In this (unedited) extract from The Drop, we’re dropping in on Juanita circa 2028 – alone in the apartment she hasn’t left for nearly three years, wracked by addiction and isolation – as she reflects back on the night her life changed forever, 22 years earlier; the night she met Tito, deep in the bowels of Sydney nightclub Chinese Laundry.
And the hotlinked text is just a small taste of the music-related Easter eggs that litter the rest of the 300-odd pages.
THE DROP: Chapter 1.2 – I Feel Love
Distant sheets of red lit up the crumbling corpses of empty office buildings littering the back blocks of Oxford Street, directly across from Juanita’s apartment. During those first frightening days after 1/6/25, Juanita had spent hours at a time transfixed by lava lightning strikes as she looked out on the death and destruction littering the road outside the Love Inn – littering everywhere, according to the images beamed into her HeadBand from Halcyon’s emergency news channel, the only video feed still broadcasting.
If Tito hadn’t stepped up so quickly to marshal the recovery effort, Juanita didn’t know how she’d have found the strength to go on. He’d had Halcyon’s food-delivery drones reprogrammed and put to work fortifying every city that still stood on the morning after 1/6/25. There was no scope for pedestrian tunnels here, on the edge of Sydney’s CBD, where the soil beneath the city streets was eaten up by drains, sewers and railway lines, both operational and abandoned. Instead, footpaths and awnings on the now-desolate glitter strip were enclosed in slabs of cement to keep the Storm at bay so Sydney’s VIPs could safely make their way between apartment towers. Leave the rat runs to the rats, Juanita reasoned to herself as she’d reached for the cool, comforting touch of her speaker cups on Day Zero. She’d adjusted her viewfinder’s nose clip, bearing down a little too heavily on her face. I’ve got everything I need right here.
The boutique owners and barkeeps who’d been rostered on that fateful Sunday had no option but to hunker down and survive on what meagre rations they had on them. Juanita, sequestered inside Love Inn with Halcyon’s syntho-food stockpiles to sustain her, had been luckier than most. Once accustomed, Juanita found the snap and crackle of lava lightning over the Sydney cityscape had its own hypnotic beauty. But the billowing black clouds that buffeted her apartment window with dust, pebbles and garbage over those first seventy-two hours channelled every apocalyptic blockbuster movie cliché she’d ever scoffed at – all rolled into one. And her memories of the afternoon of 1/6/25 had tormented her across hours of restless nights: her four-man security detail barrelling men, women and children out of the way on the mercy dash through Sydney Airport’s Terminal 1 to her getaway car; a westerly wind that breathed fire buffeting her driver’s Tesla cybertruck as it sped along the freeway from Mascot to Darlinghurst; the crunch of metal on bone as pedestrians, screaming incoherently on their frantic dash for safe havens, were collected by the cybertruck’s bumper and sent crashing to the ground, smashed skulls emptying their contents across the bitumen like dropped glasses of Prosecco.
The following morning, Tito had reassured her the worst would blow over soon. ‘We already had something even better than One World coming,’ he’d said, bunkered in Halcyon’s Rotterdam headquarters, ‘and it’s going to make you an even bigger star than ever.’
She’d watched the bodies, piled up outside the fresh-built tunnel walls that lined the road below, become withered carcasses, then skeletons draped in fluttering cloth. Then one morning they were gone, carried away by a drone squadron or nuked by an overnight lava-lightning strike, any sign that they’d existed removed from the planet. And the Storm overhead thundered on and on and on.
But Juanita could not forget – not then, not now – no matter how hard she tried to drown the unwanted flashbacks in synthetic single malt, tried to lose herself in increasingly elaborate sexual deviancy. Neets, we’ve been through this before, sister, she reminded herself. You know there’s no point replaying those tapes again. Juanita slowly nodded in agreement. She was right, as she usually was. She didn’t need to look outside any more. She didn’t need to look any further in front of her than her HeadBand’s screen. The Storm was horrific and all but she was Juanita: superstar Virtuoso, Love Buzz queen. Paying the bloodbath outside her window anything other than the scantest of attention was a waste of energy when she had an EDM habit to support.
Beneath her MIDI implants, Juanita’s entire skull seemed to throb. Since Friday night’s post-set kick-on had exploded to a halt, Juanita had lain supine for almost a full twenty-three hours on her plush violet recliner. Soft fabric gently tickled forearm skin, which was threatening to ignite from the inside out. She was hanging out for her nightly hit. Ooh baby, and how. What felt like litres of comedown sweat had oozed from her palms while she slept, leaving a damp outline where she’d clutched her recliner’s armrests and her palms wrinkled; her fingertips, capped in phosphorescent e-motion gel, were more wrinkled still, like she’d spent the entire day passed out in the bath. A hot bath; Juanita remembered those. I’d even snort some bath salts right now. The damp cushion cradling her behind was drenched in sweat and cum and spilt shots of synthetic single malt and who knew what else. She squeezed her eyelids shut more tightly still, pressing the back of her head deep into the groove she’d moulded in the spongy, velour-covered chair.
Juanita knew what came next, as regular as restless nights followed her equally dire days. And there it was, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls – her inner jukebox, right on queue!
Random song fragments from before the Storm started spinning around her brain while a particularly nasty case of the DTs, along with an ordinary, everyday case of deep-seated self-loathing, got to work on the rest of her. The tracks vacillated from the sublime to the utterly ridiculous: Look around, everywhere you turn is heartache/It’s everywhere that you go from the song that was No.1 the week Juanita was born; mouthing It’s Britney, bitch and dancing round her bedroom ‘til the world ends over an endless coda of Auto-Tuned Woah-oh-ohs; I’m wicked and I’m lazy, don’t you want to save me danced side-by-side with Put your hands up for Detroit, a lovely city. The profound became the pointless in the space of a single kick drum, unless it decided to linger on like a recurring dream until something worse took its place.
Juanita had been taunted by an all-star cast of earworms for an eternity – since before she became the most famous Virtuoso in the world, back before her clubbing days, even before her primary school sweetheart Robbie told her he was also a long-time listener of ‘the crap radio station in my head’. When had the promo for DJ T’s The Inner Jukebox landed in her inbox – 2008? ’09? Tomorrow? Today? Whenever the album had put an intellectual spin on the ‘crap radio station’ phenomenon was unimportant. Back in the now, Juanita found zero comfort in the toplines her subconscious sucked out of her fragmented memory banks. Triumphant singalongs were few and far between at this nightly solo show in her recliner, which played out like a tragic party for one in a long-abandoned karaoke bar. No camaraderie. No applause. Not even a bouncing ball on the lyrics to jog her memory if she ever lost her place.
On a good night, Juanita could at least distract herself from her misery by pondering the imponderables. What did Lou Bega do with his life after finding perfection on his fifth ‘Mambo’? Why didn’t ABBA sing You can dance, you can die to give‘Dancing Queen’ more emotional heft? And what did any of it matter anyway?
Juanita’s inner jukebox resumed, skipping the endless supply of guilty pleasures at the top of the stack to unfurl the inevitable closing track: DJ Tito’s ‘Singularity’ and its eternal runout groove, not silent like the inner circle of every other record Juanita had ever played but looping on and on and on like it was all end and no start. Triggered again, Juanita was back in the Cave – the dark-and-dirty side room of Chinese Laundry, the nightclub secreted away in the bowels of Sydney’s Slip Inn. She and her four besties had snuck into the club as guests of an older-sister’s DJ boyfriend. It was the first day of winter, 2006. Juanita’s sweet sixteen.
The excitement and confusion (the labyrinthine layout; flashing lights distending hundreds of ecstatic faces; the enormous Polynesian bouncer’s eyes, which always seemed to be scrutinising her) had merged into a blur of thousands of barely distinguishable nights since. But for Juanita – even this barely functioning incarnation of February 28, 2028 – the wall of sound Tito unleashed from the Cave’s DJ booth that night had remained omnipresent in her life ever since.
‘He saved my life, I nearly drowned.’ On her recliner, Juanita whisper-sang to herself between sniggers dripping with pain. ‘I showed off, splashing around.’
Juanita’s karaoke skills wowed her captive audience of one and then she was back in the Cave, always the Cave, and the night she first experienced the sonic pop and fizz of ‘Singularity’, Tito’s soon-to-be timeless mega-bomb. From his battle station in the shadowy far corner of the dancefloor, Tito’s battery of beats bombarded her young brain as if hammering away at a castle wall, looking for a breach in its defences. She’d fought to stay steady on her feet as the cavernous club bent and twisted all round. It was a feeling she’d eventually spend the summer of 2010 trying to recreate, hosing bags of horse tranquiliser in her quest to slide into the ultimate K-hole void. But this sixteen-year-old, less-seasoned incarnation of Juanita felt like she was fuck-dancing in quicksand. Juanita sunk deeper the harder she fought to stay afloat. Keeping her besties’ pledge to party substance-free (the last thing they’d wanted was security to call their parents if things went sideways) wasn’t protection enough. Tito’s wall of percussion had lured her onto the dancefloor, caressed her, found her vulnerabilities. Then came the time to exploit them.
A clandestine pedal note, like the dissonant drone of an untuned church organ, soared across the top of Tito’s unrelenting tribal groove. Juanita was mesmerised by the wall of Latin and African hand drums, which to her ears fell progressively more out of tune with the surrounding rhythm track from one 4/4 bar to the next, then from one-shot to one-shot, then within each singular snap of the duelling djembes and congas themselves. The sound of each drum hit oscillated through the musical scale, from Do-Re-Mi through the scale up to Do and back again in a millisecond.
Sinking into her recliner, twenty-two years removed, a familiar feeling of dread overcame her. The hum of tinnitus in her ears reached fever pitch. Then she was back in the Cave, always the Cave, where ‘Singularity’ climaxed with the orchestral synth stab that had laid waste to the Cave’s dancefloor, and Juanita with it, all those years ago. One second, Juanita was reaching for the ceiling in ecstasy; the next, her lights went out. The memory, as always, made her soul vibrate.
The details were still so vivid: returning to consciousness on the cold concrete floor, bathed in the echoes of her besties’ disembodied cries of panic, like Juanita was in a parallel universe, or maybe they were. Her top row of teeth ached. She could taste the blood that had trickled across the floor from her flattened nose. A discarded baggie stuck to her spilt bourbon-streaked cheek. She felt a firm hand on her shoulder, then another, before being rolled onto her back.
Everlasting black became a head surrounded by swirling lights. The eyes of Juanita’s future stared down at her, stunned, as if she were the answer to a question he never thought he’d find a solution to. After composing himself, his hands formed the shape of a heart in front of his chest.
In the Dutch-American accent that had lured her to the club across internet radio waves, Matthias “Tito” van Dijk, for the first time, addressed her directly: ‘Are you feeling the love?’