Smart ladies love rad music, learning to DJ

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That Time I Learned to DJ

What we pulled. You can see my Grimes on the bottom shelf there.

What we pulled. You can see my Grimes on the bottom shelf there.

Everyone that is obsessed with music has wanted to force their tastes on others, through mix tapes, online playlists and good old fashioned DJ-ing. For a while, five ladies I knew in town formed an all-vinyl DJ collective and played rad music for friends and strangers. I was so envious–I have lots of records and I wanted to make people hear Christine McVie AND Tsunami in the same set. But I never learned, and instead made a series of weird end-of-year mixes (that only Katie enjoyed) to showcase my great music selecting skills.

This spring, I spent weeks agonizing over whether or not I should have a graduation party. I’m older, I feel weird celebrating myself, I have horrible anxiety about people in my house… but once PJ said he could borrow a PA from work so we could set up the turntables, I was all in.

I told a few people that I would be DJing at the party and they politely smiled and told me they were looking forward to it. I knew what was really going on inside their heads (or I thought I did): “Melissa likes THE WORST music and this is going to be a giant fail.”

The night before the party, PJ and I spent a while pulling piles of records to play. I had an idea to only play songs sung by women, so there went Bleached, Ex Hex and others into my DJ crate, which was just a white 7″ box turned sideways. Clearly I am not a professional yet. But only women singers meant I couldn’t play “Prescription Vision” or “Military Madness” so I abandoned my original theme.

I learned to fade songs into each other, hold my headphones just right so I could hear what was on both decks at the same time, spin the record backwards and cue it up, and how to pay attention to the overall volume. Sometimes my transitions were off, or I didn’t cue the next record at the right place, but it was fun and I was thinking I was a natural (a few weeks later, at a wedding, I was telling my DJ friend how proud of myself I was and he said, “anyone could do this”–WOMP WOMP).

After an hour and a half of switching back and forth, we had gone through most of the records I’d selected. It goes so fast.

The next day, after graduation, I practiced DJing for my family (and Katie), during which I went into a long period where I played sad 70s country rock, ending with “I’m Easy” from the movie Nashville. This is what I love listening to at home and I thought it would be chill party music. It would have been a complete disaster had my brother in law not really enjoyed it–which, I know for a fact he did, as he kept asking me what I was playing. But PJ paced around the room and everyone else looked tired and depressed. Unfortunately, it was probably the most engaged my listener(s) would be all night, but it also taught me a lesson: what I enjoy listening to on my own is not always the most pleasurable for a crowd. I have such a personal relationship to the music I love that this was pretty difficult for me to accept.

Records 4

At the party, I don’t remember what I played, really (“Chamakay”? “Only a Clown”?). My friends from work, who I call “The League” because we play fantasy sports together and they are the funniest people I know, made assy comments about my poor transitions (“I just learned last night!” I protested) and the concentration in my face when selecting the next song. Those were not the kind of reactions I pictured when fantasizing about forcing my music on others.

In fact, nothing I pictured really happened: no one came up to me and had to know what I was playing. No one requested anything. No one danced. There are any number of reasons for that: I was up first, I kept leaving my station to try to entertain my guests, and no one was drunk enough yet (not even me).

One wall of my record room at home.

One wall of our record room at home.

In the end, I actually did have a good time, even though I didn’t make any fangirls out of my friends. I might DJ again at my husband’s record release show next month, but I’m going to spend more time selecting my records and thinking about my set in advance, not just playing OMG my favorite songs ever. If it takes more time, then that’s perfectly ok. While crowd enjoyment is important, so is playing music that moves me. Just don’t hire me to DJ your wedding unless you want a set dedicated to riot grrrl and Exile on Main Street.

Me & an Unrest 7". I hate photos of myself SO MUCH. Also I am wearing that cardigan right now, it is the best.

Me & an Unrest 7″. I hate photos of myself SO MUCH. Also I am wearing that cardigan right now, it is the best.