Life of a DJ with No Place to DJ
As coronavirus closures around the country expand to businesses where crowds of people gather, such as bars, festivals and nightclubs, DJs are hit hard. YR Media’s Adan Barrera spoke to DJs from the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles and New York to understand how they are dealing with restrictions, and how they are using this time to be creative.
SF BAY AREA
Even before Governor Gavin Newsom called for all bars and nightclubs to close in California, conversations were already circulating amongst DJs of what was coming. “I’ve [heard] a lot of promoters say ‘we’re just going to watch capacity and practice safe partying,’” said DJ Brigidope, a local DJ in the Bay Area. “Venue after venue, bar after bar, club after club, they’re just like, ‘Yeah we’re just going to shut down.’ So it’s just disheartening.”
DJ Brigidope works a full-time job during the day and spins at night, so he acknowledges he isn’t feeling the impact as much as his fellow DJs. “Thankfully, I still have a day job that allows me to work from home and get a paycheck. But there are DJs that make all of their money off gigging and it’s going to be really hard,” said DJ Brigidope.
In the 16 years that he’s been working as a DJ, he can only remember a few incidents that caused venues to close and events to be canceled. “I had a party on 9/11. It was not a fun time. And then various nights during Occupy, when there were a lot of riots in downtown San Francisco and Oakland, events got canceled, but life continued,” he said.
DJ Mamabear, out of Los Angeles, supports closing venues. “I’m definitely in acceptance about all of this. I’m not trying to be a rebel and host some underground party where people get together,” said DJ Mamabear. She admits that coming to terms with this new reality isn’t easy. “A part of me was afraid I would be locked up in my apartment and not allowed to leave. And that kind of made me afraid because I don’t want to be that isolated. And also, it made me realize this is probably a little more serious than I expected.”
With bars and nightclubs closed, DJ Mamabear is curating special DJ mixes meant for a more relaxed scenario. “So I have a mix series called Hibernate, which is pretty appropriate right now because everybody’s kind of hibernating right now. I made these mixes a few years ago. They are kind of like the soundtrack to those activities where you’re just cooking, being cozy or relaxing,” she said. DJ Mamabear is also working with local radio stations in Los Angeles to create mixes to be played on air.
DJing used to be a full-time job for DJ Mamabear until she realized she needed something more stable. “I had this weird fear, like, ‘What if I were in some freak accident and I had no source of income?’ If you are a club DJ, there’s no money coming in. It’s devastating,” said DJ Mamabear.
She says being a DJ counts for roughly 30 percent of her income, but if she hadn’t pursued other side jobs, things would be much more complicated.
After the closure of bars and nightclubs in New York, DJ Tap. 10, a DJ who has lived in New York for six years, says he and other DJs are just trying to grasp this difficult situation. “Once the reality of the long-lasting impacts came, we tried to figure out how to maneuver from there. In New York, a lot of us work in the entertainment nightlife. We’re just lost trying to figure it out,” said DJ Tap. 10.
Like many other DJs, working in the nightlife scene is DJ Tap 10’s main source of income. “Right now, I’m just trying to find resources to be able to help myself and my friends,” he said. “I really think about the community. We are forced to work together to try to make ends meet.” With one of the busiest cities in the world seemingly shut down, DJ Tap. 10 says it sends a strong message. “This is happening in New York, not an isolated suburban town. The idea that all of that has to shut down makes you realize the severity of everything,” said DJ Tap. 10.
This new reality has DJ Tap. 10 thinking about music and DJing beyond just passion and personal satisfaction. For him, it’s therapy. He is working on doing a livestream to engage friends and family during this time. “I’m not really thinking about myself right now. I’m thinking about all my friends and family and the different communities I belong to, and just being able to support and help each other in the different ways that we need,” said DJ Tap. 10.
As the economic impact on DJs comes into focus, communities are rallying, with online fundraisers. Felix Flores Jr. started one of them. He works as a part-time DJ and started The Beat Goes On Fund for DJs. “I was able to do it as a one man show, put together a website,” said Flores. “And through the blessings of the community of DJs, the word spread. Now we have over 120 DJs who’ve asked for some support.”