Matt Corwine, local electronic-music producer and Stranger contributor, needed someone to play a live DJ set for his girlfriend's birthday celebration at Neumo's VIP Room. Matt was okay with the fact that I had never DJed before. "Electronic music is totally easy to mix and play around with," he told me. "Don't worry about it."
I met Matt at the VIP Room with his girlfriend. The party was 1970s-Midwestern-trucker themed; guests had huge Afro and mullet wigs on their heads. There was a photographer snapping pictures of people with a life-size sock monkey in an adjoining room.
I walked over to the DJ table. There was a laptop, a record player, and a big black box with two-dozen knobs on it. "These are the knobs that control the distortion levels and volume for the music," Matt explained. He told me it was impossible to create bad music from the loops he'd recorded.
Matt introduced me to the crowd. "Yeah! Public Intern!" someone yelled. I pressed play on his computer and music blasted out of the speakers. The first loop was a very simple beat. I realized it was too simple and not very danceable, so I twisted a random knob. The beat became inaudible and people looked around in confusion. Then I twisted another knob and suddenly the beat came back. People started to nod their heads.
A man in a cowboy hat stepped on to the dance floor and began to dance around the DJ booth, gyrating and twisting his body with his thumbs out. The way he was dancing reminded me of the way Elaine Benes danced on Seinfeld. I panicked. I needed to create music that would discourage this style of dance. I twisted another knob. Suddenly the beat sounded too distorted. Still, the man continued to dance around the booth. No one else was dancing. I felt like he was mocking me.
I cued another loop on the computer. This was a good loop with a solid beat. An older woman began to dance with the man in the cowboy hat. Now there were two people pretending to dance with each other. I sensed that other people would've been dancing but thought the only acceptable dance at the moment involved thrusting thumbs and gyrating hips, so they politely nodded their heads instead. It was a sorry sight and I felt embarrassed for everyone involved, including myself.
Then I turned the wrong knob, and the beat completely fell out. Even the man in the cowboy hat stopped dancing. Matt rushed over and told me I had twisted the forbidden knob, the one that lowered the volume for every single loop all at once. Matt twisted it back to its original position. Then he asked me, very sweetly, how much longer I wanted to DJ. I told him I was having the time of my life and asked for as much time as possible. Matt smiled weakly. "How about 10 or 15 more minutes?" he asked me. "Okay," I said. I tried to disguise my disappointment.
Fifteen minutes passed. Matt took over and began to work his magic, furiously twisting the knobs I had been gently twirling. Suddenly the beat was bopping and the people began to migrate from the back of the room to the dance floor. Middle-aged women who had been sitting by the bar began to twirl and spin with their middle-aged friends in the center of the room. Everyone danced like they meant it, nonawkwardly, nonironically. Suddenly, there was a pulse to the room, a positive energy that had been dormant during my live set. The crowd was full of great dancers who were waiting for my set to end before they cut loose.
I stepped down from the DJ booth, ordered a rum and Coke, and took a picture with the sock monkey.