For me the initial attraction to a life in clubs entailed a sense of escapism, a sense of belonging to a scene where everybody felt like an outsider, a freak or just part of the great misunderstood. Clubs are places where you can dress, say and be who you like, express and create an alter ego of sorts and get lost in the music. Walls pounding with musical vibration, the clatter of people clinking glasses. The whoop and promise of a high old time, people gathering together to what was once considered a decadent lifestyle but today it seems is part and parcel of a perhaps misspent youth, a right of passage before 'settling down'.
I became a bonafidé dj after experimenting with a series of projects in the 80's in which I was connected to art, fashion and music. Initially, I felt drawn to a secret society, a mysterious world where anything could happen, where you might meet the most unusual people, the famous, the love of your life or even a one night stand. An adventure and a tale to be told the next day while nursing a hangover and getting ready for the next episode into the night.
In the days before dj's became so called 'rock stars' the dj was expected to do a multitude of jobs, the lighting, the smoke machine and sometimes even become the coat check. Legendary Dj, Tallulah, who started djing in the early 70's up until he died in 2008 remembers his early days, *'In the booth, there was a light switch that you could hit and the lighting engineer would get a flashing light on a phone so you could talk to him.' His recollections of an underground lifestyle paint a vivid evolution of club life, from pre-disco in the 60's to the explosion of 'super clubs' in the late 80's and onwards. I love hearing the escapades of friends and some of these stories have gone down in club history. The time dj Jeffrey Hinton decided to 'play' the slipmat at Taboo, he was tripping and imagined he was at home, everyone still danced though.
In the dj booth you are strangely detached, set apart from the dance floor standing behind a booth, busy lining up music, co-ordinating and watching for a reaction, the conversation is a subliminal one, the aural energy of sound inducing an effect on dancers as the recognition of a track becomes realized, the excitement of the dance floor moving on the effect of the music, the music that you as the dj has selected. Mark Moore dj, music producer and frontman of seminal band S-Express began his career as a dj and continues to involve himself in the spirit of it, 'My experience of djing is similar to when friends come round your house and you play music to them. Every record that brings joy to them and blows their mind also brings joy to you so it's really a way of bonding and sharing - communion! The DJ experience is just a bigger version of this with more people and more energy. I imagine it's the same feeling religious types get when sharing the word of God only you're doing it with music. If you're religious or spiritual then music is considered to be the voice of God so perhaps DJs are all messengers of God anyway!' He adds, 'I was and still am obsessed with music. It wasn't enough to just enjoy it by myself. I always felt the need to share it with other people. This could be seen as a form of ego, wanting other people to know what great taste you think you have but I think for many DJs it's (hopefully) more altruistic.'
I came to djing by being a clubber first, on the other side of the decks, on the dance floor, the sound engulfing me, actions, words... and the dance. And this is part of the clubbing experience, a series of interactions on a number of levels, getting ready, getting in, meeting friends, making new ones and seemingly escaping the mundane struggle of real life. Working in clubs can take the edge off the mystery of clubbing and being a dj is a strangely obtuse world where as part of a team you create a mood and a series of moments, an atmosphere where permission is granted to behave in extremes perhaps not acceptable in the cold light of day. There is an element of decadence attached to the disco round, drugs and alcohol have always been part of it and are indeed enhancers to the elements of escapism. Maintaining that lifestyle however is another side to the story. Finding a balance in order to maintain a productive lifestyle can be a predicament. Nature has it's own way of making you pay for a hedonistic night out as we all know, que the hangovers, the come downs and the memories of casualties along the way.
Now I'm all for the 'deepness of being shallow' in it's place, with a big dose of irony thrown into the equation I hasten to add. If you're in a club it's loud and noisy, you might have had one too many and you're whipped up into the frenzy of it all. A lot can be said for meeting people in these situations though, most of my life long friends have come from chance meetings and so I encourage a life in clubs, get out there and experience it for yourself, see it as a form of research if you will. Perhaps it's not for you but you'll never know until you go there. My theories revolve around first hand experience and living each day as if it were your last.
Club life is a great leveler, Wayne Shires who has been running clubs and parties since the 80's and is the inspiration behind London's East Bloc says, 'You can be unemployed, a student, work 9 to 5 or a be major celebrity and be in the same room enjoying the same music at the same time'. When I was growing up the 'famous' seemed a world away from my existence, club life changed all that. At once I was mixing with people I'd only ever read about and in fact the new people I did meet became stars of club land themselves. You always knew you were in the place to be if you saw certain people in the house and quite by accident I seem to have become one myself... Which just goes to show if you hang around long enough somethings bound to happen!
Throughout 90's the humble dj became the object of much attention, no party was complete without a star billing. Equally your host for the night received just as much importance, clubs as they do to this day buzzed with the idea of the celebrity host. They were talked about and voiced their opinions in all areas of life from TV to art, music to fashion and have became stars in their own right. Clubs became a brand, expertly packaged to attract bigger and bigger crowds while the smaller clubs kept to the ideals of an exclusive secret society.
And what about the music? What makes a dance floor smash hit? Is there a formula to it? As a dj you really get a feel for what makes people move, by the end of the 80's the remix became all important and the dj friendly remix meant a parallel career for most dj's. Dj's could command extraordinary fees for this task and pop producers soon cottoned onto this. From the days of disco and HiNRG dance, pioneers Georgio Moroder and Patrick Cowley amongst others dropped lengthy remixes especially designed for the dance floor, through to the 'rave' scene where bedroom producers pieced together seamless beats. Pop acts with a dance sensibility picked up on this as the dance revolution exploded... Firm pop favorites crossed onto the dance floor. Steve Anderson who produces and arranges music for a myriad of popstars but is mainly known for his work with Kylie Minouge shines some light on the subject, 'Its all about dynamic. Most clubs will have a pounding 4/4 kick drum prominent throughout the night - people love it as it gives them a heartbeat but also love it when it gets taken away. The drops and builds enable the euphoria when the kick comes back in and that's essentially dance music and has been for a long time now. This can be done intelligently and brilliantly or cheaply and tackily both of which achieve the same result and often the same amount of success but the former are likely to stand the test of time better.' While disco stars crossed over into the mainstream, pop and dance have become intrinsically linked by the remix. Todays 'pop' is yesterdays dance music... producer dj's rising from the club scene nowadays produce hits for out and out pop stars, and producers from the 'pop' scene keep a vigilant eye on what's going on in the clubs and bars of the world. Steve Anderson explains the balance perfectly... 'Ultimately people want to feel good and having that 'hands in the air' moment is just as important now as it was in the 90s - a moment of pure abandonment where the outside world ceases to exist and its just about joy and euphoria - that's what great dance music can do.'
On a personal level, living in a twilight world and working within a global clubbing community has given me an overview of immense value, when I walk out the door I leave any personal troubles behind, in a way the concept of clubbing is a form of therapy, although you might need some other form of therapy when you feel your clubbing days are over! I believe in the words of the songs I've grown up with and danced to, disco classics such as Sylvester 'You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real)'. Music from Kraftwerk who really set a precedent for what experimental dance could be. 90's classics from the 'house' scene and then dance of the 00's which took elements of previous decades and created something beyond... each song evokes a memory of a place and time as we arrive in the present where although definitions are blurred the music is the thing that carries us through and brings us together with an air of acknowledgement.
The characters and friends I have made in clubs, we all share a sense of community linked by music and a need to express a life of extremes involving art, style and personal expression or endevour.
Words princess Julia