Disclaimer: This is a semi-fictionalized version of my all-too-real experiences working as a DJ in New York City. Most of the names of venues, organizations or people mentioned herein have been changed or, in some instances, totally pulled out of my ass so stop even trying to guess, cool? Cool.
It's a saying as old as time: "You can't keep a good DJ down." I think it was Martin Luther who uttered these immortal words. Or was it Martin Garrix? Anyway, in the past decade, DJs have broken the chains that once bound us to the nightclub and have taken to the streets (and restaurants and stores) like a pack of narcissistic zombies in designer sneakers.
Here's a quick rundown: Last week at TopShop Soho, a DJ played deep house while I re-upped on boxer-briefs. Days later at my gym, a somber tablist looked seconds away from flinging himself over the cardio balcony. And I could almost swear I saw a dude spinning in the $10 barbour shop on 1st and 1st around noon Friday, serenading guidos during hot towel shaves.
There's even a whole new DJ cottage industry catered toward sadistic sociopaths who enjoy Showtek over eggs at 2PM on the Lord's Day. It's called "EDM brunch" :(.
The bottom line is that DJs are blooming in climates previously inhospitable to our species. I'm no exception. Earlier this summer, I even DJ'ed a female empowerment-themed yoga class.
Now, like the Buddha and various other pliable white women before me, I'd always perceived yoga as a quieting, even sedative but definitely DJ-less pursuit of pranayama and peace. I've taken a couple yoga classes because, frankly, they seemed to be the opposite of all the things I don't like about nightclubs and definitely the opposite of EDM brunch. Or so I thought.
"This isn't your grandma's yoga class," the instructor, who introduced herself as "Ocean," told me when I arrived at the nouveau Chinatown loft-cum-yoga studio. Before I could respond, "My grandma's in a wheelchair actually," Ocean, a tall sinewy woman with breast implants, black spandex and a terse ponytail, cut me off rather harshly: "This isn't some kundalini bullshit!"
"I'm all about energy with a capital 'E.' Energy with an 'E' brings you good chi!" Ocean insisted, words pouring from her plumped lips at what can only be described as "5th line of coke" speed. "That's where you come in." (I actually "came in" as a last minute favor to Ocean's PR girl, after the resident yoga DJ called in with a hangover.)
"Great!" I replied, staring at the wood paneling, gleaming kitchen appliances and loft walls lined in scented candles and Ocean's own branded headbands ($26), t-shirts ($45) and essential oils ($53) called "Ocean Shakti".
"Any specific requests?" I asked nervously. "Oh, believe me, you'll know what to do when I kick it off," Ocean bellowed back ominously while laying out hot pink yoga mats, "Just vibe with me and keep it fast. Keep it very upbeat. Keep it Pop - We're pretty hip here and we like to think of this less like a class and more like a party or a rave! You'll see.This isn't like other yoga classes you've seen around town, trust me."
"Okay gotcha," I said, feigning confidence. Innumerable questions raced through my mind and chakras. Here are some examples:
1. How did I get myself into this? (I ask this a lot.)
2. What even is this? (This too.)
3. What in Krishna's name does a DJ play in a yoga class?
3a. How many songs can I remember from Ray of Light?
4. Is it too much to hope that vegan hor d'oeuvres are served after class?
5. Is Ocean's Resident DJ a giant? In any case, I am fully standing on two Yoga blocks to reach these turntables.
6. Had anyone ever DJ'ed a yoga class before? Am I a pioneer in the field?
As the lights dimmed and the Lululemon clad students piled into the loft, I felt woefully unprepared. Last-minute gigs always fluster me -- I usually enjoy multiple nights of anticipatory anxiety before new jobs in order to properly panic myself into readiness. But my levels of un-Zen were multiplied by the fact that Ocean's musical directive was "Yoga + Energy = Chi!" and moreover, that she perceived that as a perfectly clear missive for DJing a yoga class.
Before I'd had time to sort through Madonna's mid-90s period on my laptop, Ocean's voice, now, ironically, amplified by a Britney-esque head-mic, pierced through the collective prana.
"Ok. Namaste, ladies: To your mats and let's get ready to rock it towards our best selves!" she asserted as I frantically shuffled through my crates to find a logical, suitable tune for a moment that really had no logical, suitable tune.
"Hands in prayer position! Front of your mats, Tadasana, Mountain Pose!" Ocean roared. "Let's dedicate our practices to the pursuit of peace, happiness and our hottest bodies! Let's do this ladies!! Failure is not in our vocabulary so BRING THAT ENERGY!"
Then, like Michael Jackson cueing the beat of "The Way You Make Me Feel," she pointed her finger at me and commanded, "Hit it!"
I squealed slightly from the shock but quickly scratched in, well, "Ray of Light," because that seemed like the least horrifically inappropriate item I had at my disposal.
Ocean immediately shot me a glance that scanned as "not good Energy!" -- apparently she didn't like to party to Madonna's meditation phase as much as I do -- but commenced with her frenzy of asanas anyway. "Ok! Hands up! And bend! Hop back! And plank! Breath! Up-Dog, Down-Dog and Tadasana AND REPEAT!" She came across less like a spirit guide and more like a botoxed cheer captain trippin' balls on power and adderall.
Halfway through the 5th asana, Ocean pranced to the wall and flipped a switch to trigger a mass of neon concert-style lasers that began spewing multicolored beams scattershot across the room. It was at this moment that I realized she hadn't been kidding -- this wasn't like any yoga class I, or anyone else in the world, had ever witnessed before. In fact, it didn't even feel remotely like Alanis Morissette's "Thank U India" video.
"Faster, Adho Mukha Svasana, Urdhva Mukha Svasana, Energy!" As Ocean's instructions escalated in fearsome intensity and speed, so did the BPMs of my house-influenced Top 40 selections. Rihanna "Where Have You Been," Afrojack "Take Over Control," Pitbull "Hey Baby (Drop it to the Floor)." I mixed as quickly as my hands could carry me but this music just felt so wrong. I'm not exactly a yogi, but the chi of Pitbull is almost certainly not in alignment with that of Lotus pose.
Every few asana cycles, Ocean would mix her mandates with some guru-isms: "Do you see the self you COULD be ladies!? Are you failing her?? Reach for her! Breathe for her! Send her your ENERGY! Faster ladies, FASTER!" She also motioned emphatically toward me, gesturing up with her arms, which is the universal yogic mudra for "ENERGY," I guess. I began, per usual, to sweat. I was playing the fastest songs I knew. Did she want drum and bass?
As the hour pressed on, the room grew hotter and hormone levels surged. Women panted as the laser show swept across their moist, glistening faces. The bass caused Ocean's t-shirt display to tap against the wall with each thud. Ocean's pace was ceaseless and she appeared to have to absolutely regard for the shanti of anyone in the room. I locked eyes with one woman who seemed to plead silently, "help." Another had stopped following anything at all and lay weeping quietly in Child's pose.
I needed something radical. I needed to alter the hatha. I took a chance and mixed up the BPM rate while hoping I might still maintain that intangible ENERGY that only Ocean seemed to understand. I cued a trap remix of Pharrell's "Happy" hoping I could, by sheer force of Pharrell, will some happiness into existence and maybe, just maybe, save us all. At this point I was also, admittedly, just throwing musical spaghetti at the wall at this point and hoping something would stop Ocean from doing that terrifying arm motion at me.
Women gasped for air. I gasped for air. Lights swirled. Ocean shot lightning bolts from her fingertips. As I slowed the pace in one last stand for salvation, O shot me a restylane death stare. "Now ladies," she cackled through her headset, preparing to issue her next petrifying decree.
Then, as if Ganesha had seen us from above and declared "Enough, white lady!" a loud snap echoed across 2000 square feet of prime downtown real estate. We plunged into darkness, silence. Ocean shrieked.
Turns out, all of that ENERGY had blown the circuit breaker. Power out. Class over.
As I walked up East Broadway ten minutes later, I realized that maybe DJs are better off confined to our natural habitat, the Clurb, rather than barber shops and yoga classes. I also realized that along with brunch and trendy underwear shopping, Uptempo Rihanna remixes and yoga have absolutely no business together -- The energy at 120 BPMs always screamed more pilates than yoga to me, anyway.
I'm not sure what's become of Ocean or her trikana torture party palace but I can say this: The next week, I attended a DJ-less yoga class with my friend Jane. Chanting monks and sitar strumming via cassette tape provided the soundtrack. The energy was sublime.