Banksy, Mr Brainwash & 9 Lessons For DJing Success

Exit Through The Gift Shop

There are many messages in this film, about branding, art, the state of celebrity - but there are also cast-iron secrets to achieving success among it all.

Have you seen the documentary film Exit Through The Gift Shop by reclusive street-art legend Banksy? Doesn't matter if you haven't, but I watched it again last night, and it struck me strongly that it contains some great pointers for artistic success, that can be applied really easily to DJing.

The film ostensibly documents the rise of "Mr Brainwash" ("MBW"), an LA-based French videographer-cum-artist who obsessively exploits his connection with the UK artist to achieve massive success for himself - much to the bemusement of many, not least Banksy himself.

How much you choose to believe of the film is up to you (I take it with a big pinch of salt), but there are universal lessons you can take directly from its hilarious story to help you to catapult your DJing career.

How to catapult your DJing career, the MBW way

1. Be genuinely fascinated by something - Dubstep? Mashups? Club dancefloor politics? Live EDM? Whatever your bag is, you need to ask yourself whether you are truly obsessed with your flavour of DJing, club culture or musical performance to last the course. Because if you're not, someone else is - someone who'll get higher, faster than you can manage. In the film, Mr Brainwash is clearly obsessed - he makes his quest into his whole life's work, and if you want real, stratospheric, superstar DJing success, you need to do the same
2. Give it your all - Easy to do if you can tick the box for 1 above. If you aren't prepared to relocate, beg, borrow, and generally turn in superhuman effort day after day, for years not months, then seemingly "instant" success will never be your. Behind every overnight sensation is masses of work
3. Become indispensable to those you wish to emulate - Mr Brainwash became Banksy's right-hand man, going over and above the call of duty time and time again for him. If you want to succeed, befriend the people who've got what you want and make their lives easier over and over again. Be creative to get noticed and then be insanely helpful and over time doors will open for you
4. Obsessively win the confidence of everyone - Clubbers, venue owners, local journalists, club tastemakers, other DJs, record labels, music bloggers - you need all of these people on your side. As soon as your ship starts to move, all this work will click into place and make it unstoppable. Log every communication with these people, always follow up, constantly surprise them with your brilliance...

5. Watch and learn - "Fake it till you make it" has merit, and confidence will get you everywhere, but it can slip in to arrogance if you think you're the finished article from the off. There is loads to learn and if you're not constantly telling yourself off for how stupid you were just a couple of weeks ago, frankly you're not learning fast enough. Be humble, open-minded, and just watch. Stuff takes time to sink in, and if you're not succeeding, it's OK - you just haven't earned it yet. Patience, young Jedi
6. Think big - In the film, Mr Brainwash thinks stupidly, insanely big - and if you haven't seen it, trust me that the guy is in absolutely no position to do so! If you don't think big and plan big, nobody else is going to do it for you. Success on a decent scale doesn't drift into people's lives. They visualise it and obsess over it. So should you
7. Call in your favours - If you've done all of the above, you'll have a gang of people who believe in you, who you've helped, and who frankly owe you a favour or two. It's not what you know, it's who you know, and as part of your master plan, you need to call in your favours every now and then. Some doors simply won't open unless you know the person with their hand on the handle, and unless you ask them to turn it for youGet help - A wise person once said that no empire was every built by one man. You simply cannot be good at everything, so surround yourself with mentors, and don't be scared to ask for help and advice every step of the way
8. Be mad - it impresses people - There's nothing wrong with outward craziness. As long as you don't believe your own hype and you continue to maintain a rock-solid focus under the facade, be as mad as you want upfront. People are attracted to zany characters in the colourful worlds of music and nightlife, and "larger than life" works better than "wallflower" in this game, so bold it up a bit and don't be scared to shock and surprise


If you haven't seen Exit Through The Gift Shop, I thoroughly recommend it. Quite apart from "documenting" in minute detail how to rise to the top in the art world (and by extension in the music world), it's easily the most entertaining such film you'll likely have seen for a long time.

Are you applying any of the above to your DJing career? Have you seen people achieve seemingly "instant" success while actually applying years of persistence? And what do you think of the film? We'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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  1. I'll see it Phil, thanks for sharing you full of wisdom master yoda!

  2. Looking at this documentary about a year and a half ago in my college art class really was the connection I needed to see how music and art where so much the same. Actually helped me to start pursuing my DJ career.

  3. You know the film is all big hoax, though, right? 😉

  4. Phil, I respect you. Still, Mr. Brainwash is an idiot! He's worse than dude who became famous for paint drips. I just wonder how long will his fame last? That movie ticked me off too. I thought it was going to be about Banksy. No, too much of it was about that idiot! I agree that what he did to gain fame will work. Still, you and I both agree a DJ still has to work in his mixing skills. As I write this, I found it very difficult to refrain from cussing, especially when you mention Mr. Brainwash! 😉

  5. spot on, whether the film is a hoax or not. Lessons to be applied here. Thank you.

  6. Some nice insights, though I tend to lean more towards wallflower myself; the hype and other current trends in the business bother me too much to consider emulating them.

  7. nice article. remember we are in the "entertainment business" :)

  8. "Exit..." is an incredible piece of entertainment, fascinating in its own way and very, very unique. Doesn´t matter if it´s a hoax or whatever, it´s very provocative and leaves a lasting impression for its originality alone, not to mention the multiple "messages" that take time and open-mindedness to sink in.

    It´s a very clever and somewhat subtle slap in the face of mechanisms that work behind hype, celebrity formation, public gullibility and street art in specific, but could be taken broader for sure. And even though it´s likely a hoax, it´s not artificial, its very authentic in fact, and very upbeat, light-hearted. Highly recommended IMHO.

    Phil, thanks for bringing this one up. I´ll agree 100% with your conclusions and the way you organized and put into words the "lessons" from "Exit...". Everyone has a talent, even though it may not be immediate, evident or the kind we´re used to expect from people. It just needs work, work, work. We make our own reality, we just need to take responsibility for it.

  9. I've seen the movie but don't get why ppl call it a hoax. On whom?

  10. My interpretation may differ from Phil and I wrote a lengthy report to explain...

    Coincidentally, I just saw the film through Amazon Instant Video over the weekend and I have mixed feelings over what was presented. Although I am very cynical with anything that occurs through the lends of a camera. Often the order of events are edited for more effect and documented stories are grossly exaggerated. For the sake of contributing to this topic I will ignore my skepticism and pretend that Mr Brainwash is real and so is his alleged story.

    Thierry, Mr. Brainwash, began this journey through sheer curiosity of videography. He was excited about filming stuff although with amateur skill. From behind the camera he stumbled upon street art through his cousin Space Invader (artist) in LA. This led him to discovering Banksy.

    How do I know about Banksy? Banksy is viral and bridges the gap between counter culture and pop culture in that if you dig all things underground like street art and independent rock, pop, and dance you will might come across Banksy. If you waste your time watching really bad films and reading cheesy tabloid news related to Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt, then you may have heard of Banksy.

    Now Thierry, became obsessed with Banksy, because Banksy has talent (maybe), but is also a guerrilla street artist. He's very covert, because he stay out of jail. Some artists also like to create this fake mystery factor like Maynard James Keenan of "Tool" or "A Perfect Circle" who's fans love how different he is when he is hidden behind the band in a shadowy corner of the stage at a live show, but he is really just a douche who hates fame and hides from fans and does not deserve his fans in my opinion, which brings me back to Banksy. Is he even real or are there Banksy's? I can't understand how a man would not want to meet their loving fans. Meeting them and getting to know them is also showing them that you appreciate their support as they are funding your lifestyle by purchasing your product. Thierry, becomes obsessed with this covert almost mythical character of pop culture and is persistent on meeting him and filming him. He meets Banksy and records everything Banksy does. He eventually becomes a protege of Banksy, but a more overt form of Banksy and he generates a decent amount of revenue and fame from this. He embraced his fans and there is a real face behind Mr. Brainwash which adds to his success. Another thing he has in his back pocket is his knowledge of the real Banksy which will make Banksy fans want to know him as well.

    Thierry went into the art world with a "punk rock" approach. He barely knew how to use his instrument, he used it as his tool of entry into this world, he learned their skill, and eventually profits from it. I admire his persistence, but he made some harsh sacrifices to achieve this goal. If you want something bad enough, you can have it. Anyone could meet Banksy if they want it bad enough. Thierry left his family behind in LA in favor of globetrotting with notorious street artists which eventually led him to Banksy. He gained their confidence and absorbed every bit of information from everyone he came in contact with through the lens of his camera. He was really a student/ observer and the camera and recording is irrelevant. He dumped his tapes on Banksy to sort through and went back to LA. With his newly obtained knowledge he built a team and exploited craft of "pop art". His LA friend "OBEY", later, questioned the success of Mr. Brainwash, but did not want to be overly critical as they are friends. I on the other hand think that "OBEY" is a bigger fraud than Thierry. He prints the face of Andre The Giant with the word "OBEY" over top and stencils it to a wall and calls it art. This is a bigger fraud then rock stars complaining about button pushing DJ's. Ironically rock stars and celebrities pay thousands of dollars for faux art.

    What could be positive about this story? What is the moral or ethical lesson to be drawn from this? Thierry was a an amateur videographer who may or may not have wanted to build a documentary and was probably in over his head if it was the former. His intentions may have been sincere, but we may never know. One could argue that he deceived the most revered street artists and exploited the skills learned from them. We can also say that he used them as a short cut to fame, but other players did benefit from what he did. He was efficient at collecting useful information and organizing a business around this information. Perhaps the true art is not what one can see on paper, but the format for which he injected himself into the art world and exploited it. He seems friendly and excels in people skills. Perhaps he is a lovable fuzzy character.

    Later, he then went back to LA, started his own art company, employed several people, and produced images for consumers. Is it real art? I don't think so, but if it pleases the consumer, then it is worth selling. He printed multiple copies of a graphic design and rolls by on his cart sprinkling colors of paint on them to make each unique and original. To be honest, I might actual consider buying such images for a DJ studio, but what is worth thousands to some is worth $20.00 to me. The art world is a funny market and I suppose we can make many comparisons from the DJ and EDM world as well, but I think pop art collectors are bigger suckers than pop and dance music consumers. Thierry created a graphic design company that produces funny images for consumers to enjoy. He generates revenue and employs designers, so he is not really a villain. He has found a way to make money and have fun without killing himself. Without getting wrapped up in the sellout/ fraud aspect of this, I encourage everyone to watch the film and see if there is something he did that you can apply in your path towards success. Whether you want to admit it or not, (unless you are Ted Kaczynski)you are a product and you have to sell yourself. It's not a bad thing, it's what makes life worth living save for a moment of personal reflection, religion, and philosophy. Never think of yourself as a low level pee-on or playing the game; or in the rat race that's bullshit that losers say. Don't be that guy! Get involved, learn your craft, and learn to be more of a people person. This is some advice that even I will try to follow for my own personal development.

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