“Baby your mind is a radio
Got a receiver inside my head
Baby I’m tuned to your wavelength
Lemme tell you what it says:
Oh! Picking up something good
Hey, radio head!
The sound…of a brand-new world”
-Talking Heads, ‘Radio Head’
There is a thing every good deejay understands: putting together a great mix of music is far more than just banging together some crowd-pleasing tunes. Like all worthwhile human endeavours, from architecture to cookery, basketball to astrophysics, the act itself is a combination of two dynamic, interdependent aspects of human invention: technique and inspiration; a little magic, a little science. Music, like all art, all engineering, all the endless products of humanity, is the freezing of ideas, dreams, desires into physical, sensual formations.
Everything about bringing together a perfect set of music is a delicate balancing act. Try too hard to pander to the tastes of the crowd, and it becomes just pale, trendy, forgettable. Make it too personal and idiosyncratic, and it becomes an act of alienating, self-indulgent wankery. If it’s too carefully curated, it can lack the sense of being spontaneous and inspired, not in and of the moment. Over improvisation, though, can devolve into messiness, desperation, chaos. Perhaps few deejays consciously register this, but I think most of the ones who are worth their salt know it instinctively in some sense.
By virtue of this understanding, a master mixologist can create a tray of luminous aural cocktails, served up on trays of glowing wax. The nightclub air is a blender, and she’s pouring in some deep house, some fado, some acid jazz, some trip hop, some Eurodance. Sade, Massive Attack, Tom Jones, David Bowie, Serge Gainsbourg, Frank Sinatra, Daft Punk, Nine Inch Nails. Oh, she’s getting cheeky now, not measuring at all, just doing it by feel, and it’s turning out right.
Do it up proper, and she can consistently craft a memorable evening. Every once in a while, though, perhaps only a handful of nights in any given lifetime, it can become way more than that; a wild party of the soul. On those nights, the crowd is surging, the crowd is pulsing. It’s the perfect mix of dancers: friends and lovers, poets and gypsies, boujee bohemians and charming rascals, their eyes filled with light and their hair filled with glitter. Every one of the dancers is caught up in the sorcery of this deejay now, their bodies alive with pleasure, their movements liquid and inspired.
On such a night as this, music is not just music, it is the very essence of life. Have you ever felt it? It’s as if there is a wondrous manifestation of universal joy in the air, delicate and translucent as some vast astral jellyfish, drifting in a crystalline solution of emotions and coloured lights, its long, wavering tendrils delicately brushing against the hearts and minds of everyone there. On such a night as this, when a deejay is in her rarified, metaphysical realm, it hardly matters what she plays: disco, funk, free jazz, madrigals, an experimental sonata for thirteen harps and a clavinet. It is all the music of the spheres, and every note of it nourishes and replenishes the sweet marrow of the soul, as we obey its beat, and follow it home. On such a night as this, we recall the reason we were born.