The speakers explode when the bass drops and the crowd goes wild. The club is so crowded people can barely move, let alone dance. It’s that time of the night when the ventilation can’t cope anymore with so many people inside the building and a white sticky vapour takes shape in the air. I get hit by an elbow and someone steps on my foot but I can’t care less. I’m here with a mission. I move slowly through the crowd. Destination: DJ’s booth.
I’m almost there when someone pulls me into a hug. ‘Girl! It’s so good to see you here!’ I hear a girl’s voice screaming in my ear. I look at her and she suddenly realises I’m not who she thought I was. She is very drunk. I can tell. Her eyes are red and tired. She can barely sit on her feet without rocking from side to side. Her skirt is lifted up too much. Probably because the guy she was dancing with is a bit too desperate to get her in bed or just as drunk as she is. Or both. He’s looking at her expectantly. She turns to him but I catch her hand to stop her. There’s no way I’m letting her go with that guy. She looks at me confused, too drunk to understand what’s happening. Where is Michael? He was supposed to take care of this section of the club. A second later he appears on my side.
‘She’s level 4. She needs The Drink!’ I say. A Level 4 is very bad. The worst you can get is to Level 5 which is an alcoholic coma. That’s why we give The Drink to Level 4s. It helps them come to their senses without remembering anything. But she wasn’t supposed to get to 4. We usually keep them at Level 3 which is the next stage after tipsy. Michael has a guilty smile on his face while he nods, meaning that he understood what I said. He has lipstick on his cheek which explains why he wasn’t paying attention to his job. He gets distracted sometimes, but when he’s not he does his job very well. I let him take care of the girl and focus on what I have to do.
The DJ is hidden in his small booth and two bouncers sit in front of it. They know me too well so they let me in. The music is still too loud in the booth but I can hear the DJ when he says ‘I’m not playing Forbidden Music! Why are you here?’. He’s not making eye contact, preoccupied with his computer. ‘What you mean is, you’re not playing Forbidden Music now. But you did. Earlier’, I say staring at him. He finally looks up at me and a quick crooked smile crosses his face. ‘It was just a song.’ He says like that would be an excuse. Forbidden Music is any song that exists, with a twist. A few added musical notes to a song that no normal ear could notice and which are meant to make people enjoy themselves more in the clubs. But in practice this brings out the worst in people. It makes them violent, gives them uncontrolled sexual desires. They become almost brainless, especially in combination with alcohol. There was a time when every club owner was using this tactic. For the profit, they say. But we know there is someone else, someone more powerful, out there responsible for this. Someone who wants to gain control over the masses. Since my organisation has been born, we managed to keep control over the situation. And one of our jobs is to make sure that DJs don’t use these modified songs aka Forbidden Music.
I look back at the huge drunk crowd and then look at him again. ‘I’m not here for that. There’s a new DJ in town who’s been playing too much Forbidden Music in a couple of underground clubs. A lot of rape attacks, fights and alcoholic comas were reported in those clubs. I trust you to introduce this newbie into the… business’. The DJ doesn’t say anything for a moment and then looks at me amused. ‘Come on! Let the boy live a little. When I started, Forbidden Music was the most fun to play’. Of course he said that. It’s easier to keep the crowd in a good mood when you use Forbidden Music. Especially if you’re a rookie. ‘One, you’re a sexist! The new DJ is a girl!’ I say, making a pause for effect. ‘And two, you know perfectly well that’s not possible. There are rules that must be followed. We’re not doing it for fun. We’re doing it to protect people and to prevent bad things happening in clubs.’ I pull out of my pocket a small card with the details of the new DJ. I put it on a table which is vibrating because of the loud music. ‘The Forbidden Music is forbidden for a reason’ I say, and then leave the booth without waiting for a reply.
I make my way through the crowd, back to the section I am assigned to watch. The Smoking Area. Ben, the leader of my team, is there waiting for me to give him the report. ‘I sent the message’, I say shortly. ‘The Underground is very thankful’, he replies in a mocking voice while he solemnly puts his right hand over his heart like he would swear an oath. I smile and watch him go back into the club. The Underground. That’s what we like to call ourselves. We’re pretty big these days. We’re trying to cover as many places as we can. Our job is to help people and make sure that they don’t get brainwashed. And we do this while trying to find out more about the people behind all of this. The people who think they fooled us, who made us believe that we have control. The people who think The Underground doesn’t know about them. The people who hide behind club owners and DJs and other faces. The people who are the bad guys.
But we’re good at hiding and watching too. We could be anyone. The shy boy who sits at the bar acting like he’s having a hard time starting a conversation with the sexy girl next to him. The girl who acts too drunk and dances in the middle of the crowd with no one in particular. The playboy who dances with too many girls. The girl who is in the bathroom fixing her makeup. The girl who sits in the smoking area taking a drag on her cigarette, watching, somewhere in the darkest corner. I find a free chair and sit with a small smile forming in the corner of my mouth. I light a cigarette and watch. Another night in paradise.