Have you ever had one of those times when you really want something, but all your efforts to achieve your goal are foiled, almost by some type of unknown force? Well, you’re not alone my friend. When I worked full time as a club DJ I discovered a particularly bizarre phenomenon called Sydney Demo Syndrome, or SDS.
To fully understand my tale of woe, it’s important to note that at the time of this story most DJs – myself included – didn’t have access to a computer so when we wanted to make a demo of our work we had to record it all in one take onto cassette or minidisc. If you messed up a mix you had to go back and start recording again from the first track. Sounds fun, no?
I first encountered Sydney Demo Syndrome in December 2002. I had received an email from a DJ friend in Sydney, telling me that the Mardi Gras board had asked for demo CDs from DJs interested in playing at the next Mardi Gras party.
All I had to do was record a CD displaying my mixing skills, and I could be playing to thousands of screaming homosexuals in hotpants, all gyrating lewdly and calling my name at one of the largest gay dance parties in the Southern Hemisphere. Easy?
Well, no. For some reason, a perfectly simple process turned into a meltdown-inducing nightmare.
For starters my pal had sent the email to me with four days to spare. So time was going to be tight. Especially as I don’t have equipment set up at home, and need to go into one a club outside of opening hours to make a demo.
On a Monday night, I picked a stack of records out and went up to Connections. I had taken my minidisc deck up there on Saturday to record a set for a friend, and left it there, knowing I would be back to use it again. I got to the club, lugged my records upstairs, set everything up, and then noticed that my minidisc recorder wasn’t there.
A number of text messages and phone calls later, I located it at one of the other DJs houses, he had ‘borrowed’ it, thinking that I wouldn’t mind. And I normally wouldn’t have. but this was Mardi Gras. He apologised and said that the deck was at his house but he wasn’t – and he wouldn’t be until tomorrow. Demo attempt number one aborted.
On Tuesday I worked all day, then went and collected my deck from my friend’s house after work. I went straight to the club, recorded the demo and went home to transfer it to cd.
As soon as it started playing I noticed that the sound was only coming out of one speaker, and there was a massive humming sound in the other. It turns out that my friend was a little heavy handed when removing the plugs from the back of my deck and had broken one of the inputs. Demo attempt number two aborted.
Wednesday I tried to get my deck repaired, but was told it would take a least four days. I only had two. Not one to be beaten, I called some of the other DJs I knew and managed to borrow someone else’s recorder.
That night I recorded the set again, and wearily staggered home to transfer it to cd. Half way throught the first track the sound dropped out, then came back in again. Then it did it again, and again. It turns out that the new disc I had bought was faulty, and was part of a batch that many people had reported problems with. Demo attempt number three aborted.
Thursday was the absolute latest I could send off my demo to ensure it was received in time, so the pressure was on. As luck would have it, I had to work all day, so I got up at four in the morning and drove down to the club to have one last attempt.
With one eye half closed, I recorded the set again, checked it had recorded properly (it had!) then raced home to transfer the minidisc to cd by hooking it up to my cd burning deck and had just enough time to run it off and get to the Post Office before I started work.
When I arrived home, the house was in complete darkness. There was no electricity. I later found out that someone (who obviously didn’t appreciate my music) had slammed into a telephone pole on the way to work and blacked out half the suburb.
By this stage, a lesser mortal would have just given up, but having gotten this far, I was determined not to be beaten. I got my cd recorder deck and the minidisc player and drove back to the club. I hooked it all up, and got ready to transfer the ****ing demo onto the ****ing cd and mail the ****ing thing to ****ing Syd****ingney.
I put the minidisc back into the player, and the display flashed for a brief moment, before displaying two simple words that would strike fear into the heart of anyone that’s ever made a recording.
Followed, rather helpfully, by
And then it wiped the entire disc. Yep. The whole shebang. All gone. Game over. See ya.
I checked the display panel, half expecting it to read ‘HA! HA! HA! SUCKER!!’ but all I got was…
There is no logical reason that this should ever occur, and according to my friend, his deck had never done that before. But it did it that morning, when it was the last thing I needed it to do.
So I did what any self respecting 30 year old man would do in such a situation. I bawled my eyes out, and went to work.
Demo fail. No demo for you. You come back. One year.
Fast forward to 2003.
Again on a Thursday night I set up my minidisc deck (it was working flawlessly after being repaired) and did some full practice runs to get an idea of the flow of the tracks I wanted to use. At about 3:30am I pressed ‘record’ and started my mix.
Two tracks into it I noticed that the deck had stopped recording and was flashing the letters ‘TOC’ on the display panel. Having no idea what this meant, I tried the time honoured technical solution of calling it something that rhymed with ‘you pucking bunt!’
When this failed me, I switched it off and tried to eject the disc. It wouldn’t. I pressed play. Again nothing. I tried pressing record. Nada. It had completely seized up. Even switching it off, then on again at the power point did nothing. And as we all know if it doesn’t work after you’ve tried switching it off and then on again you’re doomed.
Because of my previous experiences with electrical equipment that suffered had clearly suffered some sort of demonic possession I decided to give up on minidisc and that the best thing to do would be to go home and get my hi-fi VCR.
You can record sound directly onto hi-fi video tape without too much loss of quality, so it was the next best option. I unplugged the minidisc deck and left the club to swap it over for my VCR.
Unluckily for me, it was pouring down with rain at the time, and as I walked down the metal steps out the back, both feet flew out from under me and I only just managed to catch myself on the railing and stop from falling down the remaining twenty steps. The minidisc deck wasn’t as lucky. It flew out of my hands and smashed open in the alleyway below.
I cleaned it up – vowing not to get angry – and threw it in the bin behind the club before driving home to get the VCR.
Upon my return, things went a little better as I managed to get three quarters of the way through the mix, with it recording perfectly before the needle inexplicably skidded from the middle to the end on the record I was playing.
“Yay! How fabulous!” I thought as I fell to the floor, sobbing. Yep. Time to go home and call it a night.
Not wanting to tempt fate too much, and suddenly becoming stair-phobic, I didn’t attempt anything again until Saturday. I went in the early afternoon, set everything up and recorded a fantastic demo. After all the practicing my mixes were flawless and I had the confidence to throw in a few little tricks, too.
I got home and went to play the tape, and it was completely blank. Everything was hooked up properly (I always do a little test recording first) but for some reason it didn’t record. No problem. I still had a few days. I decided to try again on Sunday.
I went in with my other hi-fi VCR (I clearly had more money than sense around this time), a brand new video tape and my records. I tested the recording setup twice before I did a complete run, and managed to do a perfect take. I sighed with relief as I played back the recording at the club and it sounded great – completely clear and crisp. All I had to do was take it home and transfer it to CD and I could mail it off first thing in the morning. Mission accomplished.
I pressed eject and the video tape wouldn’t come out. I got a screwdriver and removed the cover – the tape was completely chewed and wrapped around the heads of the vcr. I managed to get it out, but it was ruined. Damn you, Sydney Demo Syndrome. Damn you to hell.
Not to be a quitter, I drove to see the owner of the club and borrowed his minidisc recorder – a brand new portable unit that he’d used once. He kindly handed it to me, told me I looked like I was about to have a nervous breakdown and sent me on my way with a hug.
Back at the club I finally managed to catch a break. The mix went well and recorded properly. I took the player home and it allowed me to copy to CD without a giant squid crashing through my ceiling or any type of political coup occurring in my suburb.
The next day I labelled my cd, packed it in an overnight bag with my bio and a photo, closed my eyes for a second and willed it to be my year to be selected then handed it over to the nice man behind the counter at the Post Office.
I had beaten the dreaded Sydney Demo Syndrome.
Well, until two weeks after we were supposed to have heard back from the selection committee, when I sent them an email and they told me they didn’t receive my submission.
Oh how I laughed.
**drank myself into a stupor and woke up 5 hours later face down in a pizza.