In his own words he looks like an accountant or a dentist, so how did an English gent from the Cotswolds become the undisputed world champion of the Reggae soundclash, a gladiatorial arena where DJs compete track-by-track to win the crowd, and only the brave survive?
In a career lasting nearly four decades, David Rodigan has become a legendary figure in the Reggae world. The qualities that drive his success are the ones that get you to the top in any profession – dedication, persistence and passion. His knowledge of Jamaican music is unparalleled and, at an age when most are lovingly tending their geraniums, the 66 year-old headlines gigs around the globe, thrilling punters of all types, many of whom are young enough to be his grandkids.
Surprising? Maybe, but not as surprising as him headlining a GTD blog, so let me explain…
A couple of months back my colleague, Ed Lamont, wrote a blog about prioritisation with GTD. In it, he proposed that once your GTD system has helped you quickly reduce all the things you could possibly do to a shortlist of relevant options, you should go with your gut in making your choice of which to go with.
And here’s the thing… around that time I was reading Rodigan’s autobiography, too, and the following description of how he chooses the right record to play in a soundclash resonated with Ed’s blog like a Bob Marley bass line;
“An instinctive quality that you have to learn is when to change gear. You just sense it in the crowd… I know this sounds funny but the records kind of talk to you. A tune will almost say ‘Play me’ – that’s the only way I can describe it. You are looking through the box and almost feel that the song is calling out to you. I’ve always trusted and relied upon that instinct. Sometimes in a two- or three- hour set I will find myself thinking, “Where am I going to go next?” But then certain songs leap out at you and you know they will work. Those are the instincts that keep you alive in a sound clash.” (from ‘Rodigan – A Life in Reggae’)
Like anyone faced with a big list of things to do, Rodigan has a range of choices about where to go next, but what he relies on most in the moment, in the heat of the night, is the ability to go with his gut and his instinct. “Play me, play me”.
Part of the reason this connection jumped out at me is because I know a bit about how NOT to be a disc jockey, having dabbled with the decks for a couple of years at university in the late 80s. In particular, at number one spot on the ‘Things-that-now-make-me-wince’ list, I recall once numbering and ordering all my dance 12 inches with BPM (beats per minute) speed in marker pen. The cunning plan was to be able to quickly and easily choose records that mixed seamlessly with the last.
Technically it worked a treat but, unfortunately, paying too much attention to the numbers on the records rather than the mood of the crowd meant that changes of direction would sometimes come from suddenly noticing empty spaces on the dance floor rather than from flashes of musical genius. Up to my neck in numerals, I’d not notice the natives slowly getting restless and wandering off to the bar. Needless to say, Fatboy Slim never lost any sleep over the rise of DJ Seech.
There are parallels here when working from GTD lists and trying to make the right choices about what to do next. Trying to over-engineer my record box like that was the musical equivalent of over-grooming a task list with things like due dates, high/low prioritisation, percentage completion and so on, all in the hope that it will help when it comes time to choose what to do.
Too often it just doesn’t, because the complexity that looked so perfect in the planning just becomes a distraction later in the heat of the moment when it needs to be de-coded.
This is especially true if circumstances change, like the mood in the room. You’ll know this if you’ve ever spent time resetting unreal due dates that you set a few days before thinking that it would help you move smoothly from thing to thing in that perfect order, only to then find that reality blew your plan to bits.
(You’ll also know about your system failure if you’ve ever heard hundreds of people singing the ‘Hang the DJ’ chorus of that Smiths track at you and sensed they weren’t kidding.)
You can only trust your gut if you have a trusted set of options at your fingertips in a system that’s simple enough to support you rather than so complex that it distracts you.
Then you can listen for that whisper… “Play me”.