Warning: there’s some strong language in this one.
“Yo, DJ!” The call rang out from the door of my makeshift office. “New track in for ya!”
I winced internally at the sound of that grating, obnoxious voice. Titian, the club’s manager, sounded like someone had shoved a harmonica up his ass. The joke being, of course, that he only talked out his ass. The hushed rumor around the club was that he had blown out his nasal passages from all the blow, back in the day, and that horrible nasal overtone came from his ruined respiratory passages.
All that was before my time, though, and all I knew is that I hated the guy. He treated me with the slightest modicum of respect, since I could drive out the patrons with a badly picked song or two, but he was merciless on the waitstaff. The female bartenders and waitresses complained regularly about him whenever he was out of earshot. But here he was, leaning against the frame of the modified closet that had been turned into my workspace, waving a CD in the air.
“What’s this one?” I asked. “Nicki Minaj? David Guetta?” It had to be some big-name club beat producer, paying us to blast the song at least eight times a night, boost the promotion. Nothing else would have Titian so excited.
Titian shook his head, the long, unnaturally straight blonde hair waving back and forth. “Nope, some new label, out of South Beach. ‘Destructus’, I think he said. His money’s as green as anyone else’s, though, so we don’t discriminate!” He tossed the disc at my head.
My hands were tangled up in the cords of my computer, laptop, and sound controls, but I managed to awkwardly field the projectile. Titian smirked at me as he walked away. Asshole. Who decides to call himself something like Titian anyway?
I looked sourly down at the disc now in my lap. I hated when we were given club tracks that we had to promote. I might not be allowed to talk about selling out or integrity, with my high school GED so proudly displayed in my bedroom at home under my bed, but I had always had a feel for good music. Back in high school, I had thrown together all the mixes for the popular kids’ parties, the rich kids’ parties, so they’d let me in. Pretty soon, it came to be a thing. If you were throwing a party, you had to get Alex to do the music, otherwise no one would bother showing up. And with the dance clubs just a few blocks away, it wasn’t long until one of those mixes I did fell into the hands of a club owner.
I popped the disc into the reader, cued up the first few seconds of the song. A synthesized voice broke in over the opening beat. “We’re going to tear the roof off!” it cried with computer-manufactured enthusiasm. I rolled my eyes and killed the track. This was amateur hour. Some idiot with an expensive synthesizer and a rich daddy had decided that they wanted to become the next music star, and daddy, if you don’t give it to me I won’t be happy, daddy, I’m going to scream, daddy, I want it, get it for me, you have to buy it for me, daddy, please, daddy, I want it.
Despite this, though, I knew better than to cross Titian’s desires openly, especially when it came to club profits. That was one area where anybody was replaceable. We could screw around as much as we wanted, as long as we didn’t hurt that bottom line. I flipped the case over. The sticky note on the back said “5X AT LEAST” in Titian’s childish block scrawl.
Man, when they first hired me, I thought it was the best job in the world. They were talking about paying me thousands of dollars! Thousands! For a kid growing up with tattered clothes and hand-me-downs, this was wealth. I hadn’t hesitated in dropping out of school, throwing away the Cs and Ds in favor of a pair of oversized headphones and a snazzy new computer, one that could handle a thousand tracks and splice them all together. The first year had lived up to all my expectations, but then the shine had started to wear off, and I realized just for what I’d sold my soul.
I saw a few slots in my current lineup for the evening where I could slip the song in. Places just after a heavy hitter, a big song that everyone knew, one that even the rich older dudes who were just there to keep a jealous eye on their younger gold-digging pieces of ass would recognize, ones that had such a strong bass beat that even the totally untalented white boys could grind their junk back and forth to it. After those songs finished, it didn’t matter what came on next, everyone needed a break anyway. And those breaks were important. The DJs that thought they had to keep the energy at 10 for the whole night never lasted long. That’s not what people want.
With the damnable “Tear the Roof Off” worked into my tracklist, I had the list set for the evening. I threw the top down on my computer and headed out to find some food before my shift started.
Strolling out into the club before it heated up was always such a striking image. The walls, normally shrouded in darkness and lit by colored spotlights from above during the night, were dingy and stained during the day. The benches looked utilitarian, the bar looked burned-out and overexposed, and the gleaming chrome on the rails looked fake and shabby in the fading sunlight pouring in through the skylights. The place was probably a metaphor for my life, I thought sourly, although how that works exactly I couldn’t tell you with a gun to my head.
Flash forward to a couple hours later, as the club was starting to heat up. Sure, I could go back over how I got a burrito from one of the carts, shot the shit for a while with one of the newer bartenders at the club next block over, but that doesn’t matter. It’s just filler, just passing the time until work, until I’m off, until I’m back at work, and so on for the rest of my life, or until I got too old to do it any more. I don’t know what I’ll do then.
I was up at my booth, nodding my head in time to the beats, my insulated headphones blocking out the rumble of the club, streaming pure music into my head. I have to admit, there’s a rush that comes with the booth. Watching everyone down below me gyrating to my beats, seeing them speed up as I cranked up the speed, nodding in time with the sea of hands and heads, knowing that they were all moving to the sounds coming from the electronics below my hands… It’s a rush. Right now, Rihanna was pumping out from my booth at a hundred and forty decibels, drowning out any effort at conscious thought. All that was left in the bodies below me was an animalistic hunger, an addiction that brought them back night after night. This was my tribe.
Rihanna was coming to an end; after thousands of plays, I know every beat in the song. Up next was this new track, and I began to crank down the beat slightly to adjust. Had to make the transitions smooth. That synthesized voice broke in once more: “We’re going to tear the roof off!”, and the new track’s beat took over. Whoever this Destructus is, they at least had the decency to pick up a top-of-the-line system, I noted. That wasn’t the standard beat churned out by every aftermarket synthesizer. It was shining through, well picked for the high-power club speakers, and was really making the club shake. Maybe this wasn’t such a bad song after all.
And that, of course, is when it all went to hell.