"I am the DJ, I am what I play..." - Bowie. Duh.
I've been a DJ since about 1991. For 10 years, from '91-'01, I DJed at the best college radio station in the world. I could pretty much play whatever I wanted, with some very interpretive guidelines. It was wonderful.
Mostly, people liked what I did. In that world, you will always have fans, and you will always have haters. For example, I was one of the first kids to play techno. I was absolutely fascinated by it. There were two other DJs playing it, and one guy gave me all kinds of tips on where to find it (clubs and record stores). Now, this wasn't all I played, because I'm a rock and roll girl (and a cumbia girl and a country girl and a soul girl and a heck of a lot more). I mean, I practically broke Creeper Lagoon. How much more indie can you get? I kid, I kid.
When I would play this early electronica, though, it would galvanize listeners. Either they would call and be excited about it, or they would call and berate me for playing mindless drivel. "Drum machines have no soul!"
In 2000, I ventured out into the bar/club world. I was afraid to do this because I was a bit of a personality on the air, and had problems with horny lovestruck male listeners who believed I was their soulmate. When I DJed publicly, I always wore wigs and costumes and fake eyelashes and crazy makeup. It worked, because I ran into the door guy for a place where I DJed a good 6 months, and he had no clue who I was when I said hi to him on the street.
The problem with DJing at clubs and bars is that everyone has an opinion and is more than happy to share it with you. The most popular one I get is: "Hey, can you play dance music? This isn't dance music." Now, this is very interpretive, "dance music." If I'm playing at a punk bar, then the Misfits or the Clash count as dance music. A place with a real dance floor may deserve some hip hop and funk. Some folks only want to dance to new wavey stuff like New Order or the B52s.
So when someone says that to me, I usually say: "Well, what is dance music to you?" And they say, "Well, whatever is dancey." And I may say, "Well, that girl is dancing to Siouxsie and the Banshees, and you aren't, so what do you want?" Then they get all confused.
Another really annoying thing, both on radio and in venues, is when people request something totally out of whack with what you are currently playing. On the radio, I could be doing a country set and get a call for hip hop. At a dance club, someone will want the Buzzcocks. (If I never hear the Buzzcocks again, it'll be too soon... one bar I worked at practically demanded that band hourly). I will usually try to get to a request, in a smooth fashion if it is possible, but that is often not good enough. All DJs go through this.
That said... When you play a song that a caller goes nuts for, and wants to know more about... it's great. I love sharing music with people. And when the club you're DJing is going off the hook, and the crowd is loving you and you are loving them... it's a blast. And beyond rewarding.
So tonight I'm off to the Short Stop in Echo Park, to DJ what I expect to be a mellow night. Most folks are either wiped out from the recent holiday fun, or totally sick. (My DJ buddy has bronchitis, fer chrissakes!) Hopefully, folks will just ride the ride with me.