Un Dos Tres, Macarena, CocoJumbo, Barbie Girl, Samba De Janeiro, Don’t Stop Move It Baby, No Limit, Mata Oh Ah Eh, I’m Too Sexy For My Love, Tic Tic Tac…..
There was a time when these numbers ruled the charts. Coincidentally, there was a time when I was a part-time DJ, partly responsible for making all that trash popular. Ok, not all of it was trash. Agreed that it’s not Dylan or Floyd, but you can’t make funny faces at each other and do some weirdo moves listening to them.
Downtown Pub needed a Dj. I wanted money. This simple equation started a relationship between us, and I stepped behind the console, with no consolation after that. It sounds cool, DJ and all, but the truth is far from it. Lemme just explain the fate of a DJ specially if he’s spinning at a pub, and not a club.
Firstly, the timings. 7pm to 12 midnight, seven days a week. One day off a month, and it cannot be a Wednesday, Friday, Saturday or a Sunday.
The pay is not even worth mentioning. But I stuck on for one year, because I loved it as much as I hated it.
“No Fusion. No Trance. No Heavy Metal. No Lounge. And most importantly No Indian, that includes everything Bollywood, Regional, Indi-Pop, Indi Rock, Indi-whatever even if it is UK Bhangra….ok…Apache is OK. (He is the only Indian who managed a license at Downtown). No personal favorites. Try and play as many requests as you can. Your job is to keep as many people happy as possible. But hello, as long as it doesn’t include any of the above.” said the manager who resembled a badly maintained mafia don. He even had the necessary make up for the effect – a black blazer, a hat and a long scar across his chin.
I had done a small research on the man, and had found out that he was the owner’s blue eyed boy, a privilege he had earned by giving a few black eyes to many scoundrels who had messed around with the decorum of this den.
He started off as a bouncer. And after a few bashings, he had bounced back in the role of a manager. And was given a free hand to deal with his staff, just like the way he had dealt with the hundred odd drunkards who had earned him this promotion.
“OK. That sounds cool.” I said taking my offer letter.
“And listen. Dont’ fuck around. I’m mostly good. But when I’m bad, I just don’t care. Break the rules, and I won’t mind breaking your bones.” He said adjusting the buttons of his formal shirt that were bursting at the seams. He gave me a wicked grin, like he was impatient to show me the side of his, I never wanted to see.
“No don’t worry” I said mentally picturing myself screaming for help like a stuck record.
“No drinking. No taking breaks during your time. Not even for dinner. Dinner is only after the pub closes. And listen buddy, if the music stops even for a few seconds in between, don’t bother coming back.”
“No don’t worry” I repeated, not risking any new lines.
“We have all the titles with us. And any new music you want….just give me a list every month, and we’ll arrange them for you. About 5-6 Cds a month is all you’ll get….” he added.
“What if I need more?” I said, trying to make it sound like I wouldn’t need more than two new cds a year.
“We are running a business. Not starting a music library, so stay within that limit. If you want more, bloody well buy them yourself.” He said losing his patience. And thought to himself, that a sample demonstration of his personality would help in cutting this conversation short, and spare him from any other silly doubts that I may have.
He suddenly bellowed at a security guard of the pub who was passing by…….’thevidiyaa…….vaada inge’….
He stormed out of his cabin, caught him by his arm and shook him to pieces. The previous night, he had noticed the guard leniently allow a customer of the opposite pub to park over here. He warned him in the choicest tamil slang as loudly as he could.
“Anything else” he asked, returning victoriously from the ring.
“No. I’ve understood it all.” I said studying his giant profile from close quarters.
“Ok. You start tomorrow. And don’t be late. Unlike other pubs, this one starts filling up the minute we open.” He said slipping out a whistle through the wide gap between his front teeth.
Downtown was one of the earliest pubs in the city. It was distinct because it had two professional snooker tables. And pretty well maintained ones, complete with dedicated marksmen. It also had one separate sound proof glass cabin dedicated to snooty groups where they could unbelong and have their own private conversations. These perks particularly attracted a lot of white skinned folks. Since, they already had a loyal crowd, the reliance on music to increase the population was comparatively lesser. So, the idea was to not change anything and let it remain as neutral as it can get. And my job was to make sure that I keep my contribution to the minimum.
But it was only about 30% of the the crowd who were the loyalists. 70% still remained a floating population of new faces, who came with assorted expectations, which provoked me to disturb this peaceful balance.
The manager had enough experience in this field. He knew that music was a necessary evil in the business. He also knew if this evil is not monitored, the crowd could go out of control. And he had little faith in his staff to handle that situation. So he had taken it upon himself to keep a strict vigil on the excitement level of the boozers. He’d constantly police up and down, and If he noticed someone shaking their head a little too much, he’d send a messenger asking me to change the track. And keep making me change it, till that head banger got his head back, steady on the shoulders.
And in case of emergency, he had identified a killjoy track, that had a special corner in the CD rack.
“Unforgettable’ by Nat King Cole.
This track was tested and proven to not have any unwanted side effects. It never failed in dropping the energy level to zero in a record four seconds. So it was used in cases when more than two tables echoed together….”Alice…Who the fuck is Alice” CUT TO “Unforgettable…….that’s what you are….” OR “It’s my life….it’s now or never…..Unforgettable…that’s what you are…”
He’d do this so discreetly and vanish from the scene, leaving me as the face of the music. So I’ve seen hundreds of pissed drunkards walking out, glaring at me with vengeance in their eyes, and leaving the music to complete the communication…….. ‘Unforgettable….that’s what you are.’
A drunk walked up to me swaggering and slurred…
‘Hey buddy….can u play….key to yorkshire.”
“I haven’t heard that.”
‘What the heck….you played it a few days back…’
“No. I did not. How does it go?”
“Key to yorkshire…key to yorkshire…key to yokshire…key to…. york…hic…shire….”
“Ok. You mean…..Free from desire.”
“Yeah man..hic..same shit. Play that ok….thanks. I’m on my last drink….so please play it fast….hic… buddy.”
‘Free from desire’ had this infectious energy that kind of got most of them to stand up and shake their heads. I was fearing that Mr. Nat King might be called upon again to save the situation. But the crowd seemed within the approved limits.
The party picked up again.
“When a man loves a woman by Michael Bolton” read the paper napkin before me. A request I was trying to avoid from a long time.
I was playing happy popular numbers, the crowd was having a good time. I didn’t want Michael Bolton to poke his piercing nose and voice into this mood. I flung the napkin to one corner and was busy cuing the next dinchak number.
“Dude. I just placed a request.” I heard a desperate squeaky voice. A young chap with pink chapstick, armed with a duplicate copy of his napkin.
“Ya. I got that. But maybe a little later….the mood doesn’t seem right.’ I said trying to look busy.
“Dude. Please…..please….please…..play this for me man. See there, that’s my girl.’ He said pointing to a chick in a red gown, who was one step away from falling in love, looking dreamily at an empty chair before her.
“I’m just gonna propose to her. I need this song man….I need it… like now.” He said fingering a red envelope in his jacket pocket.
I felt responsible for this union, and had to give in.
“Saturday Night…..Saturday night..”………..fade out….
….pierce in…..’When a man loves a woman….” blared a constipated cupid, bringing together two lovers at a far off end.
Bolton continued shattering the window panes…
“When a man loves a woman
Can’t keep his mind on nothing else
He’d trade the world
For a good thing he’s found”
The meaning then pierced through a section of the crowd.
In a choreographed fashion, they cleared the bill and trooped out.
To be contd….