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ARTICLE
I’ve been asked many times how I started my career as a professional DJ, but the question of why I stopped is one that rarely comes up in conversation. I don’t tell the story too often but thought the time was right to share it in Pro Mobile, as I’m sure many of you will be able to relate with similar experiences of your own.

During the 1990s I was working as a full-time DJ for a large agency who filled my diary every week with events across the UK. I loved my job, I had a passion for what I was doing, and couldn’t wait to load my van and get to the next gig. The music was great and I would look forward to each event with the same enthusiasm I’d had when I first became a professional DJ in the 1980s. But when it came to New Year’s Eve 1999, it was the first time in 10 years that I wasn’t working it!
This unexpected night off was due to some DJs at the agency wanting higher fees, part of the increase in ticket costs and supplier fees that resulted from the media hype surrounding the Millenium. I wasn’t bothered about demanding a higher fee, but decided to stand aside and let another DJ take over my gig. (Some of you may remember that instead of increased demand from the public, the high prices meant punters chose to stay home and host their own parties.)

I remember being quite relieved I wasn’t working the Millenium. At the peak of my DJ career I was working six nights a week. In the beginning I was having the time of my life, earning good money and meeting lots of different people. But as the 80s ended and the 90s began, I started to sense a slight change in how audiences consumed the music I was playing. Music trends were changing and so were people’s attitudes both on and off the dancefloor.

So although I started 2000 in the same way I had ended the previous year – with a full diary and a healthy bank account – there was definitely something niggling away at me. Something just wasn’t quite right.
With each subsequent event, I could feel my passion dwindling. And it became clear it this change of heart was down to one thing: the guests. Or to be more specific, a certain type of guest. I’m sure these guests were around throughout my DJ career, but I was probably having too much fun to notice. If you enjoy your job, you see things through rose-tinted glasses – but slowly the cracks were starting to appear.

The music that year was a strange mix that included loads of instantly forgettable throwaway pop tracks from the likes of S Club 7, Kylie Minogue, Britney Spears and Ronan Keating. There were some good dance tracks to relieve the tedium, but it was becoming increasingly difficult for me to rekindle the party atmosphere I could easily achieve in the 80s and 90s. Audiences didn’t seem to react to traditional party tracks as much as they used to and the current songs couldn’t hit the mark in the same way, despite being the music most of my clients were requesting. Music had changed, audiences had changed, and so had something else – me!

Whilst performing at a wedding in the summer of 2000, the dancefloor was packed and I had managed to create a decent atmosphere given the music tools I had. The music was mainly current hits of the day and one of the big tracks at that time was ‘Dancing In The Moonlight’ by Toploader. There were over 300 people in the audience but one guest decided that the song wasn’t for them and promptly stood directly in front of my booth, arms folded and shaking their head whilst mouthing their disproval. From that moment I was fixated on that person and their actions. I

spent the rest of the night trying to blank it from my mind but no matter where I looked in the room they were there. It was like a real-life version of ‘Where’s Wally’ but rather than the character being hidden amongst the many others, they were in plain sight wherever I looked. I felt like they were judging me on everything else I played that night, ready to pounce.

When I look back now, I realise two things happened that night. Firstly, I was falling out of love with my job as a DJ. Secondly, I had witnessed an early incarnation of the kind of over-demanding, entitled customer who gave birth to the term ‘Karen’.
This idea of ‘The Karen’ – and by using this term I’m referring to the male and female equivalents of this particular class of client – would go on to haunt me, and my DJ work was never the same again.

A few weeks later I was at the very same venue that first introduced me to The Karen. And guess what? It was back – and this time it had brought a friend. The night started well with the crowd dancing to every song I played and The Karen and its friend making a point of coming up to my booth to congratulate me on my music choices, informing me that I was “the best DJ ever” and offering more songs for me to play, which I duly obliged. After 30 minutes, I changed the music style so other guests could enjoy their own requests and that’s when things started to go wrong – very wrong! Before I had time to load up the next song, I was aware of a presence in front of the DJ booth. I raised my head slowly and there it was: The Karen.

This was the same person who for 30 minutes had fawned over my DJing skills, but as soon as I dared play something they didn’t like, they were there in front of the booth, ready to jump me like a bad-tempered ninja. At first the comments were mild but with each displeasing song the comments grew in severity.

As well as having to deal with this distraction, I had also been handed 10 envelopes of cash to hand out to guests as spot prizes. So there I was, trying my best to remain upbeat and happy, but if truth be told I wasn’t in a good place. My shoulders went down, my face dropped and time seemed to stand still. Everyone was having a great time, apart from me and The Karen.

With only 30 minutes left two women came to my booth and requested the 80s classic ‘It’s Raining Men’. Before they left the stage, they asked me if I was alright, as they’d both noticed I wasn’t looking as happy as I did at the start of the evening. I explained the story to them and mentioned The Karen. They assured me that I didn’t need to worry, as everyone was having a great time and that I was doing a fantastic job. “Well, wasn’t that nice of them to say,” I remember thinking. All before one of the women left the stage, walked over to The Karen and punched it firmly between the eyes. The beast was tamed.
Whilst, looking back, I do not condone the violence that night, I do remember those words of encouragement gave me a massive boost and got me to the end of the event (and in return, I may well have given those women the last two envelopes of cash…).

I breathed a sigh of relief that the event was over. But the night was to take another turn, as the organiser came up to ask if I had given out all the envelopes. I confirmed that I had and explained about the last two envelopes. “Right,” came the one-word reply. It was delivered in a long, drawn-out drawl with an accusatory feel to it. So not only had I had to endure the wrath of The Karen, but now I was being accused of stealing. That was it; the moment that tipped me over the edge. The next day I called up the agency and informed them that I was quitting with immediate effect.

Whilst I had stopped working for the agency, I decided to continue performing at selected events – but these were few and far between and only for people I knew. I was completely selective about the events I agreed to. Things stayed this way for over 14 years.

But when I was approached by an agency in France offering me a string of events that I just couldn’t turn down, things changed...


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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 123, Pages 40-44.
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