accidental DJ debut: ain’t nobody here but us chickens

It happens – a car breaks down, someone runs late, or someone forgets a power cord. For whatever reason, the scheduled DJ doesn’t show up. Tonight, at Hotjam, it was a bit of miscommunication: both DJs assumed they were doing the second set. As such, neither had shown up by 8:45, well into what was supposed to be the beginner’s lesson. The lesson had started late, so I didn’t think anything of it…but as more and more people showed up, I realized we had a problem.

See, the deal is this: tonight, due to rare circumstances, neither Michelle nor Nima could run Hot Jam tonight. Michelle called me at about 4pm and asked me if I would be able to step in – since I attend every week, and I’d offered to assist if they ever needed help, I was ready to jump in and keep things going smoothly. Seeing as HJ is well-established, I didn’t really plan for any problems. My mistake.

Problem #1: I did not plan for there to be no DJ.

As luck would have it, I was planning on getting some work done while tending the desk at HJ, and had brought my computer. But here, we run into a few more issues.

#2: I have never DJ’d, and was wary to try.

#3: I recently lost all the music on my computer, and own a grand total of 185 songs, of which I have only listened to about 20. The rest, as far as I can determine, is a mish-mash of danceable jazz, neo-swing, and rock-a-billy swing. And I had no way to tell what was what.

So I politely excused myself from the beginner’s lesson, pulled out my computer, and hit play on the Cab Calloway CD – the only thing I knew for sure would be danceable. I figured out the volume controls, turned up the music enough for people to hear but low enough that the beginner’s lesson could wrap up, and went outside to call Nima.

A few phone calls later: it would be at least fifteen minutes before the DJ relief rolled in. Even with my limited song collection, I knew we would manage – I was reasonable enough to understand that it would be (nearly) impossible to kill Hot Jam in the first twenty minutes. I also understood, however, that I needed to pull together a few songs which weren’t by Cab Calloway.

I started pulling everything which was labeled “jazz” with a bpm of 170 or less (thankfully, the friend who gave me this mish-mash of music had bpm’d it all!), and looked for titles and artists that I vaguely recognized. And this is what happened:

“Are You All Reet?” by Cab Calloway – 79 bpm
“Hey Now, Hey Now” by Cab Calloway – 162 bpm
“Everybody Eats When They Come to My House” by Cab Calloway – 76 bpm
“Are You Hep to the Jive” by Cab Calloway  – 77 bpm (I finally sat down and started pulling some different songs)
“Lullaby of Birdland” by Count Basie – 168 bpm
“I’ve Got the World on a String” by Louis Prima – 138 bpm (Note: while the song starts at 138 bpm, it has an awkward part which speeds up significantly…sorry! I didn’t know, haha…)
“Opus One” by Glen Gray – 169 bpm (At this point, I was incredibly excited to see Jim walk in the door!)
“Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” by Louis Jordan – 152 bpm (Sort of in honor of my mother…)
“Banana Split for my Baby” by Louis Prima – 92 bpm

So, while I really only had to DJ five songs, it was still nerve-wracking considering my limited selection, limited knowledge of the selection I had, and limited experience as a DJ. Thankfully, I will be quick to point out, the beginner-intermediate scene in Atlanta is happy to dance to almost anything, as long as it doesn’t have a funky intro and the beat is relatively easy to find. And luckily, all the songs I pulled (mostly) fell into that category.

I’m not sure I’ll ever pursue DJ’ing. But I won’t lie – when people finally stopped talking after the lesson was over and I turned the music up on “Are You Hep to the Jive,” I got a little rush – every single person was dancing. (Except for the one guy who couldn’t find a dance partner, since the lead-follow ratio was off.) And though I was pretty focused on trying to find the names of songs I recognized, I still looked up to make sure they kept dancing. And it made me happy to find that they did.

And yes, Tonia. I posted this list for you.

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2 thoughts on “accidental DJ debut: ain’t nobody here but us chickens

  1. Hey, now, that’s how I started DJing at HotJam. The DJ didn’t show up, and when the DJ did show up, the DJ shrugged and said, “you’re doing okay; just keep going.” (Granted, I’d been DJing for something like four months at this time – I just thought HotJam counted as the “big leagues.” I still practically hyperventilated when I DJed with Jesse for the first time, and it was my “official” HotJam debut.)

    I post my DJ sets because I have a terrible tendency of deleting them every time I reorganize music, and it’s nice to see how I got myself out of trouble spots and what music I’ve “retired” but really enjoy and whatnot.

    Congrats! I would never be worried about you DJing because you’re not one of those people who thinks all you have to do is turn on shuffle, and those are the people who scare me.

  2. Pingback: dance posts: reference / archive | The Lindy Affair

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