Stopping spills before they start
Spills, particularly involving beer, are an ever-present environmental hazard for the performing DJ. One thing I’ve learned over the years is that you cannot prevent spills by preventing drinks in the DJ booth. It’s easy to sit in the peaceful comfort of one’s home and simply advise one not to allow drinks in the both, or drunken people. However, in the chaos of a good party, drunken people will enter the booth and bring beer with them. Odds are, some of the people you are playing with will be doing the same. Banning beer from the DJ booth is uptight and unfeasible in most circumstances.
Instead, like the weather, it’s better to assume that it might rain and to dress yourself accordingly.
Dress your laptop up
MacBooks, which have become a very popular machine to DJ with, are unfortunately quite vulnerable to environmental hazards. A unibody aluminum case doesn’t do much good when liquids can filter straight through the upper casing. If you aren’t married to the Mac platform, you might want to consider a ThinkPad or something similar which can filter liquids straight through the casing.
Also, the plastic Apple logo on the back of the screen is an Achilles’ Heel for the MacBook Pro. Get a plastic cover for your Mac which can protect both the underside and the back of the screen. Apple has a big enough advertising budget, they don’t need you to advertise for them at the expense of your laptop. :) I’ve had very good luck with the Incase solid shells myself.
A keyboard cover is also essential for a MacBook, as this will also keep out dust and dirt which is often found in club settings. I’ve got a simple plastic cover by Marware, but Magma also makes ones with Traktor cheat-sheets, which can be kind of nice if you’re into that sort of thing.
Keep your laptop up
Another bit of advice I once heard and pass down myself is to build a portable rackmount kit. You can easily find casings for 2U/3U/4U rackmount gear which easily snap up. This makes transporting gear to and from shows quite easy, and also offers the extra advantage of having a single I/O port for your gear (ie, one power plug + one audio out to the mixer). Being able to manage your own power cables in a case saves a bunch of time when setting/packing up your stuff.
However, the biggest advantage of the portable rack is that it provides you a stand for your laptop so you don’t need to hunch over the table when you play. A 15” laptop fits nicely on a 19” rack, with basically no spare room to place a beer glass. This has probably prevented more lethal spills from hitting my laptop than anything else.
Furthermore, most of your more expensive electronics can be kept inside the case and protected from spills more effectively.
Hug the table
You might not be able to prevent intoxicated clubgoers (or DJ’s) from invading the booth, but you can at least keep them out of your space. Before and after your set, keep by your stuff and politely move beers a few inches back from your gear when they are set down on the table. Don’t be a jerk about it; it’s not worth getting upset before a spill even happens.
When the rain comes
Yeah, spills are still going to happen even if you can’t prevent them. If it happens, be calm and don’t freak out. Power off any effected gear as quickly as you can – usually just yank the cable out. If your laptop took a full pint down the keyboard, well, it might do the powering off part for you.
If a USB controller took the hit, then shake it vigorously (like you were trying to fan out a fire) to get out any liquid which may have entered the casing. Go to the club’s bar or bathrooms to get some wet paper towels and dry ones, then give it a quick wash and dry.
If only a little liquid entered the controller, it’ll probably be ok. My Launchpad has taken two beer spills just like this, and in both cases I was able to recover from it in the aforementioned manner and continue playing (yes, seriously). However, if a lot of liquid entered the controller, you should probably not power it back on again for the rest of the evening, as this may cause it to permanently short-circuit. Take it home, take it apart, and give it a good clean down. You’ll be surprised how resilient most cheap controllers can be.