It’s not all bright lights and fist pumps, this DJ life. Technical issues, travel delays and mis-matched line-ups are par for the course when you’ve been playing out long enough — not to mention the self-doubt many struggle with, even at the peak of their career. But these difficult sets, brutal as they are, can also bring about moments of breakthrough — and more often than not, they’re plain hilarious. Dave Jenkins catches up with ten DJs to hear the story of their worst moment behind the decks.



“I was over eight months pregnant and travelling up to my last gig before taking some maternity time — Warehouse Project.

“It had been a long day. Doctor’s appointment, radio show, train to Manchester. I hadn’t eaten on the way up because we had a table booked at a restaurant. But the food took ages to arrive. By now I hadn’t eaten properly for around 12 hours. Things are getting intense.

“Kampire and my friend are talking to me, there’s rock & roll karaoke going on, ‘Sex Is On Fire’ is playing really really loudly. I’m focusing hard on Kampire but, as she talks to me, I suddenly see her head splitting into two!

“I stand up like, ‘I need to get out of here!’ ‘Sex Is On Fire’ is still blaring and then… I faint! I also vomit on myself and pee myself. I came back around, downed a can of coke, cleaned up and felt okay. Well, okay enough to play my set… I felt grim and went through the motions. I’m not sure it’s my worst set musically, but it’s one where I definitely felt the worst!”



“There have been quite a few weird moments, like having to put the driver in the back seat as he was falling asleep and driving us to the airport, or being picked up by a rival promoter and being driven around so I’d miss the gig I was supposed to play…

“But the worst gig is actually directly attributed to being in the DJ Mag Top 100, which has only happened once or twice in my career. I was booked to play in Marrakech in a castle. They put me up in a wonderful hotel near the main square — the hospitality was perfect. On the evening of the set, white Bentleys and other OTT cars were outside the castle and I went into a venue with the most beautiful lighting and sound.

“I already noticed the music was quite charty vocal house music, so I respectfully started off with some groovy Chicago/New York house. It was harder-edged to what was being played but I tried to make a musical bridge. Then a Prince came up to me and asked if I could moderate my music to a more mellow format. I continued trying to be mellow, then after five more minutes he said I should finish. I agreed with him completely. We both understood the booking was a mistake. I asked him if he knew me or my music and he explained I was booked because I was in the DJ Mag Top 100. He was a gentleman and very courteous, though, and the next day I was shown around the city as if nothing had happened, so no bad feelings at all.”



“I was booked to play a university ball. It’s your usual black-tie affair with a mixture of everything musically. I’m headlining, a Britney tribute band is warming up and they’re banging it out.

“Everyone’s loving it but I’m there thinking, ‘Where’re the decks?’ Worried, I ask the sound guy who tells me there’s a 15 minute changeover. Alarm bells ring. The ballroom might be buzzing now but it won’t be after 15 minutes of silence!

“Then the set-up arrives. The CDJs are 2000s not 3000s as my rider requested. There’s a formatting issue for USBs between the two models and three of my USBs won’t read. Luckily I find an older USB which works. I’m ready to go. But as I begin the porter runs up saying, ‘Remember there’s a sound curfew!’ I thought, ‘You what, mate?’

“Turns out after midnight the sound needs to be under 79dB. That’s quieter than a hairdryer. From here things go from bad to worse. The crowd immediately drifts. I turn the monitors around, cranked as loud as possible. The first few rows enjoy a bit of the vibe. It’s going as okay as can be. Then I look up and see blue lights blinking and a massive crowd in the courtyard. I ask what’s going on — I’m told, very excitedly, that it’s a silent disco.

“Outside, where everyone is meant to be quiet, they’re all having a great time. Inside, where it should be a full-on rave, you can hear nothing but crickets! That’s your headline — crickets! I played the whole set and I kept a fair few hundred people there, but I didn’t have the room raving like the Britney tribute. It was very humbling. No matter how well you feel you’re doing, there’s always going to be random things you cannot factor in and you have to be okay with that. It’s made me more vigilant about checking my tech rider, curfews, changeovers and line-ups before I play. So in that sense, as bad an experience as it was, it’s made me a sharper DJ.”



“I have suffered so much debilitating anxiety before shows in the past, I don’t even know where to begin… there’s a famous show of mine in Romford in 2003. It’s still online to this day. Watch it and you can see my fear. I was terrified! But I took comfort from the company of good friends like DJ EZ and Matt Jam Lamont so it was okay. Other shows saw me completely paralysed by my own mental health.

“A year before the Romford show I had come to the UK for two smaller gigs: a private event at a hotel and one at City Sounds record store. I was petrified, in the hotel room in tears. I had to call my therapist in America for encouragement! Once I spoke to him and played I realised how badly I’d built things up in my head. It can never be as bad as I had imagined.

“It was an epiphany I tapped into years later. The garage boom burst in the late 2000s and I took some time out and worked in customer service. I was crying at my desk pretty much every day. I knew I needed to give music another push and that DJ sets would be key to that. So I got back out there, really pushed myself and I can pin-point the specific moment where things changed.

“Bestival, 2009, on that huge Arcadia spider. I’d only just started playing festivals and it was, without doubt, the most fearful build-up to a set I’d ever had. Terrifying! But by the end of the set the crowd had doubled and the vibe was unreal. I was ecstatic and thought, ‘What am I afraid of?’ After playing that I feel like I could handle anything and it’s true to this day.

“Now I love DJing. I can play any time of the event and follow any DJ. I genuinely enjoy it and love making connections. But until that moment the very idea of doing that froze me to the core. I’m proud of how far I’ve come and want to offer any DJs who experience mental health and anxiety issues as much strength and encouragement as possible. If I can do it, you can too!”



“It’s 2018. At the time I was fairly upcoming, Coco and I had dropped a freestyle and I felt things were happening. This was an early headline show so I was quietly confident there’d be a few people there. Not packed but a few, you know?

“So we pull up to the club. There’s a few of us. Me, Coco, my then manager, his dad, his sister. We get to the club and the bouncers are looking at us funny. Like ‘what are you doing here?’ I say we’re performing. They laugh and tell us good luck. We walk in and it’s empty. We outnumber the bar staff! Not one punter. I felt bad for the promoter. It was a passion project  —  he believed in my music and hoped others would. So I play anyway. To a completely empty venue. It wasn’t a dream headline booking, but it wasn’t a bad time either. I just made the most of it and saw it as extra practice time!”



“I go through all the emotions in one DJ set. From, ‘Wow this is absolutely amazing!’ To, ‘Oh my god what am I even doing?’ Add sobriety and I have to jump into warrior mode. In the past, I’d take some tequila shots to get out of my head and into my body. As a sober person you have to do things in a more natural way, but there was nothing I could do to get out of my head during a string of shows last year.

“I was having my own mental health issues at the time and couldn’t get on the other side of it. Every set I played I just couldn’t get it together. It spun me into a depression. Like, ‘Shit, I’ve lost it. I’ve totally lost it.’ It was terrifying, but I was feeding into my own fears.

“Of course no-one is noticing anything. They’re having the time of their life. But in my head during those shows I was dying. Truthfully I was going through a difficult moment in my life. When I got through it I remembered I am never the sum of my last show. I think that’s important to stress… whether it’s your best or worst, you’re never the sum of your last show. Keep it grounded. Keep it good. Keep it going.”



“Early in my career I would say yes to any opportunity, including one particular party in a Hollywood gallery… even though I had to bring in my own speakers and had to play directly off my laptop without any turntables, CDJs or controller.

“Somehow I made it work. People seemed to be enjoying it. But the gallery owner kept asking me to change the music, then suddenly ran up with a CD that had an acapella and instrumental of a song by one of the artists she was working with.

“She said, ‘Can you live remix this?’ I thought ‘What?!’ This was 2008. Ableton Live didn’t really allow for ‘live remixing’, not with the limited set-up I had anyway. I figured I’d try and play them together, but the artist came running up saying, ‘They’re not in sync!’ I didn’t even know how the original song went! How did they think this was going to work?

“It was a nightmare. Even getting paid became an obstacle as the gallery owner talked down to me as if I were a child, scolding me. I felt so small and worthless, I questioned whether I was even fit to be a DJ. I made a promise I’d never put myself in that situation ever again and start being more selective of what I said ‘yes’ to in the future!”



“I think everyone has little slip-ups from time-to-time. I don’t know any DJ in their career that hasn’t accidentally pressed the cue button and stopped a track, or taken out the wrong USB.

“One example was when I was playing a pop-up in Warehouse Project with Bou and a deck literally just went crazy on me during a big, anthemic track while everyone was going for it. My heart always stops for a split-second whenever I try and work out a technical problem, particularly if it’s not an obvious one like an emergency loop. But then I thought, ‘do you know what? Let’s just get on the mic and have a laugh about it!’

“So I got on the mic and said, ‘Clearly this deck is having a bad day, shall we try that again on the other one?’. The crowd just thought it was jokes. If anything it kind of connected us all more actually!”



“I won’t say what country it was, but I will say my worst set was on a Friday — it might have even been Friday 13th!

“Following a delayed flight and the driver not turning up I eventually arrive and start playing but it’s clear the crowd weren’t going to like my music. They preferred the heavy dubstep guy before me and the dancefloor is clearing badly. Some type of Karen even comes up saying, ‘Can you play something we can dance to?’

“I really don’t know why they booked me. I played as well as I could and felt absolutely awful about it. It wasn’t my best gig, they weren’t the right crowd, I just wanted to go to bed! But when I did go back to my room, I couldn’t sleep because I was right next door to the venue and it was banging all night.

“After two hours sleep things continue to go wrong… no-one is there to pick me up. I couldn’t get hold of anyone. It wasn’t a proper hotel so there was no reception. I had no currency. This was before smartphones.

“Finally, somehow, I organise a cab. We’re on the way to the airport and I suddenly think, ‘Shit! I haven’t got money!’ He doesn’t accept credit cards. What am I going to do? I had a new credit card, so for the whole way I’m thinking ‘What’s my PIN?’ We get there. I try it once. Wrong. I try it again. Wrong.

“One more fail and I’m selling my records to pay him! I take a deep breath and try one last time… it’s the right PIN. I felt ecstatic. It was literally the only good luck I had that gig!”



“Everyone knows that free parties often get a little chaotic or things don’t go quite as planned. But this one was exceptionally messy. I had bitten the bullet and gone digital and this was my first set playing off USBs. But I quickly realised that a lot of the files weren’t compatible, so I kept having to restart the CDJs and improvising.

“Being a female DJ, of course some guy comes and tries to ‘help’. He’s very pushy, telling me things I already know. I tried to be polite but then he tried to put his own USB in the port and I was like, ‘Woah, boundaries!’ Then a girl comes up and adds to my anxiety by asking if I’m going to play harder or faster stuff and tells me my selection is too slow and not very good! Before I can even react, she gives me evils and walks off.

“Still I try to ride the storm and get into my mix when suddenly a huge fight kicks off! Arms and legs everywhere. They’re getting very close to the decks, too. The organiser is nowhere to be seen, so I pull the music down and wait for things to settle down.

“Eventually, after about 20 minutes, it does settle and I get back into it. Ten minutes later, the police arrive! By now it’s gone from weird to ridiculous. They’re just sitting there with their headlights on, creating an ominous presence and a really weird vibe for the rest of my set. By the end of it, I’m happy to get the hell out of there. Even by chaotic illegal rave standards, this one really stands out.”