With my records unceremoniously deposited in a plastic shopping bag, I arrived at the designated stretch of beach along the Thames where the gig was taking place. The tide was out and the beach was packed with people. Dotting the sand were bonfires, lit in big oil drums. Their glow created an intimate atmosphere. Even though the rave had only just begun, Laila was already rocking it – the revellers danced feverishly, lost in the music. My nerves immediately returned. How could I compete with this? Laila was in a completely different league. I’ll never be as good as that, I thought, downhearted.
As I made my way towards the DJ booth I spotted Toby. I smiled at him, but he looked straight past me. That’s strange, I thought. Had I said or done something to offend him? With growing concern that something might have happened, I waved and now he looked at me, but his face didn’t register recognition. Slowly, I could see realisation dawn on him – and then a smile broke.
‘Hey! You look…’ He was momentarily lost for words. ‘Amazing, really amazing.’
He couldn’t take his eyes off me, which I secretly enjoyed. It was the first time I’d notice him look at me in that way. His eyes travelled to the carrier bag holding the records.
‘Nice record bag,’ he laughed, then led me through the rave.
Now that I was walking among the dancers I allowed their energy to take hold of me. Smiling, I looked all around me. At one end of the beach I noticed fire-throwers performing, juggling several batons on fire and then swallowing the flame before roaring it back out, to everyone’s delight. It was beyond doubt the coolest thing I’d ever seen. We were now close to the DJ booth. Laila nodded to us as we approached, concentrating on queuing up the next record.
‘See how she did that cross fade?’ Toby leaned into me and spoke into my ear. Once again I could smell his aftershave. I closed my eyes for a second, inhaling the scent.
I nodded and paid close attention to Laila. I was here to learn, first and foremost. I then spent most of the night close to Laila, studying her tricks and noting every mood change. I had forgotten all about my jealousy. All I felt was awe. Laila was amazing in action. I could only dream of being as good as her one day.
Every now and then I strode across the beach to pick up on the vibe among the ravers and to do a bit of dancing myself. At around four in the morning the crowd was starting to disperse a bit. Some of the ravers were sitting on the edge of the beach, or strolling along it, taking a break from the dancing. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to see Toby.
Even though I knew this moment was nearing, I still felt complete panic. My knees buckled and, for a second, I thought I would faint. My palms became sweaty and my mouth dried up. Then my heart started to beat so fast I felt as though everyone could see my palpitations.
‘There’s nothing to be worried about. You’ve got the technique, so now let the music flow through you – think of yourself as channelling the energy. Relax and open yourself up to the crowd,’ Toby instructed.
I proceeded towards the decks and nervously waited for Laila to take the headphones off and hand them over. I was hoping for some kind of a truce and wanted her to say something nice to me by way of encouragement. Instead, she just looked at Toby and told him he was completely nuts. That was definitely not a vote of confidence from Laila. This nasty comment put me on edge, whereas up until that point all I had felt was the positive energy of the rave. Laila’s remark was so uncalled for that I hoped Toby would come to my defence, telling her off; instead, he ignored her and parked himself close to the booth to be on hand should I need him. This was the moment I needed a pep talk, yet Toby said nothing. But I didn’t have a chance to ask for any reassurance, as the music had to continue – the show had to go on.
Holding the headphones to one ear, I queued up my first record. As Laila’s last record was about to play out, I put my fingers on the mixer. But instead of the mixer, suddenly there was just silence. It felt as loud, if not louder, than the music that had preceded it. Some of the dancers looked towards me. I felt terrible. This was a total cock-up. But I finally managed to bring up the sound and my first record played. I let out a big sigh of relief. The crowd straight away resumed where they had left off, as though there had been no glitch whatsoever. For that, I was grateful to them. In fact, as I looked across the beach, I could see the ravers were really digging my first tune and were getting into the groove of the sound. Some of the dancers that had taken a break now stood up to join in. The energy was building. This was brilliant! And it was all my doing, I thought. Elated, I began to dance, too. I looked at Toby, who put his thumbs up in approval. It was magical.
But then I remembered – I hadn’t got the next record at the ready and this song was just about to end. It was a cardinal error, a typical beginner’s gaffe. I desperately searched for the record I had intended to follow up this song, but the records were lying around in disarray, strewn across the booth, out of their cases. In a panic I threw on the next best record I could spot, but in all the confusion, I hadn’t paid attention to the volume button and I brought the volume up far too quickly. The result – both records were playing simultaneously, causing a horrendous cacophony. This was turning into a nightmare. There were a few jeers coming from the beach and then I heard someone shout ‘Ditch the DJ!’
I felt tempted to walk out and leave, but I didn’t. I managed to sort out the volume problem, when another issue arose: the record that was supposed to be on was playing at the wrong speed. By this point, some of the dancers stopped dancing and many whistled their disapproval. I was single-handedly ruining everyone’s night. Oh God. I wished Toby would step in and help me.
I looked up towards Toby and behind him I could see people were beginning to leave. Toby didn’t intervene, but merely indicated the speed button, gesturing that it was too fast. I finally got the right speed going, but the demoralising reality was that most of my audience had gone. I had lost my chance. My first attempt at DJ-ing was officially a disaster.