DJ Obi: “People thought I was dancing to the music but I was really just trying to not pee on myself.”
Marathon DJ sets are nothing new in the world of dance music. Selectors like Markus Schulz, Ben Klock, Danny Tenaglia, and countless others have made names for themselves over the years by slamming down sets that extend well past the 10-hour mark. But what about the idea of playing a set that lasts ten whole days?
For DJs that get tossed boatloads of cash to play clubs and festivals, it’s probably not worth the time or struggle of attempting such an exhausting feat. Instead, the task of these extreme tests of endurance has gone to a collection of lesser-known jocks like Polish DJ Norbert Selmaj, AKA Norberto Loco, who in November of 2014 set the previous world record for longest DJ set from the Underground Temple Bar in Dublin, where he performed a 200-hour set. He has since played at the likes of Pacha Ibiza, and is marketed as the world record holder. Before him, Australia’s DJ Smokin’ Joe Mekhael stole the title from his own predecessor, Brazil’s DJ King, with a set of 168 hours. King had previously won the record with a set of 120 hours and 19 minutes.
But now, our planet has a new champion: Nigeria’s DJ Obi. In his hometown of Lagos—from a room called Sao Café Lagos— the man born Obi Ajuonuma obliterated ole’ Norbert’s record by a whole forty hours, performing non-stop for ten straight days from June 22 to 11:30 PM on July 2. According to an interview with the BBC, Obi was allowed a series of small breaks (totaling no more than 2 hours each day), as well as daily medical checks, massages, and vitamins. He was also was prohibited from repeating a song within four hours of previously playing it, and someone had to be dancing at all times. The record has not yet been officially ratified by Guinness World Records, but all signs indicate that Obi stayed true to the official rules and was monitored throughout.
After being wowed by the news, THUMP called up Obi on the phone for the full scoop. We learned that he didn’t use the sync button the entire time, how he went to the bathroom throughout set, and why he nearly destroyed his body for the world title.
THUMP: Hey Obi. First off, congrats on your victory. How’s it going?
DJ Obi: Not bad, I finally got some sleep.
I can imagine that must have been nice. Did you take a very long nap after?
I did, I slept for at least 11 hours the day after.
What else have you been doing?
Just cooling it out, chilling, [doing] press here and there because we’re trying to catch onto the momentum of everything.
I’d love to hear about your background and what led you to this. Can you tell me how you got started as a DJ in Nigeria?
I actually started out in the States. I was in Boston, going to school at Worcester State. I was DJing to try to make some extra money, and also working in the mall. I had a flair for DJing in high school, after my friend taught me the basics. I thought about being a party promoter but there you have to put in too much money to go into it. I went to Guitar Center and bought my first set of decks; it was a Numark Mixtrack II. Then I started playing house parties and college parties, and later on started doing clubs. Eventually I graduated and moved back to Nigeria.
What places did you play?
All around the east coast: New York, DC, Virginia. I went as far as London a few times in college. I used my network of friends from high school and people I’d met to get gigs. Nigerians are everywhere. You just call a few people who ended up in the party scene and they’ll fly you out to book you for little college parties. I always came back to Nigeria every Christmas and booked club gigs out here though. When I moved back I decided to make it a full-time thing and stick to that.
What’s the scene for DJs and electronic music in Lagos?
We decided to do this to start getting respect for DJs in Nigeria. Some countries in Africa really respect the DJs, but in Nigeria they don’t consider DJs the life of the party in the same way. People didn’t believe I was going to actually make a career out of it until they saw me start to make it happen. Partying out here is cool, but people just have the stereotypes of those who party. But now it’s becoming more respectable.
What music do DJs usually play out in Nigeria?
There’s a hip-hop scene, and an afro-beat scene, then some house music. My entire set for the first 8 days was house music. It made more sense to stretch out the whole project. Afterwards I went more hip-hop, afro-beat, reggae, stuff like that.
Before you went for the record what was the longest set you’d done? Was there a way to train for this?
There’s no physical way of preparing for this, it’s a mental thing. The only way I could prepare was by downloading a lot of tracks. I downloaded a lot of folders and files of vocal house or deep house that would each have 200-500 tracks. There isn’t any physical way to prepare to stay awake for 10 days though. Your body goes as far as your mind can take it. After the third day it was difficult because I realized I still had a week to go. It was a mind fuck at that point. It was really difficult to come into myself in the morning—there were a lot of hallucinations going on but I was able to snap out of it. By the last day it was really terrible, which is why the medical staff had to step in. My body was just doing its own thing. I wouldn’t remember where I was, I wasn’t recognizing faces, I was very cranky.
What kind of things were you hallucinating?
I just thought I was somewhere else. There was only one floor where I was playing, but I kept thinking that I was upstairs and kept telling people to go downstairs. At one point I thought I was at my uncle’s house.
My body just did it’s own thing for the first three hours every day until 9 or 10 and then I’d snap out of it. Part of the rules is that the music couldn’t stop for more than 10 seconds.
So Guinness had someone that was there who was watching you the entire time?
They couldn’t come to Nigeria so they just set up cameras. We each had timers that had to match so they’d know I was on time.
What was a typical day like for you. Like, what did you eat and drink?
I didn’t really have an appetite so I wasn’t eating full meals. I was eating more fruits and drinking juices, and I really could only completely eat oatmeal. I would just have a few bites and wouldn’t really have an appetite to eat anything else. We could do five minute breaks after every hour and could pile them up: 20 minutes after an 4 hours and an hour after 12 hours, so I only had two hours every day. I could shower, relax, whatever it was.
Then I started doing an hour break after 12 hours, but my blood pressure was up so they medical department thought I should do twenty minutes every four hours. I didn’t actually sleep because even if I had an hour I would have to brush my teeth, eat, or change my clothes and I only had a few minutes after that before I had to keep going. I would just chill for a bit before heading back to the DJ booth. What kept me going was the energy in the room. I didn’t expect the love and support that I got. As much as people DJ in Nigeria, I didn’t expect to get that much support. A lot of people came out, and dropped sticky notes by the DJ booth—inspiring messages, bible passages. That kind of stuff kept me going. I made new friends from the experience; some people only went home in the morning to take a shower and came back to keep partying with me.
I must ask, how did you go to the bathroom?
That was the difficult part, I only went to the bathroom within the allocated break time. A lot of time I had to hold it. I had to dance through it. People thought I was dancing to the music but I was really just trying to not pee on myself. I had to really wait for that break time. Most of the time I was running to the bathroom.
You never thought about going in a bottle?
It did happen two or three times, I’m not gonna lie. After that I really just had to watch how I was drinking. I had to slow down on drinking water and juice so my bladder wasn’t going out of control.
Can you tell me some of your favorite moments of the set emotionally or musically?
A lot of house tracks had good energy. There’s a Black Coffee track called “Dance With Me,” that kept me going. Some of the Nigerian music legends came by too. There’s a reggae legend called Raskimono who came by, and some other very popular artists were there to support. That pushed me to keep going. Some schools came by on field trips to see me, and I didn’t expect that at all. My high school came by for an entire day with their senior students. Some kids made sure their parents brought them on the weekends.
Have you heard anything from the guy who had the previous record?
I haven’t heard anything, I was thinking that we should reach out to the guy.
You guys should DJ back-to-back for a month or something.
Yeah. I think he’s in Dublin, either way we’ll see if we can reach out to him.
I read that you were thinking a lot about your father during the set. What was his relationship to your DJing?
He passed in 2012 in a plane crash.
Sorry to hear that.
He was a media personality when he was alive in Lagos. He did support me in the beginning but he was also a very strong Christian and wanted me to stop at some point. The people that knew him knew he was a fan of hard work and pushing yourself to conquer your goals, so regardless if he wanted me to be a DJ he would have wanted me to keep pushing at something this big. That was really encouraging, working to accomplish a goal that I set.
So what’s next for you? You’ve got so much attention from this and you’re a hero in your town.
The only way to cash out from this is interviews, magazines, and trying to book different gigs around the world. Now it’s not just about the world record but also people actually seeing that I’m a good DJ and it wasn’t just me pressing play. I actually do know how to mix and blend and scratch. Showcasing the skill and the sound that I bring from Nigeria to the rest of the world. That’s the plan and that’s what’s next.
Why did you end with Drake’s “One Dance”?
I’m a friend of Wizkid who’s from Nigeria. It just made sense to do that as the final dance. There’s also an online betting site PaddyBett, and they started out with what my last song was gonna be and came up with the options, so when I saw that “One Dance” was on the list I knew it’d be my last one. It’s also the number one track in the world, and it has put Nigeria on the map. It had to do with everything I was trying to do with the Guinness World Record.