by Chris Pady
This is it. This is what makes deejaying the world’s best job. The rush of adrenaline. Complete control.
Having already cued up my next track, I pause to wipe the sweat from my brow and take in the scene below me. The dance floor is jam-packed with a mix of Taiwanese and expats, grooving under a musical trance on this All Hallows’ Eve. I’ve earned their trust over the last 45 minutes with a mix of soul and funk classics, and I can tell that I’ve got them right where I want them.
I dig deeper into my crate, fingers deftly flipping through a stack of records until a right record jumps out at me: La Lupita by Nico Gomez. Never heard of it? Neither has 99% of the crowd. It’s a purely emotional decision based on vibe. Playing an unrecognizable song can be risky for a deejay, but this is a calculated risk; I know this killer cut has the potential to take this party to the next level if the crowd is as open-minded as I’m reading them to be.
Sure enough, as soon as the fiery Brazilian rhythms fill the room, volume cranked, the witches, vampires, and zombies below me begin to sway to the infectious beats. A wide grin spreads across my face and a feeling of extreme gratification fills my entire being. How lucky am I to bring joy to so many simply by doing what I love?
When I moved to Tainan, Taiwan’s fourth biggest city, my belongings included two bags: one filled with clothes and the other full of records. I didn’t know much about Tainan or Taiwanese culture, but I knew all I needed to know as twenty-something still looking to pay off his student loan: there were plenty of well-paying teaching jobs and a like-minded community of “music heads” awaiting my arrival.
Our crew consisted of a fantastic funk and reggae band plus two deejays. Word quickly spread around Tainan that our parties were not to be missed: a band that played the dirtiest funk and the sweetest reggae tunes, and two deejays that kept the party rocking until you could stand it no longer.
And when one of the band members bought a VW van, we were able to bring our show on the road. From the bars of Taipei right down to the beaches on the southern tip of Kenting - and in a few aboriginal mountain villages in between - we exposed our unique musical sounds to the delight of many.
There were many memorable nights, though a few stand out in particular.
For instance, I consider myself lucky to even be alive after one gig in Taipei. Demand from our circle of friends in Tainan was so high that we had hired a coach bus to make the four-hour journey. However, a typhoon had rolled in on the same day as the gig. In most places, the trip and the gig would have been cancelled due to the dangerous conditions. Not in Taiwan where rules and regulations felt more optional than mandatory – especially for foreigners. Our Taiwanese friends managed to convince the driver to go as planned and we set off as the wind howled and the rain pounded against the windows.
I remember standing in the aisle halfway through the journey, Taiwan Beer in hand and music blaring, amazed at how surreal this situation was. Outside, the beetle nut trees were bent over like the ends of candy canes from the hurricane force winds. Looking out the front window of the bus, I noticed that the bus was actually swaying gently from side to side, the driver doing his utmost to keep it from veering out of the lane. Everyone inside the bus (except the poor white-knuckled bus driver) seemed oblivious to the danger.
When we arrived in Taipei, it was no surprise to find the bar virtually empty of patrons. No matter. We had instruments, records, equipment and a bus load of eager friends. We set up, played for several hours, then jumped right back onto the bus and continued the festivities all the way back to home to Tainan unharmed.
Our frequent haunt in Tainan, The Armory, was also the venue for many legendary nights. How many times were we chased out at 7 a.m. by the owner’s grandmother so she could start cleaning up the mess? Our love of music ran so deep that we’d keep dancing and playing until we were forced to stop.
But what a jolt we received when emerging from the dark confines of the bar into the intensely bright morning sun. More often than not, the local morning market – with its colorful array of fresh vegetables and fruit on display - was already set up on the side of the Gongyuan road where we exited. And what a culture shock it must have been for the elderly Taiwanese market dwellers upon seeing these sweaty, blurry-eyed foreigners emerging from the bar, cowering from the sun like vampires. When two worlds collide...
Like any work, there are parts of the job that aren’t so glamorous, especially for an old school deejay like me who still prefers to use vinyl. There are heavy records to lug around; even heavier equipment to haul; and crates of vinyl to sift through before a gig. But it’s all quickly forgotten when you’re up there doing it, in the musical zone creating sound mosaics to the delight of those you are playing for.
My life is very different these days and I don’t have many opportunities to deejay anymore. Yet whenever I pine for the good old days, I can throw on La Lupita, close my eyes, and transport myself back to that Halloween night in 2005 when it felt like I was on top of the world.
Chris Pady has had the privilege of deejaying in exotic locations such as Thailand, France, Toronto, and even once on a farm outside of Saskatoon. He now lives in Vancouver where he organizes Family Funk parties to justify holding on to his record collection. You can listen to some of his mixes at https://www.mixcloud.com/versastyle/.