Remix: DJ Downfalls

The trial and error of joining new clubs as a college freshman can best be described as the search for a safety net of familiar eyes in an unfamiliar space. As a newcomer to WNUR, Northwestern’s radio station, I was eager to find friends among a roomful of other radio apprentices, strangers united by a love for underground music. Despite the kinship formed through a series of mixtape exchanges and welcoming mentors, self-doubt persisted. One time, my friend and I debated going to a mixer held at a senior’s off-campus house for two hours – by the time we worked up the courage to go, the event had ended. 

When sophomore year began online due to the pandemic, the shaky decisions that I made as a freshman became cemented in time as I found myself unable to branch out socially and extracurricularly. Meanwhile, WNUR struggled to adapt to this new remote setting. Maintaining the community without the ability to gather in-person proved nearly impossible, and we could no longer host our shows in person. Recording music on a laptop for two hours at home simply did not compare to the experience of going into the On Air Control Room, sitting among the expanse of radio equipment and tens of thousands of records and CDs dating back to the 70s in the backroom known as ‘the stacks.’ I missed the magic of the stacks, a time capsule where every square inch from floor to ceiling is filled with precarious piles of music, with reviews and unsolicited opinions from WNUR members across the decades scribbled in sharpie on the album covers for future radio hosts like me to peruse. Most importantly, between the radio hosts, friends, apprentices, and curious visitors, there was a constant flow of like-minded people coming through the OACR. The constant buzz of activity dwindled away as in-person activities halted. 

Using radio equipment to air my radio show from the OACR

With some extra time on my hands and a hankering for new connections, I decided to join Streetbeat, a club that plays electronic and house music on the radio, where students can learn how to DJ. Although I was pretty intimidated by the idea of learning how to DJ, I had nothing to lose and decided to give it a try. In weekly zoom meetings, I met club members and learned the ins and outs of DJing, from creating a music library and navigating DJ software to mixing techniques. Along with the mentor whom I was paired with, everyone in the club was friendly and eager to help. One Streetbeat member invited me to their radio show and used their own air time to show me the ropes; another offered to lend me his mixing board so that I could practice at home. By the end of the semester, I had recorded an hour-long mix, and was ready to take on my own radio show as a house music DJ. 

Although I was thrilled to start DJing on the air, I immediately encountered some unexpected challenges. The segments reserved for Streetbeat are between 10pm and 3am, and as a newcomer, my time slot that first semester was at 1am. More often than not, the last thing I wanted to do at 12:30am on a Tuesday night was go to campus, and it was a struggle to make it out of the house. In addition, despite the support I found attending other DJs’ shows, it was up to me to successfully coordinate my own show. The equipment in the OACR has a daunting array of buttons, and I felt lost without a helping hand by my side. During my first attempt at a show, I couldn’t find the on/off switch for the DJ equipment, and the next week, it took me half an hour and lots of google searches to locate the volume knob. I also had a lot of trouble getting my music on the equipment, which would only accept input from a USB, and required the use of outdated and glitchy technology that I had no idea how to troubleshoot. It was frustrating to show up at 1am, just to find myself unable to play any music. On top of that, the skill gap between me and the other, more established DJs was intimidating, and it seemed impossible that I would ever be able to navigate the DJ board with the dexterity and confidence that they effortlessly exuded. 

Trying something new is never glamorous. It is clumsy and awkward, and you have to accept failure – and an occasional, very public flop – as part of the deal. As I immersed myself in the world and community of DJing, I learned that an adventurous attitude will only get you to the starting line. In order to continue to pursue something in face of the challenges,  persistence is necessary. What continued to propel me forward through these roadblocks was my passion for music. Even defeated walks home after failed radio shows, I was exhausted but ultimately satisfied, knowing that I was doing something for myself, investing in my future. With every failed attempt or small success, I felt myself nearing a more authentic version of myself, and this understanding carried me through my door and to the radio station at one in the morning that next Tuesday night.

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By Lu Poteshman

Lu is a rising senior at Northwestern University, where she studies English Literature with a minor in Art, Theory and Practice. She is passionate about all things music and art, and loves to paint, draw, design things, write creatively, cook and explore in her free time. She is currently working towards her dreams of being a book editor by day and DJ by night.

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