I get a lot of heat from well heeled friends about the length of years I've spent dancing. I'm here to say that it's true, a DJ has more than once saved my life. I have been saved from inertia, from racing thoughts and from isolation. On a good dance floor there is community, especially in the electronic music world. Born from disco and house music having moved along techno to trance, there is an organism that forms and propagates across the musical field of these communities, their parties and each individual dancer. At this point I can't imagine a better example of viral transmission and memes than a good party at an out of the way loft.
I came from indie rock of the 90s. I'd gone to the Limelight, the Tunnel, I'd even been a sometimes Save the Robots. I missed out on Studio 54 and wasn't quite hooked in enough at the time of the legendary Loft but like I said, I was stuck inside rock, with my non-dancing, guitarist boyfriend. Eventually the world collapsed for me. The towers went down, I lost my job. My relationship died on the banks of the river on a windy day in Memphis. I turned tail and turned into myself. I was scared of the world and the judgment I felt teeming from family, from friends and from cynical former colleagues.
Out of the blue came a saviour, not a DJ, but a really nice guy who wanted to maybe be my boyfriend. We were similar enough for him to know my self-loathing. He was just breaking through to the next level in his career. I had just trashed mine and my parallel career of music photography. My ex had made it perfectly clear that any momentum we'd shared he would actively lobby to take away from me. I was living in a heightened state, transitioning from one reality to another. I was so frightened the world was painted in colors as bold as technicolor.
To break away from the stress we'd go on drives together, me and my new friend. He was producing high-end fashion shoots and I was an easy tag along since photography was now the focus of my life. We'd go scouting into upstate and onto the beaches of Long Island. We'd listen to house music and smoke cigarettes while birds flew alongside us. On a warm November day we'd roll our jeans up and wade into the shallows while talking about things we hated, the people we loved. He had a video camera and we'd point it at the sky as we drove over bridges and winded down mountains in rent-a-cars with good traction.
In the city I was taking classes, looking for non-office work and finding a cheaper place to live. I was often meeting my ex to discuss our business dealings and to hear his appeals for reconciliation. Technicolor hell abounded. I was sick with the consequences of my decision. My isolation grew, my temper often flared. I hated going to bars. I'd done that. I couldn't bear to see live music at night. I'd done that too many times as part of my old life. I'd tired of the bobbing heads and the plastered feet, firmly holding ground despite the begging energy of the bass. I'd truly lost my stomach for angst and more importantly for pop song rhythms and anything that would be considered for a radio edit. I thought I'd lost my tie to music, that which had been important all my life. As a child I'd learned to waltz. I still loved a good wedding polka even if I hated weddings. In short, there was no place for me on a Tuesday or even on a typical Friday. Until of course, there suddenly was.
One night a tentative glance from my new friend signaled he wanted to show me the world where he was often saved. He was older now, had misspent his youth in winding club hallways and multi-leveled rooms. He was responsible, on his way to being high-powered. He woke up early and spent a good deal of time easing tensions on the phone. But still at night, not always but often enough, he stole away to dance. Now, in Europe this acceptable. In America, with our latent Puritanism, it is not. Would I think less of him? Would I laugh? I liked the music, but could I actually dance?
Our first club night we went to a place that would be closed soon. A legendary spot where my friend knew exactly the best place for sound on the dance floor. The BPMs were around 129, a solid house beat and what would prove to be something I could and can not easily resist. The crowd was international, not altogether still in school and the drug use casualties were tolerated more than encouraged. This was not the bling and meet crowd. This was the get the demons out crowd. Soulful samples of R&B mixed with drums from around the world. I could feel the hands as they hit these synthetic djembes. I believed when the voices lilted up and the sound surrounded me on a multi-point sound system with towers to the ceiling. I danced until dawn and left with my feet sore and my hair wet. This is what you couldn't get from rock or from hip hop. This was about the journey.
My own journey continued, even after my friend and I parted ways. I found a spot on Mondays where a legendary and internationally known master was hitting the tables. He could mix Led Zeppelin with blues and somehow make it a dance tune. With the faithful I hung on and dedicated myself to his pulpit. I arrived early to get the discount. I stayed late to properly participate. I dressed down, wearing a tattered blue hoodie and sneakers. I danced with groups and on the fringes. For months I danced here because I knew precious few places where these people congregated. I sat in on after-hours parties where the mood could get dark and desperate. I clamored into places with passwords and saw ballet dancers sweep through as the sun rose over the Hudson. Beautiful and full of color their demons were Narcissus before he got stuck on his reflection. Arabesques for breakfast, I'll never forget them.
The dancefloor has changed for me, the world of music and even this type of music is not the same as it was when I was a new initiate. Nothing stays new, no rescue lasts forever. Like a cat I get myself into trouble, just like we all do. I've seen dance culture eat up its players and I've learned of its intrigue but like any religion you don't throw away your faith because of a few bad realities. Others will talk about deep and harrowing moments when they knew their bodies were in peril. People will talk about war and extremities that I have not known. In my everyday battleground to define and self-determine there are many daily saviors but at least a few of them have been DJs and for this I am grateful.