Last July, Dorian Paic found himself alone in Munich Airport, tired and sweaty. As he scanned the overhead displays for his departure gate, clutching a boarding pass for a Lufthansa flight back to Berlin, the weight of 15kg of house and techno vinyl cut into his shoulder. It grew heavier as he weaved between passengers on the way to the plane, exhausted but pumped full of adrenalin at the familiar prospect of a missed flight. He was on his way home from his first DJ gig since the pandemic shut the world down in March 2020, and one of just a handful of dates he would play in the uneasy period between Europe’s first and second coronavirus waves.
“I couldn’t believe I’d been doing that every weekend for more than 10 years,” Paic said over coffee in a quiet Prenzlauer Berg park, almost one year later. “It seemed completely nuts.”
Like the rest of Berlin’s DJs, the pandemic changed the Frankfurt-born Paic’s life almost overnight. The months leading up to March last year were some of the busiest of his career, thanks to a six-week South American tour that took him to countries like Brazil, Argentina and Peru. But with a stream of cancellation emails from his booking agent, it became clear that the South American jaunt would be his last tour for a while. “All my gigs until October disappeared,” Paic remembers. “From one week to the next, I was out of work.”
More than 40 job applications later, Paic started his training on April 20 as a customer service agent for a well-known US e-commerce company with several offices in Berlin. He’d left an industry on its knees for one of the pandemic’s biggest winners: online shopping. Amazon and eBay are Germany’s most-visited internet retailers, accounting for 40 percent of online revenues. Both companies announced record sales during the pandemic. (Datenschutz rules mean he’s unable to name his employer.)
I couldn’t believe I’d been doing that every weekend for more than 10 years. It seemed completely nuts.
It’s Paic’s first desk job in over 30 years, a period that was full of constant touring, digging for records and managing his label raum…musik. He now works from home at the desk that once housed his home studio; his modest MIDI and drum machine collection replaced by his new work tools: a keyboard, monitor and headset. “In the first three months, I really wanted to die,” Paic says. “It was so hard. To be able to really work independently took around three months, which is when you start to see the same situations repeat themselves. Until then, everything was new.”
The transition from DJ to office worker isn’t a common one. Most of the music scene’s casualties, whether DJs, booking agents or bar workers, have ridden out the pandemic on unemployment benefits, scraping by on Arbeitslosengeld II and Soforthilfe. But that wasn’t an option for Paic, whose pre-corona booking fee ranged between a few hundred euros and €3000. You could describe his life as comfortably middle class, paying €850 per month for his Prenzlauer Berg apartment with enough money to spare for savings and a few nice meals per week. He wasn’t a millionaire by the time corona hit, but he was no starving artist.
“I have savings, so I wasn’t completely broke, but it didn’t make sense to just sit around eating kebabs,” Paic says. “I had it good before, so if life is a bit stressful at the moment, or I don’t have time to myself, then that’s just the way it is – you have to adapt.”
In his case, adapting means five nine-hour shifts per week, during which he often fields calls from German-speaking customers deep into the night. He works in a small team of eight, all based remotely. And while he hasn’t caught up with any new workmates socially, at least one of them is a house music fan. “A colleague recognised my name,” Paic laughs. “He spent about an hour asking me about DJing and my label.”
The last time Paic worked regular hours was behind the booth in 2008, slinging records to local DJs at Freebase, Frankfurt’s former temple of house and techno vinyl. Like standing behind the counter at that record shop, DJing provided the buzz that came with connecting with new cultures and young music geeks, the things Paic misses most about the touring life. But he says it’s nice to be finished with the constant travel – at least until his customer service contract expires next April. “Before corona, I’d been living off DJing for 12 years,” Paic says, “and living off music for 30 years. I don’t know many people who managed it over such a long period.”