At the end of another long weekend of mixing it seemed like an appropriate time to pop on a reflective blog, the huge relief of a week off work with my sons around creating a gap in the endless roundabout of work, single parenthood, and spinning records until 1am, 5am, 5pm. Just over a year since I started playing the decks with TVC at the Smack, the small lure of an interesting extension of having a record collection has become a dichotomous obsession- liberating yet addictive, draining yet energizing, sociable yet involving long periods of withdrawal from the jabbering tongues of the outside world.
Mixing house music, as the poets would remind us is characteristic of all activities that put us in touch with what is essential about life, is paradoxical. Two turntables is not all that’s binary in its nature and the lifestyle that comes with it. Choose to do it or choose not to. Take the gig or don’t. Fuck a stranger or don’t fuck them. Bosh the bugle or don’t. Open your front door to everyone or no-one.
I first heard house music at a dreadful seaside club in Ramsgate called Nero’s in 1987. The old school Chicago house of Adonis and Bam Bam. Weirdly, it wasn’t being played in London then, and fuck knows who those DJs were and I don’t remember what Thanet made of it at the time. But there was a radio DJ on Invicta, playing at their old studios near East station called Pete Tong, who’d hooked me on Mantronix and electro from 1986 onwards, and I followed his taste wherever it went. A dance music John Peel at the time-maybe it was him playing at Nero’s as a precursor to his future career playing for those pissed up wankers’ offspring in San Antonio. Nero’s was a terrifying place and so I just used to look at the labels on the records and then buy the compilations, seeking out the better tracks on vinyl.
Well I drop some of them when I play Delicious in East Kent on a Saturday, and many of the punters at the Brewery Bar seem the same as those at Nero’s then…the DJ’s there to provide a soundtrack to drink to til 3am, maybe some of them get it, I suspect most don’t. What’s the it? Well when I fight my way back from the bar across the dancefloor, lagered up members of my old Sunday football team howling in my ear, boys spilling whiskey and coke on me as they try to stick their tongues down someone’s throat, I know very well what the “it” isn’t…there’s little to choose between these libertines and those who spilled their drinks on me while I studied for my A levels 22 years ago. Wipe the spilt drinks off your face, and you can see little pockets of the it, here and there…
The It is what I search for as I stumble, often exhausted from juggling being dad, salaried professional and amateur DJ, fuelled by my loyal friend Mandy, between my house, and wherever my record bag gets asked to go. And it’s there…you can feel it, just playing some old acid house to one refugee in your front room. It’s the absolute love of the music, of the sensation and community that only the shared experience of house music can bring. It’s palpable at the gig at the Labour Club for Louis’s birthday in March. Family in all its glorious chaos and common embrace. Couples who met at TVC parties and have had kids, who’ve grown up- Tyrone is 18! 20 years of people loving, falling out, dancing, laughing, weeping. Pretentious, yeah, but if James Joyce wrote a sound system, it’d be TVC. My neighbours Sarah and Ade met at a TVC party. Every street in Whitstable probably has children that exist because TVC did. My boys exist because of the Heavenly Social at Turnmills, but they’re in TVC now.
Once we’ve gone through our ritual of setting up by trial and error, having forgotten how we wired it all up the previous week, Oz starts off with me, doing our usual 2 or 3 each, then he sees my lads are a bit bored. So he leaves me to play, with them helping me, and my youngest gets really into it. It suits his sense of order and his natural love of rythmn- he starts getting very strict about getting the right record in the right cover, something a few DJs round this town could improve on, and then I set up a few mixes for him. Some nice little party tunes first, D Train and Italian house, I count down from 5 on my fingers and he puts the fader across. Then within a few tracks he’s dropping in some edgy tech house, mixed in by an 8 year old in the Labour Club in Whitstable at a 40th birthday party. There are kids in front of the decks munching Twiglets, kids behind the decks, mums and dads I’ve only seen before at the school gates, grooving away to some tunes that are probably about a week old. Oz n me still seek out and buy new vinyl, you see- not downloads, not mp3s, trying from our end to keep a little industry of aficionados alive.
From Valentines day on, I think 7 out of 8 weekends Oz and me played out- house parties, birthday gig in a country pub, the longest run I’ve done since I started but a typical segment of time in the life cycle of the sound system that’s been rolling on since the first house 12 inches hit these shoes. A constant backdrop to living, loving, generating and evolving, presided over by a benign dictator. My only night out other than that was a trip to London to drink with old MTV mates in our annual commemoration of a dead colleague. Matt’s brother, Matt who will host the TVC party in his woods in June. But you don’t escape TVC- some guy I worked with years ago, Steve Linton, says, “you live in Whitstable now? D’you know Justin and Emily Bagpuss? They sorted out some DJs for me for my 30th at the White Horse in Brixton”. No need to ask who those DJs were….
We were mixing at my house following my spot at Delicious, on and on, til Sunday afternoon, and nearly everyone who cranked out those hours of tunes had first tasted life behind the decks with TVC. Add to that young Caspar, making his debut at the Labour Club…generation of Love, as Jesus Loves You anticipated house music would become in 1990. That might well be the “It”….