I would spend a lot of time trying to find songs I loved, songs that were mine and no one else knew. And if someone did know the song, I wept and burned the tape. I actually ended up hating one of the first girls that would even talk to me because she had a CD single of the KLF’s What Time Is Love? and I didn’t and it filled my pubescent heart with rage. It gave me a longing I called “Compact Lust”.
When I went to my first real club, much later on, I saw the DJs in the corner and wanted to be them. Not so much to be the centre of attention as to be occupied. Maybe even necessary. This strikes me as a radically different starting point than wanting to be the main attraction. I imagined the actual centre of attention was some cool guy at the party, you know, the kind with a collared shirt and a long curly hair. The DJ had a realistic role, a respectable one, and I set my sights on that niche. As it turned out, I had what it takes.
But what does it take?
Contrary to popular opinion, looks don’t really matter. Nobody is not good-looking enough to be a DJ. Also, it’s better if you’re not too smart. Real geniuses tend to get a horrified look on their faces about halfway through the set and wander off to look for something more meaningful, like speaking truth to power, or getting into finance. The proper point here is that a real DJ cannot be an egomaniac. You have to be selfless and/or airheaded enough to spend a good part of your life “caring about vibe”, which is a perpetual exercise in ego death; caring deeply for the crowd while also not giving a flying darn what they think of you. I’m not trying to hit crazy highs of “pure giving”, no matter how many people tell me that’s exactly what I’m doing, but it’s impossible to avoid that you are in fact sharing.
It’s this particular blend of self and selfless, combined with the other key watchwords of our times – “global”, “technology” and “curation” – that has positioned DJing as the most modern and culturally relevant profession on Earth. DJing might conceivably be the only profession that is a true representation of current social norms. Throw in the crucial “easy learning curve” and you have the perfect storm. Over the past decades only photography (in its amateur form) has seen a similar growth spurt, and that won’t get you paid.
Being a DJ takes a love of music. Not an understanding of music or the ability to play it, of which I have neither. Years after working with James Murphy, Gonzales or Soulwax, I know now more than ever how resolutely un-musical I am. I used to think there were three Phil Collinses: one drummer, one singer, and one dancer. But I always knew what I loved with a real conviction and certainty. In fact, that ispower.
This sense of discovery led to an important epiphany and a principle that guides me to this day: you must be 100% in love with the tracks you play as a DJ. The lower that percentage dips, the more your set quality dips. The real takeaway here is that DJing is all about love. Not the fees. Not the opportunity to refuse sex on a daily basis. The raw, unvarnished love, rough like a carpenter’s hands.
It can be extremely easy to lose sight of this. An old DJ dog like myself wants to make fun of what it’s all become: Dutchmen playing Olympic ceremonies and progressive-house pool parties, and men in hooded capes existing in a landscape seemingly free from shame, irony and intelligence. Once you strip away the giant black T-shirt, though, DJing is still magic.
Why? Because real DJing is about something that can’t be packaged or replicated: it’s about timing. It’s like stand-up comedy: you’re only as good as the connections you make and the speed with which you make them. DJing is wit. Oscar Wilde said that. Sometimes you have seconds to make a good decision. It’s style (your choices) versus fashion (your collection), and no amount of money can change that. Although if you can afford a pheromone mist to spray on the crowd that can paper over a questionable call to “go hip-hop”, that helps.
I’m a romantic at heart. I believe that all DJs who deeply love what they play are doing things the right way. It doesn’t matter if people are pointing and broadcasting the set on the web for people to mock without pity. If you’re really feeling it, then you’re the luckiest laughing-stock in the world.
Tiga’s album No Fantasy Required is out now on Counter. He starts a residency at London’s XOYO every Saturday from 9 April-25 June. nonstoplondon.co.uk