The 40 In 40 Days Project.

12. The Empty Floor (1987)

Main Index

The Au Pairs
The Step-stepfather
The Simulated Wank
The Toy Store
The First Single
The Queeny Put-Down
The First Hissy Fit
The First Gay Club
The Rent Boy
The Heterosexual Phase
The Lifestyle Switch
The Empty Floor
The First Poem
The Amsterdam Weekend
The First Time
The Perfect Moment
The Year In Berlin
The Trade Years
The First Memory
The Anniversary Party
The Incompetencies
The Pricking Of The Bubble
The Club Residencies
The "Tales of the City" House
The Musical Epiphany
The Worst Thing I Ever Did To Anyone
The Royal Procession
The Parental Disclosure
The Concept Albums
The Romantic Obsession
The Failure
The Apotheosis of Queer
The Shove From Above
The Interrogation
The Professional Rut
The Rebirthday
The First Boyfriend
The "Catharsis Of Joy"
The Funeral Address
The Falling In Love

Chronological Index

troubled diva

I made my debut as a club DJ in December 1986, with a Thursday night venture named “Goodbye Cool World”. I basically got the gig by lying about my previous experience – in reality, all I’d done were two stints helping out Dymbel at a miner’s strike benefit and a medical students’ disco. I also had no decks at home. So this was something of a quantum leap, shall we say. Fortunately, mixing skills weren’t as important in 1986 as they are today, so I was able to bluff my way through the night reasonably successfully.

There were two other factors working in my favour that night. Firstly, it was the Thursday before Christmas, when the whole world wants to go out dancing. Secondly, all my friends – and their friends – rallied round to show support. The result: a busy dancefloor and an up-for-it atmosphere. Not a bad debut, all told. I was particularly pleased with the reaction to some of the less commercial, more underground tunes: the early Chicago house music (already big in Nottingham, thanks to Graeme Park’s sets at The Garage), the Washington D.C. go-go music, the hip-hop, the vintage funk.

It is amazing how quickly hubris can set in. For the second “Goodbye Cool World”, I decided to push the “upfront” music a whole lot further. I took a trip down to London and came back with an armful of the hippest, most cutting edge import 12-inchers I could find. I even got my hands on Mr. Fingers “Can You Feel It / Washing Machine” on the original Trax label, now acknowledged as a classic, but then almost completely unknown. I planned the night’s entire playlist in advance, starting with hip-hop and gradually increasing the beats per minute over three hours, ending up with the high octane “jack tracks”. Very occasionally, I would be slipping in the odd chart hit, just as a sop to the masses. I wrote the entire playlist down for reference, stacked the records in the order they would be played, and didn’t bother packing any spares either.

Are you shuddering yet?

There is a world of difference between the Thursday before Christmas and an ordinary Thursday in the middle of January. Especially when only half a dozen of your mates show up. The rest of the club – which was no more than a quarter full – consisted of people who were mainly there to carry on drinking after the pubs shut. However, I was still blind to all of that. Locked in my own little upfront world in the DJ booth, I stuck rigidly to my playlist. Obscure hip hop track followed obscure hip hop track. Hey, what did it matter that no-one was dancing yet? There were higher ideals to follow – I was (oh God!) educating them.

Less than a full hour into my set, the club owner burst into the DJ booth, a stricken look on his face. This was not a man who shared my ideals. This was not a man who even knew the first thing about music. “Play some disco music!” he commanded. “You’ve had nobody dancing – do something about it!”

Disco music? In 1987, nobody said “disco music” any more. This threw me. I quickly took off the hip-hop and slapped on George Michael and Aretha Franklin’s “I Knew You Were Waiting For Me”. Immediately, the floor filled. Was that relief I saw on their faces? I followed with The Gap Band’s “Big Fun” – and just as quickly, the floor cleared again.

The club’s regular DJ poked his head through the door. Would it be all right if he took over in a few minutes? Only, could I be sure not to play “I Love My Radio” by Taffy just yet – he wanted to save it up. TAFFY? Did he really think I would stoop to playing TAFFY?

I had maybe ten minutes left to save face. With no back-up tunes, I started frantically flicking through the club’s own supply of singles. Jermaine Stewart’s “We Don’t Have To Take Our Clothes Off”, maybe? No, I couldn’t prostitute myself like that. I just couldn’t. I stuck on Raze “Jack The Groove” instead. About four people danced – all of them friends of mine, who were now loyally rallying round.

The DJ came back in again. Er, could he take over, like, now? I gathered my record boxes together and slunk out of the DJ booth in shame, feeling utterly gutted and humiliated. My friends said all the right things – it’s a shit club anyway, your music was far better, don’t give up, you’ll get the right crowd another time. But I was inconsolable.

This, dear reader, is an object lesson in what not to do if you’re starting out as a DJ. I had broken two cardinal rules. I had made no attempt to connect with my audience, and I hadn’t allowed for any flexibility with the music. On a quiet Thursday night in January, in a ropey disco, with none of my target audience present, it was a good time to learn this lesson.

Four months later, I got my chance to shine. The DJ-ing years were about to begin in earnest.

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