On a far lower level of musicality, my vague scratchings at the doors of Baku’s bars and clubs in search of a DJ gig have started to show some results. The first moment of truth took place at Le Mirage on Friday the eighth of June. Long-standing readers with good memories may recollect that one of the few good dancing nights I reported last year took place in Le Mirage and it was with that memory in mind that I was more than happy to meet the owner, Maria, and discuss the possibility of playing there.
Maria is obviously a very canny businesswoman or she would not be able to run a successful bar/club in Baku but to do so while combining the looks of Morticia Addams and Elvira must take something special. One thing is for sure: if she does not like the look of something she attends to it quick sharp. I learned that the hard way.
After our introductory chat I agreed to go and get my discs and play that night; I only lived a brief walk away after all. The house DJ was a very friendly fellow, we compared notes and after listening to his mix for an hour or so while watching what the dance-floor was up to I felt I was ready to give it a go. With a commercial combination of R&B and electro-ish house to fit into I chose a similarly pop-orientated track to start with (Goldfrapp, “Strict Machine” for those who care) and things appeared to be going well. Mixing into the second track (Jakatta ft. Seal, “My Vision”) looked good too but Maria obviously thought otherwise as I was ordered to step aside for the house DJ before I could consider fading up a third track.
As the R&B banged out once more Maria took me aside and spoke to me in a near-maternal manner about how I should pay sharp attention to the dance-floor and play people what they want so that they keep dancing. I explained to her how I had taken note of the perceived musical requirements and added that if she wanted a DJ to play music like Europa Plus (a local radio station from Russia, comparable to Capital in London) then I simply did not have the music with which to do that. We agreed that I would come back again for a second try.
A couple of weekends later I went back for the second go, on a Saturday night this time to see if the crowd might be a little different (it was a Saturday night that I had enjoyed so much that time). I was asked to go on early (personally I would have waited for the clientele to get a few more drinks inside them first) and I decided to go for break-beats this time around, leaning towards the R&B theme. Track two had been running for thirty seconds or so when the house DJ was ordered to take over again. Maria and I had a perfectly civilised conversation afterwards and she even bought me a drink but I knew I was on a losing wicket: I am not going back a third time.
Meanwhile, one evening during the same period I was and listening to the radio in a BP bus while waiting to go home (Europa Plus of course) when one of life’s chance encounters took place. A young woman stepped on board and asked me if I could identify the tune that was playing; it was a remix of The Police’s “Message in a Bottle” and I said as much. This precipitated introductions (she is Elnara) and an animated conversation about dance music during which Elnara spoke about knowing two of Baku’s most prominent DJ’s (Rem and Nemo) and offered to arrange a meeting with Rem. While wary of having received several empty promises couched in similar terms in the past I accepted the invitation and waited to see what might come of it.
A week later I was sitting on a café terrace with Elnara, Rem and an other DJ – Miss Flame – chatting about club nights, radio shows and various trainspotter-ish DJ things and feeling very positive about the whole affair. Communications promptly tailed off for a couple of weeks after that and I was left wondering until out of the blue I received a ‘phone call asking if I would like to play at the Key Club/Infiniti on the thirteenth of July alongside a DJ from Kazakhstan. It meant curtailing my planned visit to England by a few days but the answer was yes.
The Advertising vs. The Reality…
Earlier this year I wrote about going to a drum ‘n’ bass night and a trance night at the Key Club’s new Infiniti room: it struck me as being a very good venue. Having seen the posters going up around the city with my name double-top alongside DJ Alex from Kazakhstan, having been told to bring my vinyl from London and having been told I would be playing at midnight, I was a mixture of enthusiasm and nerves when I arrived at the venue around half past ten. Discovering that one of the two turntables had been removed added to the nerves somewhat. Apparently it was in a radio studio for a show and would be back in the venue by two o’clock. I agreed to the change in schedule (nobody else seemed worried) and I took the extra time to relax a bit (while thinking that it might be time to transfer my record box to CD).
Two o’clock rolled round, the turntable had indeed arrived in the nick of time and it was busily installed at the same time as I was asked to cue up my first record. It was not my smoothest hand-over but I got away with it and cobbling the next couple of records together seemed to work too. Just as I was starting to feel I had some control over the situation the front-of-house speakers went dead and seconds later someone grabbed the volume knob for the monitor speaker behind my head and cranked it up to deafening. What action there was on the dance-floor faded away unsurprisingly save for a small group of chaps up front who were close enough to hear the monitor and were loving it. I kept doing all I could for them while various people looked at connections, amps and what-have-you in an attempt to fix the problem.
After what felt like an eternity the front-of-house speakers sprung back into life, fortuitously during the crescendo of a particularly good tune that made the group up front cheer very loudly. I then mixed in the next track before having to hand over to Rem and Miss Flame for their B2B set: my hour was up.
Imperfect as my ‘proper’ DJ debut in Baku may have been I enjoyed it and I think a few other people did too. The technical hitches were disappointing but they do occur sometimes; let’s call them part of the fun. A second gig is not confirmed yet but now that I am finally speaking to the right people there should be a way to get more playing done. Stay tuned…
DJ Alex at work and the dance-floor in action