Category Archives: Reviews

Welcome To The Club – The Life and Lessons of a Black Female DJ

Welcome To The Club – The Life and Lessons of a Black Female DJ

This rollicking memoir takes you through unmarked doors vibrating with bass to celebrate a life lived to the full in dance music. For Paulette The Club is many things. It’s her escape from a too-young marriage. It’s Manchester’s Number One where she’s an extrovert dancer freaking out to Prince. It’s the Haçienda, where she’s resident DJ in a cast iron bikini at the stereotype-busting Flesh. It’s youth TV where she’s a shaven-headed face to reckon with. Later it’s the music biz club where she’s doing label press and A&R with Gilles P and Talking Loud, Black Market, Azuli, Defected. The Club is The Zap, Queer Nation, Venus, Vague, as she clocks up motorway miles guesting at the best queer nights in the land. And when she becomes Ministry of Sound’s special envoy, a globetrotting DJ with just one name, for Paulette The Club is the whole wide world.

But the title is also about The Club that keeps a tough guard on its velvet rope. This is a book about insiders and outsiders in an industry as riddled with inequalities as any other, but that until recently believed its own hype. For most of its history dance music thought of itself – if it thought much at all – as a diverse and inclusive rainbow nation. ‘Hand in hand… we’ll make it to the promised land.’ Paulette’s book questions this, loving the moments when she finds that it’s true, and calling it out with footnotes and statistics when it most patently isn’t. Who gets into the club, how long they stay there, how much they get paid and how well they are remembered – it’s not always fair and it’s often not even clear. Sex, race and gender are the filters she applies, and while her arguments hit home she avoids drowning you in academic abstractions.

With nine lives lived in Manchester, Ibiza, Paris and London, Paulette has plenty of tales to tell. She regales taking ‘lines of cocaine off the highly mirrored wedge heel of a now collectible Prada shoe that was passed under a toilet door.’ Or playing overtime because the DJ following her at the Terrace in Space is too spannered to see. Or grabbing her identical twin Paula to stand in for her because her head’s in bits from an ill-timed pill – then enduring the DJ frustration at hearing the crowd ebb away as her sister plays the same record three times in a row.

And she’s great on the grinding prep work of a committed DJ. The endless processing of music and the hours of listening to duff tunes in search of gold. She details the bad diet, grim rooms, cancelled flights and poorly arranged itineraries of the pro, with great images like ‘a travel iron with half the carpet melted onto it.’ The recent paralysis of lockdown is especially vivid. It was so destructive to freelancers in general, but especially to DJs, who saw their livelihoods cease overnight. Beset by covid-sponsored anxiety, Paulette suffers her own literal paralysis, then pulls out of it with strength of will and the support of a new community online.

Most of all, this is a survival manual – mentorship on the page. Paulette is a role model laid bare, offering an honest recounting of her career, full of wisdom, guidance and occasional rage, with tips and watch-outs for DJs of any sex or gender. She gives encouragement to be proudly difficult: in a great note of defiance she declares that she no longer tries to fit in, ‘with people or in places where I no longer fit.’

Her formative experiences chime with other foundational female voices in DJing’s history, most of whom say they weren’t aware of barriers to entry because they made their own way in a role that hadn’t yet gathered many rules. ‘In the beginning, “DJ” wasn’t a career ambition or goal for anyone (men included) so we women never saw our gender, race or sexuality as compromising it any further.’

Instead, she says she was largely self-propelled: ‘We did it for love. We did it for the party,’ she says. ‘We founded a new culture, a new way of life, then shared our love, vision, desire and the obsession that drives us generously with the world. With no one like us who we could model ourselves on, we became the influencers and influences of the future.’

In the back end of the book she rejoices in the latest incarnation of this club she’s helped build. Which like all the best spots is filling up with new faces, voices and energy. Paulette celebrates her new sisters with big-ups and shout-outs, paying it forward to the inheritors of the decks. ‘I love it. We all love it. I totally buzz off what I do. I am grateful every day that I can do what I do as a full-time job. There is nothing that matches that feeling of connection between myself and a crowd that’s as passionate, obsessive and excited about music as I am.’

Full disclosure here: Bill and I figure in the book somewhat – as ‘gatekeepers’ of the history, though, as we told her, we could never think of ourselves that way. If anything, we felt like chancers who’d struck lucky, surprised no-one more qualified had beaten us to it. We felt honoured to tell the story, detectives pressing record and putting the protagonists’ voices directly on the page. But of course, gatekeepers we were. Paulette’s book reminds us that with all the best intentions we made conscious and unconscious choices about who got our airtime.

We owe her a big hug of thanks for this; she was one of the people we turned to in 2021 to understand our own book better. In 23 years its place in the world had evolved. And if the meaning of a text changes with its reader, Paulette was one of the readers for whom it was now different. She helped us go deeper into the struggles women DJs have faced, detailing the wage inequality and barriers to recognition they still encounter. She was a big part of us refitting Last Night a DJ Saved My Life with the self-knowledge it needed to sit comfortably on the shelves again. 

Her own volume enlarges on those same themes brilliantly. In graceful readable style it’s an account of the sexism, racism and ageism in thirty years of dance music, as well as the career moves, milestones and missteps of a black woman DJ not afraid to make her point. As history gets more granular it gets more true. And an eyewitness report from the global DJ booth like this is peak personal truth. It sits well with recent memoirs from Harold Heath and Emma Warren – soul-baring accounts of this living culture we’ve all been part of. Thankfully, with dance music narratives less of a rarity, the players no longer need gatekeepers to tell their stories.

Even fuller disclosure: let me also fess up that I may have helped set this book back as much as a decade by giving Paulette writerly ‘advice’ back when I was younger and way more stupid. Thankfully, my unhelpful help – about upping the drama and layering on the sensational – is now redundant. The intervening years have let her write a much better book than I think either of us imagined back then.

For one, she’s come to it stronger and more focused, fierce grey beehive to the fore. The last decade has been one of growth, setback and rebirth for her, as she’ll tell you elegantly on the page. And the terrible clarifying events of George Floyd’s murder, the Black Lives Matter movement and the #MeToo awakening have created a context into which it falls perfectly. This book is angrier, clearer, more timely. It has more of a mission, and it’s also more loving, more grateful, more evocative and personal. 2023 is different too. The narrative is richer, the machinery of culture more widely understood, the battles for visibility and recognition no longer so far behind the scenes.

‘My hope is that this book embarrasses the DJ boys’ club into throwing its doors wide open to admit, acknowledge, appreciate embrace… the significant contribution made by women, people of colour and other marginalised communities who created this scene and continue to make it so varied and rich… We have more than earned our membership but we won’t beg for the space at the table.’

Though she’s a softie at heart, our Paulette doesn’t let anyone off the hook. In Welcome to the Club she cuts to the quick with her incisive Manc sarcasm, then, as you’re licking your wounds, there’s inclusive Manc love, wrapping you up in a cotton shawl with a mug of cocoa. With this heartfelt book, she’s joined another Club – that of the published author. And along the way she’s helped some of its earlier members better understand the privileges that offers. Thanks for both Miss P.

Frank Broughton

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Party Lines: Dance Music & The Making Of Modern Britain

Party Lines: Dance Music & The Making Of Modern Britain

‘Forget about the myopic parochialism and performative nostalgia of Britpop, with which Blair and others are far more regularly and erroneously associated,’ he writes with timely precision, ‘the 1997 election was won by house music..’ While Steve Lamacq and others rewrite history, Gillett takes the era head on and offers a persuasive alternative view of not just ’90s, but a broad sweep of dance music history.

Lost in the glaze of flickering lights, dancing has often been delicately freighted between thoughtless hedonism and acts of resistance, but has probably more than any other human activity been frequently misunderstood and misinterpreted. Emma Warren’s recent book, Dance Your Way Home, was a clarion call for the act of dance-for-all, from Cecil Sharp House to Chicago footworkers and, in many ways, Ed Gillett’s Party Lines feels like a handy companion to Emma’s, with the duo’s aligned take on the both the politics and physiology of dancing. As he comments in our interview, ‘There’s something really powerful about moving in rhythm with other people.’ 

Over the years, there have been numerous attacks on the very notion of dancing together, whether via law and order, populist governments (who let’s face it, don’t like young people gathering in any form at all) or religious leaders, who clearly (often erroneously) see dancing as perilously close to that other forbidden activity, sex. Taking this power as a starting point, Gillett digs deep into the psychology of why; especially where it rubs up against figures of authority, whether that’s the biggest mass arrest in British history at a rave in Yorkshire or raiding one of London’s key gay entertainment hubs, the Market Tavern in Vauxhall, where Lily Savage was in residence (‘Well, well, looks like we’ve got help with the washing up,’ she acidly commented as they turned up in rubber gloves). 

Gillett looks at how the music industry has sucked up, co-opted and frequently de-fanged areas of the dancefloor and partying, where capitalism has extinguished radical action. The initial impetus for Party Lines came from early essays he wrote for the Quietus on party organisations like the privileged house quartet Housekeeping, and their jarring relationship between their night-time hobby and contradictory daytime work as property developers (with aristocratic leanings, natch). He’s similarly merciless with companies like Boiler Room and Broadwick Live (while also acknowledging their importance in the industry’s culture). 

There’s an impressive amount of original research in the book, the product perhaps of Gillett’s former employment, firstly, at campaigning organisation Liberty and then later, working as chief archivist on Jeremy Dellar’s Everybody In The Place documentary (Party Lines stands on the shoulders of Dellar’s work, but also, especially, Matthew Collin’s Altered State.) It’s particularly fierce on matters of marginalisation and demonstrates not just how far we’ve come but how we have so much further to travel. It’s a book brimming with ideas and indignation, but it’s written with such verve and zip he carries you along, panting in its slipstream. Sometimes it seems low on solutions, but it’s an incredibly worthy addition to the canon, as well as a manual for irreverent, insurrectionary party-throwing. 

What was the initial impetus to writing the book? What got you started?
I guess the three things that I’ve always been most interested in throughout my life have been music and culture, politics and activism and grassroots social movements and physical space. And so, finding a niche to write about all those things, the politics of urban space and the way that dance music connects into, felt like an area that I could explore.

I worked on a film called Everybody in the Place, which was directed by Jeremy Deller. I got brought in to do the archive research, so to bring a sort of journalist-y dance music fan angle to it and track down old footage from the New Dance Show in Detroit of a bunch of Detroit techno dancers going wild to Kraftwerk in 1989, or old camcorder rave footage and work out who owned it and get it all licensed. And through that, I ended up helping out to develop the storyline. Obviously the way the film’s structured is it’s sort of a presentation of archive material, so the archive became really important to structuring the film’s narrative.

I’d known the basic history of dance music, but I wouldn’t say that it was an area that I was particularly expert in. My interests were all really about how it functioned in the present. Working on that film made me realise that a lot of these threads connect all the way back through into the past. I’d read books like Energy Flash and Altered State and Class of ’88 by Wayne Anthony, so I was familiar with the history, but I hadn’t really joined the dots until I worked on that film: oh, okay, it’s all part of the same continuum.

Then I wrote a piece in 2020 which looked at the role of a quartet called Housekeeping and two of them are corporate property developers. One ended up building this luxury apartment block in Aldgate, which got criticised very heavily for installing an entirely separate entrance for the council tenants that they were obliged to include in the developments. At night, they moonlighted as DJs and ran their own club nights. So anyway, I wrote a piece about them and the way that wealth and class quietly distorts the function and form of dance music. And that was really widely read. I got an email from an agent saying, “Have you ever thought about writing a book?“ I’m not the most self-confident of people. I hadn’t necessarily assumed that my writing would ever graduate into something more substantial until someone, my agent Charlie, voiced that idea and suggested that he had confidence in it. And that was a bit of a light bulb moment for me, where suddenly all of these things had been percolating for the previous few years coalesced into an idea for a book.

I’m wondering how you square the history of dance music in this country, which has always been both quite political, in a community or cooperative sense, but it’s also always been very entrepreneurial?
It’s an interesting thing, isn’t it? A lot of dance music throughout its history has not been overtly or deliberately political. Like, it’s not been about writing a manifesto and then starting a club as part of a coherent political ideology. But I interviewed Joey Wieczorek who ran Labyrinth, and he was describing being picked up by the police, and the first question he got asked was, “Is this political?“ And he’s like, “I just want to go and get off my face, and you think I’m Jeremy Corbyn. What’s going on?“ What’s interesting about dance music is that it exerts a political force without it necessarily being consciously political in any way. Like, assembling a group of people without state permission to make loads of noise and get off your face is inherently a political act. It’s an act of act of communion, it’s an act of ritual that lends itself very, very easily to more overt forms of politics, but doesn’t necessarily need that in order to exert a political pull.

Governments generally fear people gathering together in large numbers, and especially if they’re working class.
 That’s one of the things I wanted to do with the book was make sure that they didn’t treat dance music as unique in that sense, right? The way that the government responds to dance music was not really rooted in some particular specific fear of dance music as opposed to a fear of growing trade unionism. The policing at Orgreave was the same as the policing at Castlemorton and all these other places. The concept that I go back to throughout the book is the enemy within, which referred specifically to militant unions and labour led councils, but actually was kind of a proxy for, I think, all of the degeneracy that Thatcher and her acolytes saw in Britain. Whether that’s ravers or travellers or homosexuals or people of colour or whoever, they’re all part of that same kind of othering.

So dance music is inherently political. It can’t not be political, because it always automatically represents some sort of threat to the status quo. That doesn’t necessarily mean that everyone is chatting about Marx in the smoking area or using the club as a tool of revolution. You know, the free party scene in the early ’90s. By rejecting the profit motive, that was an inherent part of the political function of those parties, even though it was about nothing to do with any kind of political movement beyond simply just not charging.

Dance music getting co-opted for political campaigns by political parties or the Socialist Workers Party turning up during the anti Criminal Justice Act campaign, deadens it, actually. Dance music is at its most politically potent when it doesn’t need to rely on the traditional signifiers of party politics. It’s a politics of being and experiencing, and that’s still really powerful, but it often eludes or escapes traditional definitions or structures around political activity.

What do you think of the political stance of the Night Time Industries Association?
Obviously my interest and the bit that I find inspiring is very much the left wing side of it. The NTIA is very much an industry body for the moneymaking arm of dance music and nightlife, and that’s how they’ve secured political buy-in. The whole concept of the nighttime economy is a really interesting one, I feel, because it reflects a growing political engagement with dance music, from Sadiq Khan or Amy Lamé or Sacha Lord or whoever. But there’s sort of a trade-off there in that it’s all about what economic benefits is it generating? How can it be used as a tool of place-based branding to help secure investment? And that’s part of what dance music does and has always done. Whether that’s superclubs in the ’90s or clubs like Shoom becoming iconic.

Is that a good thing or a bad thing?
Well, I think it’s a double-edged sword. You undoubtedly have seen things like when Fabric closed, and real political pressure was brought to bear on keeping it open. That’s undoubtedly a good thing for nightlife, that a big flagship club was not allowed to be closed by the police and Islington Council. At the same time, I think there’s a risk in allowing the safeguarding of nightlife and dance music culture to be entrusted to industry lobby groups and centrist Labour politicians and large entertainment conglomerates, that their interests won’t necessarily always represent the interests of everyone within the culture, and certainly people at the bottom of the food chain who potentially need protection.

I think in certain cases, they can pull in the same direction. There’s a bit in the book about Sacha Lord, and I think he’s a really, really good example of some of these conflicts. Like, he’s done a huge amount of good with the dance music industry in lots of ways, but where his interests conflict with those of other people’s, you can begin to see some of those tensions play out. During COVID, he was really instrumental in pushing the government to expand COVID relief funds to cover dance music. So initially, relief for venues during COVID only applied to venues where there was live music played, and he lobbied successfully for it to be expanded to clubs as well. He was then able to get a massive stack of cash from The Warehouse Project, which he owns, but smaller clubs were able to get access to those funds as well. So, you have interest at the top of the industry and grassroots interests being kind of symbiotic.

But if you look at something like exclusivity clauses, for example, I know a lot of smaller promoters in Manchester are really frustrated by bigger promoters in the city, using really restrictive exclusivity clauses to prevent acts that play at The Warehouse Project from playing anywhere in Manchester, often for like huge chunks of the year.

So, I asked Sacha about this, and his response was, “I came up running a stall selling leather jackets, and if someone opened a stall selling leather jackets directly across from me, I’d be really annoyed. Like, obviously go and sell them around the corner, but not right next to me.“ So he was essentially protecting his patch, which is perfectly legitimate for him to do as a businessman, but given that he’s also the political figure responsible for nightlife in Manchester, taking that kind of approach to it suggests that he’s looking at it through the lens of his perspective on the industry, rather than necessarily acknowledging some of the complexities that might be viewed very differently from people at the other end of the food chain.

But it’s not a black and white thing. Even the operators right at the top of the industry, the Broadwick Lives of the world, their cultural and financial benefits to dance music becoming more professionalised, more corporatised. More people are able to earn a living from it. The market certainly for live dance music events continues to grow. But there is a double-edged sword in that power and money and agency do seem to be concentrated in an increasingly small coterie of people rather than as it was maybe potentially in the ’90s being a network of loads of much smaller bedroom operators. That’s partly just a function of the way that the economy as a whole has changed in those 30 years, partly a function of dance music becoming more popular, so there being more room for big operators at the top who then cannibalise the market.

There are clearly nuanced, quite tricky questions about, okay, this is making loads of money and you’re generating this top tier of DJ superstars. but how’s that feeding back into the rest of the culture? We had some of those arguments in the ’90s around superclubs. The dance music industry in the UK seems to operate along largely the same principles as the superclubs did in the ’90s. Big global media brands working in dance music and then expanding, possibly even more corporatised now than it was in the ’90s, and they’re backed by venture capital and global hedge funds. James Barton, who ran Cream, now runs this global entertainment company that’s backed by this massive California hedge fund.

 But at the same time, our rhetoric around what the music does hasn’t acknowledged that. People who go to a venue like Printworks may well think of it as kind of an underground club, because it plays ostensibly underground music. There’s been kind of a disconnect. In the ’90s, superclubs played big, brash, cheesy, poppy, trancey music, and underground clubs played weird industrial techno.

I think that was a function of the opening of Fabric, because Fabric was the first really good, big, credible club that actually booked weird DJs. They were booking really unusual DJs and filling it because people had respect and confidence in their programming.
I mention it briefly in the book, that period where Home opened in Leicester Square after Darren Hughes left split with James Barton and Cream. It crashed and burned, and it was very much the kind of ’90s superclub model. Big, glitzy, progressive house and trance, superstar DJ headliners. And Fabric opened at the same time and was much more leftfield, much more pared down, and Fabric took over the city. That feels like a paradigm shift. Fabric’s the last of the ’90s superclubs and also the first of that new idiom of clubs, like that I guess to a certain extent got picked up by Berghain in Berlin and then brought back to the UK in terms of that post-industrial monochrome techno vibe. But they function exactly like superclubs did. It’s just the music on offer is less obviously commercial.

I mean, I find it interesting that our rhetoric and our analysis has not kept pace with that. We think of superclubs as something that existed in the ’90s, and we don’t really always dig into the financial or political or social meaning of what these big clubs are now and how they interact with underground music. So, that was one of the things that I was interested in, that double-edged sword of the world of the nighttime economy and industry lobby groups and huge clubs with global profiles, and analysing not just what they sound like and what gets played at them, but how they function economically, how that knits into the rest of the history and what it might mean for the future as well.

 Boiler Room comes up a lot in the book, too.
I wrote a piece about Red Bull Music Academy when it closed, highlighting both the space that it created for this beautiful culture that otherwise wouldn’t have existed, but then the risks inherent in outsourcing that to a profit-making entity that isn’t actually really rooted in the grassroots culture that it’s supporting. So when Red Bull pulled out, that whole thing just died a death. So I wrote this article about RBMA and I got a DM on Instagram from Blaise Bellville [Boiler Room founder] saying, “This is stuff that I’ve been thinking about with Boiler Room. Would you like to go for a coffee?“ So I went for a coffee with him, and my pitch to him was give Boiler Room away, turn it into a cooperative. Make it cooperatively and collectively owned by the DJs that you work with. Like, just enable people to sign up as members for like a fiver, and then they run the business, share the profits. And by that point, obviously Boiler Room had loads of venture capital invested in it, so it wasn’t possible to just pay off all those investors, but that was my slightly utopian pitch.

I’ve met Blaise a couple of times, and I don’t doubt that his interest in and love for dance music is entirely genuine. But organisations like Boiler Room exist within a capitalist structure and they operate along capitalist lines, and there’s always, I think, going to be a tension between that and the collective emancipatory power of dance music. Like, how do you properly account for the value generated for Boiler Room and its investors by a grassroots queer DJ playing one of their shows? I’m not sure that in any of the capitalist structures of dance music, that cultural and capital that’s generated is ever really distributed equally or fairly. I think Boiler Room are a particularly stark example of that, both because of Blaise’s background as an individual and its atomised existence. It only exists digitally. It doesn’t really have a place to call home, so it’s more immediately obvious when it’s kind of globbing onto some other scene somewhere else in the world, and I think because it has over the years made a number of like very visible missteps in how it’s approached that question. At the same time, it’s been hugely important for breaking new artists. You only have to look at the career of someone like Sherelle right? Her first big moment was on a Boiler Room stream.

 Undoubtedly, that’s a good thing for UK dance music, that Boiler Room moment and everything that spun off from it that happened. So, I do focus on Boiler Room quite a lot in the book. I’m not trying to single them out as the only people operating in UK dance music in ethically conflicted or complicated way, but I do think they’re a really excellent case study of how a genuine love for music and a maybe slightly naive understanding of the way in which capital and capitalism can infect culture. It’s a really interesting case study of the way that those two forces can lead people astray.

What do you think it is that enables music, and specifically dance music, to break down religious, racial, sexual boundaries, and is it only ever doomed to be temporary?
That’s a really interesting one. I don’t know if you’ve read Emma Warren’s book, Dance Your Way Home. I think she and I share a certain amount of skepticism over the critical role of drug-taking in creating that sense of commonality. Obviously drugs are incredibly important in terms of creating the context in which people have that communal, collective experience. But I don’t think that it’s the key to unlocking everything. There’s a really good bit in Emma’s book where she says, “People who assume that the drugs are the key to understanding everything clearly haven’t experienced that feeling of dancing with people and the connectivity that it can bring up.“ I’m paraphrasing it, but I think there’s something psychologically, physiologically really, really powerful about moving in rhythm with other people, of sharing, for want of a less wooey, hippie term, a vibration of some kind. I think there’s something very difficult to define, but intuitive if you’ve ever experienced it, where just dancing together, moving to sound together, sharing in that kind of rhythmic experience aligns you with people in the same way that lying next to someone and your heartbeats aligning. There’s something in that that’s just very deep-rooted in how we function as animals.

 I think there’s also a social element in terms of dance music being something that exists on the fringes of society in one way or another. Even if you’re going to a mainstream club, you’re generally going late at night or to an area with the city that you wouldn’t otherwise go to. There’s some sense of sharing an unusual social space that I think is – particularly if you’re going to, say, an illegal rave – you’re sharing in a conspiracy with people. You are stepping out of yourself and into another version of yourself along with loads of other people. That’s particularly true when you look at marginalised identities in that context, right? Stepping out of a world in which you are denigrated or dismissed or marginalised and into a space where your identity and experience is foregrounded and centered and valued and celebrated.

 But also the grammar of performance in a club. You’re not just part of an audience. I think that dance music, so much of the energy of a dancefloor depends on the crowd rather than the DJ. I think that the performer/audience distinction is a more permeable barrier in dance music than in other forms of culture. The audience are part of the performance in a way that you don’t always get in other forms of culture. So I think that heightens dance music’s particular strength in forming that kind of communal identity.

In terms of whether it could be temporary, I think yes and no. The experience of the dancefloor is always temporary, and that’s kind of the beautiful thing about it, right? It is ephemeral. It is time-based in the same way that music is. I think trying to create a vision of dance music that is immovable and immutable also leeches out what’s vital and exciting about it. But that sort of communal world building, that sense of a space that is ours, that feeling can persist and it can act as a catalyst for world building that can be more permanent.

One of the groups of people I talk about in the book are the Exodus Collective in Luton, who started off throwing free parties in the late ’80s, closely affiliated to communal squats in the town. They ended up building a community centre in the early 2000s, became this entire self-sustaining community where the rave was one part of a much wider holistic system of social capacity building and communal bonds of solidarity. When there was rioting on a nearby estate, the riots only calmed down when Exodus started throwing a party on a Saturday night. On the weekends where Exodus threw their raves, crime levels in the local area dropped precipitously. But they were targeted quite aggressively by the police, to the extent that the local council, rather as you would expect in siding with the police, voted to investigate their own local police force, because they valued what Exodus were doing and saw something really dodgy in the police’s approach to them.

Or you look at a collective like Dialled In, which is a festival in London that focuses on British music of South Asian origin and heritage. When I interviewed them, they spoke about they’d had their own kind of hypie Boiler Room moments. They’d been press darlings for a year, but because of the way that hype cycles work, that had maybe started to fade a little bit, and their position was very much like, “We’re not interested in industry gatekeepers or success on those terms. What we’re interested in is using the music as an entry point to build a community”. So they would run workshops, and they’ve got a whole programme of educational stuff and skill sharing. Just that kind of stuff with a much broader emphasis on creating a whole ecosystem around a party rather than just viewing dance music as something that only goes to the boundaries of the dancefloor and no further. I think that’s where some really interesting stuff’s happening and where you can take that energy and vitality and optimism that occurs when everyone’s dancing together and begin transferring that to the real world, for want of a better word, in a way that feels really organic, exciting and really inspiring.

What’s your view on potential Arts Council funding of dance music?
So you get this kind of reification of rave as something that happened between 1987 and 1994 where everyone drove Vauxhall Astras to a club in a warehouse just outside the M25, because that’s the thing that is immediately identifiable that can be moulded into a shape that meets these expectations and criteria and can be absorbed into the structures that places like the Arts Council work within. I think the other thing is that dance music has always been kind of fun and exciting in a way that there is demand for it, that people will always want to go out and lose themselves a bit and go dancing in a way that there is not perhaps an enduring, permanently reinventing demand for ballet amongst young people.

But also, is that not just completely class bias, the amount of funding that ballet or opera get, when they are really minority interests in the UK?
Oh, absolutely. But that’s reflective of kind of class prejudice across society. It’s obviously very, very, lopsided, but also dance music has continued to be vital and exciting without a reliance on those sources of funding. And just as with the nighttime economy, I suspect that were that funding ever to be made more available, it would come with strings attached, which would leach out some of that vitality and urgency in the culture as well. But I do think that things are shifting slightly. I do think that things have slightly improved, but also, I’m not sure it’s a hugely profitable use of anyone’s time to be angry at society for being that it is. I think it’s important to acknowledge it and map those historical trends and threads, but then also to use that as motivation to go off and imagine other ways of doing things.

 I’m not even completely convinced that Arts Council funding would necessarily be a good thing.
Yeah. But you look at Berlin, where they’ve identified clubbing as not just a tourism driver, but also a cultural good in itself. It would be wonderful if there was a mindset shift in the British state and the way that it operates. But also we can poke people and hope that they get better, but I’m not overly optimistic about the chances of that happening anytime soon, and I think it’s possibly better to use it as a cautionary tale and think about other ways to achieve the same goals than waiting for those gatekeepers to give dance music a cultural and economic legitimacy that it has survived for decades without.

You can buy Ed’s book here –>

Gay Bar – Why We Went Out

Gay Bar – Why We Went Out

After being told his hot new boyfriend is dangerous trash, gay bar ingenue Jeremy Atherton-Lin briefly despairs of the situation: ‘It was as if I’d been adopted by the wrong family – these nightclub people, thriving on secrets and risk.’ He’s consoled by his first sniff of poppers, and soon comes to his senses. Because as we know, secrets and risk (and poppers) are the main ingredients of a great night out.

After his initial wobble, Jeremy’s nightlife family becomes central, providing true love, a deep understanding of human nature and a growing sense of identity – as well as some highly illuminating identity crises. As he explores the shifting sands of the culture, and his changing place in it, he weaves a smart history of the gay bar into a beautifully written memoir. Each chapter is built around a particular bar, either in his native San Francisco or in London, where he moves in search of a Britpop waif. ‘Xuan had produced a spreadsheet of museums to visit. I was fixated on getting to Popstarz. I imagined a pale and interesting boy awaited me there.’

He tracks the gay bar’s development from clandestine Regency cellar to unspoken ’50s hideaway, via out-and-proud activist centre, vital community support hub, to an inclusive, non-denominational queer space that seems to have LGBTQIA’d itself out of an identity. And latterly to a raucous fun palace with more hen nights than homosexuals. When a recent BBC news piece asks, ‘Do Gay People Still Need Gay Bars?’ he laments, ‘Do gay bars still need gay people?’

The story is written in social and political realities – in the gay bar’s changing legality, appearance, purpose (ostensible and otherwise), and of course in its clientele. To the author it has been a place of liberation, education, exploration and occasionally disillusion. He admits he first ventured inside to learn about himself. ‘Of all human categories, adult gay males were amongst the least familiar to me,’ he writes poignantly, confessing he hoped to receive wisdom from his elders and to grow by emulation: ‘I didn’t know how else to learn history, but to try it on.’

We learn of the grand queer histories of London and San Francisco, filled with memorable nuggets and reverberations – and sites that have been gay for centuries. That the iron columns in the Vauxhall Tavern are all that remains of the great Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, where orgies took place in ancient row-boats hanging from the trees. Or that Villiers Street, home to Heaven, is named after George Villiers, a favourite of King James I, who gave him the land while calling him his ‘sweet child and wife.’ Villiers also gave his name to another famous gay bar The George, off The Strand, which hosted ’90s Britpop confection Popstarz, where the author does indeed fall in love.

He tells us that the first guide to gay London was a 1937 publication called For Your Convenience, printed between the leaves of a map of public toilets; how the tradition of drag queens performing on the bar was a smart way to avoid extra charges in the event of a raid – a show was harder to deny if there was a stage; that at one covertly gay place the orchestra would play a fanfare whenever a fit guy walked in, and how another would warn its patrons the police were on their way by playing the national anthem (ie ‘God Save The Queen’).

Occasionally something stuns. Like the fact that because the 1967 decriminalising of British gay sex only applied to private spaces, ironically there were more arrests after it was passed, as public meetings for sex remained fair game for the cops. Most of the history reminds us that the rich always had their safe spaces; for those less privileged there was usually danger and uncertainty.

Gay Bar is an exploration of masculinity, a nuanced dissection of gender politics, a homogeography of oppression and rebellion (including several events that predate Stonewall), and not least a collection of quirky characters and brilliant anecdotes. A favourite tale tells of a San Franciscan bar owner who bought hundreds of dollars’ worth of flowers after his place was busted, so as well as posting people’s bail, he could drape a garland round the neck of each arrested customer as they were released.

The writing alone will have you smiling throughout. In a leather bar he recalls ‘men built like chesterfields.’ Wolfgang Tillman’s subjects look ‘like beautiful weeds.’ He describes his college friend Xuan with the line, ‘She ordered both lipstick and photographs in matte finish.’ Noting the bizarre Aztec architecture of the MI6 building that dominates the Vauxhall riverside near the bar he’s in, he writes, ‘Like the men in here, it’s a little too much and it gives itself away.’

The opening scene is priceless: a hilariously candid sequence of him and his partner ‘Famous’ negotiating the delicacies of an orgy in a dark room filled with prowling suitors.

‘The men skulked in trackies, inhabiting or playacting working-class bodies. I thought then I had better not speak. My accent is too equivocal, scuppered somewhere on the Atlantic and apologizing. The point here was to be regular. The only distinguishing feature should be an erection the size of a Sky+ remote control.’

For those unfamiliar with the complex etiquette of such a situation, as the tale unravels Atherton-Lin’s sharp, thoughtful prose is hilariously informative. Frank Broughton

You can purchase a copy of this brilliant book via our store.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Ibiza ’89

Ibiza ’89

As acid house crossed over nationally in the UK and the tabloids started whipping up their manufactured outrage, Time Out Nightlife Editor Dave Swindells went to Ibiza with i-D writer Alix Sharkey to see where this culture had come from. They planned to reconnect the ‘Balearic beats’ that had kicked things off the previous year to the island of their birth. But their editor Don Atyeo told them to take a whole week and forget any preconceptions. He was a veteran reporter who had spent months in Zaire for the Rumble in the Jungle, getting to know Muhammad Ali, and he gave them the dream assignment – ‘Ask questions and let the story tell itself.’

Dave’s visual chronicle of that week in the sun has finally been packaged up into a glorious book, and while you’ve doubtless seen a couple of the more famous shots before – like the couple reflected in the Amnesia pyramid – seeing the full collection is brilliantly evocative. It’s like owning holiday snaps from a clubbing moment most of us missed out on. For the magazine (it was 20/20, Time Out‘s monthly lifestyle title), Dave concentrated on capturing a few dancefloor portraits and those all-important sunrise moments, picking out the incongruous mix of aristocratic Eurotrash and seasoned clubbers on the blag. Nightclub photography was a different game back then – the technology meant you needed an intrusive flash to catch any after-dark action. With a full book to expand into he’s been able to add all the contextual shots, showing the sleepy rural nature of ’80s Ibiza, giving us some great images of the epic club architecture, acres of fashion nostalgia, and a hint that Brits-abroad lager-boy lairiness was already in evidence.

1989 was the year before Ibizan authorities made the clubs build roofs over their dancefloors, so there’s a poignancy to the carefree partying. They were there for the opening of Amnesia, which figures large in the book – the club where Alfredo Fiorito’s playlist did so much to energise British music. Read the captions and you get a great idea of who was there – it’s a roll call of the more exploratory members of London nightlife. Alix Sharkey was very much a face about town and between him and Dave they could spot a London DJ or promoter at 20 paces. In fact the first person they encountered in Ibiza was Boy George, always an early adopter. Sharkey’s original piece is included and it’s a great scene-setter: scallies dancing with Italian princesses, labourers chatting up girls fresh from daddy’s yacht. There’s a nostalgic intro from Terry Farley, and Dave adds plenty of stories too. Blaggers rushing the door by getting on their hands and knees, ecstasy urchins shooting water pistols filled with liquid MDMA. All in all a wonderful time capsule. Frank Broughton

Es Paradis Ibiza, 1989
Ku, 6am in the rain, 1989
Ibiza 89 Amnesia Pete Heller (left in black T-shirt) and Portia Bishop greet the sunrise
Adamski and friends, Ku, Ibiza, 1989
Ibiza 89 Cafe DM The Sun on the beach (as read by ‘Spit’ Fenton and Megs Osler)

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton. All pics © Dave Swindells

Yo! The Early Years of Rap, 1982-84

Yo! The Early Years of Rap, 1982-84

We’re in the train yards, at the Fever, in Bronx River, in the Roxy. We’re tagging on the subway, looking through Bambaataa’s crates, backstage with Melle Mel. We’re in D.ST’s bedroom crammed with studio gear, at the Fun Gallery downtown. These unguarded moments tell you exactly where you are on the timeline: right at the start of things. This is hip hop when it was still fresh and fly. The first records are coming out, the breakers have just been on daytime TV, the writers watch their train-art loop the city daily. Hip hop energy is the biggest thing in New York. It’s a young scene, baby-faced and smiling, a little unsure of what’s next, but really excited to get there.

One photo shows kids queuing up to get into the Roxy. A black tape holds them in line. As the flash pops, a lad of 17 or so ­– his cap announces ‘Deeski’ – raises both hands in peace V’s for the camera, in front of a sea of faces. His smile tells us all we need to know about the excitement bottled up behind him. In a moment these kids will charge into the club for another weekly episode of the best night of their lives.

The stars are dressed in silver leather or leopard-print, with fur and tassels, studs, buckles, boots and head-dresses. They’re looking fine, but they haven’t got used to it yet. Few will ever be famous beyond the five boroughs. And the faces of future legends still look teenage. Jazzy Jay, Melle Mel, Scorpio, Afrika Islam, Cold Crush, Rock Steady, Red Alert, Fab 5 Freddy. There’s a photo of Bambaataa and Herc together, and even Kool Herc – the grandaddy of the scene – still hasn’t hit 30.

The DJs are grinning as they pass each other the next great breakbeat. There’s fun ready to burst. The breakers are still discovering all the ways their bodies can flex. The b-boys in a circle watch them battle. Sophie Bramly was clearly family. Her photos capture innocent moments that bring home how wild and new all this must have felt. She would go on to create Yo! MTV Raps for MTV Europe, copied a year later in the US.

As veteran hip hop publicist Bill Adler points out in his intro, from the birth of hip hop at Kool Herc’s back-to-school jam in 1973 up to the end of that decade there’s no photography beyond a few snaps. When the visual record begins, most is focused on graffiti or breakdancing. French Tunisian Bramley gave us the first body of work that takes in the whole joyous scene. This book drops you into those glorious years when hip hop emerged from the clubs and started making its way in the world. This is when it was all still just a party, and when the science of fun behind it: DJing, MCing, breaking and graffiti, was discovering new bombs every week. Amazing times. From the lovely people at Soul Jazz, this great book is an access-all-areas pass to see hip hop’s first steps. Frank Broughton

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through the Dancefloor

Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through the Dancefloor

‘Dancing with other people isn’t passive, it is active, and it can create action,’ writes Emma Warren. And what this action generates, she tells us, is ‘…collective music created by the thousands of dancing bodies punctuating the tunes powering out of the sound system.’

The history of dance music is a love affair between the DJ and the dancefloor. The dancer is fickle and restless, always looking for new sounds and fresh excitement. In response the DJ invents new tricks, curates new styles, evolves new genres, to keep their mutual passion hot. This beautiful new book examines this call-and-response relationship from the inside, bringing us a dancefloor history with unparalleled intimacy.

The science of dancing can be mindblowing. Some people with Parkinson’s can dance to music when they can hardly walk. Seeing someone else in motion can make the corresponding muscles twitch in our own bodies, a phenomenon called ‘body mirroring’. Researchers have isolated a related effect, ‘aesthetic resonance’, where humans enjoying music enjoy it more if they can see others enjoying it too – this is why music is more dramatic when you’re dancing with other dancers. Music works better with you.

‘Powerful dancefloors can be tied up with feelings of repair, of becoming whole again,’ Emma reminds us, as she meets a neurologist specialising in strokes and epilepsy who’s built himself a bass chair to send booming stimulation to your vagus nerve. She calls it ‘a calm-down button, a hug from the inside.’ We learn details of how the brain/body calibration you get from moving to music measurably improves balance. And how movement therapy can reduce ADHD symptoms in children (perhaps making up for a lack of movement in their screen-filled formative years). Motion is only a letter away from emotion.

Emma treads lightly through the science, however, making it support her real subject, which is how dancing is central to being human. She shows how we each evolve our own personal dance, the culmination of the cultural and interpersonal lives we’ve led. She makes us see dancing as a language we all speak, and shows us dance history as the evolution of different dialects. ‘Dance your history,’ Toni Basil tells her. ‘People dance their story,’ says veteran house DJ Frankie Valentine.

The main thread of the book is memoir, and in a life devoted to dance music – as a writer and explorer for The Face, Jockey Slut, Caught by The River and Brixton’s Live Magazine – Emma has moved on significant dancefloors in many memorable scenes. Her personal dance moves took shape in a sequence of places familiar to many: from school discos, via her student union bop, to Flesh at The Haçienda, via Heaven, Land of Oz, the last night of Shoom, Rage, Manchester’s Electric Chair, through the many faces of Plastic People, up to the live jazz of Stoke Newington’s Total Refreshment Centre. We see these famous clubs through new eyes as she takes us down into the crowd and colours in the dancers of each congregation.

She gives generously of herself, telling us about the exuberant high kicks she instinctively gave at her school disco, then, after a boy pointed and laughed, of the shame she felt for this, followed by the pressure to rein in her movements for the sake of teenage cool. In time she casts off this reserve and revels in the freedom of not caring how her dancing looks on the outside, ‘…recognising how my body liked to move, how it could stretch and contract on its own terms, without having to consider how this affected my status as it related to being fanciable… I was there to dance and I would dance for hours and hours.’

Transposed to Madchester for college, she changes her dance style to suit. This personal shift is a process we’ll all recognise but have probably never thought about: ‘I needed to tune in again, absorb some new information, lose some accent, add some accent.’ Another dramatic change comes when she starts having seizures and finds her motion restrained by the fear of bodily failure and the need to out-nerve the strobes. She muses on the futility of ever separating mind from body. Years later at a dance class she finds herself useless at choreographed steps despite a life of dancing. The teacher reminds her, ‘You can’t think yourself into it. You just have to feel it and trust that your body knows where to go.’

The responsive relationship between dancer and music-maker runs through the whole book, pinned down by vivid recollections. And when she describes in detail the dubstep crucible of DMZ at Plastic People, we get an unprecedented dissection of how the evolution of music is guided by the DJ but led by the dancefloor. She sets the scene:

‘At DMZ, little else existed bar the sound and the movement. Someone pulled up the tune and you paused. A synth line or a snare signalling the opening of a big tune and you prepared for the moment, winding up inside, becoming ready. The tune dropped and – pow! – there was a mass upsurge of arms and a collective dancing style that mixed a cockney knees up with the militant skanking and stepping embodied by men and women in Brixton reggae dances three decades earlier.’

In this small dark cocoon, with key DJs and producers on the dancefloor themselves, and with the booth as close to the dancers as possible, the perfect venue for dancing with abandon met a scene of wild musical experimentation. The result was dubstep, a distinct new genre that swept the world. There’s no doubt dancers led the way: ‘The listening entity on dancefloors like DMZ’s indicated what it collectively wanted through gesture. And what a small but growing part of the dancefloor wanted was even more energy. This request, made with gunfingers and a grimey pogo, resulted in a record that perhaps contains more energy than any record ever made: a 2007 release by top producer Coki titled “Spongebob”.’

By going deep into the spatial history of British dancefloors she gives us the personal stories of several venues, showing the ripples of lives changed and communities enriched. She emphasises the huge cultural contribution made by youth clubs, reminding us just what we’ve lost through the Tory’s vicious austerity. She traces the characters and creators who flourished in these spaces, showing a pre-teen Dizzy Rascal’s DJ debut and a young Winston Hazel kickstarting Sheffield dance culture.

Dancing is collective action, and an important chapter takes us into the rebellion that it can embody. Whether unifying a march or offering refuge from a hostile world, dance has been important to protest and evolved as a result. Emma’s style throughout has a sensitivity that’s rare in cultural history, and when we read about the militant reggae cellars that a movie like Babylon brought to the screen, or the dance-focused repudiation of the National Front racism in ’70s Lewisham, she’s careful to bring us the protagonists’ voices and feelings directly. Always, this is history from the inside, from the floor.

It’s memoir, anthropology, reportage, cultural history, but most of all ‘Dance Your Way Home’ is a plea to keep moving, to ignore the conscious voice that says you’re too clunky, too much, too old. A call to close your eyes and feel the amazing gift of movement: sinews pulling, hips bouncing, fingertips tracing. To know that what you’re doing might be older than language, deeper than love; that dancing built our venues and directed the DJs and music-makers and their tunes. This landmark book is nothing less than the dancers’ history of our music. Frank Broughton

Emma’s membership card for junglist ground zero, Rage

Frank Broughton: It’s an amazing book. So personal and so deep. I was blown away by how great it is, and how emotional it made me. I guess it was a very personal book to write as well.
Emma Warren: What were the bits that made you feel something? Is there anything in particular?

It was your approach throughout. The way that you gave so much of yourself. You’ve taken the story much deeper and made it much more personal. It’s the best kind of history because it shows what it was like to be there.

Your lifetime has been on so many of the right dance floors. Were you aware of that when you started writing – that you’d connected so many famous or significant dancefloors?
I mean, I definitely knew I’d been to some good spots. Some of the very first things I went to were so culturally powerful that I knew what that meant. However, like yourself I also know a lot about the bigger picture. I’ve always also been aware of the places where I wasn’t.

Sometimes people talk to me about the places I’ve been, in the context of them having missed out. I find myself saying repeatedly, ‘You have not missed out!’ None of us that are in this thing have missed out. No, we just all happen to be located in different parts of the map. I’ve been on certain parts of the map; you’ve been to places that I wish I’d been to – all those New York clubs, for example. I went to Shelter once, that’s it pretty much. I don’t think the feeling of having missed out is a useful one. For those of us that value the culture, we just need to be really glad about the places we have been, and respectful of the places that we haven’t.

It’s easy for history to write about the songs and the movements and the significance and the DJs. So it’s great to read the history from the floor, from the grassroots.
Histories take the perspective of certain groups: the DJs, the producers, maybe sometimes if you’re lucky, the coat-check person. But the vast majority of the people are the dancers. Ordinary dancers. And yet, you don’t usually see things from their perspective, you get it from the DJ booth, or you get it from the studio. But because I’m not a DJ, I’m not a producer, I’ve always been aligned with the people on the dancefloor.

I remember when I was in Manchester, when we were doing Jockey Slut, just having that feeling: If I’m not on the dancefloor, what am I doing writing about it? If I’m not on the dance floor, what the hell am I doing here? If I was just propping up the bar, I probably shouldn’t be writing about it. I felt my contribution was only really valid if I was in it.

It’s funny because in writing the book I’ve selected certain dancefloors that I’ve been on. And they tend to be the ones that are more what I would call ‘culturally powerful’. But I’ve been on lots of other dancefloors as well. Like Basement Jaxx’s night Rooty, which I went to regularly. At one point I was thinking, maybe there’s something I can weave in, but it just ended up not quite fitting the story I wanted to tell. which ended up being about these foundationally, culturally powerful, dancefloors.

So could you draw a map? The dance map of Britain
Collectively, we can probably do something like that.

You and I, we’ve shared many a dancefloor. And we’ve rarely met in other places. And it made me think there are so many people in my life that I know that way. And I wonder if that’s a generational thing. Has there been a generation before or after that has that intense social life based on the dancefloor?
I think it’s tempting to imagine that that’s the case. But I’m pretty sure that there will have been generations before who knew each other on the dancefloor. And that there will be generations after. Maybe the difference is to do with the numbers. When we began going out more people than ever before were on a certain type of culturally powerful dance floor, house- or techno- or rave-related. By the early ’90s, everybody I went to school with had been to a rave: everybody, maybe minus like two people. There just came a point where you didn’t have to be very specialist to have gone to some kind of rave or warehouse party or specialist music night.

What’s the dancefloor that you’d go back to first?
None of them. The only thing I want to do is go to the current iteration of all of that. Last week, a friend took me to an amapiano night at Pop Brixton, run by DJ Super D. And it’s just such a perfect, perfect, example of the way UK music culture just keeps on evolving and generating new things. The crowd was demographically quite broad. Most people probably in their 20s or 30s. But there were definitely people in their 40s, definitely people their 50s and above, and some little young ones as well. And lots of very nice cars parked outside this building. London is still alive.

Thinking back, phones changed the dancefloor vibe in clubs massively, but I think the smoking ban made more of a dramatic difference. It forced that shuttling in and out and lack of concentration. Restrictions of any kind are damaging to the dance, aren’t they?
I think when the smoking ban happened, in terms of just the flow of the night, it definitely made it harder to have that ongoing intensity where everybody is in the spot, in the zone, for hours at a time.

I was talking recently to someone I shared a dancefloor with at DMZ, who was only 16 when he started going there. And he was describing how as a 16-year-old he entered into that clubbing environment in a place where the bouncers weren’t really bothered. They might check your ID if you looked 12 – like he did. But your slightly crap fake ID, it wasn’t a barrier to entry. People just got in. He later found it quite hard to be in environments where you had a big pat-down, and lots of roving bouncers trying to stop you from doing bad things.

You do lose something of the freedom that you feel when you’re in a space where you’re welcomed in, when nobody’s coming around to check on your behaviour, where you can just basically do what you want, within reason. As adults, why not? But clubs are increasingly policed aren’t they? At entry and inside.

It’s tricky, they’ve got to protect their licence and show they’re doing the right thing. But ultimately it takes away that sense of abandon, doesn’t it?
It’s to do with councils, cracking down on licensing, because as far as I understand, you know, the police want an easier time of it. And they think that by applying greater controls to clubs, they make it easier for themselves. But the kind of places we’re talking about are not the kind of places that generate trouble – quite the opposite. They undo the kind of things that cause trouble, because they allow people to dance it out.

The positive effects of dancefloors are all so obvious to people who spend time on them. But people who make the laws might never have experienced any of those things. So they just don’t know their value. Like your great chapter about youth clubs, and all the dancers and DJs and musicians who got their start in them. One of the saddest things in the book was thinking what’s been thrown away in such a clueless way with the Tories’ austerity cuts.
Yeah, youth clubs was just such a massive subject. Like you’re saying: the people who made the rules don’t understand. Maybe the leaders need to be socialised in advance. Maybe a qualification for having a position of power should be you’ve spent a certain amount of hours on a culturally powerful dance floor.

I’d campaign for that
On a subcommittee that wants to empower the sub-bass.

School disco shenanigans 1990. A Bernard Achampong Production, flyer by Xavier Fraser

You describe dancing very beautifully as a personal language. That was a really nice thing running through the book. How distinct do you think that can be?
Very. You can tell someone by their gait, how they walk, before you can see their face. I once recognised someone even though she was wearing full hijab – niqab, actually. And I was like, ‘Sara, is that you?’ I could tell by the way she moved. Yeah, everybody’s way of moving is incredibly individual. I think the police actually use movement analysis sometimes to convict people. It’s as accurate from a policing point of view as a fingerprint. So when you’re dancing, you’ve got that basic thing, which is incredibly individual, but then you’ve got the way that you’re feeling that day, that morning, that evening, that year. How happy you’re feeling, what life stresses you’re carrying, whether you’re in love or whether or not you’re in a break-up… You dance differently depending on how you’re feeling, maybe even the weather as well.

Do you think you could read someone’s history? I mean, from watching someone dance? Could you do some detective work? How much could you tell about a person?
I think I could tell a fair bit. I mean, you can always be surprised. And you can only tell what someone is prepared to show you that day. So if someone’s controlled, you might not tell very much. But I think you can tell whether or not someone has a certain degree of knowledge of the dancefloor. Just by the way they hold themselves.

So could you do a blind taste test – like a wine tasting – from the way people dance? Could you see what cultural input they’ve had over their lifetime?
Yeah. I think you can tell a lot about where people are coming from. If they’ve got some sort of ’90s garage moves, like what are their feet doing? I just spend a lot of time now looking at people’s feet. I love it. It’s just endlessly fascinating. Looking at someone like, ‘You’ve definitely done some raving. I think you went to quite a lot of UK garage nights’. Or, ‘You don’t feel very comfortable doing this, and maybe you haven’t done this a lot.’ You know.

That’s a Channel 4 programme right there, The Dance Doctor, or something.
I did have an idea for something I wanted to do as a sort of event, which in my mind was called Hesitant Dancers 101, something like that. And it was for people who just feel really, really, really hesitant about dancing, who are like, you know, those ones who just clam up, quite literally, when a dancing situation comes up. And I was thinking, How could you do it to make it comfortable? People could just start to get a little bit of kind of comfort and confidence in just finding the moves.

Like a motion makeover. Do you remember that programme Faking It? The very first one was a classical musician who became a DJ, and she was amazing. And one of the things they did was boxing training. They got her to be more assertive by hitting a punchbag. I’ve got a friend whose daughter has an eating disorder, and I’ve often thought that’s the kind of physical thing someone like her should do – use your body to affect the world. And you’ll come out of it feeling a little stronger, and you’ll feel like you don’t have to hide so much.
Yes, absolutely. Absolutely. It’s so healing. There’s a quote in the book from Brian Belle-Fortune from his book All Crews. And he described a night where a big guy comes in all pent-up and they’re saying, ‘Boy, he’s going to be trouble’. And then at the end of the night they saw the same guy skipping out: ‘I love you, I love you!’ The dancefloor in its best and most powerful modes just can be such a site of repair. For teenage girls, for sure. I just think that for all those kinds of life stresses it can be good repair.

Comic strip from Labrynth in Hackney. Note Captain Twylab who can rave for 96 hours straight without a break

Do you think we have a BPM?
I don’t know. Maybe. I do know about something called tempo entrainment. It’s the degree to which your body locks into rhythm. And you can either have a high or low amount of it. If you have high tempo entrainment, you’re probably going to start bobbing if you hear a tune, regardless of whether or not you like it, a bit involuntary. If you have very low tempo entrainment, you’re unlikely to be moving unless you actively choose to.

I’ve sometimes found myself on a dance floor where I’m like, I like this music. But it’s just too fast for me – and that’s a physical feeling. The other thing is what I call the noodle factor. My body prefers the groove, it likes something cyclical. Going to a drum and bass night, I might love the music, love the sonics. But there’s something that stops me really enjoying the movement, because it’s too surprising. Those rhythms are just a little bit too ungroovy, it’s the high surprise factor or something. Drum and bass, I would always dance the half speed. And then I’d feel like I’m not putting enough energy into it. I would definitely argue that there’s some sort of inbuilt motor. I don’t know if it’s biological or learnt. That’s the big question, isn’t it?
Preferences? Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right, that people have a preference, don’t they, for a certain tempo or feel. And maybe that’s to do with your kind of dance ability as well. Where you feel comfortable finding the bits of music that you can easily move to.

Do you think we have a national style? A national dance?
Well, you know, in the book, I’m arguing for the electric slide. As a new national dance, if a national dance is a dance that most people know how to do.

I’d purposefully swerved really talking about Morris dancing too much in the book. It’s not really the kind of dancing that I’m interested in, but actually it appears a little bit in there. James Mary, who is Björk’s headwear designer, his sister Alex Murray has this troupe called Boss Morris. And they were dancing at the Brits when Wet Leg were performing. And it looks wicked. Really! A bit lairy, a bit aggie, and lively and fun.

It’s all stories and it has that pagan thing going for it. Just the fact that it’s so old makes it quite interesting.
It’s a workers’ dance. You have Morris dancing, there used to be Molly dancing. And that was much more about workers making themselves a bit non-recognisable, going out and doing slightly menacing dancing at the landowners.

Or clog dancing. They’d have the metal segs in their clogs so that the wood didn’t wear out so quickly. And then when you danced, they’d make sparks on the stone. I guess that’s British tap dancing, isn’t it?
I remember I had Blakeys in my shoes because I wore all my shoes out really quickly. I’d tap noise out of them as well.

What are the great dancefloors at the moment?
I really like what Marsha MarshmeLLo and Leanne Wright are doing with their Moonlighting events. They did one at Servant Jazz Quarters and then one at one at Spiritland before it closed. It was Marsha, Leanne and Zakia Sewell, and Josey Rebelle was their special guest. And the music was just wicked. They bring different musical styles, but they’re all really, really schooled in the dancefloor. I’m sure there are amazing things happening left, right and centre. Even without knowing exactly where the amazing places are, I just feel very confident that they’re happening.

What makes a great dancefloor?
This is a bit of a personal preference, I just like places that are small and dark, where everybody is actively listening and actively moving and responds to the music – even if they don’t know it. You know that thing: a crowd who know a good track, even if they’ve never heard it before.

What guidance would you give for someone who doesn’t have that history but wants to put on a great event and wants to create a great dancefloor.
Go out a bit first.

And what about the age make-up? Are we getting more segregated by age in dance floors? I do think there’s a bit of a rebellion against that.
I think there’s a mix, like always. When I first started going out there would have been places that were for the older lot. Places that were just teenagers, places that were mixed. And I think now’s the same. You’ll have places that have a mix of older people and younger people. Where most people are average clubbing age, late teens, or into the 20s. And then you’ll have places where everybody is under 21. And then you have a lot of house nights, where you’ve got to be over 25 to even get in.

We’ve lost a lot of nightclubs. And we can’t underestimate the effect of that – it is awful. But there are still a lot of people making it happen. And the spectrum of things that we have still serve lots of different generations in lots of different ways. We just need more of them. Especially under-18 nights. I know it’s difficult from a licensing and insurance point of view. But we really, really need to make sure the young ones have a chance to experience it like they did in the jungle and garage times, when there were loads of underage teens nights. I really, really want people to put them on, to make it their mission.

It can be hard being an older person on a young dancefloor
I was talking to a friend of mine, the American writer Piotr Orlov. He and I share kind of parallel lives and dance on different continents. I was talking to him about what it’s like to be an older person, but to still want some of that dancefloor feeling. And to know you can still find your space on the dancefloor, where it’s okay for you to be there. And he pointed out that as soon as you move, people can see that you know what you’re doing. You’ve been around. So your movement indicates the fact that actually it’s completely fine for you to be there.

What do you think about TikTok. How has that changed things?
It means a lot of people know a lot of dance moves.

It’s kind of different from the communal thing, though, isn’t it? It’s about learning something and being precise.
Maybe. But so was learning dance moves off MTV. You know, I really feel a tendency to want to flatten the negatives, you know. There will always be something which means that people are behaving differently. I think the only reason why it’s a problem really, TikTok and online life, is because there aren’t the physical spaces for people to use.

I remember when my daughter was about six, seven, this is pre-TikTok, but ‘Gangnam Style’ was the thing, and that was the first communal craze of her dancing life, and it was so great to see her and all her friends suddenly just want to do this one thing together. I don’t see TikTok as negative, I just think it’s quite a different thing, because it’s talking about precision. And emulating. But you’re right. It’s just like watching Soul Train or Top of the Pops, or all those things that everyone’s always done.
Exactly. And I think it also probably helps move us away from that slightly gendered way that dancing happened before. It’s made it much more acceptable for boys to move their bodies and to dance, and that’s really healthy. TikTok and online dance means that a whole generation of kids under 15, under 18, are very dance literate. They’ve got lots of different styles, they’ve got lots of different dance moves available to them.

They just need more places to get together.
I’ve got a little series of intentions for the book, things that I want to be conveyed, or things I’d like to happen. So we can collectively get more dance in schools, encouraging school leaders and school governors to advocate for dance on the curriculum. I want school leaders to have more language to advocate for dance, to have more language and authority to advocate for space.

You uncovered a few DJs with professional dance pasts. I didn’t realise that Fabio had actually been a pro dancer. And Gerald.
I think there’s a higher than acknowledged number of really seminal figures in UK dance music – in its broadest sense – who share that. There are many of those originators, who you could describe as DJ/dancers. Like Paul Trouble Anderson, Gerald, Shut Up And Dance, Fabio, I think Colin Dale as well. There’s this one guy. Travis Edwards, who was in that Spats, Crackers era, early-to-mid ’80s London jazz-dance scene, who ended up making this amazing, early ’90s rave record under the name Satin Storm. Those jazz-dancers were probably quite young when they were doing that, and by the time the’90s came around they were still on the scene, but it changed, it was no longer jazz-dance, it was now hardcore. And there’s a strand, which I wasn’t aware of beforehand, of jazz dancers who ended up having this really important role in the early days of house, techno, hardcore, into jungle, etc.

I suppose in some way, a really good dancer is a bit like a musician – a musician without an instrument. So when you start producing records in the way that happened in the late ’80s, early ’90s, where it’s all about rhythm patterns, being a dancer is almost more helpful than being a DJ.
Yeah, absolutely. There’s a lovely quote from [A Guy Called] Gerald, where he says the most important piece of kit in the studio is the dancer in your head.

You use these metaphors a lot in the book, that there are those moments where you’re so in the dance that you feel you’re creating the music rather than responding to it.
But don’t you think that actually the dancers are dictating, they are generating?

Oh, yeah, absolutely, absolutely.
It’s a feeling, but also, I think, it’s a reality. If you’ve got a whole load of people who are really responding to what the DJ is playing, then the DJ is going to go a certain way, aren’t they, because of how the dancefloor is responding. And if something brings the energy down, then the DJ might decide to bring it down even further, for a wheat-from-the-chaff moment. Or they might decide to bring it back up again, or stay at a certain level. They can’t do that without the information they’re getting from the dancers.

No, absolutely. In my experience of DJing, the feeling that the dancers are guiding you is so powerful. I remember the first time I played records with people in front of me, it was so much easier than doing it in your bedroom. Because in your bedroom, you’ve got no feedback, it’s just you. Whereas when you’ve got people in front of you, it’s so obvious what’s going to bomb and what’s going to hit, that they are totally guiding you. I guess the ideal is where everyone is literally feeling that they’re just in the same moment, isn’t it? It’s like, you’re not even guiding it. You’re just in it together.

One of the things I loved about uncovering history was realising that people have always had pretty much the same urges and the same desires. Were there any amazing little surprises and nuggets that you found from a long way back in time?
I absolutely loved the idea of Anglo Saxon lairy raves in ale houses. The girls going off in the woods to dance together. I can imagine like, ‘C’mon ’Chelle, let’s get away from all those stupid annoying boys for a bit. Let’s just go, we can hear the music from the woods.’ Or bringing their own little drama with them or something. So that made me feel really connected to the lineages and histories that just seem otherwise completely impenetrable. Somehow by imagining those dancefloors I could imagine my Anglo Saxon self wailing around the hay bales. It’s a nice feeling of connection, connectedness.

On a more serious note, there was a historical thing I wanted to ask you about – this fascinating story I’d never heard before about white men can’t dance being a kind of a learned, constructed thing that happened after the first world war. Your quote, ‘white middle-class men are rarely reduced to their bodies,’ I thought that was so powerful, because right there, you’ve got this economic and colonial understanding of why some people historically didn’t like dancing.
I remember, friends of mine, writers of colour, describing to me how the white middle-class men in the dance will be the ones who are trying to explain to you how the tune was constructed… While the drop’s happening! I kind of had a sense of this thing, but I didn’t really have any way of articulating it, until I spent time reading around the subject, and talking to Maxine Leeds Craig, who wrote the book, Sorry, I Don’t Dance: Why Men Refuse To Move. She really helped me understand the context, which is learned and is cultural, and does relate to histories of colonialism, it does relate to issues of control. It’s a very tricky area. And it’s a sensitive area. But it made me think, maybe if men who fall into that category read it, they might know that they’ve got choice. If they knew that their disinclination to move might be cultural, they may decide to test out a different way of being.

We know that dancing makes people like each other more. So why not build connections? Why not actively try and build relationships in the powerful nonverbal ways that dance can offer? Just, you know, moving a little bit in a space with other people, you’re indicating that you are of something, not separate from it.

There’s a lot of unspoken politics going on on a dancefloor. Just the feeling of togetherness is such a powerful thing. The feeling that you’re constructing something together. My most powerful times were at the Sound Factory, and that felt like we were all actually working. You know all those lines: ‘You better work!’ It did feel like that. People would turn up in shorts with a towel tucked into their waistband because they were going to sweat. That feeling on the dancefloor that you’re all aiming at something, and trying to create something, is really, really powerful.
Yeah. And all of that is condensed in the Theo Parrish quote at the very beginning: ‘People say that the dance is all about escapism, but really, it’s about solidarity.’ That’s much better understood by communities that have experienced oppression in some shape or form than by those who haven’t. Which is why I feel the importance of writing about things from that perspective. Because it is really powerful. And I think it really does matter. And at the end it is about solidarity.

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Love Goes To Buildings on Fire – Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

Love Goes To Buildings on Fire – Five Years in New York That Changed Music Forever

In January 1975 in New York City a bomb went off in the name of Puerto Rican liberation; a young man named Soulski was gunned down by the police, inspiring his cousin to leave gangbanging behind, rename himself Afrika Bambaataa and take his DJing efforts more seriously; An established DJ named Hollywood was riffing on adapted Isaac Hayes lyrics to rhyme over records at his next gig; a near-riot hit ticket outlets as thousands of kids trying to see Led Zeppelin were met by armed police; Blood on the Tracks came out, the result of Dylan’s intensive secret studies in visual art; a band named Television was planning a Friday night gig at CBGB’s, confident they were close to being signed by Island, but unsure whether they’d remain intact; on the same bill a band named Blondie had just found a new drummer, having narrowly avoided losing him to Patti Smith; Watergate revelations were rumbling on, and The Jeffersons debuted on TV.

That was just January. In February Malcolm McLaren arrived in town, Mingus played at The Bottom Line, Talking Heads double-billed with The Ramones, Springsteen was recording ‘Born to Run’ in Times Square, and Billy Cobham’s ‘Funky Kind of Thing’ with its nine-minute drum solo arrived in the collection of Joseph Saddler, giving him the perfect raw material to perfect his quick-mix DJing technique, a skill he’d make famous under the new name of Grandmaster Flash.

Everything everywhere, all at once. Only not everywhere, just New York City.

It’s an epic crime chart, with a thick web of red string connecting hundreds of musical innovators and every kind of music. Even a world as incestuous as the downtown punk scene had fibres leading to and from every other style – from avant-classical, loft-based jazz, street-level Latin, blue-collar rock, disco, hip hop. The joy of this book is seeing chance inspiration and unlikely influence, as scenes cross-pollinate each other and wildly different imaginations drop grains of sand into each others’ oysters. It’s an epic job of cross-referencing, mapping scores of biographies and genre histories into an all-encompassing soap opera.

New York 1973-77 was a wasteland of crime and cheap rents, the city abandoned by the federal government to go broke as an example of liberal profligacy. New waves of heroin washed its shores, cryptic serial killers stalked its streets. And in this exciting breakdown, human minds had the time and space to create so much.  

Will Hermes makes it all sing; he sketches everyone so they feel real, and he immerses you in the wide creative life of the city like never before. Travelling chronologically, but with an aerial view, is a new kind of omniscience. If you can juggle enough plates in your mind, the experience is like living it. Or at least a whole lot closer than a traditional music history. There’s a fashion for this kind of storytelling, and this book joins Stuart Cosgrove’s masterful soul trilogy at the top table.

The only downside is that it makes you nostalgic for a time when so many fundamental genres were new enough to take your breath away, and when there was a deep revolutionary spirit in every kind of music. Or, to put it another way, for a time when city centre rents were cheap and New York was on fire.
Frank Broughton

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Rebel Threads – Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful & Misunderstood

Rebel Threads – Clothing of the Bad, Beautiful & Misunderstood

‘The thing I most remember about these funfair visits was being truly terrified, intimidated by, and yet in awe of the leather clad, greasy-quiffed Rocker kids that worked on the rides. Like car mechanics, their hands, faces and clothes were engrained with black swarf, oil and graphite from the rides. But to me they looked just like James Dean, Billy Fury and Gene Vincent, in their black leather biker jackets, and navy donkey jackets, always styled with the collar turned up. They also wore T-shirts, brand new to this country, and drainpipe jeans, battered winkle-pickers shoes, cowboy boots or steel toecap work boots.’

You couldn’t find a better spirit guide to the delightful and delinquent subcultures of our septic isle (and our sister septics across the pond) than Roger K Burton. Not only has he witnessed teds, mods, rockers, hippies, dandies, punks et al in their natural habitats, but he also has an unmatched understanding of the youth movements that preceded them – the spivs, wide boys, swing cats, hep cats and Bobby soxers – and an unerring eye for the divisions and details that marked their boundaries. He knows the full stories of how each of these styles came about – the inspiring films, the maverick tailors, and the various peacocks and ace faces who wore them and changed the world.

This book is a life’s work. Burton was the stylist and costume designer on films like Absolute Beginners, Quadrophenia and Young Soul Rebels. He’s dressed Bowie and Jagger, he supplied Westwood and McLaren with much of the vintage schmutter for their punk-era Let It Rock and Seditionaries stores, even helped them design the World’s End incarnation. He ran his own boutique for years, the Blitz-era PX in Covent Garden, epicentre of New Romantic. Roger has 20,000 items and counting in his collection, which started with a clutch of his grandad’s hand-printed silk ties. It’s now a commercial library for fashion and film, Contemporary Wardrobe Collection

And the book is perfection. The clothes themselves are unbelievable – styled, accessorised and lit immaculately, in ghostly groups that are almost alive. Despite being on headless mannequins, you feel like you’re in the room with these bad boys and girls, adrift in the ’40s, ‘50s, ’60s, ’70s. These are clothes that had the power to make their mark – even occasionally to terrify – and even in less shockable times they possess a certain magic. You find yourself scanning the cut and the detailing, imagining a world inhabited by these bold characters. You’re looking backwards, inevitably, but the realness of the clothes makes it less like nostalgia and more like time travel, as you mentally slip into the outfits you’d steal for yourself.

Throughout the whole book, Burton’s mod aesthetic is to the fore, making sure it’s right in every detail. The amazing clobber is surrounded by brilliant text and contemporary street and movie photos from all the right sources, brimming with those cultural nuggets that bring the story to life – the news stories that created an antihero, the films that brought a particular style into view, the tailor who brought back a new cut from Italy. Every effort has been taken to make sure you’re getting the best references and the full story, and it’s full of little extras that get you closer to the characters who wore it all, like a pair of mod cufflinks with a secret compartment for stashing your Dexys. Frank Broughton

Buy the book here

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton

Long Relationships – My Incredible Journey From Unknown DJ to Small-Time DJ

Long Relationships – My Incredible Journey From Unknown DJ to Small-Time DJ

There’s a lot going on in Harold Heath’s brilliantly readable DJ memoir. In the first place it’s an endearing story of a DJ’s struggle towards success – the slow career climb of a professional in dance music. There are details any working DJ will recognise – like a drunk promoter kicking him off the decks so he can have a go himself, or a wildly mis-booked gig that has Harold desperately searching through his box for something that won’t utterly bomb. It’s full of smart descriptions of the craft and the sheer pleasure to be had making people dance.

The bittersweet opening scene is pure Spinal Tap, as he plays rave classics at a gig he assumes must be the end of his career. ‘In the marquee this afternoon, the bleeps and sub-bass of LFO’s UK house classic ‘LFO’ take on a surreal air, as toddlers and children are encouraged to dance by eager parents, whilst some of the other Mums and Dads look on with a mixture of emotions ranging from bemusement to teary-eyed nostalgia.’

However, after the unspoken shame of playing for under-fives, a few pages later he gives you the 180-degree counterpoint, describing a perfect overseas booking where everything comes together beautifully: the crowd, the setting, the vibe. ‘We are at an open-air bar in Varna Bulgaria, on a hill overlooking the Black Sea, on a magical summer evening.’ Amid this beautiful scenery he captures a peak moment as he recalls ‘playing one of my own productions, on a beautiful high-end hand-carved artisan sound system which was forged in the embers of a dying sun.’ This mix of highs and lows is what makes the book such fun, with Harold happy to share the details of both extremes. The journey he takes us on is unflinchingly honest and often hilarious.

The other side to the book, which elevates it to another level, is a brutal study of the scorched-earth decimation of the ‘dance industry’, as we used to know it, at the hands of the digital revolution. As a tech-house DJ scraping an okay living from playing and production, Harold is perfectly placed to detail the incremental changes that destroyed his livelihood. We follow each twist of the business as the money drains away from middling DJ-producers like him, and into the hands of the big music platforms and oxygen-depleting superstars. Around the mid-noughties his career is ticking along nicely. He’s scaled the heights of ‘tier five, maybe briefly tier four’ in the DJ pyramid, playing bigger gigs and travelling regularly to eastern Europe. After this, though, the ground is pulled inexorably from under him.

‘Once music could be converted into digital zeros and ones and be instantly swapped between hard drives around the world without cost, then everything changed and the equilibrium that had existed before simply disappeared.’ He sees deals get worse, advances fall, vinyl distributers go bust, remix fees fall to hobbyist rates, and earnings from releases nosedive. As streaming takes over and social media begins its climb, he dutifully takes to MySpace, and then Facebook, and watches an army of amateurs muscle in on all the previously skilled areas of the business. He describes all this with a perspective gained by hindsight, but also with the eyes of a frontline soldier.

‘As the structures of the traditional music industry crumbled around me, I continued to spend my time DJing underground house parties and producing underground house music, the profits of which couldn’t possibly sustain me financially in the long term… Looking back, I’m still not really sure why though. It seems trite to say, but at the heart of it, I just really loved it.’

In a culture so often defined by its winners, Long Relationships is brilliantly observed reporting from the coalface of dance music. It illuminates the slog of everyday promotion and the occasional glittering moments behind the decks that provide the strength to keep going. It’s a love letter to a culture, and also an important document of the unstoppable economic forces that did their best to vapourise it.

‘The music industry no longer made sense: the kids paid a monthly fee to huge corporations so they could steal music from their favourite artists. DJs had become awful faux-rock stars, thousands of people stood in rows looking at them instead of dancing together to their music. In the face of reality where the old certainties had fallen away, producers and DJs like me retreated online. We created a simplified, cartoon sketch of ourselves and… retreated to the warm glow of the internet even as it started to reduce us.’ Frank Broughton

© Frank Broughton & Bill Brewster

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life – The History of the Disc Jockey

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life – The History of the Disc Jockey

Can we review our own book? Let’s see. Those paying attention will have noticed Last Night a DJ Saved My Life is back in the shops, provoking many questions. Why bother? What’s new and different? Are Swedish House Mafia in it? What about Nervo? But most of all, is it worth shelling out for a new copy? Well, yes it is. It’s the best it’s ever been. And the heaviest. With absolutely the best cover – thanks to that amazing photo by Adam Friedman, captured at the last night of Talking Loud in 1990. We’ve done a lot of interviews about the book lately, radio takeovers, international book tours and such, so here are some of the bon mots those skilled interviewers teased out of us.

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life – The History of the Disc Jockey was first published in 1999. Twenty-three years later so much had changed, and we didn’t want it to end up as a museum piece. We wanted someone who’s 25 to be able to pick it up and read it and make sense of it. Problem was, we were trapped in a contract. Our original UK publisher was known for of-the-moment titles, and not much interested in a book that stayed in print for more than 20 years. So it wasn’t available because they were only printing enough copies to hang on to the rights.

Then Lord Weatherall aligned the stars for us. Lee Brackstone, the wild man of British publishing, was giving a eulogy at Andrew’s memorial service – he’d been working with him on a possible memoir. Afterwards, Lee got talking to Bill and mentioned he’d love to publish Last Night on his new imprint, White Rabbit Books. But still Headline refused to give us the rights back, so for months it looked like this would stay a frustrating dream. We’d updated it once for the UK paperback and again for the US edition, but it looked like we’d have to leave it frozen in time around 2006. And then… we realised that Headline and White Rabbit were both owned by the same parent company. After a boardroom handshake and a pound changing hands it was on.

Lee was a great editor because he made us actually edit it. There are over a quarter of a million words in there and we’d never really sat down and found where we could streamline things. But Lee said we could only add new bits once we’d made space for them. In the end we painstakingly cut out 20,000 words and added 23,000. Which makes it a real rollercoaster read. There’s no excess, so it barrels along.

One of the things we wanted to address was the fact it’s such a male story. We wanted to hear more women’s voices in the book. Some of it is inescapable. DJing was a very male profession for so long, a lot of the action was centred on gay clubs in New York and Chicago, and it was almost a masonic process where men passed on the sacred baton to other men, with very few women interrupting their cosy flow. Until quite recently a woman behind the decks was seen as noteworthy. So even though we can’t change the story, what we could do is bring in more women as commentators – clubbers and contemporaries. And go deeper into the lives of the women DJs we’d written about in the first edition. Originally they had been in the ‘Outlaw’ chapter because women DJs were freedom fighters battling for recognition. For the new edition we expanded their story into a whole chapter.

From ch 20 WOMAN: Fight The Power, p672

It’s 6am under the vast dome of The Saint, the most spectacular audiovisual play-palace in the world. Thousands of half-naked men have been dancing through the night under the electric stars, safe in the warmth of each other’s bodies and the sense of refuge from the destruction outside. It’s 1981 and the city’s gay population is pummeled by fear and grief as people begin to grow sick and die. They don’t know it yet, but by the time the emergency fades, these people will have lost half of all their friends. The music is fast, escapist disco and the turbulent male ocean of the dancefloor expects this tempo to last another six hours.

But it drops to silence.

Then darkness.

Then light.

Then slowly, but insistent, as lights ripple over people’s faces, a ballad begins. It’s a song from childhood, from a musical, and they all know it by heart. But through their adult lives it’s earned a deeper meaning – This is the anthem that symbolises their hope, their protest, their yearning for equality, more than any other. The death of its singer sparked their uprising; its lyrics even inspired their flag. It is unashamedly camp, and its campness is at the core of their rebellion.

But… as the song soars through the speakers, it’s not the version they know. This is bolder, defiant, vastly more soulful, with the barely suppressed anger of a spiritual. And it flies higher… and higher…

When Sharon White halted everything at peak time to play an acetate, fresh from the singer herself, of Patti Labelle’s ‘Over The Rainbow’ to six thousand gay men in the frightening months at the start of the Aids crisis, the intensity of the collective emotion in that enormous room was possibly unequalled in human history.

‘It was unheard of to stop the floor for a ballad at six in the morning.’ she told Claes at ‘I took a big chance playing it then, but the entire room stopped and people held each other, people were in tears… It absolutely soared on that sound system. When it ended, the applause wouldn’t stop.’

Sharon found herself swept away, lost in tears and hugging her best friend, lighting director Mark Ackerman, as time stopped and the room held on in flames. ‘It was such an overwhelmingly emotional moment that everyone shared,’ she remembers ‘It was the one moment I craved my entire career… To have so many people on the same emotional plane…It was magic.’

Sharon White was the first woman to play The Saint. She was a regular at The Garage ­­– playing when Larry was a no-show ­– and thus the only DJ who ever played both clubs. She also graced Studio 54, Limelight, Roxy and The Sound Factory Bar. She was the first DJ reporting her charts to Billboard who wasn’t male. As the first female DJ in a major New York nightclub, she opened a small door into the future. ‘Since I was the only woman playing those venues, I was considered a trailblazer. I’m glad I made a difference. I tried to make people aware that gender has nothing to do with your ability to present music.’

It was great to also find a few new names we weren’t aware of. Like Celeste Alexander, who was one of the rare female DJs to play on the Chicago scene when house music was evolving. You can read her full interview on the site here.

From ch 20 WOMAN: Fight The Power, p 687

Celeste Alexander had grown up with creative parents in the bohemian multiracial neighbourhood of Hyde Park and was the kind of girl who didn’t take no for an answer. At junior college with future producer Steve Hurley, she was taken by the idea of DJing and asked him to teach her.

‘I had a real crush on him. We became friends and mixing, or ‘hot mixing’ as we called it back then, was all he really talked about.’ When Celeste asked Hurley why other girls weren’t DJing, he told her it was because they didn’t think they could. ‘The guys thought it was a specific thing for them to have that hand-to-eye coordination in order to mix and blend. That got my attention immediately.’

As well as establishing herself solo, in answer to the city’s famous Hot Mix 5, Celeste was briefly part of an all-girl alternative. The Fantastic Four hot mix crew was Celeste, Chrissie Hutchison, Kenya Lenoir and Berlando Drake, or sometimes Steve Hurley’s sister Angie, who had to play first to be home by 8pm for her strict parents.

Celeste went on to impress Ron Hardy, one of the twin gods of Chicago house, to the point that he invited her to play at the Music Box. The first time she warmed up for Hardy he’d been listening incognito from the other side of the room, and when he came to congratulate her and start his set she was so nervous she barfed on his shoes.

Another find was the woman who had been Sharon White’s mentor, a radio DJ called Alison Steele who became a revered late night ‘freeform’ DJ on New York radio.

From ch 20 WOMAN: Fight The Power, p 678

Radio had provided Sharon White’s route in, first at college, then at WNEW in New York. Her mentor at the station was a talented radio DJ with her own pioneering story: Alison Steele, who rose to fame on-air as ‘The Nightbird’. In 1966 the station had launched its FM offering with an attention-grabbing all-female format. Eight hundred women applied for ‘Air Personality’ roles and Steele was one of the founding four, drawn from TV and theatre. The press release noted she’d previously been the star of her own TV show, the ominously titled, ‘You And Your Figure.’ Eighteen months later, when the station failed to hit audience targets, it shifted from its schmaltzy MOR (Middle of the Road) format to Progressive Rock and jettisoned most of the women presenters. Thanks to her love and knowledge of the music, Steele was the only one they kept, and found herself introducing the west coast FM ‘freeform’ format to New York. She was given complete creative freedom, and wove poetry, Indian music and Andean flutes into the blossoming rock music of 1967 onwards. ‘She was an incredible DJ as well as the first woman on that scene,’ lauded White. In later years Steele became a CNN producer, opened a cat boutique and was the in-flight DJ for Trans World Airlines.

We also found new stories from the very early years. In the 1940s, in wartime, there were literally men in sheds tinkering with electronic equipment, and they became the first mobile DJs. Read more about them here.

From ch 3 BEGINNINGS, CLUBS: Night Train, p 54

Ron Diggins was a professional radio engineer in Boston, Lincolnshire, with a business providing public address systems. ‘I’d been playing background music and doing voice-overs out the back of my van at school sports days and the like,’ he told the Boston Standard. ‘It was nothing to do with dancing – that was the last thing on my mind.’ But in September 1947, the farm girls from the Swineshead Land Army decided Ron’s gear could be put to better use: ‘They were passing the office, saw the van and came in to ask if it could be used for dancing. They were having a harvest supper with some of the Italian POWs. Well, I’d never thought of it before, but I didn’t want to lose the booking – so I said I’d give it a go.’

It was men like these who took the available technology from fairgrounds and cinemas and gave it new life as travelling disco rigs. In 1949 Diggins built his ‘Diggola’ a wonderful art deco mobile DJ booth modelled on the bandstands of the jazz era. It came complete with double decks for 78s, a home-made mixer, lights, microphone, amplifier and ten speakers. ‘We couldn’t get plywood in those days, so soon after the war. So I had to make it out of coffin boards.’

Savile is still in there. Our legal advice for the first edition was to avoid calling him ‘odd’ as he was so litigious, but we dropped the ‘odd’ bomb regardless. Following the epically grim revelations, the new edition gave us a chance to confront him head on. We weren’t going to rewrite history by deleting him, he was a hugely significant figure in shifting the UK from dance bands to DJs, but we’ve pointed out that the way he exploited his DJ status is a theme running through history and not just a bizarre aberration.

The spring clean led us to shuffle a few sections around for clarity. One result of this was we gave jazz-funk a chapter of its own. It was previously in the Acid House chapter as one of the scenes that laid the groundwork for the Summer of Love, but it made more sense to give it room to breathe its own air.

From ch 14 JAZZ-FUNK: Expansions, p 500

In the mid seventies Britain was not a pleasant place to be. An oil crisis had reduced the country to a three-day week, with power cuts as an added bonus. With constant confrontation between government and unions, and IRA bombs almost monthly, paranoid right-wingers even talked of staging a military coup. The country was brown, as if colour had been rationed. In fact everything seemed to be in short supply: petrol, sugar, jobs, fun.

In stark contrast, jazz-funk’s early aficionados were colourful, brash and stylish. Many of them were Bowie kids and early punk rockers; sharp and street-wise. Mohair sweaters, peg trousers, wedge haircuts, cap-sleeved T-shirts – these were all sure signifiers that the wearer knew how to dance and probably owned some Kool & the Gang and BT Express albums.

The scene’s landmark venues read less like citadels of glamour than a particularly ribald pub crawl: Lacy Lady, the Orsett Cock, Frenchies, the Rio, Flicks, the Belvedere. If suburban jazz-funk was born anywhere, it was in Canvey Island, an ugly lump on the Essex coastline with an oil refinery for a view. Canvey’s best-known musical export, pub rockers Dr Feelgood, dubbed it (only half joking) the Thames Delta. Here, in a club called the Goldmine, a former worker at Dagenham’s Ford car plant named Chris Hill combined an encyclopaedic knowledge of black dance music with some over-the-top showmanship.

At its height in the later seventies the Goldmine attracted travelling fans from all over the country. Coaches would come down from Scotland and the dancers would sleep in the car park overnight. It was a magnet for fashion-oriented youth, with future stars like Spandau Ballet, Depeche Mode and Culture Club present, as well as punk vanguard the Bromley Contingent (including Siouxsie Sioux and Billy Idol). Punk’s future wardrobe was clearly in evidence.

One of the best reasons to buy the new edition is James Murphy’s foreword. It’s been heartwarming over the years to connect with so many people who’ve enjoyed the book, and to realise it’s been inspiring to people, not just as a piece of history, but as their doorway into a deeper appreciation of music. But it’s pretty mindblowing when Questlove picks it out as one of his favourite reads, or when LCD’s James Murphy emails to say thanks because, as he put it, ‘it literally changed the course of my life’.

And of course Lee knows James, because Lee knows everyone, and he asked if he’d write a foreword for the book. And James said yes. But he was really busy. And then he got covid. Finally, he handed it in, literally the last day before they had to send it to print. He wrote this beautiful story about how he was playing in a band, uninspired and not very successful, how he hated dance music and expected the whole DJ world to be ‘idiotic’. And then suddenly, he became friends with a DJ and started seeing how, when you go to a DJ event, it’s a bit more fun.

From FOREWORD by James Murphy

And then I read this book. It’s hard to explain the effect it had on me. I went, quickly, from thinking we were renegade geniuses, to understanding that we were, instead, lucky to accidentally find ourselves part of a long and beautiful tradition of evangelists, hosts, caretakers, maniacs, etc., whose job was more about making a place for the people who were willing to come listen and dance than it was about, well . . . us. So, this here book quickly and firmly disabused me of any egotistical DJ notions I might have been harbouring, and changed my life for the better.

It was a miraculous and humbling gift to read about Francis Grasso, playing records for fourteen hours straight at the Haven, just steps from my first apartment in The Village. Or about David Mancuso, the Herc/Bambaataa battles, Ron Hardy, Deep Space Soundworks . . . To read about Larry Levan’s uncompromising vision and work with the Paradise Garage sound system . . . I had been a sound engineer for years. It was my living. I was obsessed with making things hit you just right – so loud you had that fear response, but never hurting your ears. Just deep. It was so strange to find this kinship and inspiration in a world to which I had never given much thought.

This book also taught me something new about the universality of feeling – the body feeling that I was always chasing. It taught me that there were tribes upon tribes, as in awe of music as I ever was, throwing themselves into it with love and weird, blind fury.

This journey – from thinking of dance music as flippant and throwaway, to recognising that it’s a vital part of musical history – is something that’s happened on a wider scale. The biggest change for our book in the last 23 years is the context it falls into. When we first wrote it it was provocative to pay so much attention to the DJ. Dance music was a global culture by 1999, but it was a bit much to suggest it deserved any kind of historical scrutiny. Back then you’d go to a music bookshop (when such things existed), and there’d 36 books about the Beatles and what they had for dinner, and nothing about DJs or dance music beyond David Toop’s Rap Attack and Matthew Colin’s Altered State. Or you’d read in the Penguin Encyclopedia of Popular Music that disco was ‘a dance fad of the ’70s, with profound and unfortunate influence on popular music.’ So when we first wrote Last Night we were on a mission. We were really conscious we had to fight for the DJ’s place in history and earn dance music some respect. Now, of course, there are lots of books taking our subject seriously and the battle is largely won. So one of the subtle changes in the book is that we’ve come off our soapbox. There were several endearingly tub-thumping passages that we quickly removed. As we wrote in the new preface, ‘Thankfully, we can now relax. The idea of dance music having a history is no longer preposterous.’

© Bill Brewster & Frank Broughton