We be DJs

Dear DJ friends and music people,

For most of last September I was getting up very early to go to work in a prison near Paris – the Centre Penitentiaire de Meaux.  There I was participating in a theatre / music project alongside inmates (who were already spending 8 to 15 years of their lives in prison), the Paris chamber music Orchestra, three professional actors, the pianist Shani Diluka and the theatre / opera director Olivier Fredj.

Some background info: In 2019, in preparation of the project , writing workshops were held that included terminal patients of the Pitié Salpetriere Hospital, a homeless shelter,  a retirement home and the prison I was visiting.
The idea was to connect different entities / institutions / people of the society whose paths only rarely would cross. Some of the writings spoke about the “before” and “after”, about confinement, about the perception of time, death etc – and in mids of the pandemic that had brought me to very emotional  introspection and reflection all these words suddenly gained a different meaning, another kind of urgency, etc…
But most of all, the experience to work together with the detainees to develop a project, this utopian moment of a small society working towards a specific goal, and everything we all were learning during the process was an unforgettable experience.
The new situation in which I found myself (like all of you) , forced me to relate myself differently to my work. On the one hand the obvious: the end of nightlife, of the club, the classic space for dancing.
But also: the end of the routine of developing releases, focusing on deadlines, promo, touring, and this functionality around what I was doing.
At least in my case this brought me closer to my creativity,  and to my initial and profound reasons of why I’ve always been doing music.To some extent it has been a liberation process as I felt (in pre Covid times) that more and more the reality of our “independent” music industry was becoming an obstacle between me and my creativity, between me and my necessitites, between me and music, between me and spontaneity.
Who knows how the future will look like but at least for the moment I don’t want to nourish my anxieties with questions like “when will I play as a dj again?”. I am neither attracted by the idea of thinking about my public image, about visibility or “creating content”, etc… I’ve been sensing a profound attraction towards my inner world, the nature that surrounds me, the direct encounters with people that I can have.

It happened that my birthday was during the weeks I was working in prison.  The participants had prepared a little surprise for me and we had a small celebration in the rehearsal space. There I had a little but relatively powerful sound system I was connected to with my equipment. As it was quite a festive mood and we were starting to cut a cake they had baked for me, so I thought this is the perfect moment for playing a track that would make everybody dance. In view that most of the inmates were of Algerian descent I decided to play this wonderful Raï classic: Ya Zina

Raïna Raï – Ya Zina

In no time we had a little party going on, and everyone was dancing,  and even singing along (most knew the lyrics). The athmosphere was joyful and emotive. (One prisoner came up to me and told me the last time he had been dancing like this with friends to music with such volume and subs had been 8 years ago…)
At some point the situation got a bit out of control as the music was resounding in the whole prison and we even started to hear cheerings from the cells… so the responsible person working in the cultural program of the prison said to me: “very cool, Matias, but I think you should stop now…” So I found a nice ending to my one track set, putting some delay on the master…

For me personally in addition to this whole event, was the fact that it was the first time since February that I had been in this situation of playing music and having people dancing. On top of that whole experience of working on this project – this specific moment touched me profoundly and made me think of the work a dj does as I understand it or as it again and again takes shape in my mind:
The idea to bring a track, a song, to its moment, to a situation, to look for the moment of most impact for a track, and above all – to play for others, not for yourself. And not to reduce the idea of the dj to someone who’s playing in a club for an audience that already knows what to expect.
It made me think of – for instance – creating a manifesto of the “situationist dj” who abandons nightlife to bring music to its impact in other spaces.
In many conversations I’ve been having with fellows in our music work we’ve been talking about “education”.
For me this is a crucial concept, but not understanding it as a unidirectional concept, but as a moment in which we all are learning.

My best gigs in 2020 were
1)    playing tracks against cops, hidden in a balcony in Santiago, irritating the police forces who couldn’t tell the source of where that music was coming from.
2)    Trying to enter in a dialogue with nature via making music in a forest
3)    That small party in jail

I wanted to share this experience with you, an experience that I am still digesting, and I think I have to do much more reflection about.  But beginning this new year, I felt the urge to somehow share this with you. Maybe it inspires you in a similar way.

I sincerely wish you all the best for 2021
(feel free to share this with whom you think it might make sense)