Why Am I Not A Superstar DJ?

I’m going to let you in on a little nugget of personal history. About ten years ago, I was on track to becoming a superstar DJ.

At this point you may rightly be wondering what relevance this could possibly have to my adventure-cycling blog. (Some of you might also be wondering why I became an adventure cyclist if I could have become a superstar DJ instead!)

Bear with me; there is a point.

When I sold my decks and stowed away my record collection before setting out on my bike, I imagined that there was a good chance I’d never come back. Fantasies abounded of crawling the planet’s surface for years — decades. What could possibly be more rewarding than that? What greater expression of freedom could there be?

After some years and many thousands of miles, I finally found my ultimate freedom: the ability to truthfully say “there are better and more important things, now, than to vanish from society altogether; than to fulfil nothing but my own selfish dreams”. And so, in a roundabout way, I found myself arriving in the place I’d once called home.

It wasn’t until last week that I plucked up the motivation to dig up the material relics of the life I’d left behind.

Remnants of a previous life

This vast heap of vinyl is the result of thousands of pounds of part-time job wages, interest-free overdrafts and student loan money. My plan was to go through the lot, pull out my favourites, and sell the rest off to some hopeful up-and-coming spinner.

I sat down and began sorting. I didn’t have a record deck on which to listen to the tunes; no matter, since the countless hours spent on the decks meant that I could hear the track in my head the moment I set eyes on the cardboard sleeve. I could even list a few tracks in the same key, style and tempo that would mix nicely into it, what label had released them and in which year, such was the level of geekery I’d attained.

The pile of records I wanted to keep began to grow. But far faster grew the tower of records I wasn’t that bothered with, which I would be far happier giving to that enthusiastic bedroom DJ. Most of these tracks — when I thought about it — I’d never really liked that much at all…

So what were they doing in my collection? Why had I spent so much money on all these hundreds of uninspiring tunes?

The answer probably explains why I’m not a superstar DJ. Without wanting to sound too self-pitying, the music I genuinely loved — the reason I’d begun collecting vinyl at the age of 13 — had given way to the music I’d decided I ought to love; the music I thought my party-going audiences would want to hear me playing; the tunes made by people trying to make the kind of music they thought that party-going audiences would want to hear DJs like me playing.

Without knowing it, I’d become one of the bandwagon-jumping, fashion-following disc jockeys who wondered why nobody ‘important’ (club promoters, record labels, famous DJs) took any notice of their mixtapes or gave them that once-in-a-lifetime breakthrough gig. That frustration resulted in ever-more desperate attempts to find some magical seam of musical treasure that would catapult my career forward.

It’s obvious now, of course: I never found ‘my sound’ because I was looking in the wrong place.

There were too many figures in the industry who had reached the top through hype, swagger and imitation. But there were some who’d done so through shunning fads in pursuit of something more genuine and expressive, letting their talent shine through, and becoming pioneers in the process.

I could neither talk my way into the business, nor bring anything artistic to it that hadn’t been heard before. So, eventually and inevitably, I dropped out.

That’s not why I became an adventure cyclist (and writer, photographer and filmmaker). I became those things because deep down I know them to be a set of pursuits I believe in; things that give me an intrinsic satisfaction which needs no justification. And I’ve given away nearly three quarters of my record collection.

The moral of this rambling little story is, I think, a nice one to share. Looking through my old records has reminded me that the only worthy judge of your success is yourself. And if you try to follow someone else’s route to that success, the best you can hope for is to arrive at someone else’s destination.

Even if you do get there — how do you know it’s really where you want to be?

Comments (skip to respond)

5 responses to “Why Am I Not A Superstar DJ?”

  1. The philosophising’s all well and good mate but where can the world get its hands on a Tom Allen mix tape??

  2. Quote from The Bhagavad Gita — an ancient Indian Yogic text. ‘It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of someone else’s life with perfection’

  3. Great writing, Tom.
    Shame about your crap trendy music tastes though! (Heaven knows I’m miserable now)

  4. chriszanf avatar

    Had to chuckle. I went through exactly the same thing and I’m sitting on about 16 boxes of vinyl & a studio full of status/sound processors.

    The DJ’ing ended because I was sick of the scene & the sound engineering ended because a previous flatmate was very generous and gave me permanent tinnitus in my left ear.

    1. chriszanf avatar

      “& a studio full of SYNTHS*/sound processors.”

      Bloody autocorrect on my phone!

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