Imagine if you can, performing for 10,000 people. Imagine standing at the front of a stage and being responsible for making each one of those people dance. Now, add to that the fact that you're a gay icon and all these people have come not just to party, but to see you throw the party.
It's a massive undertaking that Manny Lehman knows, oh, so well. He's one of the most sought-after DJs and remixers in the industry. He's performs to massive audiences around the world several times a year and when the going gets good, the pay-off is enormous.
"It's a ridiculously amazing feeling, I've got to tell you," he says from his home in Los Angeles. "It's like chasing a dragon. The rush of the crowd and the hands in the air — it's a great feeling."
Lehman, who will headline the Snowball at the Whistler Conference Centre this Saturday is perhaps best known for his dance remixes of pop megastars such as Madonna, Beyonce and most recently Katy Perry. He's done remarkabley well, particularly with gay audiences, spinning at some of the biggest clubs in the world.
But his success, he says, was initially just a fluke. He started DJing in the '90s as a hobby while working as a record company executive for A&M. He'd spend his days scouting for talent and helping artists put their albums together.
His star began to rise at around the same time that the record industry began to crumble. In 1998, A&M was sold off and became an imprint of Universal and Lehman was left without a career. Fortunately, he was finding more success in the clubs.
"It started steamrolling and took on a life of its own," Lehnan says. "I thought, 'Wow, I get to do this?' It was pretty amazing. It found me while I was nurturing it. It found me as a career."
The more he played, the more he attracted the gay audience. It was by no means intentional — he just played what he wanted to play and through that, found his own niche in the DJ landscape.
He's played some of the biggest clubs in the world. He's a veteran of circuit parties all over the world — all night parties, such as the Snowball, that have become staples of gay pride and celebrations around the world.
"I think it's totally important as far as for the gay culture. We all need our safe havens, just like for the straight people. They have their DJs, they have their places to go. The gay people need their music leaders and stuff like that," he says.
Within this context, he likens himself to "the Pied Piper."
"I play the music and they follow it around, you know? It's a fun thing. It's not a political thing, it's not a controversial thing," he says.
"I'm the man behind the curtain who makes the music, you know? It doesn't matter if you have two heads and thirteen eyes — as long as it's good and it's doing its job and it's good, that's the important thing."
But with that notoriety comes a level of hype that only someone at his level will experience. He's very aware of it and takes it very seriously. He has a name to live up to. He has the reputations of promoters to uphold. He has throngs of partygoers to please. It's a charmed life, sure, but it comes with it's own unique set of stresses and responsibilities.
"I always feel like I have to hit a certain mark," he says. "I take it very seriously. I do my homework. I try to be as up to the minute as I can. I do feel that there's certain scrutiny that goes into it and a certain expectation behind it. You have to hit it because if you start getting lazy people will hear it immediately."
The hard work has secured him a reputation as a dancehall kingpin. It's also secured him a longer career than most DJs will ever see. He says he's had a lot of highlights in his day but sustaining popularity for over a decade is the highlight of highlights.
"I'm fortunate to have been riding a long crest," he says. "I'm lucky enough if it continues, but I think that's the highlight has been the length of time that I've been doing this. It's ridiculous."
He's headlined WinterPRIDE events several times in the past and he says it's a festival he's mighty fond of (he says, "It's damn cool, is what it is"). The openness and acceptance, the sense of unity within the community — and not just the gay community — makes it a completely unique pride festival in the world. He's played most of them. He should know.
"I can tell you it's definitely not the same thing (around the world)," he says.