29 May 2011

a great testament to the unifying power of house

Duvet Vous” 12th Anniversary Party with Smokescreen Sound System

"Popular culture was identified as a reason why people become passive; the easy pleasures available through consumption of popular culture made people docile and content, no matter how terrible their economic circumstances." - Theodor W. Adorno (September 11, 1903 – August 6, 1969)
 



The so-called Frankfurt School of sociologists, notably Adorno and Gramsci, held much sway in the 1950s with their astute predictions of a western society where the old bonds of religion, family, nation and cub scouts, which gave us our identity, would be lost as we became an atomised bunch of consumers, identifying ourselves through our purchasing habits and brands. Their ideas have become unfashionable, as the enormous ideological power of consumer capitalism has managed to persuade us that through our empowering use of technology we are independent to form our own tribes and communities. 

This is of course not so - as soon as a new movement is formed it is swooped on by marketing companies and sold back to its members through viral marketing. To stay independent of this machine takes time, effort, will power, vigilance and strength of character. England’s free partygoers and organisers are sterling examples of this fight against the mainstream - Smokescreen are all the more admirable as they seem to have been able to make a living for over a decade by selling their music despite its refusal to pander to commercial tastes.

The Easter weekend was an example of such resilience in the face of consumer, and other, logic. On the Saturday Kent’s tVC held a small “let’s test out the water and the equipment” beach party, despite our unwillingness to leave the Neptune until 11.30, a low turnout was expected as it was rather too spontaneous but provided me with the abiding memory of Mark “you don’t need an earth wire” Lindsay smashing the plug off an extension lead and jamming the wires straight into our generator using matches as we’d 'forgotten' the fly lead. 

“A bit ring rusty tonight” Oz said ruefully when he realised we’d spent 3 hours loading up and setting up without bothering to check first if we had all the necessary equipment. Before we knew it though, it was 3 am with a small group of happy souls, including some delightfully pretty weekenders from Shoreditch, dancing round a fire to some old Drop classics and na’ry a copper in sight.

Sunday I was bored but it had been another hot day and I didn’t want to go out to listen to anyone else’s music so at about 5 o’clock DLL and me sent out a few texts to see if people could be bothered to have a party. By 9 o’clock I had the small rig set up in the garden with about 40 people including the Shoreditch belles dancing on my roses and the police at the door.

So it takes quite a lot to get us out these days, especially in summer as we can get most of the entertainment we need to come to my house or the beach, albeit at the risk of an ASBO. Hopefully one day someone from the council’s environmental department will start coming to our parties and realise they need to delete the mounting evidence so the fun can continue. However, the call to hear the Smokescreen rig in all its glory had to be heeded - every time I’ve seen a Smokescreen party date it seems to be the alternate weekend when I have my children, and at last I was available. Although it was in Bristol, a cheapish advance train fare and an indulgent high earning girlfriend made it very attainable.

It’s also a chance to visit Bristol, which seems to be the most manageable city in England to live in. Enough going on to keep you busy, but not so big or stressful to wear you out. Not too pricey to buy or rent by the look of it, and well blessed with bohemian, cheap, friendly neighbourhoods. Those of you who read the better newspapers will know that the residents of Stokes Croft rioted against the opening of a Tesco there. The area has an anarchist bookshop! Full marks Brissl.

Its only draw back is the lack of good house music. I’ve always thought of it as a spliff n smack sort of place, with a vibe dominated by dub reggae and drum n bass. The Duvet Vous crew, like other free party collectives across the country, provide an oasis for those who like a wee dab and a shuffle to the deeper, more mellow house sounds, and happily for me they were celebrating their 12th birthday by inviting the Smokescreen boys down with their rig to a pub in Bristol. A chance to see two stalwart deep house party crews in tandem.

Saturday was a perfect build up to the gig, ambling around Bristol with DLL round the harbour and through the parks, stumbling upon the best second hand house music record shop I’ve ever found, Kavanagh’s in the Gloucester Road. Two floors of vinyl helpfully categorised into section such as “US techno 1992-1996” or “Produced by Marshall Jefferson”. And it turned out the lovely Russell was DJing for Duvet, and played a cracking set of rare groove and early acid house.



The Smokescreen and Duvet DJs shared the deck time out with great zest and humour, all playing flawless mixes of deep, dirty, fidgety beats, with the trademark Drop loops and hip hop samples delightfully dispersed throughout. I was grinning with the sheer pleasure of the prospect of hearing hours of such quality played by people who really, really love it. I had never seen any Smokey DJs other than the Inland Knights, and what a buzz to be finally hearing the names like The Littlemen and Kinky Movement I’d seen on fliers for nights I couldn’t go to, and whose tracks I’d played at our own parties. Impossible to watch Frandanski without grinning as he constantly jigged and bopped, filling his set replete with energy, enthusiasm and momentum. All the DJs suffused the room with their simple love of their music - none of the jaded, overpaid arrogance that is so apparent in the club scene. One of them, Duvet’s Michael, a refugee from the boredom of Avignon, only stopped dancing to the other DJs when he had to play. And he really could dance - it’s rare to see DLL outdanced but the garcon could bouge de la.

We were looked after like old friends, invited to cram into someone’s house (where, incredibly, I met 4 people who read the tVC blog) for a couple of hours until the local pub opened at 8am (8am!!! On a Sunday!!!) so they could set up.

As the day wore on, the numbers in the pub increased, the grins became wider, and the walking became more wobbly. DLL had to reluctantly leave at 11 to get our train, leaving me in awe of the Smokescreen stamina. Juggle jobs, kids, partners, DJing, making music. Load up a rig into a van, drive from Nottingham to Bristol, play all night, put rig in van, hang out all day and drive back to Nottingham. South West to East Midlands. All for love of the British deep house community and to keep the flame of alternative house music alive. 

As Normski would say- “Respec!” 

Adorno and Gramsci are still right, but the capitulation is not inevitable as long as there are some Trojans defending the walls….

15 May 2011

Champagne in the membrane.

Ah, mate. I’m sorry but I have to say it. It pains me somewhat because I do love a good wedding but I so hate DJing at weddings. 

All my experiences from the past 35 years of DJing, first at punk parties, then new wave clubs (this was in the North East mind you) where everything that was danceable went into the mix from hip hop like Sugar Hill to, yes I know, it could be considered a crime now, but 12” remixes of Culture Club and Blancmange to UK and Jamaican reggae from roots, ska to lovers to Aswad then to soul, disco, The Smiths and Echo and The Bunnymen. If it was danceable it went in the mix.


We liked to consider what we did underground, new, cutting edge and bit subversive but with a lot of the stuff charting weeks or months after we got into it and playing at Rockshot’s on a Thursday night with The Rathaus or the back room of Tiffany’s was far from that.

It wasn’t mainstream and commercial; although we didn’t mind if it was. If it was danceable it got played. We loved buying records and playing them out. Simple. I suppose it would have been call Balearic if it was the mid to late eighties but it was earlier than that and in Newcastle not Ibiza and we just liked to listen to lots of different styles of music, get wasted, dance and besides, we didn’t have a name for it.

When house came around and took over everyone’s life in a big way it was merely an extension of the same belief system. But I digress.

I do love weddings and playing music but not together. I love weddings because they are everything the introspective cynic should not like; formal, joyous occasions filled with shoes that hurt and food.

Everything is great, that is until you start getting invited to play at a mates wedding or a mate of a mate’s wedding. Don’t get me wrong, it is nice to do a mate a favour and it’s nice to get a chance to play out whenever one can and it’s nice to be able to play your stuff to new people rather than the 100 or 200 diehards who would come to our club nights every week.

At the time, in the early 80’s, we ran a little reggae night at Balmbra’s in The Toon on a Sunday Night and it was here I got asked to play my first wedding. ‘Just play a few old and new reggae tunes, you’ll be fine’. Of course I wasn’t, as the wedding DJ is a jukebox and whoa betide you if you don’t fulfil the role expected of you. Fending requests off in a club is bad enough but when the bride’s mother is told that, no, you don’t have her favourite tune from the 70’s and to witness the disappointment on her face and to overhear her say, ‘What? You paid £200 for that DJ and he hasn’t even got ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’.

At one wedding I was so overwhelmed with requests for music I didn’t have that the groom came up and said ‘I’ve got a few CD’s in the car you can borrow’. Oh the shame. I didn’t even have a CD player anyway so he rustled one up and started playing his own CD’s at his own wedding. I sat in the lovely, extensive gardens listening to the England football match on the radio vowing to myself never to play a wedding ever again.

Thing is though, as a club slash free party DJ I’m used to deciding what to play and when to play it but at a wedding all this is taken away from you and as the night progresses and the people get drunker and bolder and ask for stuff you don’t even have and start to get pissed off that you don’t have it you get to hear comments like “what sort of wedding DJ are you exactly”. A reluctant incalcitrant one.

At a club people just trust you, let you get on with it and don’t hassle you. Now, I like that attitude.

Louis is a good mate and I’m his second best friend. His best friend was his best man. For some reason I’m a lot of people’s second best friend so now I’m knocking on 50 I can genuinely say I’ve never had to fulfil any best man duties ever in my life. I know I would hate it anyway. Lou and Martin, the groom and best man, came round to mine to run through the bezzy man’s speech before the big day. I contributed a few stories to it as well as loads of jokes and helped him with a few tips on public speaking like speak slower, project your voice, look into their eyes, wait till the laugh dies down before continuing and such like. I am a teacher and have to do it every day so they though I must be an expert at or something. Fools. It came to pass he only used one of my jokes – ‘I’ve known Louis 25 years and I’m still waiting for that tenner back I lent him in 1996”.

The stag do, which I didn’t have to organise, luckily, was a pub crawl around Whitstable then off to the Green Machine to see The Blockheads perform only the Blockheads were actually on the day after and Little Chris’s dad couldn’t get in because he had no ID and he kicked off a bit and still they wouldn’t let him in. Luckily Bean’s band were playing at the Puke of Cucumberland and they were good and we had a nice time.

Louis asked me to DJ at the wedding which I agreed to do despite telling him of my psychological aversion to it but managed to blag out of it by getting Warren on after the Zedheads and just not going back to relieve him. Underhand, but his old school club classics had the floor filled and dancing merrily till well gone midnight. Louis was, of course, disappointed in me, and said so, and begged me to play ‘just one tune’ but I couldn’t, I just couldn’t. I really couldn’t and felt awful and still do.

As the night ended it became apparent that the nearest house to the wedding venue was mine so it was a case of opening up the door to the wedding party people that still wanted to carry on and let them get on with it. Which they did.

But that’s another story and I really do still hate DJing at weddings. But even more so now.

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