Does our resident kugel have what it takes to become a DJ in two weeks?
Words: Talya Galasko | Photography: Nick Gordon
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and I’m at Norman Goodfellows in Sea Point, asking the shop assistant what kind of beer I should buy for my “chilled get-together with some DJ friends.” Usually I’d be lying on a massage table at the beautician having my eyebrows threaded, and I’m not just saying this in the hopes of setting up the premise of good-girl-gone bad. I know it specifically because it’s the second Tuesday of the month – my regular grooming week – and instead of performing all of the rituals that make me so me, I’m selecting between cheese and sweet chili-flavoured Doritos and sobbing silently about what I’ve gotten myself into.
It all started two weeks earlier during a monthly TWoU meeting, during which editor Dylan Muhlenberg suggested that I “learn to DJ in two weeks, and then play an actual set at a location TBC.” As we all know, tales of personal failure make for the most gripping online literature, and so we here at Superbalist put our reputations on the line, and are not coerced into social experiments.
The rules were as follows. I’d have to learn to DJ, come up with a name and create my own artist thumbnail (without the help of our on-hand graphic designers). I also needed to develop a DJ persona, preferably someone easy-going, and not “predisposed to hypochondriac behaviour” (coincidentally a phrase used to describe me in the past). The debut would take place at a location willing to sacrifice their reputation for our social experiment’s sake. An event invite created by me would also be put up on social media in advance – inviting actual friends and former lovers.
The stakes were high.
Just do the DJ lessons
From the get-go, the iTunes shuffle and laptop methods were ruled out as being too easy. It was instead decided that I would need to learn by using a DJ controller – a device that helps DJs mix music with software using knobs, encoders, jog wheels and other buttons with correspondingly intimidating names.
I sought the help of some close friends, known henceforth by their DJ names only: Nick Gordon, Jon Laura and Bombardier. As you can tell, they’re all guys – and I wouldn’t call our lessons “lessons” per se. Perhaps my expectations of sitting down and taking notes in a binder (that I may or may not have purchased) were the unrealistic projections of my former non-DJ self. For the most part, these get-togethers involved us just hanging out, giving one another a turn at mixing one track into the other until I came on and did something like mute, pause or fade out a really good mix.
While a lot of it came down to learning by doing, and doing over and over again, I also came to understand the importance of performance from watching my newfound DJ friends mix in a tiny lounge or dining room as though they were playing to a CTEMF crowd. I learned to do that head-bop thing that DJs do, and most importantly, to enjoy the set as much as you want the crowd to.
The niceties of DJ life
Two days before the show, I settled on the name milk. It looks so bare and exposed written there, just as I would be on the night. To confess I’m not crazy about it, but other options included (but were not limited to) stereotypes surrounding my Jewish descent, among them DJ Kitke, Shakshuka and Jewess. I made the cover image for social and SoundCloud on Powerpoint while the graphic designers sat around me laughing and throwing breadcrumbs in my hair.
I was given the 7.30pm opening slot at The House of Machines on a balmy Wednesday evening (sensationalised) and told not to play house, electro or black metal. The instruction was actually “just play hip-hop” – one of the most difficult genres to mix. Unlike house, where the end and beginning have that continuous doof, doof, doof beat that’s practically designed for beat-matching, hip-hop begins and ends in arbitrary places. Sometimes there’s an actual narrative in which Kelly Rowland is texting Nelly off of an Excel spreadsheet, but who am I to dictate the standards of a poetic genre.
The big debut
Dressed in an all-black, Stüssy-Vans delight, I was collected Wednesday afternoon in an Uber, DJ controller in hand – box, styrofoam protectors and all. It was not as glamorous as I’d hoped. We set up and I had one maybe two maybe three shots of whiskey.
The moment right before I started playing was just like the time I vomited on my maths exam, but once I looked at the crowd of friends and semi-attractive men now stunned by the female DJ before them, the nerves began to fade. I opened with ‘Hip Hop Hooray’ and within minutes, had the audience waving their hands from side to side, either for fear of breaking my heart, or genuine enthusiasm. It didn’t take long for me to tear my note and tracklist-filled binder to shreds, and throw it into the air like confetti (sensationalised).
I’ll spare you further you-had-to-be-there anecdotes, but for the most part, things went according to plan. Although my mixing was far from perfect, and I improvised for the last 15 minutes, I was surprised by how much the crowd enjoyed that I was enjoying what I was doing, and by the rare occasion of seeing a female DJ up on that stage (sensationalised – it was a table).
In the days following my moments of fame, I’ve received invitations to DJ at everything from house parties to my beauty salon's end-of-year function. While I'm working on getting better (and getting a better DJ name too), I've also been focused on remaining humble. Although my performance exceeded expectations etc., etc., I also get the feeling that a lot of post-set attention has to do with my being a woman. I know that I have the option of throwing in the towel now that the experiment is over, but in a city where every second person is a "DJ" – and yet no women seem to be – I'm not about to get off your Soundcloud feed just yet.
I'm glad that the takeaway has been about making my mark in a world where female presence is sorely lacking, as much as it has been about my mixtape. Having said that, it will be dropping soon.
While I have the mic, I’d like to send a shout-out to the friends that helped make this piece possible: Nick, Keke, and Scott for their unwavering guidance, and to the Superbalist office at large for their patience during mild anxiety attacks suffered. A special thank you to The House of Machinesfor both hosting and taking a chance on me.