Last Tuesday afternoon (April 19), I saw a post asking for a DJ to play at a fundraiser on Earth Day. It was for a pancake breakfast being put on by Aveda to raise money for WaterAid. I’ve been on the lookout for morning DJ gigs ever since I read an article about New York early morning dance parties that people go to before work, with smoothie bars and yoga warmups. I’m really a morning person, so night gigs are hard. I work Monday to Friday 8 to 4, so if I’m DJing on a Friday night, I have to take the day off, sleep in, have a long nap, and drink a pot of coffee with my evening meal.
So when I saw an ad for a morning gig, I jumped at it! But when I spoke with the organiser, she specifically said she didn’t want any dance music or anything with a heavy beat. And since my specialty and my first love is house and techno, I hesitated. We negotiated a bit—by which I mean she (less than 72 hours from showtime and desperate for a DJ) used all her powers of persuasion, and I let myself be persuaded. But at the end of the conversation—
“But what kind of music, exactly?”
“Oh, something retro!”
“Um, like eighties rock?”
“No, like something you’d hear in a yoga class!”
“Like, eastern spiritual stuff?”
“Yes! Like that!”
“Um. I, uh, I’m not sure I—”
“Oh, you’ll be great! I just know it!”
—I still had no real clue what I would play. The closest I have to eastern spiritual is western takes and remakes like Drumspyder’s Caduceus and Shiva Nataraj (Drumspyder remix) by Desert Dwellers, both of which are too bass-heavy. And then a bunch of stuff that I have no idea how it got into my iTunes with waterfall noises and plinky-plink gentle strings which I had no intention of playing.
The thing is, I had taken Earth Day off anyway, just to have a long weekend. Coincidentally, this Earth Day marked my official three-year anniversary of being a vegetarian. It also marked the three-year anniversary of dropping my ex off at the airport so he could move back to the Netherlands. That means the joy of having the divorce behind me and starting my life afresh, but also the grief and pain of not growing old with this person whom I loved with all my heart. A mixed bag kind of day. But regardless of all the significances and memories of the day, the point is that I already had the day off, and I agreed to do the gig.
There was going to be some live music partway through, so I connected with the musician that afternoon to plan our gear, and then I sat back to completely freak out about the fact that I had just accepted a gig for sixty hours away for a kind of music I’d never practiced before, let alone played in public, and only two evenings after work to try to carve out some time to put it all together. Aaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!
But it was great. What I did was go to the iTunes playlist I’ve created over time called “Chilling at Home”—basically all the chill music I play in the background when I’m not in the mood for heavier beats. It took me one evening to distill it down to about forty tracks and start setting cue points. The next evening, I finished setting my cue points, and started thinking about play order and flow. I decided to start very calm and move to more upbeat music by the end of the gig—not what they’d asked for, but my favourite DJ advice ever was some guy online who said “I don’t play what they want; I play what they need!” Totally arrogant, and also totally hilarious, and a great way to justify my music choices!
It was a little freaky to be applying sparkly silver eyeliner at 6 am, but my outfit worked well (a sleeveless loose knee-length silver and blue-grey dress with black lace edging, tall black boots [but no heel, I don’t do heels], silver eyes and nails, and my grey and purple hair, and lots of silver and blue jewellery). I was going for a “watery” look to fit with the Earth Day and WaterAid theme.
I am pretty self-sufficient with my laptop and my little Numark MixTrack II Pro controller. It’s just a little controller, but it does everything I need, and I have all the cables I need to connect it to other gear. When I got to the venue at 7:10 am, the musician, Derrick McCandless, was already there setting up. I used my little RCA-to-1/4″ adapters and then plugged in my 10-foot 1/4″ cables. “I also have XLR, if that’s better,” I told him, feeling very cool. I mean, gear is sexy. Seriously, one of the best parts of any hobby is the tools!
We got ourselves all set up, and we were ready by 7:40, so even though the official start time was 8 am, I decided to just get going. All the staff and volunteers were already there, and everyone was kind of buzzing with anticipation and too much coffee and all the last-minute prep, so I started them off with some chill Moby: Love Theme. A few bars in, I could hear the musician’s guitar also coming out of the speaker and I looked over at him in surprise. I assumed it was a mistake and that he hadn’t turned his feed down. He grinned and leaned over to me: “Have you ever played with a live musician before?” I shook my head, kind of confused, and he said “You’re gonna love this!”
Oh, yeah, I loved it! McCandless just strummed along with the music I was playing, sometimes playing the tune, sometimes harmonising, just weaving casually in and out. After a couple of songs, I started adjusting my playlist order to concentrate on the guitar-friendly tracks. We went through some Enya, some Loreena McKennitt, some Air, some Sarah McLaughlin, some Alpha Yaya Diallo, some Portishead… Some songs he knew right away, and with others, he’d listen for a few bars and then start experimenting. It was wonderful! It was the first time I’ve ever experienced something like the give-and-take of live music, and I was just delighted!
While he and a couple of others were playing live music, I took my break and my mom showed up, as well as my friend Qrys and her kid Iz, who is thirteen years old. For my second set, I was on my own, as McCandless had to start packing up to leave. But I waved Iz to come on up, and I showed them how the gear worked. I gave them the headphones and played the cued-up songs so they could hear what was coming up next, and a couple of times I gave them two options so they could choose which one I’d play next. Iz seemed to really like it, and I had a lot of fun.
The promo flyers had my name on them, which was super exciting. I took one home (“for my portfolio,” I explained seriously, then giggled). The pancake breakfast was apparently quite good, although I only had the Greek yoghurt with strawberries. It’s not a good idea for me to eat too much before I get up there! I’m not sure if they reached their fundraising goal, but this is the first year they do this, so next year will be even better. And… they’ve already booked me for next year. 🙂