For the Record
There was a time when I DJ’d for an audience of one, my girlfriend Midori. It turned up my libido. We’d put on an album and have about 24 minutes to kiss each other all over before side one ended.
When I was old enough to go to bars, I saw other people with crates of records, spinning them on turntables to drinking patrons who weren’t their girlfriends. Who were these humans? How could I join them?
In time I became friends with those of my species. I would fill in for them at the Knockout, DNA Lounge, Covered Wagon Saloon, Emmy's Spaghetti Shack, and Edinburgh Castle.
When I spun with DJ Squid at Edinburgh, we played ’80s hits from bands like The Replacements, Lords of the New Church, and Bow Wow Wow. It was the same genre I’d play when I used to push my tongue into Midori’s mouth. (We eventually broke up, but remained great friends, in part due to our love of music.)
Some months ago I realized I wanted to take my DJ’ing to the next level – to go from, say, the occasional date to a steady relationship. I already have the needles, cartridges, and headphones. I now needed my own name and club night on a flyer.
I told Midori my mad scheme while a bunch of us were out drinking.
“I thought you already had a DJ night,” she replied, delicately holding her cigarette. Then her face lit up.
“I want to DJ with you.”
Yes. A DJ partner – so I can take breaks to dance and go to the bathroom.
I put my hand to my chin, getting together a mental to-do list for starting a club night in San Francisco.
I first approached Alan Black, the manager at Edinburgh Castle. DJ Squid was leaving for an extended trip to Mexico so I wanted his Thursday nights.
“Already taken,” Alan said.
I thought I had the jump on it. Damn.
“But you can have the first and third Wednesdays,” the Scotsman rolled off in his thick accent.
I wanted to switch things up a bit. I have a guilty pleasure for hair bands in spandex – like Cinderella, Van Halen, and the Scorpions. This is the music I crank in my apartment and sing every lyric to as I dance around in my underwear. I could see hair metal being the theme for my club night with Midori, and we’d call it Guilty Pleasure.
Alan shot down the idea: “No way. I can’t stand that music.”
OK. I wanted this DJ thing to happen and I wasn’t going to screw it up over a little thing like format. New plan. “We’ll spin what I played when DJ Squid was here,” I suggested.
Alan gave me the OK: “All right. No hip-hop. You can have every other Wednesday.”
Midori suggested the name Club Tragedy. It was perfect.
Alan told us he’d pay $50 a night, unless we brought in a large crowd – then there’d be more money. Cash-wise it’s better to spin alone, but I love hanging out with Midori. We go to bars anyway, and if we’re DJ’ing together we get free drinks, walk out richer than when we arrived, and control all the music. How’s that for a great night out?
So after we knew Club Tragedy was a sure thing, Midori’s boyfriend started working on the flyers. We posted the event on Facebook and I announced it on my Radio Valencia show.
One bigger issue leading up to the big night at Edinburgh Castle: Midori had never DJ’d before. On the first Wednesday of Club Tragedy, I arrived early to give her the abridged version of how to cue up records and use a DJ mixer.
Since she didn’t have enough vinyl to cover a couple of hours, Midori connected her laptop to the mixer. She fired up her iTunes and I connected the headphone jack on her computer to the back of the mixer using a cable with an RCA adapter. Suddenly the second turntable created horrid feedback. I cringed, quickly turned off the mixer, and we got to troubleshooting. A friend tightened the ground wire from the right turntable and we were back in business.
I showed her the switch above the volume levels that says “Phono/Line” that designates the source of the music on the mixer. Since we were going through iTunes, we flipped it to “Line” to cue up what she wanted to play next on her computer.
Laptop DJ’ing isn’t ideal when a bar is set up for spinning vinyl, so we kept Midori’s computer near the floor and out of sight. When it was my turn to DJ, I flipped the switch back to “Phono” and put the turntables to use.
I DJ’d the first hour while continuing to give Midori tips. I played Echo & the Bunnymen, The Cure, and The Smiths, and we flipped through my crates to come up with the next perfect song.
I gave Midori the headphones to show her how to set up a record when the main song is ending. We turned the volume level all the way down on the prep turntable and pressed the cue button on the mixer so she could hear the next record without the music going out to the dance floor. We placed the needle near the beginning of the song, and right when the music started, we stopped the turntable.
I showed her how to spin the vinyl backwards to the beginning of the song, and then spin it another quarter turn further. Turntables take a second to get up to speed when starting a song; if you don’t add the extra turn, the song will have a horribly slow fade in. When the album was cued, I brought the volume up on the turntable.
As “Guns of Brixton” by The Clash came to an end, I turned down the volume on that side and simultaneously pressed the start button on the other turntable. “Get It On” by Grinderman went out to the dance floor.
Midori and I danced, as did a handful of people in front of the DJ booth.
Club Tragedy was off and running. A month later, the crowd was larger and there was a steady flow of regulars. Midori went record shopping and no longer needed to bring her laptop.
One night, the right turntable was offering up a constant low hum as I was setting up. I’ve learned to perform a little reboot before I start, so I turned off the power and removed the cartridge that holds the needle, giving it a lick where it connects to the arm of the turntable. When I put everything back in place and flipped the power switch, the turntable worked again. I have no clue how that procedure fixes anything, but I’ve seen DJs do it at other bars, so there must be something to it.
After Midori and I got into the swing of things, a really drunk guy swaggered over with a request. “You have to play Red Hot Chili Peppers,” he demanded, his face swaying way too close into mine.
I told him, “I’ll try and get to it,” which is my standard reply. There’s no reasoning with a drunk person. If I say I don’t have that one, they’ll usually try and think of another request – worse, ask to look through my record collection, getting angry because they can’t become my co-DJ.
Later I got another request from a gal who offered me a blowjob if I played Stevie Wonder. I considered the proposition – I do own some Stevie – and for a second I felt like a rock star. But in the end, I need to know a girl longer before she puts her mouth anywhere near my down there.
After three months, it seemed everything was running smoothly. Then we got the news.
One of the employees at the bar got a bad case of tinnitus, a condition of constant ringing in the ear that arises from prolonged exposure to loud noise. Our night was on hiatus until bartenders could be rescheduled and it was decided which DJs were important to keep. We were low on the seniority list, so we’re still waiting to find out when Club Tragedy will start up again.
With Tragedy in limbo, I went to the manager at Koko Cocktails to see about DJ’ing there. She gave us one night, March 29. Since we may be back at Edinburgh to do Club Tragedy, Midori and I are working on another name for this gig – possibly Guilty Pleasure – and we’re thinking about mixing more rock into our sets.
Until then, I’ll play records at the apartment Midori shares with her boyfriend, dance, and drink their wine while they make out. Every once in a while, I’ll bring my own make-out partner, and Midori and I will swap time on the turntables once again.
You’re invited to check out our next DJ night at Koko Cocktails on March 29, starting at 10 p.m.
If you want to start your own DJ night spinning records, here is my equipment list: