The Funny Side of DJing

I was thinking about a few of the stranger things that have happened in the time I’ve been DJing, and thought it would be amusing to make a list for your entertainment. So in no particular order:


A great band will beat the best DJ (probably) every time. That doesn’t always mean that band-related things are handled in the best possible way – and good or bad, they can be extremely prone to overrunning, starting late, and schedules become a little bendy when there’s a band involved. This is expected, it’s fine, and as DJs, we need to learn to work flexibly around this. That said, occasionally it can be a bit much, so here’s a few related incidents:

  • Being scheduled to DJ at a blues event, only to have a well-known pianist turn up to do a guest slot, and … then play solo piano for the whole of the rest of the evening. So no more DJ slots for anyone… We went home after a while – he’s an amazing pianist, but there’s only so much of any one style I can take at a blues event. I have to qualify this – it’s all about the dancers, not the DJs – but most of us love DJing, and it can be galling to lose your slot, while feeling that you could have served the dancers better by keeping it. Because it’s not about the musicians either. It’s about the dancers.
  • Having to pre-empt a band’s attempt to play Yet. Another. Encore…. after it’d become clear that they’d run out of swing material, and were resorting to pop covers. Which no-one was dancing to. (It was an imploring and exasperated look from one of the organisers that sealed my decision)
  • Having to share a 15 minute slot with another DJ, after a band started an hour late, then overran by an extra hour. Nowadays, I think both of us would have tried to opt out (or play the oh-so-British “You do it…” “No – you do it…” game), but I hadn’t been at the DJing game for as long back then. There’s not a lot you can do in seven minutes.
  • Having to delay a the first set of the evening, when the band, who’d been sitting on stage doing nothing for nearly 45 minutes, decided to begin their sound-check five minutes before the party started. And this band took a long long time to do their sound-checks. The sad thing was watching dancers begin to dance to a great song from the band… which would then stop after a minute or so. Which had to be a bit frustrating…

Professional secret (although not a very well-kept one) – if you ever hear me play “It don’t mean a thing” as my first track after a band has been on, I’m making a statement. Luckily, no-one seems to notice. And, to be fair, it’s very rare for me to do this.

Logistical Issues

  • Finding myself stationed in a position where I couldn’t see the dance-floor. At all. This wasn’t the fault of the organisers – it was the best they’d been able to get the venue to do – but it’s surprisingly hard to play for a floor that you can’t actually see….
  • On one occasion, when taking over from another DJ, we did the normal negotiation, and he agreed that the currently playing song would be his last. It duly finished, I started playing the first song of my set, and people started dancing to it. Then the previous DJ started playing another song (I’d not cut his volume on the mixing desk as yet) – and later defended his decision with: “I didn’t realise you’d started playing anything”. Or, presumably, notice that people had started dancing to the song he couldn’t hear…. it was an odd moment.
  • Trying to play a blues set to an empty second room that was incredibly hot, stuffy, and stank of fermented coleslaw. Didn’t get many dancers in. Can’t think why… normally that’s a winning combination!
  • Over a half hour period, having the organisers request a break in the music four times to make Yet Another Important Announcement. I should add that I always try to maintain a sense of flow in the music, which I find can be key to creating a great atmosphere – and constant interruptions don’t really help with this – they can be quite jarring for the dancers. Although not as jarring as the fire alarm that we had that same evening…
  • Having an organiser fade out a track I was playing a third of the way in, so they could make an announcement that the extremely late performance that no-one knew was coming would be starting at some point in the next ten minutes. Plus – it was a great track, and my other half had just started a blissful dance with the best leader in the room, and she was Not Amused to have it cut short.
  • Being asked by the head DJ of a Lindy Hop event what he should be playing. It turned out that he really didn’t like swing music. Um…


We all get feedback. Sometimes good, sometimes less good, sometimes … odd.

For example – in the middle of a very much old-school set:

Can you play something old-school but good?

Or the slightly tricky:

Can you put on some Lindy Hip Hop music please?

Or after a couple of 130bpm tracks…

Andy. Are you going to keep playing this blues sh*t all night? Because if you are, I’m going to bed.

Or (this is paraphrasing, as it’s happened a few times – and amazingly, I usually manage to find an answer)

What was that track you played two months ago on that Saturday night at around 9pm? You know – the one with all the trumpets.

Or, while I was playing a Jonathan Stout track (recorded in 2003) – and this comment came from a DJ

I really don’t get these old “cracklies”.

Or the extremely knowledgable:

Your DJs this evening were rubbish. I could DJ better than them! They even played that same track four times!

(as I’d not heard a single repeat all night, I naturally asked which track)

You know. That one that you always play!

Oh. Of course. That track. Silly me.

Or when our local scene was extremely new:

You need to play more salsa tracks.

Hmmmm. Because I always request “more swing tracks” at any salsa nights I go to…

Other Surreal Moments

  • Many years ago, I was asked to play a old-school swing set at a pub in Durham – the Slug and Lettuce, on a Friday night. The set was part of a promotional event, and featured several dance styles – and following me was very trendy-looking up-and-coming London club DJ. And after asking what I would be playing, this lad was less than impressed. “You just can’t do that!” he told me, pointing out that the pub was full of people gearing themselves up to go clubbing – and that I would completely destroy the atmosphere playing what I intended to play. I have to admit that I was similarly concerned, but as I told him – I’d been asked to do a specific job, and I was going to do it. Besides – I wasn’t geared up to do anything else.When I started playing… the result was frankly amazing. This hard-core clubbing crowd *really* responded to the music – it might not have started people dancing, but you could see and feel the atmosphere start to lift – the whole place began to come alive. People were bobbing to this seventy year old music – heads were nodding, feet were tapping… and the London DJ was standing there with his jaw nearly on the floor, repeating to himself: “This can’t be happening. This just can’t be happening…” I confess I got a little smug, and gave him the spiel of this being the hardcore underground club music of its day.It was a sweet, sweet moment. And it taught me not to underestimate the universal appeal of swing music.
  • A few years back, approaching 1am at DJam – our Durham based camp. One of the venue staff members came up to me mid-set, while I was alternating between DJing and chatting to our friend Keith, and asked what time we would finished. “2am” I replied. “Our duty roster says it’s 1am” she told me. “Our timetables say 2am, as has all our correspondence with you for the last few months.” I pointed out. “It’s 1am” she said. Now the DJam team has a standard procedure for handling such situations. So I sent her to see Joo-Lee – who is the driving force behind DJam. “Joo-Lee thinks it’s 1am” the girl said, when she got back five minutes later. Much later I found out that she had, in fact, found Joo-Lee, and asked only a single completely unrelated question before coming back to me with this rather broad interpretation of the response. Keith’s exact words to me at the time will probably reflect what’s going through the minds any of you who’ve met Joo-Lee: “Joo-Lee doesn’t think. She knows.”
    “Leave it with me.” I said to the girl.
    And I closed the evening at 2am.
  • Getting rained on mid-set. Indoors. This wasn’t a few spots of water – this quickly turned into a torrent. The problem was that I was seated under the aircon unit, and all I could guess was that we’d all sweated a bit too much, and overtaxed the dehumidifier, which started dumping water on me. By an amazing stroke of luck, I actually had an umbrella with me – so after quickly turning off the air conditioning (controls handily nearby), I spent the next twenty minutes DJing with an umbrella up to protect my laptop and the other sound gear. I found out later that some people thought I was doing this “for effect”. Although I never found out exactly what “effect” they thought I was going for.

Anyway – that’s a handful of the things that have happened over the years. Feel free to add your own in the comments!

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