Through cold, sleet and a liquid layer of dirt, London trudges on. Spring-like, it pushes itself forward with a coiled momentum. Winter paints the city grey but its soul remains vibrant and free. A light snow is descending as Mike hurries down the street. It’s nine-thirty and a couple of degrees below freezing. Illuminated streetlights slice in half great gusts of wind and snow. Head bent and shoulders erect, Mike pushes through the snow without glancing up. Walking quickly, he anticipates arriving on time to the club.
Falling in line behind millions of other immigrants, Mike is not from London. Every misunderstood conversation, and unknown cultural quirk, reminds him that he is thousands of miles from Moscow. When he left, his future in Russia was secured. He was on the brink of college and an unavoidable, high paying, job in the family business. All those thoughts are in the farthest part of his mind as he pulls open the back door of the club.
Steve is guarding the rear door tonight. His facial quirks are oddly out of place on his young, baby faced continuance. An eye patch covers the remains of his left eye. A small scar above his top lip proves that he lost the eye under false circumstances. The whole effect is disconcerting. He has the face of a university freshman, not a security guard. It’s a face that has gotten many drunk, cocky men in trouble. They take one look at his face and assume he’s harmless. Their cardinal sin is not looking below the neck. He backs up his words with fists that resemble hams and a barreled chest that is neither fat nor muscle. Its stated purpose is wrecking havoc on drugged out, drunk meatheads.
“Hey what’s up?”
Mike says, injecting his voice with respect. He tries to muffle the Russian accent by speaking in a low register. Unfortunately, instead of making him sound fluent, it gives off the effect that he’s speaking while trying not to cough. With a Russian accent.
It’s the only response he can expect from Baby Faced Steve tonight. Mike has only been spinning at the club for two months, an insignificant amount of time in the nightlife industry. In a club where most DJ’s quit or are fired before six months, nobody pays any attention until you’ve put in a year. FBG$ has been spinning for three years and is the resident DJ. He has as much say about new talent as Eric, the club manager.
Setting up behind the curtain, Mike connects his laptop to the club’s turntables and mixer. They are beat up and defaced with graffiti. Inscriptions from previous DJ’s litter the front and sides. Some of the names have gone onto fame and others have quit the game. The final group has remained even keel, doing the same shit they were doing last year. Altogether, the former is a group of people without dreams. They have carved out a safe, non-threatening niche to reside in. Their ambitions do not include going big or going home. They like to stay the course.
Looking down at the etched names, Mike silently reaffirms his fundamental vow. No matter how hard it gets, or how grim the prospects may be, he will never settle for mediocrity. Although he hasn’t heard of Patrick Henry, he lives by a paraphrased creed;
“Give me fame, or give me death!”
Separated from the dance floor by a curtain, it’s three minutes past ten. In thirty seconds the curtains will retract and night will begin. Mike pushes a button on the mixer, gingerly pushes up a slider and his deep house opener track comes to life. Fifteen seconds to curtain and the music is getting louder. He maneuvers a slider, unleashing the bassline onto the house speakers. Five, four, three, two, one!
The curtains are pulled straight up and out of sight by a whirring motor. The speakers are spitting out a pounding bassline to an empty dance floor. Mike can see the two bartenders texting on their iPhones. It’s ten on a Tuesday night, two hours before anyone in London is ready to party. Mike will be lucky to play to forty people tonight. By the time the crowd is beginning to get jovial and are ready to dance, the next DJ will be gearing up to take the stage.
None of that matters. To Mike, forty people may as well be forty-thousand. Six months ago he was playing hushed mixes to no-one. His only audience was the collection of wooden animals he kept in his bedroom. It was hard to get his family excited about music that they didn’t understand.
His father’s thoughts on the genre could be summarized in three sentences;
“Listen Mike, I don’t care how much you like this music. I just don’t understand how you can have music that isn’t made with an instrument. It has no душа!”
Although the rest of his family had a more positive outlook on the genre, none of them had the passion of Mike. Especially his neighbors. They frequently hit the wall, protesting what they felt was an unjust volume. In Russian Mike yells at them;
“It’s five in the evening, what the hell do you care if my music is too loud!”
The club may be empty, but the noise restrictions don’t exist. Nestled in the heart of London’s club district, a person would be ridiculed for complaining about the noise. DJ’s and bartenders who pursue apartments in the area take offense at the noise of noon traffic, not midnight dubstep sets. Amongst a heavily jaded community, a noise complaint would be a congratulatory accolade to any DJ.
Working and spinning, producing and mixing, Mike lives for six months in London in an undisturbed stasis. He gains recognition with the regulars. The club manager notices that more drinks are sold when Mike warms up the room with his sets. His Russian accent on the microphone is a topic of conversation amongst the crowd. It gives him a distinction that few can claim. Another Swede passing through would be the nature of things. A Russian DJ from Moscow has intrigue. Mike uses it for all he can, and gives himself the DJ Name “Davai”. In Russian; “Давай” a fantastic, multipurpose word that can be summed up as “let’s do it”.
As summer fades into fall, Mike prepares for the first big opportunity to come his way. The Ministry of Sound is hosting a week long party to celebrate the end of summer. They are seeking DJ’s to man the tables and Mike is one of the first they ask to try out. Promoters had been scouring the local clubs looking for young, undiscovered DJ’s with talent. This would give the Ministry a chance to debut a future star DJ. Also, they wouldn’t have to pay them shit.
The Ministry of Sound is more than just a club, it’s a brand name. The building is a speaker filled shell with a fancy dance-floor. But the name stretches across oceans and languages. It stands for something greater than massive dance floors, flashing lights, fog machines and revered musicians. It’s name represents a guarantee that the person doing the mixing will be the best London has to offer.
Mike arrives at the club minutes after noon. Unusual itself as the doors don’t usually open till ten at night. Thinking himself special, he’s surprised to see lots of other local DJ’s from the area in attendance. The invitation suddenly becomes less meaningful and a sinking feeling begins to grow in his heart. Mike knows that he has talent, but some of the DJ’s around him having been playing for years. In the music industry, as in life, who you know is often more important than what you know. A recent émigré of Russia, Mike can count his English speaking friends on one hand.
FBG$ is milling around, looking at concert posters on the wall. In an orange hoody and dark jeans he looks relaxed. He’s got on a dark blue backpack with his MacBook tucked securely inside. In the six months Mike has worked at the club, he’s only had a couple of opportunities to speak to the withdrawn London native. Under the circumstances, it seems like they have more in common than normal. Mike walks up to the well connected DJ and catches his attention with a quick nod.
“There’s so many people here. Are you nervous about getting a spot?”
First cocking his head in Mike’s direction, and then turning his whole body to face him, FBG$ replies;
“Not really. I’ve heard sets by most of these junkies and their nothing special.”
Waving his arm in the direction of the crowd, he says;
“They just mix together the newest shit they find on Sound Cloud and hope that whoever’s listening hasn’t heard it first. I’ve got some new tracks that nobody knows a fucking thing about yet. There’s a couple of DJ’s in Germany that I talk with. Whenever they finish a track they give it to me first. They post it online a week or two later but it gives me a chance to play some shit aint nobody heard before.”
It’s the most FBG$ has ever said to Mike. Feeling embarrassed and uncertain of himself, he doesn’t immediately know how to answer. He’s feeling the contradicting emotions of enlightenment and admonishment. Mike frequently stays at the club after his sets end. He’s heard the music that FBG$ spins and has marveled at the unique quality. New music comes out every single day. Of that, only the smallest percent is worthy of putting into a set. Perhaps one song in ten. Mike is interested to finally learn where FBG$ gets his music from.
It doesn’t solve the whole puzzle. Dedicated producers, even if they are German, will only put out one or two new songs a month. His claim of sourcing music from these two DJ’s alone is flawed. However, it does give Mike an idea about how he could get higher quality music as well.
He says a few parting words to FBG$ and then moves off to lean against a wall.
When it’s Mike’s turn to play, he’s ready. He has ten minutes to spin his set. He’s picked out five tracks and has been practicing mixing them for the last two weeks. Taking the stage and plugging in his laptop, he feels a huge weight being lifted from his chest. Mike is getting his first chance to become a recognized DJ. Apart from the club regulars, nobody knows his name. This could be a game changing moment in his career.
A few club promoters and the manger informally lounge in chairs. The promoters are jaded and resent having to be awake at noon. Mike is the third DJ to play and they’ve already yelled for Heineken.
“Think this kid will be worth a shit? I don’t remember ever hearing of a good Russian DJ.”
Hungover promoter ignores the question and drives straight to the heart of the matter;
“You don’t happen to have some percs on you by any chance? If I had a couple of those I’d listen to my own grandmother DJ Rod-motherfucking-Stewart.”
Having set up his laptop and gotten the go-ahead, Mike has already started his set by the time the first promoter answers. Speaking louder, he answers.
“Yeah I got some but it’s gonna cost you. I’m not gonna be able to get any more for a couple of days. Five quid a pop.”
“Five quid! You inglorious bastard I ought to throttle you!” The hungover promoter lazily retorts while simultaneously reaching for his wallet. “Here’s 20 pounds, gimme what you got.”
As he reaches over the pills, Mike continues to play through his set. The club manager, ignoring the disturbingly obvious drug deal to his right, listens to Mike and watches his presence. He looks comfortable on stage. Despite the pressure to succeed, he’s moving to the music and having a fun time. The manager knows that how a DJ carries himself on stage is a big part of the performance. If Mike is acting cool now, he should be able to handle himself with a regular crowd. Nodding to the music, he makes a tick next to Mike’s name.
Before the pills have a chance to kick in Mike is walking off the stage. He saw the useless promoters exchanging bills and talking through his whole set. However, he felt like he made a good impression with the manager, hopefully that was enough. He wouldn’t know anything till tomorrow. Tonight he’ll go to the club and get drunk. The Captain will help him forget all about FBG$’s German DJ’s and the dipshit promoters. So what if they added no value to society and had talked through his entire set. What happened, happened, and couldn’t have happened any other way.
London is cold in February and in Moscow, it’s frozen. The filthy, black byproduct of snow that clings to the streets is unique to Moscow. Other cities have dirty snow, Moscow has a radioactive sludge. This versatile product works itself up under door handles and turns clean hands and gloves black. Weightless air hides a visually imperceptible temperature. Only when you step outside do you realize that -15 is more than just a number on the screen of your telephone. Such a temperature is a chilling reality. One that will bite you in the face and paint a rosy, red color onto your cheeks.
Two years before he began wading through snow in London, Mike had no ambitions to leave his bedroom. In his bedroom, he had created a scaled, economized version of a DJ booth. He had the bare minimum; two turntables, a mixer and speakers. Expensive turntables operated without a laptop. Mike’s equipment required a laptop, which he perched to the left of the western most turntable. It wasn’t a large setup. However, a crowded bedroom gave it the appearance of being more ample than it really was.
As with any musician, famous DJ’s come from all over the world. They are supplied from far reaching places like New Zealand, Finland and Poland. However, a majority come from the obvious breeding grounds. Large cities like New York, London and Berlin. In fact, most DJ’s can trace their roots back to one of these countries; Germany, The Netherlands, Sweden, Spain, The United States or The UK. It’s unusual to hear of a prominent DJ hailing from the coldest capital city in the world: Moscow, Russia.
A country that repels foreigners with its VISA process and politics will never become a hotbed of musical discovery. If a Russian musician is truly dedicated to his craft, he will have to get out. If he’s a DJ he will have to pack up his turntable and mixer. Put his laptop in a bag and stow his clothes in a suitcase. When it comes time to buy a plan ticket, he has a couple of options. Stockholm is stunning and the women are beautiful. The clubs are legendary for producing a couple of our most famous contemporary DJ’s. Berlin is home to all night parties and a robust selection of party fuel; high quality lager. It’s also responsible for introducing more phenomenal house music to the world than any other city. But to Mike, there were only two choices..
London or New York.
The latter home to one of the most recognized clubs in the genre, Ministry of Sound. The former bearing all the glitz, glamour and fame that go with the title “The City That Never Sleeps.” However, New York is an ocean away from home. For a person who had never been outside of Russia, crossing the ocean to a new country would be prohibitively scary. London presented a better opportunity. It resides on the same landmass as Russia. The journey would still be hard, but it felt possible.
Before he could begin, Mike would need to buck tradition. It would mean passing up a university diploma. In a highly educated country, it’s common for students to study for four years at university. It was with deep reflection that Mike spurned his education in favor of pursuing his dream. The courage necessary cannot be understated. Not only was he pushing against the customs of his country, he was also facing pressure from his family. His parents found it impossible to appreciate how their son could be so enthralled with entertaining drunkards in dark spaces. If the drive to do so was mystifying, the music he achieved his aims with has baffling.
Produced virtually, EDM, or electronic dance music, is unlike anything that has come before it. It’s core form allows it to be easily mixed together. When two or more songs are brought together, end to end, it’s called a mix. Most mixes are an hour or two long. However, if the DJ is engaged and the crowd is into it, mixes can go on for hours.
The distinguishing characteristic of live EDM is that the music never stops. The song ends only once; when the DJ descends the stage. Instead of naturally winding down into silence, the DJ blends the ending of one song into the beginning of another. Imagine assembling two orchestras. One will play Bach, the other Mozart. Just as one orchestra is playing the last vestiges of their Bach piece, the fresh orchestra opens with Mozart. There is no silence between songs, only noise.
EDM’s legacy will be the continuous mix. Of all musical genres it bears the greatest resemblance to Jazz. At one point, it was counter-culture as well. Of course, now it is universally lauded and can even be found on conservative radio stations. Like Jazz, EDM comes in a pie-makers variety of genres. Including, but not limited to; house, deep-house, vocal-house, electro-house, drum n bass, drum-step, glitch-hop and the infamous dubstep.
Mike’s favorite genres to play are house and deep-house. The stable beats and melodic rifts are the stuff of legend. No other genre has been so well received as house. It is the archetype that most people associate with EDM. As the name suggests, deep-house takes the genre further into the night. It has deep, drawn out melodies and mild choruses. It repeats itself and builds upon previous verses to create a slightly different sound each time. A good deep-house DJ will play for two hours. Not once will a person on the dance floor be able to pick out the moment where one song ends and the next begins. They flow together like a rivers meeting at a gentle bend.
A DJ has an opportunity to shape people’s night. He uses his judgment to select the music and set the mood. A great DJ knows when to speed up the rhythm and when to slow it down. He knows his songs like a coach knows his team. He selects the best player and then relinquishes control. This was the world that appealed to Mike. He wanted, more than a high paying job or flashy Mercedes, to be in control of the night. He was willing to gamble his future that he had the grit to become successful. And so it was that after Mike finished school he didn’t enter University.
Instead, he enrolled in an intensive series of bedroom classes. Classes took place every day and they lasted for a year. Every day he produced music and every night he played to imaginary crowds. If you do something daily for a year, it’s possible to acquire talent quickly. Such was the case with Mike. As his music found recognition online, his friends lauded his ability to mix.
Despite his virtual success, moving to London was still a distant dream. So many things would have to happen first. His English was poor and needed work. Getting a VISA would be laborious and saving the money would be difficult. However, Mike vowed that every day he would silently chip away at the mountainous obstacles in his path. In time, he would climb the slope until the peak was within his grasp.
A Skyline to Remember
From London, the flight time to New York City is four hours. If your flight is during the day and you have a window seat, you can expect to see two highly developed hubs of commerce. And lot’s of fucking ocean.
Mike saw none of it. His discount flight left at midnight. His ticket destined him to be sandwiched between two Indians on their way to Queens. It wasn’t a flight that Mike had ever expected to take. His situation spoke to a series of events that had spoiled London for him. It was three months since he had entertained two disinterested promoters and the club manager. The events leading up to this hasty retreat from London were both positive and negative. Mike had learned a lot about the brutal realities of the nightlife industry.
He now had a clearer view of what was expected of him, being a newcomer on the scene. On the other hand, he felt that after everything he had already worked to accomplish, karma should have given him a second chance. Seated between the talkative Indians, too tired to read and too wired to sleep, Mike reflected on what had happened in the last three months.
The day after he spun his short set at the Ministry, Mike got a call from an unknown number.
“Is this Mike?”
“Yeah, who’s this?”
“I don’t have a lot of time so shut up and listen. I liked your set yesterday, but it wasn’t mind-blowing either. So here’s what I’m gonna do. Come in Tuesday and open for Rahj. We’ve only sold a couple hundred tickets so it’s not gonna be a big show.”
The voice briefly yells something in the background and continues before Mike can reply;
“I’ll be around and I’ll see how you do. If you don’t fuck up too bad you can open Thursday too. Keep everything on the level and you’ll be playing at the festival in a few weeks. Fuckup and you won’t be working here again. Ok?”
“Yes that sounds awesome! What time Tuesday?” Mike stammers out.
“You go on at ten. Get here at nine, back entrance. They’ll know your name and give you a pass. Any other questions?”
“No, I’ve got nothing”
“Great, see you Tuesday” and the manager hangs up before Mike can formulate a parting word.
Elation washes over him like a tsunami and he lets loose a hearty “fuck yeah!” It was more than he had hoped for. “I guess those punk promoters didn’t mean anything” he says silently to himself, returning the phone to his pocket.
The Jet starts circling New York City at four in the morning. Mike is exhausted but sleep is impossible. He’s jacked awake on adrenaline and conversation in Farsi. He hasn’t understood a word of what his neighbors have been talking about. That hasn’t stopped him from making a few educated guesses. The tall, bald Indian is obviously a master diamond thief. His angular cheeks and bent nose point towards crooked industry and jail time. His tools must be checked in his luggage. Or maybe he already has a contact in New York. Some rich New York heiress is going to have a real problem for the first time in her married life, Mike speculates. As for the paunchy, overweight man on the right, he’s obviously a nobody. He will inevitably open a hot dog stand. Probably make more money all his family back home put together.
“Funny choices for a couple of Indians, usually they end up as engineers or computer programmers.” Mike thinks to himself.
“I guess you never can tell” he says quietly, and they both glance at him.
In a controlled plummet, the jet touches down on American soil. It skids to a halt and the multi-ethnic group of passengers applaud. Hundreds of lives will continue as normal. As the bulbous jet approaches the gate, Mike becomes increasingly nervous. He’s got a VISA, a suitcase and an outstanding dream. What he lacks are friends, money and a place to stay. Closing his eyes, he pictures his first night at the Ministry.
Acting on the phone call, he arrives at nine on Tuesday. He plays a well rehearsed set and the manager is pleased. He talks to him for a few minutes after the set and is effusive enough to offer a single compliment. Mike expects nothing more and is thrilled to have that. For the next twenty-four hours he lives on a cloud. Every stranger is his best friend and he believes the world to be a benevolent place.
It’s this bright, far-reaching feeling that gives him the confidence to take a bold step. Three months short of the esteemed year, he quits the club. So many endorphins are pumping through his brain, so assured is he of success that quitting seems like a rational decision. Although he would regret this decision for the next year, ultimately, it would turn out to be a crucial choice in a string of bold, wise decisions.
On Thursday night, after years of practice and dreaming, he expresses himself on the turntable to a crowd of five-hundred people. He mixes remixed classic tracks with new songs that are so unusual it will be a year before the style becomes popular. Davai unleashes himself on the turntable. His set is wild, unpredictable and brilliant.
The crowd loves it, they chant his name as he descends the stairs. They are still chanting as walks down the ill-lit stage hallway and runs into the manager.
The manager is not chanting his name. The scowl pasted on his face expresses the deep displeasure lurking. He thinks to himself, curse those hooligans who think Davai is worth cheering for. As he bears down on Mike his scowl lessons and is replaced by a more disturbing sight, a blank slate of facial control. As the hurricane passes, the calm eye reminds the earthbound that the storm is only half over.
Apprehensively Mike approaches the manager, waiting for him to speak first. His voice even keeled and serenely disguised, the manager throws out;
“You fucked up tonight. What happened is you got ahead of yourself. Maybe you thought because you played a solid set Tuesday that now you can do whatever you want. Let me be the first to tell you; you’re not famous yet. You can’t do whatever the fuck you want.”
Lowering his voice as the background noise dips, he continues.
“I needed someone to play warm-up sets. I don’t need another head banging DJ. I’ve got more of those then I can handle. Your job is not to make the crowd go nuts. Your job is to get them excited relaxed. That means drunk. They can’t drink if their heads are nodding up and down. It’s the next DJ’s job to make the crowd jump and chant.”
With a dismissive hand he quickly finishes;
“And so, your done here. I have five other DJ’s who will take your spot with one phone call. Maybe in a year or two when I’ve forgotten about all this you can try to find some work here again. That’s all.”
Handing Mike fifty quid, he adds as an afterthought;
“You’ve got a good name, Davai. Don’t fuck it up. Turn your pass in with the security guard.”
With that, he walks up a set of stairs and disappears. Mike is left to reflect on what just happened. He’s stunned and bitterly disappointed. He’s just as mad at himself as he is with the club manager. When he broke out into a full-blown set, he knew that he was fucking up. He regretted not having the control to stop himself. But even after such an incident, a small smile still played across his lips. He had discovered that he had the guts to play in front of a real crowd. And the crowd had fucking loved it.
It was a discouraging end to a surprising start. The nightlife underworld is close-knit and word gets around quickly. It wouldn’t be the first thing people talked about but with enough time, most of the people who mattered would find out. Landing work under those circumstances would be worth bragging about. There were already more DJ’s saturating the market than sets to played.
Trudging along, kicking the ground and cursing his hubris, Mike humbly wished that he had not quit his previous job. He knows that going back after a week is impossible. On general principle they would refuse. And when they found out why he was back in search of a job, they would laugh and tell him he should have been more careful.
Discouraged, but not crushed, Mike spends the next month in his apartment practicing.
“I don’t know how I’m going to do it, but I need to get on stage again. Somehow I’ll find a way. When that happens, I want everyone on the floor to be impressed with what they hear.”
As the month draws to a close, Mike is feeling better. He may have made some mistakes, but he reminds himself;
“I’ve got some money saved and I’m young. Even though I got fired from the Ministry after only two sets, I still got the chance to spin in London for nearly a year. More than anything, I’ve got the drive to fucking succeed. While my friends were out having fun and getting drunk, I’ve been inside mixing tracks and searching out new music. I want to be a household name and I’m willing to do whatever it takes to get there. Fuck being average, fuck being normal!”
With these affirmations in mind, Mike finally decides to go to New York. The city is more myth than reality to him. Making it his home will be challenging and rewarding. It’s worth the risk, he says to himself, even though he doesn’t feel confident in his own words.
Clearing customs and hunting for his suitcase takes two hours. The sun is caged behind the trees as Mike steps out onto the streets of Queens, New York. It brings back memories of Moscow. The taxi’s are the same color, the people are in the same rush and smell of burnt gasoline lingers at face level. He takes the bus and twenty-minutes later, driving west towards Astoria, Mike catches his first glimpse of the New York skyline.
The famous skyline towers up as a glorious monument to mans ability to defy nature and gravity. The sun is beaming down on the East side of the city. A thousand windows scatter the sunlight back in ten thousand directions. The skyline peaks in height at the southern tip of the island. The tallest, most graceful buildings grow from the earth in the Financial District of Manhattan. As the eye wanders north, towards Harlem and Washington Heights, the solid structures gradually diminish in size. Mike realizes that Moscow cannot compete with the majestic buildings of New York. The city that raised him may have twice as many people, but it would take a hundred years to create something akin to the New York skyline at sunrise.
What astonishes him the most is that people live in these towering eruptions of concrete and steel. Neurons fire in Mike’s head as he imagines gazing out over the world from thirty stories up. At that moment, two goals become fused.
“I will make it as a DJ.”
Mike mentally affirms. And when I do, I will live in one of these buildings. I’ll be able to look across the ocean in the direction of London and Russia and remember where I came from and every obstacle I faced. And then, with a twist of my head, I’ll look out across New York and smile at everything I’ve accomplished.
All these thoughts passed through Mike’s head, sitting on a bus filled with people on their way to work. As the bus dips down a hill and the skyline fades from view, so fades all thoughts of success. The cooling streams of reality set in.
“I have $1,000 and nowhere to live. I don’t know where the clubs are, my English is no better than decent, my family is 5,000 miles away and my whole life is contained in a single suitcase. Things are going to be difficult before they become easy.” It’s not an easy situation, but it has one massive advantage. Mike cannot fail. If he fails, there is no second chance. He will be forced back to Russia and it’s unlikely he will get another chance.
“Last stop” the bus driver yells out. Mike disembarks and takes stock of his surroundings. With a final glance over his shoulder, he hefts his backpack, extends the handle from his suitcase and disappears into the New York Metro.
Filed between an all night pizzeria, and a nondescript office building, is the hole in the wall club “Northside”. It has a misleading name. The small, unremarkable club is situated in the Lower East Side of New York. A famous New York neighborhood that sits in the south-east part of the Manhattan, it’s no more in the north than California is in the east.
Thousands of people walk past the club everyday without realizing that its industrial sized speakers and pitted dance floor have given rise to some of the most prominent DJ’s in New York. Victor Caldrone and Roger Sanchez played sold out shows at Northside before they ever appeared at Pacha or Webster Hall. It’s a stepping stone for talented young DJ’s. Earning the right to play there isn’t easy.
Nor was it easy for patrons to get into the club. There are enough people who know about the club that lines stretch down the block by midnight. It helps to arrive early or slip the doorman $50. Amongst the unwritten rules of underground clubs is the prohibition on selling tickets. In advance, or otherwise. In nightlife culture, the difference is night and day, between bribing the doorman and buying a ticket. Were a club to begin selling tickets, in the short run it would make management more money. In the long run, it would ruin its reputation.
Such clubs thrived on giving people the impression that anyone could come watch a talented DJ perform. Even though in reality an average person will only be able to get past security one out of every three nights. It didn’t matter, as long as people knew they had a chance, they would keep coming back.
It happened that at Northside, DJ’s rarely played a consistent schedule for long. More often than not, the jaded crowd expressed its displeasure and that was it. If a crowd didn’t like the set, a DJ didn’t return. However, once in a while the buzzed New Yorkers went crazy for a DJ.
On this balmy Saturday night in June, Davai is beginning to get into a musicians headspace. Sitting in a small backroom of Northside, he pictures to himself how people will react to his set. He imagines everything going smoothly. Most of all, he imagines what it will be like as he starts to get into sync with the crowd. He will be responsible for the atmosphere and every head in the club will be responding to him. If everything goes well, a smooth state of flow will envelope him. Without alcohol, pills or pot, he will feel like the center of the universe.
Davai wants this night to go perfectly. However, he knows that it no longer matters if he has an off night. His reputation is affixed to a granite wall with diamond tipped bolts. Nothing short of an atomic-force can shake it free. He’s heard his name shouted with twenty different accents in fifteen different countries.
Over the last year he has learned that nobody parties like the animals in Berlin. In the basement bunker of an underground club, Davai played eight hours for a crowd animated on beer and speed. Krakow had ended his show early when he received noise complaints. Paris was more interested in deep-house than crunchy electro. Moscow had given him a hero’s reception. In all of these cities his face was recognized. Without fail, a new crop of selfies sprouted up around him in wherever he went.
It had all started at Northside. Few knew that the club manager was Russian. When Mike walked into the club for the first time, he picked up on the accent before he understood a word being said. Five minutes later he had secured a two hour slot. He would have a single chance to make an impression on a critical, heard-it-all before audience. That night, the pressure, the crowd and the atmosphere were all forgotten. Davai found a calm headspace that left no room for error. The audience reacted to him like a gasoline bonfire to a match.
Davai became one of the lucky few who ascended the ranks at Northside. He built success on success and started playing other New York clubs as well. After a year of work lit by disco balls and flashing lights, he reached the sanctified gates of Pacha. The club is to EDM what Lamborghini is to cars. It attracts the flashiest names and largest acts. The name Pacha adorns clubs spread across continents. From New York to Ibiza to Sydney. Three months after his first Pacha performance, Davai began a tour of America, hitting Miami, Austin and L.A.
The days flew together and successes compounded until the natural next step became a tour across Europe. Stopping at The Ministry, Davai got the chance to play the set he had been fired for two years ago. The same promoters were walking around, sucking value and drugs from anyone they could. Davai doubted that they even recognized him. The moment was triumphant and over quickly. Paris was next and anything that had happened in the past was null and void now.
Touring across Europe proved to be a defining experience in his life. However, after everything that had happened, he still had one outstanding goal to fulfill. A promise that he made himself eighteen months ago. It was time to return to New York.
“So Davai tell me, how is it that you became such a well known DJ?” The reporter asks in Russian.
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in New York. Davai is sitting across from the middle aged reporter, looking at him through a pair of Ray-Bans. The reporter arranged the interview to find out how Mike became one of the very select DJ’s to come from Russia. They are sitting in front of a conspicuously expensive cafe in Chelsea. It’s a five minute walk from Mike’s 18th story apartment. From his floor to ceiling windows he can look out over Chelsea and across the river to Hoboken.
Walking across his living room, he can survey half a dozen clubs that he’s played on his rise up. In four short years, Davai has fulfilled his two largest dreams. However, he continues on. He has new ideas and goals that nobody is aware of yet. Time will decide if he’s capable of accomplishing them.
As he blows on his coffee to cool it down, Davai reflects on a lifetime of good decisions. He considers the question for a moment, before beginning the interview with a reflective intonation,
“One night, in a bedroom in Moscow, I decided that I wanted to be a famous DJ.”