|The 40 In 40 Days Project.|
12. The Empty Floor (1987)
The Au Pairs
|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.