9 December 2010

TVC Voyage to the land of Mush - Part Two - Neptune Double Header…

a crowd of utterly disparate, smiling faces, all dancing, some to a music they’d never heard before

Full Phat completes his two part review of Darren's 40th Birthday Party in the lovely Faversham, Kent.

Ah, we love the Neppy
The eve of my birthday, June 6. As usual on a child free Saturday morning I wake up next to DLL, with my eyes feeling like they’ve been lightly sandpapered.  

The sun always slants very directly through a split in the blinds, and always seems to rise at the precise angle which will guarantee that its focus is refracted as intensely as possible on my sleeping face. I never get enough sleep. The alarm that wakes me up for work in the week always finds me comatose; at the weekend I go to sleep at the time I normally am waking up for work. And the sun, or waves of nauseating anxiety (mainly about how and why the intense happiness I felt in the summer of 2008 evaporated), wakes me up very soon after. Eyes burning, whole self clammy and tetchy, my mind starts on me the minute I wake up, like a chav whose drink I’ve just spilled. It never lets up, the little fucker. I never, ever go back to sleep in the mornings - I just can’t, no matter how much I hate being awake.

Well, it’s sunny, which is definitely a good thing on a day when one’s doing an outdoor free party. D had been clear about the order of play - he and his mates were going on a big booze up on the Friday night, and he would be reunited in the bosom of his family, hung over, at one o’clock in the marquee. The orders were strict- only D’s close family and friends would be present, Oz and me were to come, set up, and play some mellow house whilst partaking of the hog roast in the sunshine. The perfect prelude to a night of outdoor madness. We were armed with new records which had yet to be heard, and a van and driver were being sent to help us take the rig to Faversham. A chance to ride in a transit, engage in banter, drink lager and then play new tunes blind on a hot afternoon? Perfect.

The sight which greeted us on arrival in Faversham was very much of its location…3 sunburnt gentlemen of varying degrees of corpulence, swigging lager in chairs while watching a hog crackle above a fire. The marquee is magnificent, with a bar at one end and a stage at the other. I get a huge rush of excitement time travelling forward to it being full of groovers twisting and shouting to some house music as the sun rises. Oz and I set the rig up in 15 minutes, the first time the whole lot has been out since Brummy Jon bought the 4 new subs. We gaze on it with joy. It looks symmetrical, forbidding, solemn. Redolent with religious form, almost an inverted cross. The cover of KLF’s ground breaking “White Room” album makes the direct visual analogy between a sound system that looks like it means business and a religious artefact- and ours has never looked more like an object of worship. And we do adore it…

System set up. Two sweaty free party DJ's. First lager downed. No sign of the “close friends and family”- the party of corpulent hog watchers has not been added to. Oz and me are still eager to hear our new tunes on a big rig though, and agree on a gentle afternoon drinking free lager and spinning our new ones. The agreement lasts about 3 minutes. This often happens- I get frisky and puppy dog excited about any opportunity to play some music on a system, Oz gets briefly infected, then realises he’s been playing music on big systems for 20 years, to thousands of people, and playing new tunes in a hot marquee while some geezers swig lager outside isn’t very appealing. I realise he’s really wilting. Whilst I relish heat, and playing records with my shirt off in a tent that feels like a sauna is my idea of heaven, Oz’s northern metabolism responds as if it were being burnt at the stake. We need to get the bugger home for a cold shower and I need to get in the sea.

The party itself is nearly perfect, and would have been if anyone had thought that the daytime heat was going to lead to some early morning rain. It’s really, really hard to say what makes a good free party. So many things can go wrong. So many things can refuse to align. It’s a knife edge balance between planning and chaos, order and anarchy. It has to give people some of what they expect, but not be a commodified, packaged experience. It’s best when it contains a mix of people who wouldn’t meet in any other social context, and who may well despise each others status in the caste system of Merrie Englande, but they have to be kept from killing each other, not by burly bouncers, but by the mutual universal desire to have a good time. It has to be managed, supervised, choreographed to some extent (see the blog “Waiting for Scouso” for what happens when it’s not), but still have enough room for spontaneity and the unexpected…the party has to breathe for itself independently. Control it too much and you strangle it, you might as well be in the Ministry of Sound. Leave it to its own devices and you may end up with 6 hours of drunken bang-meisters on an over-driven system pounding any feeling of collective well being into a deep dark abyss.

The good free party, it seems to me, should leave the recipient with the same mental and psychological impressions as a profoundly moving and memorable film. Snippets of cameos, of unexpected phrases, of utterly unpredictable events, near misses, moments of elation and despair should be swimming around your head years afterwards. And if you’re part of organising it, there should definitely be moments of utter terror where you’re worried it’s spun out of your control, and moments where the sight of the collective love of music that really deserves to be loved makes the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end, and makes the old tear duct start to fill. By those criteria- this was a good free party. And here are some snippets of sight and sound I retained…

The beautiful young barmaid from the Neptune, Emily, only 21, pouring pints wearing her Smiths T-shirt. 21 and loving the Smiths? We love you :- )

A large mammalian member of the dancing punter looking for some of the mandy that was lifting everyone’s spirits…overheard…”50 quid for it? If ah had a knife Oi’d cut ya!”

The lovely first few hours, of the Riddimatics playing ska and reggae…in between their sets I ran through all my old Two Tone for a grinning, bouncing, very hung over birthday boy…

Warren’s mate from Faversham racks up an enormous line of Charlie for one of the DJs. As soon as he’s put it up his hooter, he quips “nice stuff that ketamine, innit?”. DJ turns very pale. Warren’s mate pisses himself laughing. It is Charlie, of course. Hilarious…

The temperature rose as the tent was filled with lilting reggae, but as thye mum and dad spread around the crowd, they became hungry for house. What kind of house do you play to a mixed crowd of deep house addicts, their children, the extended family of cage fighters from Faversham and Ireland, punters from the pub trade, reggae and ska lovers, and Faversham young mums and dads who love the X Factor and the Black Eyed Peas? Warren, the best transition DJ on the planet, stepped forth onto the decks, swept back his long dark hair and grabbed the impatient crowd with slabs of shimmering progressive techno. Absolutely no compromise, and impossible to resist, waves of beautifully produced sound lifted seamlessly off the grooves of the vinyl and washed at exactly the right height through the marquee. The first time the new TVC rig had been fully unleashed and the perfect combination of frequencies to hear from it. Standing back at the epicentre of the sound, a moment of free party epiphany slipped straight into my heart, and I understood perfectly why this was preferable to playing house music in almost any other context…large enough to be loud, small enough to be intimate and special, selective yet democratic to those who know…spiritually, cheap to those who can afford it, very expensive to those who can’t…

I turned to Oz and gave him a big hug. “You’re a genius mate”, I said, utterly sincerely. I felt so elated, almost to the point of tears, by the thought that I was going to play my favourite records on this beautiful system, to a crowd of utterly disparate, smiling faces, all dancing, some to a music they’d never heard before. The rigidity of English Social context, the absurdities of the law, the division between those who love booze and those who love other intoxicants, all ruled that these people should not all be together in the same place doing this. But they were.

I was doubly excited as the last time I’d got to play to a crowd of any size, on my last year’s birthday weekend at the Brewery Bar playing for Delicious, I’d got utterly trashed and made a sonic train wreck, and been “substituted” for the redoubtable Steve Zest after 15 minutes. I’d nearly given up after that, and really wanted to be in the right mood, on our own system, to get back in the saddle. And here it was. Warren had got them to within and inch of coming with his sonic foreplay. He’d left Oz and me with a delirious, sweaty, ecstatic group of pre-orgasmic dancers to finish off. It was, in every possible sense, the moment of personal rehabilitation I’d been waiting for. The reason not to give up. The reason to only play with Tvc, where you learn how to play house music without prejudice.

But this is me I’m writing about here. The lager drinking bruisers who’d set the marquee up hadn’t thought it’d rain. They’d set the marquee up with all the plug boards outside. Oz and I are having a lovely time, playing 3 tunes each to a happy bouncing crowd. Oz is on his second set of three, and the tunes starts to slow down. The lights go out. Rain on the plug boards has short circuited the generator. Warren had given the night lift off. It dies as it’s starting to cruise beautifully at 50,000 feet.

The tent’s in darkness, and I’ve got my head in my hands. Thwarted again. No one can leave as everyone’s pissed. A consortium of drunk and drugged up amateur mechanics ensure that the generator will never work again. Two sides of Darren’s family are fighting each other in the corner of the tent, silhouetted figures rolling around trying to punch each other’s faces. An hour of despair, with no hope of reprieve.

Until an angel of mercy turns up. Brummie Jon would normally be here, but he’s been playing with his band at the Hope Festival. Which means he’s sober. And has a car. He single handedly restores the potential of the night by driving Oz over to Whitstable to get his generator. Within 20 minutes of him turning up at the party, the music is back on. It’s extraordinary, and the 30 or so people who’ve hung on and managed not to get beaten up will be rewarded with more music.

I get straight on the decks, utterly overexcited, and play the acid house remix of Ebeneezer Goode very loudly. It is, after all, my birthday. This action nearly sabotages the party for a second time as the local police take a dim view of the Jolly Roger produced classic and are there before Mr C utters his third “naughty, naughty”. As ever, Oz uses his years of experience of calm, diplomatic engagement with our pals in blue and they leave us to nurse the party home. Derrick “DP” Patterson even strolls into the tent from Margate and plays a few of my tunes. Noticing that I’ve gained a few pounds since I stopped eating so much mum and dad, he says, patting my stomach, “fucking hell, there’s two of you now”. Good to see the old bird touching a bit of vinyl again though.

By about 6, I’ve grown tired of fending off the Fav chavs who keep touching the records while they’re playing and going “oi mush, gizza mix, I can fucking do that”. I would have played til 10 but they’re annoying, and I don’t have the psychic or physical energy to deal with it.

I unplug everything and go to DLL’s car to take a rest. I open the rear door to see a bruised chav sprawled across the back seat, his jeans covered in piss and his T shirt and face covered in blood. I roll my eyes. It takes 3 of us about 10 minutes to get him out of the car, as he struggles and babbles incoherently; within another 10 minutes he’s got in his car to drive home. They do breed ‘em differently in Fav….