Inside the mind of a DJHow much planning goes into the playlist of a top DJ? Do beats really help you conquer tiredness? And how do you keep 1,000 people dancing past 6 a.m.? A report from a marathon club night, live from the mind of Berlin techno star Alex.Do.
Early Saturday morning, mid-February: Alex.Do — a rising star on the Berlin techno scene — is on the freeway, being chauffeured in a Jaguar F-PACE SUV
to his last stop of the night. The 27-year-old DJ is playing for the first time at Cologne club Bootshaus, a venue named by scene bible DJ Mag as one of the top 20 clubs in the world.
As well as the fact that he’s about to make his Bootshaus debut, Alex.Do faces another challenge: He’s been booked to play the closing set, which starts at 5 a.m., but his car is way behind schedule.
I hate it when the night doesn’t go according to plan. We’re poking along at 40 mph through fresh snow … it’s hopeless. There are 1,000 people at Bootshaus waiting for me and the set I’ve planned. But I can forget that — because I’m late I’ll be playing for a much shorter time. The playlist I’ve prepared is useless.
I’m finally here. This has to be it: A building that looks like an old factory or shipyard. There are people in thick winter jackets waiting at the barrier. Are they still in the mood? Slowly, the tension rises again. There’s a top lineup at Bootshaus tonight.
The Bootshaus gig is a double challenge for Alex.Do. Two top DJs have opened the proceedings: German techno pioneer Chris Liebing and Rødhåd, poster boy of Alex.Do’s Berlin record label, Dystopian.
Yeah! People are still dancing. Which way to the decks? It’s pitch black. One step, then another. There’s Rødhåd, the consummate professional, taking it all in his stride. “So, you had to do some overtime?” He smirks. I slip off my jacket, take a swig of water and get a sense of where I am … Rødhåd plays deep, repetitive techno, perfect for this time of the morning … I have to build a seamless transition into my set.
It’s in with the USB stick … 5,000 songs. There are tracks on my playlist I definitely can’t play now: There’s not enough time, and the atmosphere is much too intense. I’m going to have to improvise in front of 1,000 people. Rødhåd is already playing his last track. I’m scrolling … and scrolling … This one could really get things going: Ricardo Garduno, “Alteraciones de Amor.” It’s classic techno: repetitive, hypnotic … and off we go!
I’ve got to maintain the energy level Rødhåd has built up. Got to really go for it — no experimenting. First, I play hypnotic tunes to build up the energy, then tracks with more of a melody.
Alex.Do says that he has two strategies when it comes to playing closing sets. The first approach is to keep the atmosphere at boiling point right up until the very end. The second is to get everyone’s adrenaline going and then forge a smooth transition in order to deliver the clubgoers into the cold light of day. The second option is the tougher of the two. Alex.Do wants to pull it off in just 45 minutes.
Anyone who’s still on the dance floor at 6 a.m. is going to stick it out to the end. They’re the hardcore, the people I need to reach. What are they feeling right at this moment? I’ve got to see it in their faces. It only takes a fraction of a second and then it strikes me like a flash. There! Those women closest to the decks are dancing with their eyes closed. They’re swaying. That’s a good sign.
It’s amazing how quickly you switch to autopilot: Over the last 15 minutes, my choice of track has virtually picked itself. Now I’m playing “Lattice” by Marcel Dettmann. I haven’t had this on my playlist for ages. It’s ultra-minimal; there are only three to four rhythm elements. We’ll see if it still works.
It does. One guy is sitting on his friend’s shoulders. Nice.
According to Alex.Do, the crucial part of the night is the transition into the lower-key part of the set. A good DJ will “build bridges, pile one layer of atmosphere on top of another,” as he puts it.
Alex.Do pays very close attention to the crowd’s reaction as he mixes one track into another. Has their dancing become less intense? Are the breaks in the songs working? Are there spontaneous shouts of joy?
It’s time for me to slowly start bringing people down a bit. I’ve gotten completely carried away by the music. I need more of a tune to end on. “Drenched” will work. It’s one of my own tracks. It’s a bit more melodic, but still minimal …
OK, then. The very last track of the set has got to be almost chilled … I go for my remix of “Phases,” with the soul vocals … slow it down … very slowly … how are those women dancing?
The whole place is flooded in an orange light. The person in charge knows what they’re doing; there’s nothing worse than strobe lighting right to the end. Now I can see everyone. They slowly stop dancing …
Some people still have their eyes closed — it’s crazy. There’s applause … phew! Mission accomplished.
Outside Bootshaus, Alex.Do breathes in the air of a winter morning in Cologne and buries his hands in his jacket pockets. “I could collapse here right now,” he says. “Once the adrenaline’s gone, fatigue hits you like that.” Later this evening he’ll play in Rotterdam. He checks his phone and shrugs. “I can get five hours of sleep by midday,” he says.