No one saw it coming and neither did Sue.
In April 17 2021, a video of Sue Freeman playing outside the Dickson library in Canberra captured the attention of many. For weeks, she had been playing in the same spot, at the same place and around the same time. But this day – it was different.
Sue Freeman, known as DJ Sue, was recorded playing Yeah! by Usher and California Love by 2Pac ft. Dr. Dre. Little did she know, her life was about to change. When the owners of Landspeed Records, Blake and Abi – who were walking past to get some groceries – stopped to take a video and posted it on Instagram, the video went viral.
They too, did not see it coming.
The video was shared, liked, reposted and watched by thousands of people from across the globe. It caught the attention of former NBA player, Rex Chapman, who shared the video on Twitter. DJ Sue has also been featured on various news media sites as a result of her viral video, including the Daily Mail, a UK-based tabloid newspaper.
I spoke with Sue and talked about how she started in the industry, her joy of playing requests and her reaction when her video had, unexpectedly, gone viral.
Q: Did you ever think that the video of you playing at a local shopping centre would go viral?
A: I have been playing outside the library for a couple of weeks and every Saturday, people would walk past to take photos and videos of me. One day, I asked the guy who’s booked me: “I wonder where all these videos end up”, and he said, “Maybe we should make a #ILoveDJSue”. But, I didn’t really know much about hashtags at the time and told him to not worry about it. That night, however, the video had gone viral.
I was at the club with some friends having a drink and then this girl sent me a message – I think on Instagram – and said “I really love your video and I love that song, California Love!”. I asked “What video?” to the girl who lived in the US. She used to live here in Canberra. She replied back saying that I shouldn’t worry and that the video can be found on a page called BrownCardigan, which shared and reposted the video. I then searched them up and when I saw the video, I nearly died!
My friends were reading all the comments because I thought people would make fun of me. That was my biggest thing. Sometimes, people can be really mean with the comments. My friends were saying “You better like that one. You better hit the heart button!”. So, we were all sitting there and having a lot of fun watching it go live. It was crazy!
For many years, DJing to me was going out and having fun on a Saturday night, making new friends, and was a way for me to let my hair down. I was a bookkeeper at the time and I didn’t like bookkeeping. So, the fact that all this has come good in my life now, it has really been perfect timing. Sometimes, at the time, you don’t realise what it’s all about. Then, later on, you can look back and think “I can see why that happened”
Q: After the video had gone viral, you’ve received enquiries for bookings from Perth, South Australia, Darwin, Melbourne and Brisbane. Also, the video had been shared on twitter by a former NBA player, Rex Chapman, whose retweet have gained exceptional attention. What was your initial reaction?
A: Well, I didn’t really know who Rex Chapman was and I wasn’t on Twitter or on any of those things. It was a bit crazy for me because my daughter was living with me at the time and she was pregnant. She said to me “Mom, you might have to get a manager with all these inquiries coming in”. Though, I thought that I would be alright. She said “Make a bit of a spreadsheet because then, you can get back to people”.
There were inquiries coming through on Instagram, Facebook, and places that I have never had inquiries sent through from before. I had to learn and I didn’t want people to think that I didn’t want to get back to them and so, I made a spreadsheet and started to work it all out. But not long after that, we went on lockdown.
I got invited to Melbourne and to an RnB club in Adelaide, which I would have loved, but we went into lockdown and everything just died down. I thought that people would get over it and it would only last a couple of weeks. But, they haven’t. It kept on going on and on!
The people who took the video are from a company called ‘Landspeed Records’ in the city. I haven’t been there before but, I rang them and asked if I could do anything for them. They, too, didn’t know what was coming. The wife – who runs the business – took the video and they were just walking past and I happened to be playing Yeah by Usher and I faded it into California Love by 2Pac. People thought that was pretty crazy because I’m an old lady and I probably shouldn’t know that kind of music. But, I guess it was just the right thing at the right time!
Q: Why did you want to work as a DJ? What was it about music and sound that have drawn you to it?
A: I didn’t really know much about music. I just like certain songs and when I grew up in the 80s, I used to go to discos in Sydney like in the nightclubs here in the city. So, all that kind of 80s disco music – I really like! I went to a wedding one night with some friends and the DJ there was a lady, probably in her 40s, which I thought was quite unusual. I didn’t really go out a real lot anyways. But, we were there having a really good time and requesting songs but she didn’t seem to be enthused about it. After that, I went to another wedding and there was this one guy – who was the DJ – and he sat looking at this phone the whole night.
I kept on thinking about it and I said to my son, Ryan, who was 14 at the time, “Do you want to do this?” I want to be a DJ”. He said “Oh yeah!”. At that stage, we went to Sydney and I found a half-day DJ course at a DJ warehouse on turntables. I really didn’t have a clue what I was doing. But, if it wasn’t for Ryan, I wouldn’t have been able to know what to do. Then, we came back and bought our own equipment and just started out.
In the beginning, Ryan used to come with me to the weddings, parties and all that, which was good. After a while, he didn’t really want to do it anymore. I thought to myself that it’s really good money and I want to do this job and that, I can do it on my own. I told myself that I CAN do it and that’s how we started out!
Q: At what point did you realise that wanted to take your love for music to a more professional level?
A: To be honest with you, I didn’t really have a love for music. But, just going out to weddings and realising that it would be such a fun thing to do – it just got me thinking about it! I always believe that things come into your life for a reason. There is this other thing that I’ve read about which is “thoughts become things”. So, what you think about – you bring it into your life. So, that’s how it happened.
Q: What was your first gig as a DJ like?
A: When I started, I was doing bookkeeping for a restaurant in Tuggeranong. So, my first gig was held as a launch party at that restaurant. I invited all my family and friends to come along and they all had dinner at the restaurant.
Then, Ryan and I set up our equipment and played that night. While eating, I played a bit of background music and then we started the dance music. Then Jolly O, just as we were getting in, everyone started getting up and having a good time, but my computer had crashed on me because it overheated. It was a good learning experience.
Luckily, by the time that happened, people had had a good time and it didn’t matter as much. That was my first experience. But, that was around family and friends so it didn’t matter so much.
Q: How do you “hype up a crowd”? What do you do to motivate the guests to start dancing?
A: To be honest with you, I don’t get up on the microphone and say a lot. When I started, I haven’t gone out and looked at what DJs do. I just started with a blank canvas and most of the people that come along to my nights, I know the music that they like or I judge a crowd. I’ve got different songs that I’ll start out with that I know are a good start songs. A lot of people won’t get up in the beginning because they might be too embarrassed to start dancing on their own. So, if I back that up with another good dance song then sometimes, people will come up. But, I don’t find that I really have much trouble.
I also met a group of people here called the ‘ACT Disco Group’ and they are a group of people that just love to go out dancing. Whenever I play at a public venue, they will come along to have dinner there and stay to have a dance. On my playlist, I even have all their names and the songs that each person likes. Generally, they’ll dance to any song anyways. So, I am guaranteed a good amount of people on the dance floor. I don’t really hype up a crowd – I simply play the music they like to hear.
Q: What would you say is the most rewarding part of your job?
A: I think it is seeing people enjoying the music. I am a people-person. I just love people getting up and having a good time. I feel very lucky that this has all happened in my life. When I started, I would never believe that I’d still be doing it 10-12 years down the track. I just thought it would be a fun job!
For me, to have been doing it for this long is quite amazing. What’s happened in my life is just incredible. I don’t think you have to be anyone particular, I think you just have to be a person that can relate to other people easily. I don’t feel like a celebrity or a superstar because I am just me. I am just doing what I love!