A Lesson on How to Tour With Vinyl from a Veteran DJ

When you're a vinyl DJ faced with a tour or an out-of-town gig, there are a lot of questions to be answered. What's the best way to transport your records without breaking or losing them? What backup should you bring in case the venue's gear is faulty? Should you request a specific type of mixer or turntable on your rider? For the first installment of our new column on the nitty-gritty details of travelling with wax, we asked Claire Morgan, an Australian DJ who has toured across continents and seas with a heavy bag for years.
Claire Morgan

I’ve been touring with vinyl since about 2009, three years before I moved from Australia to Berlin. When I lived in Australia I mostly played between Sydney and Melbourne, which is just a one-hour flight, but by the time I moved the places where I could play records were becoming limited, so I was playing a lot of digital gigs too. There had been a landslide of dance music record store closures in Sydney, including Machinemusik, which is where I worked. Many clubs didn’t have turntables at all, and if they did, I knew the condition would be so poor that it wasn’t worth the hassle and I’d just end up looking like I couldn’t mix. Having said that, it’s coming full-circle in Australia, and vinyl is a thing again. There’s been a big resurgence of DJs playing records, new record stores have opened and clubs have much better vinyl setups as a result.

Now that I live in Berlin, I tour regularly around Europe and do one or two tours in Australia every year. I usually play in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Brisbane, and I always cart my big-ass bag of records around with me. I’ve developed a disturbingly in-depth knowledge of airlines’ baggage policies and how pedantic they are about weighing hand luggage at check-ins. My knowledge of this extremely boring subject extends so far as to know which airlines have long walks at layover airports or no trolleys to help you haul your bag. That can really kill your joy on 25+ hour trips with a heavy shoulder bag that you’re pretending is super-light.

You get 30 kilograms in your checked luggage, but you can’t just fill it with 30 kilos of records or else you’d be touring naked and smelly. I try to take 15 kilos of records, which is about 75 records; that’s about three to four hours’ worth of music. I have to take CDs too, because sometimes the gigs I’m playing are all different so I’ll need to have eight or nine hours of music at my disposal. For the long haul between Europe and Australia I put a shoulder bag inside a check-on lightweight hard case. It weighs four kilos, so between that and the records, I have about 10 kilos left for my clothes and toiletries. It’s difficult for the baggage handlers to damage the records if they’re packed that way.

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But my record bag has been lost quite a few times, and it’s horrible every single time. Once when I flew to Melbourne—I think it was during my last tour—Qantas lost my records. I kicked up such a stink that they actually delivered them by hand from the airport to the nightclub in the middle of the night. That ended well, but it gets a bit hairy when you fly to smaller cities around Europe and have a connection, because often you’ll go from a big plane to a smaller plane, and if they’ve got a lot of people connecting onto that flight, not all the luggage will get on the next plane. I try to always take a morning flight so there’s backup flights later in the day, which has saved me a couple of times.

The only time it didn’t work out was when I was flying to Amsterdam for the opening of a new club at the Volkshotel. When my record bag didn’t turn up KLM said, “No, it’s fine, we’re putting it on the next flight.” I gave them the Volkshotel address and asked them to drop it off. I rang every hour, and by the fifth flight of it not turning up, I was starting to panic. Then I realized that I had accidentally packed my digital backup in with my records. I could hear the stirrings from the club above me, and I was like, “OK, these fucking records are not coming. KLM have lied to me.” So I went sprinting off down the street on a quest for blank CDs and high-speed Beatporting ensued.

My records turned up about six days later back in Berlin; the relief I felt was insane. They never actually left town because Tegel Airport had a baggage handlers’ strike, so they were just randomly grabbing bags and throwing them, untagged, into a room—and mine was one of those bags that went into the room full of miscellaneous items. Lesson learned: I now always carry the bomb/expensive/irreplaceable records on with me in addition to digital backups.

Whether I’m touring or at a local gig in Berlin, the process of getting records from my studio to the gig and back is an ordeal. Every weekend I think about how easy the alternatives would be and about switching to them. I’ve played with Traktor and Final Scratch, but neither suited me. I didn’t like the feel of timecode vinyl and hated having to consult a computer screen every time I wanted to change tracks. That process took me away from what I was doing and the people in front of me.

When I injured my hand years ago I had to play just digital for six months, and I instantly started DJing like a douchebag. Cueing up the next track happens in a heartbeat, so I had so much free time that I’d get on the EQs or filters or crappy effects and mess around with music that’s far too beautiful to have some joe on a DJM800 fucking with it. I caught myself doing that, and I thought, “I don’t want this.” Nor am I the mix-and-dance-for-five-minutes/pose for photos type. I like to work hard, head down, usually sweating a lot.

Basically, I love playing records, even when it’s fucked. When the situation is a little bit difficult, it’s like a triumph; every time you get a super tight nice long mix in, you’re like, “Yeah!” It gives me a sense of accomplishment that I don’t get from digital mediums at all, and I know that feeling feeds back to my dance floor. Of course, with digital DJing you still have to select your music, mix, connect with your crowd and so on, but as a barebones craft…playing vinyl is a craft. It’s difficult. It takes practice and experience and involves problem-solving a lot of the time. I’m not sure how long my deep love for spinning records will outweigh the hassle, but for now I’m sticking with it.

Claire Morgan is playing at Culture Box in Copenhagen on Friday, November 20. Her next Australian tour with House of Mince kicks off in December.

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