you can to do a different kind of gig. I think if you get a chance to do something a bit different, then you should grab it with both hands. Challenge is important for any DJ, or you just fall into the trap of doing the same thing all the time, and that’s when you can find yourself losing your enthusiasm.

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Most grass roots DJs will have another job doing something else. The other role may be their primary job, sometimes it will be a secondary job to top up on the DJ wage. But if you have an idea of what a mortgage or rent costs in London, you’d need some well-paid gigs to solely keep your head above water whilst DJing. James Jackson is Director of Radio and Club promotion at Listen Up Music Promotion and twelve-year weekly resident at SOUK in London. “There’s something about playing the same room or venue every week that makes it feel like home.” He said, “It’s kind of like my bedroom where I learnt to mix, you’re relaxed and comfortable, and that in turn makes for a lot of fun. You know the sound system and the crowd’s limits. You know what works and to a point you can really push the boundaries, instead of turning up at a random venue and playing safe records for an hour and a half.

You can never underestimate this part, especially as DJs get older and their usual network of friends wonder why their mate is still lingering around sweaty nightclubs and rolling in at silly hours at the weekend. Many DJs, myself included, don’t feel their age and still want to be out and about and not settling for the pipe and slipper life quite yet.

“I’ve been playing on and off since I was 16. What I’ve always loved about DJing is the performing. Playing live to a crowd. 50 people or 2000 people the buzz you get is unreal. I keep coming back because I miss that buzz that I’ve not been able to find anywhere else and because I listen to friends, promoters or other DJs I’ve worked with who convince me I’m a fool for giving it up, but once I dip a toe back in I’m quickly reminded that so much of the industry is about everything other than talent.” – Lewi Five 0 (Resident for Gifted at MoS London) 

Some people have been DJing for such a long time now that they really don’t know what else they would do. The DJ life is so ingrained in them, to stop would be like powering down their entire life support system. Until you’ve lived that life for so long, I guess it’s hard to understand how intrinsic a part of someone’s life DJing can be. Tony Nicholls has been a producer, club owner and resident for Clockwork Orange for 20 years. He believes DJing is akin to an addiction. “It gets you hooked from a young age,” He told me, “It’s not always financially rewarding and can also be bad for your health, my ears ring 24-7, however, that appetite for the beat never goes away.

If you are just cracking on for the sake of it and you don’t really know why you’re doing it? Or if you’re doing it to try and make yourself more attractive to the opposite sex or something basic like that, maybe it’s time to knock it on the head? But if you are still DJing and keeping motivated for the right reasons then I salute you.

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About the Author

Resident DJ for Kinky Malinki for over 15 years. Trainer enthusiast, goalkeeper and collector of too much stuff. Have been dipping my toe in to the world of writing for quite some time having written for Azuli Records in the past, along with doing Kinky Malinki’s press work and writing a sneaker spread for an urban lifestyle magazine called 24/7 Live Listings. I’ve always go too much to say, especially when it comes to the dance industry, so what better way than to channel it in to articles for Decoded Magazine.