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The author, DJing at Off the Record, 2014. Photo by Jordan Richardson

If you get pissed whenever I write one of these columns from the perspective of my own experience, you might want to skip this one and bury yourself instead in Breitbart, PerezHilton, or whatever other gossip sites you like to read that don’t involve me putting myself in them. 

I saw an article about Twenty One Pilots’ upcoming tour on Loudwire earlier today, and I assure you that I have absolutely nothing to do with it. Still here? OK. Great. Because I’ve got some hot sports opinions about dee-jaying.

Besides this writing gig, besides bartending, besides holding a bass in various local music groups, I also occasionally make money as a DJ. I am hesitant to even call myself a DJ because what I do is barely more than what anyone else who has cool records and knows how to play them can do. And by “barely,” we’re pretty much talking about a difference of yards, depending on the distance between the back of my car and the front door of the bar.

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My DJ moves amount to a meager set of tricks, a tool bag so spare that it’s kind of embarrassing and pointless to keep it under wraps. I can operate a fader. I know what a downbeat is and how to match one to another. And, sometimes, I think it’s funny to play a Madonna 45 at 33 rpm so it sounds like a Pet Shop Boys song. That’s pretty much the extent of my specialty skills. 

Real DJs, the ones who can scratch and live in apartments made out of record shelves, and who possess an encyclopedic memory of BPMs, are well within their rights to scoff at me. So are the ones who come equipped with laptops and those keyboard thingies with the illuminated buttons. Y’all are the pros. I’m just a lucky amateur who gets to drop the needle on an Isley Brothers album once or twice a month.

I still know what sounds good in a bar and what doesn’t, what slams with a given crowd versus what feels like banging a shin on a coffee table. That perceptive intuition translates into: No, I do not want to hear your request.

I assume my aversion to requests goes for most DJs, although the ones who have a laptop in front of them probably get assaulted by, “Can you play …?” more than the rest. But just because you hear Prince in my set, and you like Prince, and Prince’s music comes from the 1980s, doesn’t mean it makes sense for me to play Journey next –– or even at all –– despite the fact that you like Journey, and Journey’s music also comes from the ’80s, and you’re also drunk and need to hear “Open Arms” right this goddamn second. If anything, I’d play “Wheel in the Sky” because that song fucking rules.

Some real DJs might disagree. And while I appreciate their dedication to customer service, I think the vibe is more important than being a jukebox. So, if you ask for Rihanna, Pantera, or “Guantanamera,” don’t be huffy when I don’t play it. It probably doesn’t work with the rest of the stuff I’ve already put on or intend to drop three songs down the line. Look around at the crowd. Are people dancing or at least nodding their heads? If the answer is yes, then leave me alone. Go with the flow. I’m sure your Uber driver will let you play whatever you want on your ride home. 

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