The Seven Ages of Your DJing Life
From awkward adolescence through to early retirement, here's how every DJ's time on earth pans out.
Clever lot the ancient Greeks. In addition to odometers, alarm clocks, and the Olympics, the toga-wearing big dogs of early civilization bestowed upon us the concept of the Seven Ages of Man. Thanks lads. Another bloke we could do well with thanking is William Shakespeare, the noted playwright and earring aficionado, who dropped his now-infamous "All the world's a stage," skit during the course of As You Like It. In that play, Shakespeare snips life into seven distinct stages: infant, schoolboy, lover, soldier, justice, Pantalone and old age. No, we've no clue as to what a "Pantalone" is, other than being a bastard son of that Kornvel Kovacs song from a few years back. That concept is one that's been bent to apply to other facets of life as lived, from grief to childhood itself. It seeks to create and sustain a kind of commonality, a universality, in the vast web of complexities that is life. It even, incredibly and handily, can be applied to DJs too. What luck!
Although DJing is a relatively new profession—with the job only really becoming available in the 1970s—scientists now estimate that there are now more DJs than atoms in the observable universe. Now that just over 40 years have elapsed since everyone and his pet gerbil decided that the best way to make a living was to play old Chris Rea records in Stoke Newington gastropubs, we can finally begin to formally trace the career arc of the club DJ, and start to define the Seven Ages of DJing.
In this day and age, children often emerge from the womb to ask the midwife when Peggy Gou's set starts. They want the glitz and the glamour of DJ life even if they'd have a pretty rudimental understanding of what to actually do with a DJM-900NXS2. At this point they think it seems like a pretty sick thing to do, and despite a lack of technique, bookings, or an ability to coordinate themselves in any reasonable manner, they've already planned how they'll spend the first paycheck from their Phonox residency. The spark is there though, and soon it'll kindle whichever music the aspiring infant slides down his or her gullet - like so much cod, potato, and carrot mush. Any DJ that tells you they were listening to their older brother's Underground Resistance 12"s at the time their peers were gorging on the collected works of Mr Tumble is a fucking liar. Nevertheless, they'll soon work out that all music is palatable to pissed people if it's played at the right volume, so they're halfway there to DJing superstardom. Next stage, please!
For most, childhood is a stage characterised by play and pedagogy. Innocence and wonder go hand in hand through woods and classrooms alike, and the DJ's experience is no different. One moment they might find themselves frantically flipping between YouTube tabs on mum's iPad for a laugh. The next thing they know they'll be stood right behind the mobile selector at the end of term disco, realising that they'd much rather be back there than skidding through their school trousers with their mates. And let's not forget piano lessons. Honestly, pretty much every DJ biography ever half-written on the back of a technical rider at a Romanian festival will tell you that said selector got to about Grade 8. Oh, and they'll probably have a parent who worked in the music industry. "My dad was a session drummer so there was always music in the house and musicians around taking heroin and stealing anything not nailed down", that kind of thing.
The average teenager suffers a few years of violent mood swings, wasted opportunities, and hauntingly poor life decisions; for others, it's really bad. Some even take recourse to become goths. Teenagers are, if nothing else, adept at experimentation, constantly searching for who they are, and how they can differentiate themselves from previous generations, all of whom are deeply, deeply uncool, obviously. For the teenage DJ, this means trying to pretend that anything that sounds new also sounds good, primarily because it isn't old music, even if this new music is obviously not as good as the old music.
At this stage, there's the possibility of securing a gig. Whether it's a Spotify session at a house party they were very lucky to be invited to at all, or a warm-up set to an empty, mildew-stinking set at Yurtfest, a ska all-dayer run by their uncle's best mate, the teenage DJ will be at pains to tell everyone how "blessed" they are by the experience, and how "humbling" it is to play good music to good people.
4. Young Adulthood
The DJ at the Young Adult stage has outgrown their teenage awkwardness and is no longer doused in a cocktail of David Beckham Instinct eau de cologne and Clearasil, or playing Bob Marley progressive house bootlegs—there has been maturation. No longer a gauche, gawky teenager, the Young Adult DJ is in control. Like a lady in a shampoo ad, the young adult DJ knows what they want from life, and they're going to get it, with extra body and shine.
If a DJ has made it this far then they can probably correctly pronounce Berghain, and have survived the hormonal trials of adolescence, which in DJ terms means that they're no longer prone to play wildly mismatched tunes, and way less likely to tit it all up and run home from a gig in tears.
DJs at the Young Adult stage are full of energy: they can stay up for an entire weekends, hurtling through clubs, raves, bars, greenhouses, eating up everything the world has to offer, then come home and have a nice bath, a quick dose of Downtown Abbey and a Valium, and come up smiling on Monday morning. Young adults are indestructible and ideally suited to the DJ lifestyle.
If they've not fucked it off by now in favour of a nice stable job as a systems analyst, the bona fide adult DJ is probably getting regular gigs at venues where the crowd's reached double digits and at least one of the CDJs has been spared the ignominy of death-by-spilled-Tizer. They might, if they've played their cards right, be paid in actual money. Some of them even get to play the third stage at minor European festivals sponsored by ice cream manufacturers, which is great because they can post a photo of an Estonian sunset with the correct branded hashtag to let everyone know that, yes, they are an actual DJ.
Adult DJs have the confidence to branch out of their usual genre, and often briefly consider becoming a vinyl-only Balearic rarities DJ, although most realise that this sounds like quite a ball ache so generally opt for something easier.
This is the stage when DJs start to realise that formats really aren't that important and begin to concentrate on more serious matters like how black their t-shirt is. Perhaps the clearest distinction between Adult DJs and those younger is that Adult DJs are no longer arguing about formats. That really is the defining factor: if you're still arguing about formats, you're not an adult.
Play your final gig, get those decks up in the loft, try to sell your old vinyl and realise that no one wants it, and settle down into a non-DJ life. DJs at retirement age actually rarely get to play a final gig. More often, their careers simply ebb away and that poorly attended windy afternoon gig on the terrace at a local hotel as a favour for a mate turned out to be their last ever DJ appearance. Sad!
Some continue to live the industry dream by retraining to teach sullen, skunked-out teenagers how to warp 80s pop hits in Ableton. Others accept their fate and restrict their reminiscences to the occasional wedding they attend, where after a couple of pints, they'll attempt a conversation with the wedding DJ about gigs, decks, sets, punters, tunes, anything DJ related. There are innumerable unfolding tragedies in the world, and we will no doubt see many hopes and dreams crash and burn in the course of a lifetime, but there is a particular, visceral pathos to the sight of an ex-DJ at a wedding gazing wistfully at a laptop playing Rihanna.
Retired DJs may still keep 'up to date' by listening to BBC 1Xtra whilst doing the washing up and regrouting the bathroom, and by watching #Grime4Corbyn on Facebook.
7. Elderly Life
Content now to simply reminisce, the truly Elderly DJ is free to dismiss every new trend, drug, dance, club, producer and genre, as clearly inferior to whatever it was they had back in the day. Elderly DJs are not required by law to use the expression 'back in the day' whenever referring to their past DJ career, but it is encouraged. They might occasionally mention rotary mixers, or briefly refer to the 'Post-tropical, yeah?' period of their career, but essentially, it's over.
It may seem daunting, the inexorable march to the grave, with nothing but frail old age and death to look forward to; just another unneeded pair of headphones left to gather dust in the fading sunlight on life's windowsill. For Shakespeare, the Elderly stage is, of course, the "Last scene of all, That ends this strange eventful history", but he draws an image of old age which is actually a lot closer to a life of nightclubbing than one might expect. For him, the Elderly stage "is second childishness and mere oblivion" - which actually sounds pretty much exactly what it was like when I first started raving—that's an ending I can cope with.