Hey, Mr. DJ
With more people partying and more youngsters opting to get behind the console, it takes an old hand to get it right
DJ Charlie: ready to embrace new music Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.
WEEKENDS ON Mondays, work that begins as the sun goes down and names for yourself that your parents won't recognise. Welcome to the club life.
The view from behind the DJ console is apparently not as glitzy as the way it looks up front, or so DJ Charlie would have us believe. "Those who get into this profession for the glamour quickly quit. It's still an alternate profession," he points out.
A professional DJ since 1996, DJ Charlie's first break came at a nightclub in Hong Kong, and since then, he's played at every club worth its name in Chennai and is now the resident DJ at The Park hotel.
Originally trained to be in the hotel management industry, DJ Charlie managed a hotel in Chennai before moving to Hong Kong. Being social and outgoing, he partied a lot there, frequenting Some Place Else. He became friends with the DJ there and they often jammed together on holidays. "One night, he casually asked me to take over while he got himself a drink," DJ Charlie remembers. That night was one he will never forget, placing him in front of a raging crowd at a large club. It became a pivotal event in his career. Since then, the "excitement just grew", he says.
But that one night didn't just come from nowhere. "I was always very social, and really into music," says DJ Charlie. His family listened to music all the time and he grew up with retro and jazz influences. "The kind of jazz I listened to had huge baselines, and even today a lot of the funky house stuff I play has elements of jazz," he says.
When he was in high school, his friends would invite him to a party and asked him to bring some music from his already huge collection.
Soon at every party, he would spend the evening playing his tapes there were no CDs then. "All we knew about CDs was that they were made of some reflective material and they played music," he laughs. Then in 1991, his sister brought him his first CD and he gradually slid into a more professional league.
On returning to Chennai after his stint in a restaurant in Hong Kong, he continued in the same line till he found he had no time to socialise, so he promptly called his boss and quit.
From then, on his own, DJ Charlie played for clubs in stints and worked on his own for private parties. While playing at a club, he spins house, tribal and progressive music and can experiment with new sounds. "I get all my energy and excitement from the crowd and I transfer it back to them through my music, it's like an art form. When I do my stuff I don't replicate what I've heard on TV and radio, but do new stuff."
Partygoers are getting more experimental with their music and more open to new sounds as party culture catches on, says DJ Charlie. He points out that with people working harder and longer, they also want to unwind longer.
While some people say the very purpose of a DJ is to play what crowds want, DJ Charlie prefers to develop a balance between "his" music and popular crowd favourites. "My music is different and I have to create a market for it," he explains. "With house and tribal music, people aren't going to recognise the number with the first beat and start singing, so you have to make sure it slowly grows on them."
Catch 22 situation
When the crowds don't want his music, he goes back to what they know. "It's a Catch 22 situation," says DJ Charlie. "If the DJ isn't happy, the crowds won't get moving and if the crowd isn't great, the DJ isn't happy. So you have to balance things out and find the groove, then you can start moving out a bit and play your own stuff, but if they are uncomfortable you have to move back to familiar ground. It's like a mental conversation and you can gauge their thoughts from their body language."
He doesn't find the long hours exhausting because DJing "is a passion... and when you have crazy passions they don't tire you!"
He meets his friends before he begins work every night, or on Mondays, his off day.
Moving from behind the turntables to play organiser, DJ Charlie has "underground" nights, to popularise that form of music and hopes to soon start producing his own music. DJ Charlie can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org
Daily bread is a weekly column that features people who've chosen offbeat professions. Our guest list has included the likes of scuba divers, perfume makers and suave farmers.
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