7 March 2011

it makes you think sometimes life can be beautiful

A weekend floating round Kent through the tVC portal…

The first couple of years that I split up from my girlfriend and left my Whitstable house and children were a social as well as emotional desert. Every second weekend was childless and would stretch out like a … mocking my distress. I could rarely sleep much so there were an awful lot of hours to fill. Initially I went to see old mates in London to go clubbing but they were all in couples and waking up strung out on sofas in Camden and Brixton and Hackney only seemed to amplify my solitude and internal emptiness.

The football season was OK cos I’d play on Sunday mornings and sit down the Chimney Boy and Sun Inn in Faversham all afternoon drinking lager and doing lines and talking about all the goals we’d nearly scored if it weren’t for the ref/pitch/incredible reflexes of their keeper. And I’d cobble together the rest of the weekend by going to dinner parties of work friends or going to wanky bars in Canterbury like The Loft or Alberrys and nearly getting laid but not quite cos I said the wrong thing at the wrong time or they lived in Chartham Hatch with their boyfriend or their mate was making a sour face so they had to leave. Or something. Always disappointment- bad music, bad company and no payout at the end.

And there was a massive gap as I had always loved going out for music. Hip hop and house. And here I was stuck in the area I’d grown up in, single, struggling to fill vast oceans of vacant time. I found one grinning house loving head playing wonderful Detroit techno and soulful house when I wandered into the Loft by mistake, the inspirational Derrick Patterson, but there’s only so many times you can spend an evening elbowing hairdressers and football hooligans out of the way to get to the bar, which was the price you paid for listening to his excellent collection.

Now on a weekend a wave of relief sweeps over me when I get a half hour to myself to cook a curry, put on the telly and watch football highlights. An even greater relief when I get another half hour to choose what records I might go and play later instead of just praying that what’s already in the box will do it for whoever we’re playing to. What the fuck happened? How did those furlongs stretching out endlessly to an invisible finish line become a mere few yards? I guess you might call it the tVC portal.

In March 2006 on an otherwise standard drunken night out with work colleagues in the Neptune, I was lucky enough to engage in some raucous banter and tonsil tennis with a woman named Sara who became my girlfriend for a few subsequent months. She took me to a pub called The Smack one Saturday night where some earnest geezers around my age were playing the type of house music I loved while everyone got pissed and jumped up down. Once I’d peeled myself off the dog hair and Masterbrew ridden carpet- you barely found this house music in London let alone East Kent- I learned they played in people’s houses too. For nothing. And one of them even teaches other people how to play their records. So it was that Sara took me through the TVC portal.

Now my weekends often go something like this…

Friday at work in a soulless government department office near Victoria. Just been told my job in said soulless office will be ending in a couple of months thanks to George Osborne’s cuts. Need a night out so contact Sideways Tom. Sideways are a tight little unit based in the Alkham Valley and Folkestone; they’re like a small house music cottage industry, producing on and remixing each others’ tunes, constantly putting on nights in the Chambers Bar, grafting away to keep a deep tech house and breaks alternative to the dross on offer elsewhere in Shepway. They’re all called Sideways someone because once you’re through the tVC portal everyone has a nickname. That means you can tell Sideways Tom (formerly “Thomisadj”) from, say, Delicious Tom (aka Tom George). This is important, otherwise you might end up asking a cocky, two faced purveyor of banging cheese to play instead of a thoughtful, reflective connoisseur and metronomic mixer of deep house and minimal tech. Which could seriously ruin your night.

Sideways roll under the radar and without fuss or arrogance, making great tunes which get constant high ratings in DJ magazines, and playing occasional rocking sets such as the Lounge on the Farm beer tent in 2009, for people too foolish and cloth eared to ask them back (only Farmhouse Sean knows why they’ve never played there…).  They are overseen by the shadowy, paternal presence of Alien FM (Sideways Dave), the house music version of BlackAdders’s Baby Eating Bishop of Bath & Wells, a man who has indulged in every debauchery known to man and survived, and his gorgeous Spanish wife (Sideways Anna), who makes sure they all eat enough and get enough sleep. He is flanked by producers/DJs Sideways John (Episodes) and Sideways Wes (Keydin). The producers/formation is completed by Sideways Tom and Not-Sideways-anymore-because-he’s-too-famous Tim Green. The latter made his name on Sideways recordings with a track called “Gold Sharks” under the moniker “Robot Child” when he was 19, which apparently Sasha caned to death last summer in Ibiza. He’s now the darling of the Euro tech house scene.

It was a classic Sideways night, the kind of eclectic variety of music and personnel that makes them the South Kent mirror of TVC. Upstairs above a snooker hall, a range of people listening to a range of folky bands with Tom and Wes playing dubby techno in the interludes. It’s an utterly unpromising venue in which to play house music, but after the last act, the 30 or so people attending move the Chesterfield sofas and tables out of the way and groove for a couple of hours to some deliciously spikey and edgy deep tech. 

After they clear up, we wander like a pack of rag week students through the misty street of Folkestone, chasing the gossamer promise of a few drinks and a mix at Tom’s. I was sober, had my car keys in my hand, and do wonder if a day will ever come when I’m not tempted by the slim outside chance of a mix until dawn round a mate’s house. As soon as we arrive in the kitchen of Tom’s flat we are greeted by an inevitable appearance from his ashen faced, tired flatmate, her sleep interrupted by a pack of giggling degenerates. There ain’t gonna be no mixing tonight….

I content myself with drinking a bottomless glass of cheap wine while swapping tales of ancient sexual conquests with Sideways Dave, ruefully shaking our heads that in the midst of our peak we never knew how ephemeral the period would be when women you barely knew would do whatever you suggested. We congratulate ourselves that we both have landed ourselves beautiful, sexy partners, but know in our hearts being a 25 year old slag again is where our ambitions lie.

6am. A couple of hours murmuring sleep in a spare room, a parking ticket for being parked across 2 bays even though I had a ticket, some aimless running on a football pitch and I’m back home and it’s only midday. Over to Oz’s at seven for the ritual of getting the tvc rig from his shed and it’s over to our home turf, the Smack for what turns out to be the best gig for months (more on this soon).
Then it’s over to Margate, a night at the Escape. I’m only going as I’m buzzing and I like seeing the Unite lot now and again. Unite are a far more ragged, chaotic outfit than Sideways but no less worthy of respect. A floating assortment of promoters, DJs, producers, constantly shagging each other, falling in and out with each other, scraping together what few quid they have to hire a grimy upstairs room in a pub and play their utterly unique mix of banging hardcore and tech house. Dedicated, completely nuts, and impossible to dislike.

I know what the night will be like and it is as I expected. Three floors of different genres of repetitive, overdriven, distorted dance music. Gurning faces appear through the dry ice like abandoned souls, eyes desperately struggling to leap forth from sockets. Smiles are rare as the night is fuelled by beats of upward of 140 bpm, unmet sexual need, malnutrition, ketamine and alcohol. Christopher Marlowe, Canterbury’s literary prodigal son, only had to go 20 miles down the road to the Escape Club in Margate to conceive the vision of hell that Mephsitopheles presents to Dr Faustus. “Why, this is hell, and nor are we out of it”. Apart from the joy of a big sloppy kiss from Stoney and Jenny, there’s nothing there to bring any light to my internal world.

Luckily, having spent a tenner each on the ticket in for such self abuse, we are soon whisked out of it. Margate and Unite’s twin pillars of youthful, well stacked loveliness, Lucy and Rachel, direct us to an after party at her flat. We walk into a basement opposite the Lido, and I feel a twinge of regret that the nights Oz and I played there in 2009 were so short-lived. I loved playing there- dingey, off the beaten track, open til 6am and full of nutters open to any kind of house music. I have been feeling claustrophobic being a recognisable face around East Kent over the last year, mainly because I couldn’t modify my sexual behaviour to accommodate being one half of Whitstable’s Posh n Becks. But I am genuinely pleased to see all those Lido nutters there and am promiscuous with my hugs. The old me is back, briefly. I love Margate because nothing matters. It’s the end of the line. It’s where I went to live in an unheated bedsit to hide from my ex partner’s rage and reminds me that however despondent I feel, it’ll never be that bad again.

Unite’s chief hedonists Hank Bannister and Nick Beats play hours of twisted, underground tech house and it’s brilliant. As ever DLL and I are the only ones dancing and as ever she looks incredible and I don’t understand why it’s all so difficult. Hank plays one of Nick’s tunes which uses the riff from Blue Monday, filtered and slowed down, and it sounds phenomenally good. I’m transported by where the TVC portal has taken me this weekend, never more than 20 miles from my front door. To share some time with groups of people loving music, dancing, making great music from small means, sharing their time and space with each other. Creating something to love and enjoy, forming a community through shared passions and termination, making their own culture because what surrounds them is so fucking mediocre and unfulfilled. In its own way, it’s a daily, hourly refusal to atrophy and die of boredom in the way the dominant culture demands we do. As Jeff Mills would know, it’s all a form of Underground Resistance. 

As DLL glides the Audi along the familiar contours of the Thanet Way at dawn, I feel something I feel so rarely these days- a wave of genuine well being. I realise that I’m experiencing an overwhelming sense of being lucky to know these peculiarly determined people and of being part of a scene, a sound system, whatever. Being part of giving people an alternative to the torrent of shit available to them elsewhere. As my eyes focus on the vibrating screen of my mobile phone, as text comes in from Oz reflecting on the lovely gig we did in the Smack earlier… ”it makes you think sometimes life can be beautiful”.