Sunday, September 18, 2011

Ever put the wrong record on at the wedding disco?

The wedding we went to this weekend was one of those rare occasions where the dance floor was crowded from the moment the confetti bomb went off over the head of the happy couple, who inaugurated proceedings to the sound of Andy Williams. Young and old, sophisticats and rubes subsequently lapped up a programme of tunes that largely pre-dated 1990 and thankfully inclined towards the bleeding obvious: "Superstition", "Blame It On The Boogie", "I'm A Believer", "Staying Alive", "Livin' La Vida Loca" and "Uptown Girl" were just a few of the tunes I remember. None of the DJ's selections seemed to be trying to appeal to the usual snobs sneering on the sidelines because there weren't any. Everyone was on the dance floor.

The only time our man dropped the ball was when he played "Sweet Child O' Mine" by Guns N' Roses. This can only have been in response to a request from somebody in the wedding party. The DJ must have suspected that you couldn't follow tunes like those above with a piece of near-rock as sludgy, generic and ploddingly macho as this one. It went down well with a handful of young males but the rest of the dancers began to slip away, to re-charge their glasses and wait for the restoration of good sense. The DJ's heart must have sunk and the song's 5.56 running time must have stretched before him like a Russian winter. He must have been kicking himself inside.

It's a funny thing. When dancers are in the zone they want one particular set of chords and beats to go on forever while wishing that some other set of chords and beats would immediately cease. Time either gallops by or drags unbearably according to what the tune is. Our DJ got it back with Beyonce - the universal panacea for party longueurs - and then never wavered again. Maybe that's the mark of a great wedding set. It's only by making one wrong move that we see the true path more clearly. It's only by recognising what is not party music that we appreciate how rare real party music is.


  1. The one that gets me at weddings (and we had it at two this season) is the DJ playing "Young Hearts Run Free".

    I mean, it's right there in the open. "What's the sense in sharing this one and only life? Ending up just another lost and lonely wife." - at least listen to the record!

  2. In my heyday at the "wheels of steel", mostly playing records for rich people's functions at the Haycock Hotel, I used to cart about 500 singles with me for show in big wooden crates.
    And another small box with the 30 singles I actually played every night. Everything on your list plus Lulu's Shout, Love Shack, Come on Eileen, New York, New York, Volare, Dont stop till you get enough, Communards...the Hits just kept on coming. Floor full. Punters happy. Lots of repeat bookings...

    A wedding disco is no place for snobbery. Or Guns and Roses...

  3. Sweet Child Of Mine is a perfect wedding tune, provided it a) comes late in the evening, and b) everyone is inebriated.

  4. My "DJ Crisis" CD contains about four tracks... Groove Is In The Heart, Can't Get You Out Of My Head, Twist And Shout plus the Beyoncé track you've mentioned.

    Requests are always a headache. At one wedding, the bride's mother insisted on hearing Lady In Red. I tried the usual approach: "Oh no, you must have missed it when you were arguing with the caterers" but she wasn't to be deterred.

    I slunk under the mixing desk as the song began and the floor cleared - save for one lonely couple waltzing, obliviously, to Chris De Burgh.

    For the first two minutes, I had no idea how to recover. Then I realised I had a secret weapon.

    And, as De Burgh's final, feeble whisper faded away, in came the unmistakable chords of... Smells Like Teen Spirit.

  5. I did some DJing in my youth -- school discos and student union dos -- and eventually decided it was a soul-destroying enterprise.

    If filling the floor is your measure of success, then you have to ruthlessly target the lowest common denominator. You're forced to lie to most people making requests - or be an arsehole more directly.

    Don't get me wrong - I admire what a good DJ achieves - I just didn't enjoy having to do what that entails.

    I think it's trickier to define success, though, than just filling the floor consistently. If you fill the floor all night with pop, Motown and disco, while a 5% minority of rock/indie guests mope around the fringes looking bored all night -- is that a success? What if that 5% minority is the bride, the groom, and their closest friends?

  6. Even if the 5% is the people you mention, they should want all their guests to have fun. If the rock/indie fans can't lighten up and realise they are at a wedding not a gig, then they are taking themselves far too seriously.

    A chap I met once played 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' at a wedding. Most inappropriate both musically and emotionally

  7. @Huw exactly right: "*all* their guests to have fun".

    At a typical wedding, I'm guessing 20% of the guests can fill the dancefloor. You can fill the floor with I Want You Back at 9pm, and keep that same group of people dancing until last orders. It looks like you've done your job -- people danced throughout -- but perhaps only 20% of the guests enjoyed the music.

    It would be much better from the perspective of showing *everyone* a good time -- but much more difficult -- to shift genres throughout the set, such that you lose a few dancers and gain some new ones every half hour, such that by the end of the night everyone (who wants to) has had a stint on the dancefloor.

    I find David's example of Sweet Child O' Mine odd -- I'm not a GnR fan by any means -- but in my direct experience, at the weddings of friends I went to university with in the mid 90s, that song brings people running to the dancefloor.

    Some of my peers routinely ask for "The Ace of Spaces" and "Ca Plain Pour Moi" at wedding discos. It provides 5 minutes of joy for the ~10 people who dance to it. Then they can put The Gap Band on if they like.

  8. I once heard Radiohead's 'Pyramid Song' being played at a friends wedding, it was surreal, the dance floor emptied...but it did the job as the buffet needed finishing. A few of us (groom included) enjoyed it as it gave us all a couple of minutes to escape the chaos of the day.

  9. The Spanish DJ at my wedding - strictly used to dance-only - was asked to play one request from each guest.

    Someone had requested "Smells Like Teen Spirit".

    He played "Rape Me" instead.

    It makes for a good anecdote, but my wife wasn't impressed at the time.

  10. What kind of person asks to hear Guns and Roses at a bloody wedding reception? I find that it more than a bit selfish to ask the DJ what (in my world anyway) would have been a party killer.

    Get drunk and dance, leave your NME attitudes at home. Unless he plays 'The Lady In Red' of course.

  11. John: while a 5% minority of rock/indie guests mope around the fringes looking bored all night -- is that a success? What if that 5% minority is the bride, the groom, and their closest friends?

    Then they hired the wrong DJ.

  12. @londonlee

    I don't get it. GnR isn't snobby NME material. It's rabble rousing party music.

    It's not like requesting, say, Glasvegas.