What’s Your Worst Nightmare?

1.

I’ve only ever had one nightmare worth writing about.

Each time, it lingered with me. It scared the fucking hell out of me. I woke up shaken. I’m shuddering right now, at my desk, just thinking about it.

The nightmare’s happened to me a total of three times. The first two times, it came to me in its original avatar.

And then, a few nights ago, I had another nightmare. I thought, initially, that was a different nightmare, but after some further reflection, I realised it was the same nightmare — just guised differently.

2.

The first avatar of the nightmare, naturally, is football.

Here’s how it goes.

As the dreamworld coalesces around me, I realise I’m in a massive stadium — cavernous and black. The audience is hidden from me. I can’t see people or faces in the stands — just endless flashes of light from cell phone cameras.

The pitch glows under the floodlights, green and brilliant, bright and beautiful. The pitch is the only thing that matters. I watch the players race up and down its length — impossibly fast, absurdly skillful. They’re wearing white.

Then I look down at my sleeves, and my shorts, and I realise that I’m wearing white.

I look up at the pitch again, and I notice that the players racing up and down the pitch are Luka Modric and Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Wait: I play football for Real Madrid!*

And I’m on the bench!

So I sit there, gazing in awe at my pristine white jersey, and I realise that Gareth Bale is sitting next to me.

And the next thing I know, Ancelotti turns around.**

“Ten minutes to go,” he says. “Benzema is suffering. Kunal, you’re on. Go get us a goal. Bale, you’re on too.”

And I say: “Yes sir. Let me just tie my laces.”

And then I lean forward, bending over my white shorts and my spotless white socks, to tie the white laces of my white football boots.

And Ancelotti looks at me, impatiently, and says: “Hurry.”

And I say, “Yes coach. Almost done.”

And I reach down again, my fingers caressing the soft cotton of my laces.

And Ancelotti looks at me again, and says: “Five minutes! There are five minutes left! Get on the pitch, Kunal!”

And I say: “Almost done.” And I reach down and try to tie my laces again. But something about them is different today. They’re just not working. I’m not working.

I try again, fumbling with my white laces, but I just can’t tie them. Ancelotti looks at me again: furious.

The game ends. I never get onto the pitch.

Ancelotti, Madrid, the game, the world was waiting and ready for me.

But I couldn’t even get onto the pitch.

And then I wake up

*Why Real Madrid? I have no idea. I’m not even a Madrid supporter.
**  For some reason, this is Madrid circa 2014

3.

That nightmare’s happened twice.

Then, a few nights ago, it happened again.

The same nightmare: but in a new disguise.

4.

In the nightmare’s second avatar, I find myself on a stage.

The audience looks foggy. I can hear them chattering excitedly, but I can’t see them. They’re shrouded in darkness.

I look down and discover a DJ console in front of me. It looks like a Serato controller — massive, complex. It’s not my usual CDJ setup, but its nothing I can’t handle. I’m a DJ. I can play with anything. Just give me the decks.

To my right, a stage hand in a black t-shirt whispers: “two minutes”.

“Almost ready,” I say.

I step to the console. My first track is cued. I look out at the audience — it’s dark, but I can see at least 5,000 shadowy outlines. Where am I? This crowd is 50 times larger than any I’ve ever played for. It looks like DGTL or Dekmantel or some incredible European festival that I’ve only seen videos of.

I look back at the decks. Set my first loop. The buttons are blinking and winking. I’m all set: I’m ready to go.

The stage hand says: “one minute”.

But the music won’t play. I press and prod and fiddle.

But the music won’t play.

The stage hand says: “your set time has started.”

And I say: “Ready to go!”

But the music won’t play.

The crowd whispers and whimpers and agitates. They’re restless.

So am I. I’ve got so much to say, so much to show, musically.

But the music won’t play.

And the whole hour goes by.

And the music just won’t play.

And then I wake up.

The same nightmare. A different avatar.

5.

Last night, the second nightmare happened to me. In real life.

I wasn’t on stage at DKNTL, and there weren’t 5,000 people there.

But there were 50 of my closest friends, and maybe 50 other people who I didn’t know.

And they were waiting for me to start.

So I did.

And the first song played, and they whooped and cheered and hollered, and I thought: here we go. This is it. Bonobo. Friday night. Disco and house music that I’ve been obsessing over and preparing for months. This is huge for me.

But the second song wouldn’t play.

A little bit of background here for you non DJ readers: DJing is about taking two or more inputs, then combining them with a mixer, and then sending one output to the speakers. It’s pretty simple. The crowd hears your master output. Only you, the DJ, can hear your individual inputs. It’s your job to combine them: harmonically, rhythmically, and creatively.
My two inputs are called CDJ 2000s, and they read the music from my USB drive, and play it — either through Channel 1, or Channel 2.

To DJ, you need at least two inputs. With less than two inputs, you’re not a DJ. You’re an iPod.

The CDJ on my right? It just wasn’t working. It wouldn’t detect my USB drive. Then it did, and got stuck in an infinite, jarring loop, that I couldn’t exit from.

The first song was winding down.

I was ashen-faced on stage, and the crowd looked a bit confused.

Luckily, Benny was around, and managed to restart the CDJ, and re-link the Ethernet cable, and get everything working properly.

This process took about two minutes.

One hundred and twenty agonising seconds.

But by the time Player 2 had started working, the first song had ended. So I had to play it again, from the same player, and it sounded like shit.

And I thought: this is my nightmare, and it’s happening to me in real life.

6.

The thing about nightmares is: they always end.

And last night, my nightmare ended well.

I was shaken, and sweating, for the 30 minutes of my set. I wasn’t there.

I couldn’t mix, and I couldn’t dance, and I couldn’t concentrate, and it fucking sucked, because I was blowing it.

But then Sohail got me a beer, and I loosened up, and found my groove.

And then things started to flow.

And I remembered what DJing is really about to me — why I love house music so much.

House music is about experimenting with time. Creating subjective moments for the audience to feel collectively. Making time speed up, and slow down, and sometimes, stand still.

Did that track last five minutes, or five seconds, or an hour?

How long were we there, dancing in that dark room? And how long would we have stayed, if the lights hadn’t come on?

That last groove, it was good.

And when the bar staff told me to shut off the music, Arman told them to fuck off, and he reached his hand out, and put the volume back up*.

And that felt really good. Because he knows what he’s talking about.

*You can hear this part from 16:30 to 16:35 of my DJ set. Soundcloud link above.

7.

At the afterparty, I was still mildly shaken, but still satisfied, somehow. The night started rough, but got smoother.

And I realised, talking to Rahul and Armaan and Aditya and Rohan, that anyone who’s ever been on a stage, everyone in the history of stages, has had to deal with this, at one point or another.

Rahul and Armaan and Aditya have their DJ tricks — delays and crushes and reverbs, shimmering sounds that can temporarily allow you disguise the fact that you’re not DJing, you’d iPoding.

And Rohan has a philosophy, which I think is quite a good one.

Shit happens when you’re on stage. Nightmares happen. Amps don’t work. Equipment malfunctions. Shit goes wrong.

And when shit goes wrong, you have two options.

Option 1: Go through the motions while you obsess over the things that went wrong, over the rehearsals that you didn’t do, the parts that you didn’t practice.

Option 2: Accept the shit. Embrace it. Respond to it. Play your heart out. Have fun. And do your job.

8.

I guess everyone has their own way of dealing with nightmares.

I found mine last night, and after chatting a few of my friends, I learned theirs.

When nightmares happen to you in real life, you accept them, and you smile, and you move on.

That’s what you do.

Besides, it was just Friday night at Bonobo. There will be another, in six days.

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