Keep sucking and carry on

DJ FiESTA! 1995. Photo Otago Daily Times.

To others I apparently appear self-confident, but in reality I suffer from a fairly regular sprinkling of self-doubt.

Too often I feel like my work might not be good enough, that I don’t spend quality time on things and that there’s someone better than me who could be doing my job, my parenting, my home maintenance, my hobbies…

I wonder if this stems from something in my childhood?

At school I would overcook everything into wonderful visual presentations – possibly to compensate for my stutter – some days I could barely get a word out. Being the child of a single mum in the ’70s I was also a lot poorer than many of my colleagues. They seemed to find life a lot cruiser and comfortable, and seemed smarter than me. It’s a hard feeling to shake-off even today (despite the reality that I’m probably better off than a lot of people).

But I now think that the problem stems from the fact that I should have ‘sucked’ at things more in my youth.

Instead I only did things I was good at, or reached a level where I was pretty good, then gave up when it came to moving to the next level.

I gave up on learning an instrument, writing a book, pursing a career in film.

Kathy Sierra has researched what makes people experts, and one major ingredient is other experts.

All my life I have rejected role models. I don’t have a favorite actor, inventor, musician, entrepreneur, hero… I’ve never really had a mentor or guide and I’m used to just working it out for myself. I rarely even read books or manuals. Most of the books on my desk I’ve only ever skim-read.

I’ve been fiercely independent most of my life and as a result have learnt the hard way.

Now I’m in my not so youthful 40s I’m coming to realise that I perhaps what Kathy Sierra taught me is true – I should have been more of a hero worshipper, sought out mentors and surrounded myself with experts in my fields of interest.

Hanging out with experts is how you learn and get better at something – through simple observation of an expert at work – or proactive engagement where they teach you their techniques or share their thought-processes.

This all dawned on me last Saturday night when I observed a master at work.

He was so good at his job that he made it look like play. His audience was not only mesmerized but he was also feeding off the reaction of his audience – working the room and his equipment to orchestrate a wonderful and powerful experience.

Now some of you may think that a DJ simply plays pre-recorded music and mixes between tracks with fairly accurate beat-matching. If that has been your experience of dance parties then you have seen a DJ who is either inexperienced, playing it safe or is obsessed with technology and not the music.

A great DJ goes far beyond that – it’s all about the audience – the dancers and becoming one with crowd.

Derrick May gets this.

He is a performer who DJs by sculpting the music and reading the audience – his equipment is what he uses to mould the music and react to the people – and he’s incredible to watch… using a plethora of music formats and devices to shape the soundscape.

He made it look so easy. I guess that’s the result of over 25 years on-the-job training and experience!

I started Djing myself around 20 years ago, not long after Derrick May’s own career started to take off.

I was known as DJ Fiesta! and DJ Java – performing professionally with a residency at Bath Street in Dunedin and in front of hundreds at warehouse parties and festivals such as the Winter Solstice and The Gathering.

People tell me I was darn good at it – back then had a unique style of layering ethnic music over hip-hop, techno and jungle.

Despite having a bit of a following, and even fan letters, I still didn’t feel good enough. A new wave of hip-hop DJs who could scratch up a storm made me feel admiration, but also inadequate. I couldn’t match their skills.

What I should have done is asked them for advice, hung out with them more and pushed past the suck-threshold. Instead I did my own thing and eventually gave DJing away completely in 1999, after 5 short years.

If I’d stuck with it, and hung out with experts, I’d be 13 years more awesome today.

So at the Derrick May gig I was watching and learning and thinking. “Damn… I used to do that!”

I guess I saw in him the potential I had in myself but never followed-through.

So, my message to you…

Don’t give up if you think you suck at what you do – so long as you are passionate about what you’re doing – you will almost certainly get better with time, and if you need an expert, a mentor or a hero… hunt them down!

My new hero – Derrick May – the ego on this man!

3 responses to “Keep sucking and carry on”

  1. Laurie Avatar

    Oh dear – sounds like mother, like son – except I read books and fantasize about possibilities while you do give things a go. Take a look at this newsletter The quote from Dali is especially relevant to both of us I feel – compulsive creativity can be a kind of destructive perfectionism. It is not too late for anything I assure you and there is time – start with 5 mins a day. Hope to see you sucking at lots of things in the future xxx

  2. Nick Avatar

    Great story and great photo. Through the grain there is so much texture and detail. Your club flyers pinned-up, turntable boxes no doubt full of records, sandals casually lying on the floor… Keep on sucking.

  3. Alan Avatar

    Keep on keeping on, Zef! Having got to know you so much better over the last few years, I admire you all the more for who you are and what you have achieved. I often tell people about you, and tell them to look at your web site. You have a unique point of view in this world, and we would all be poorer without it. Back yourself and “go for it!”