The Weekly Ringer

The University of Mary Washington Student Newspaper

Personal essay: How DJing became my escape

5 min read

Jonathan Mack developed a passion for electronic music and DJing. Marcela Laskoski/


Staff Writer

Getting into DJing as a serious hobby was something I had wanted to do for a long time, but I never thought it would happen this way.

I’ve had a passion for music since the day I was born. My parents are on the older side and are huge fans of classic rock. My mom even went to Woodstock. Yes, THE Woodstock (sorry, Mom, for revealing your age). They made it their mission to raise me on classic rock. While your parents may have exclaimed, “here comes the airplane” to coax you to eat, my mom would sing me “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix. On the way to preschool every morning, Dad would pop in cassettes of The Doors and The Clash, and when I was five he took me to see The Rolling Stones as my first concert. We’d blast Bruce Springsteen in the car and scream to “Born to Run.” And don’t even get me started on The Beatles; I probably knew every lyric by age 10. 

It wasn’t until fourth grade, however, that I truly fell in love with electronic music. I heard Daft Punk for the first time and I was totally mystified.

These drums sound completely different! Where are the guitars? How do they perform live while only having two members?

These questions and many others revolved around my head and did not stop. My love for classic rock will never die, but I have fallen down the rabbit hole of electronic music.

I listened to the whole discography of Daft Punk and started listening to artists like Justice and Deadmau5 nonstop. As the years went by, I found more artists like David Guetta, Knife Party, Pendulum, Calvin Harris and Avicii. I was absolutely hooked, but I didn’t fully process what live DJing was until high school.

I found a video of David Guetta vs. Nicky Romero vs. Afrojack at Tomorrowland 2013, and I was crazy about it. The video of thousands of people jumping and dancing to loud electronic music blew my mind; it was so unifying, so magical. It became my dream to be a DJ.

I was listening to electronic music nonstop, discovering new songs and artists all the time through YouTube or satellite radio and driving my parents crazy in the car. I watched festival sets of my favorite DJs, listening intently to the song selection and transitions. I marveled at how everything flawlessly fit together, like an hour-long musical puzzle and unlike a rock set, which felt choppy. I even bought a DJing app and made three-song mashups on my iPad. But nothing I made came close to the artistry of a festival set, and I was hungry for more.

During my sophomore year at Mary Washington, I got the physical mixer I still use today: a Pioneer DDJ-RB (a standard two-channel mixer that is good to start on). After years of studying sets and watching tutorials, I slowly and meticulously planned little sets. I would jam by myself in my room, DJing for nobody but me. I worked up to my first hour-long set and felt so proud. 

Once I got a knack for it, DJing felt freeing; I would spend hours and hours playing around, finding different ways to mix various songs together. It felt boring doing it by myself though. Nobody liked electronic music like I did, and I yearned for an audience. 

But then, in an instant, everything changed.

Around the end of my sophomore year, my dad had some stomach problems and went to the hospital for a big surgery. After the surgery, things were fine for about a week until more problems came back, which sent Dad to the hospital for a month. They found malignant cells in his abdominal lining and diagnosed him with cancer. I stopped DJing to help Mom out over the summer and left my mixer at home when I went back for junior year.

A year and two months post-diagnosis, after a hard-fought battle, Murray Mack, my biggest musical influence, passed away. I took the fall semester off from my fourth year to grieve and be at home to support my mom. Being away from school felt like both a blessing and a curse. While it felt nice to have a break from work while I was healing, I felt terribly lonely without my friends, whom I was used to living with and seeing every day. I tried to find ways to occupy myself when I wasn’t helping Mom and, ultimately, I picked up DJing again.

Once again, however, I felt the loneliness of DJing by myself. As the beginning of the pandemic raged on, there were no festivals, so DJs started doing live sets on websites like Twitch. While coping with the loneliness from the death of Dad and my friends being an hour away, I decided to try it out too. I wanted to be heard, to show everyone that I was still here, both creative and strong.

Everyone I knew tuned in to my streams, showing me the love and support I needed. My mom was proud that I had found a unique way to heal through electronic music. Friends and family members poured into the stream to listen to me DJ and watch me dance around with endless energy. My college friends and Club Tennis teammates, despite not being into electronic music, would get together to throw watch parties, and I would get Snapchats of all my friends dancing and watching me on TVs, phones, laptops and even projectors. 

Suddenly, I wasn’t alone—everyone had rallied to show how much they cared about me, and I couldn’t be more thankful.

I would stream once a month while I was home and the support kept rolling in. I decided that winter that I was ready to go back to school in the spring, and I took my mixer with me. Since then, I haven’t stopped the streams. I keep finding ways to challenge myself, like DJing different styles of electronic music, and I even started DJing parties. Part of me always wishes I had started streaming my sets while Dad was still alive so he could see the growth I’ve made in my passion or see his home office that I’ve transformed into a music studio. But wherever he is now, I know he’s proud.