My first DJ set was during a terror attack.
It was June 3, 2017. I was backstage at Omeara, where my band had just played our last headlining show of tour. A friend sent us champagne to celebrate. As we poured glasses and began to toast, blue lights began strobing through the greenroom window. We gathered around to look. A crowd of people were running down the middle of the street. At first I thought it was a marathon. Then I noticed the street clothes, the distinct lack of running shoes. People were looking back over their shoulders as they ran.
There was a knock on the door. The promoter told us we needed to go downstairs to the bar. He was apologetic as he explained that the venue was going on lockdown. Police had already arrived. There was no other information yet.
The bar in Omeara was packed. People were clustered into groups, refreshing twitter for news. No one had any idea what was going on. I asked a woman if she had heard any news. She shook her head. “After your show ended I walked outside and saw people running. I thought I saw a body on the ground. I couldn’t tell if they had fallen or what. But everyone was running so I turned around and ran back inside the venue. I didn’t know what else to do.” We hung out at the bar speculating, doing our best not to succumb to a feeling of dread as police sealed the exit with chains and a padlock.
My bandmates and I took over the unmanned DJ booth. It was clear we weren’t going anywhere and the lack of house music wasn’t good for moral. I had never DJ-ed before and this was a rough night to start. It wasn’t a party. It was 300+ people locked in a room during what twitter was officially calling a terror attack. Is a song on earth appropriate for such fucked up circumstances? I wanted to maintain positivity without pretending some unknown horror wasn’t unfolding beyond the padlocked doors. I started with the songs I’ve always loved the most. As soon as ‘Praise You’ came on there was a collective energy shift. People began laughing and dancing. I played hits from The Beta Band, Len, Sublime. I went for full nostalgia. People started making requests, getting into it, and the night really bloomed. Hundreds of us belted out Bittersweet Symphony. People brought us drinks and offered us places to stay. I hugged and danced with a lot of strangers. There was a powerful feeling of camaraderie in the room. It felt like the end of the world and we were reminded of the fact every time the police asked me to stop the music so that they could make an announcement. “We don’t know what has happened. There is a bomb threat, but you are all in the safest place you can be.”
By 3am the dance floor was losing steam. People found discreet places to sleep, curled up in corners. We DJ-ed for close to four hours that night and only stopped when the police made their final announcement. At 4am they released us. The scene outside was apocalyptic—too quiet, too empty, police tape everywhere. There were no people, no cars, no tube. Everyone left on foot, wordlessly. My bandmates and I carried our equipment for blocks until we reached the end of the cordon and called a car. We arrived at the airport 30 minutes before our flight took off. It was only then that we learned what had happened that night.
I will never forget the way London Bridge looked that night. I will never forget singing Bittersweet Symphony with the kindest humans you could ever share a police cordon with.
Photo by Annie Dressner.