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7 ways to be a better DJ post-lockdown

Carl Cox
(Image credit: Future)

BACK TO LIVE: Grab your records and headphones - we’re hitting the club! Yes, as restrictions lift, DJs come blinking out of their bedrooms, once more, and back into clubland to spin tunes for the dancing massive. But, are they ready? 

It’s been well over a year since lockdowns shut music venues. And many DJs, with their dwindling braincells, will have no doubt forgotten how to get back into the mindset of a working disc jockey.

If that’s you, and you’re freaking out about getting back into the groove, or, are one of the lucky few who are getting a booking for the first time, never fear. Here’s a handy guide of what to do, how to prepare, and how to behave, when you get behind the decks. Rewind, my selector!

1. Back the eff up!

It’s probably been a while since you’ve been mingling with more than six people. So, the idea of being trapped in a room full of sweating strangers might well freak you out. Chill, mate. 

Be cool to bar staff. And promoters (who will no doubt be losing money on this one)

If you’re the DJ, chances are you’ll be in the empty venue first. Or, then stood behind the decks all night, safely positioned away from the adoring masses. Phew! It’s all good. You’re gonna smash it. Just watch out for any gurning swathes of clubbers trying to give you a post-set hug, though. Ugh!

2. Gear check 1-2

Equipment, that is. If you’ve been caning the bedroom sets, or hoovering up followers on housebound Twitch or Mixcloud Live, you’ll have had all your bits and bobs to hand - headphones, spare needles, USB sticks, adaptors, stands, etc… 

But, back in the real world, you’re gonna have to remind yourself to pack like a pro again, before (gulp!) leaving the house. You don’t want your first set back to be amateur hour, as you ask the crowd if anyone has a spare MacBook plug on them, do you? 

Take backup systems, too. Playing wax? Pack that laptop, as a fail safe, in case the decks are shonky when you tip up. Rocking a controller? Take a memory stick back up set, in case you have to jump on the CDJs, at the last minute. 

Remember: things never go smoothly. Or did you forget that deafening silence that ensued last time your laptop crashed, mid-set?

3. Crowd control

Back-in-the-day, being able to say a few words on the mic while DJing was as important as blending, and maintaining a now regrettable hairstyle. But that was in the era of LPs and carting around your mobile disco lighting, pops! 

Don’t rely on the top ten tracks that everyone else will have been DLing. To stand out, dig a little deeper

However, as any Twitch raider and regular online mix show host will tell you, it’s all about shouting out the people on the m-i-c, again. Any DJ who has wanted to connect with their audience in their lockdown sets has been getting that patter back. So, why not bring that back to your real-world shows? 

“Happy 21st to Sue, inside!” 

They’ll love you for it. Break down that fourth wall, buddy.

4. Stay humble

The collective ego of the DJ hit its zenith in the ‘superstar’ era of the early noughties, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still some dicks out there. 

The warm up dude or dudette on after you deserves respect, for instance. Don’t leave them with a nightmare tune to mix into. And help them with the changeover. It takes seconds to pull out a few wires and make sure their set goes without a hitch, too. And be cool to bar staff. And promoters (who will no doubt be losing money on this one). Oh, and the sound techs should all get a socially distanced fist bump.

5. Track master

As every other DJ and their uncle gets back in the booth, everyone will want to bring their best sets. But, pick your tunes wisely. Hopefully in the last bleak season of relative confinement you’ve been scouring Juno and Traxsource for a personal selection of sweet beats, that is “your sound”. 

Hammer the name home. When your crowd exits, you want them to be typing ‘DJ Megapants” into Google

Don’t rely on the top ten tracks that everyone else will have been DLing. To stand out, dig a little deeper. Find or make your own unique edits to be different. 

And don’t just sequence a main room, hands-in-the-air set. Remember peaks and troughs. Think about that time-honoured cliché of “The Journey”. Let’s take this room for a ride, no?

6. Stand out

Most DJs are fairly identikit. It’d be hard to pick a lower tier record spinner out of a line-up: black tee, hat, jeans. Way to stand out. Get that logo out there. Hammer the name home. When your crowd exits into the night, you want them to be typing ‘DJ Megapants” into Google.

Oh and load up your onboard sampler with idents and shouts, to sparingly fire off over your epic builds and blends - amongst the obligatory sirens and explosion FX, obviously. 

7. Bottom line: have fun

The tracks you drop do most of the work - it’s no secret. So, get up there and do what you were born to do - play ‘em.