Wednesday, 26 August 2009


Since my student days in the early eighties I've intermittently indulged in amateur DJ-ing. At university I mainly did parties; I had a reasonably hip and happening 1981 type of record collection and everyone else had cassettes of Supertramp, James Taylor and Cat Stevens so the market was clearly open. Although N*ck H*rnby has his main character describe similar feelings in H*gh F*d*l*ty, I have to reiterate that there are few greater kicks in life than watching a roomful of your peers dancing to and enjoying the music of your choice. It's something I've never grown out of loving; the reaction to my DJ picks such as "Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel" or the 12-inch of "Chant No 1" was wondrous to behold. I really got into it; every week James Hamilton would list the BPMs of that week's new entries in his Record Mirror column and I would incorporate them into meticulous wallcharts. As I'm also musically trained - if you call Grade VI piano and clarinet "trained" - I was able to relate each record to its natural segue partner in terms of keys, etc.

After university I started working in the NHS and have since made a point of offering my amateur services whenever the situation invites it; for summer balls, Christmas dos, leaving parties and thus forthly. The advantage of doing this was that (a) you KNEW your audience intimately and thus could get away with being unduly adventurous in the midst of current hits and firm favourites ("Ah, MC's at it again with his Aphex Twins and his Atari and the Teenage Riots, bless him"), and (b) because it was a larger spread of people, demographically, than your average student/indie disco night you could widen your scope to encompass lots of different musical styles and approaches. I was pretty damn good, actually; those present when I worked at King's College Hospital in the mid-late nineties still speak of magical nights at the Dulwich Sports Club, complete with lots of stories and capers I daren't reproduce here, although my fabled mix of DJ Otzi's "Hey Baby" into the closing section of Peter Brötzmann's "Machine Gun" - in key and in tempo - still inspires gasps of "was I really there?"

Over recent years, for multiple, exhaustively-documented reasons, the activity has kind of tailed off. I've done three DJ sets at Club Poptimism over the last couple of years, two of which were in tandem with my wife Lena. The most recent of these was at the end of last month, and since it was relatively early on in the evening we did a fairly experimental forty-minute set. This is vital for any would-be DJ; trying and testing things out, seeing what works and what doesn't, knowing what to leave out of the current chart and what to put in, fashioning the right combination of newies, oldies, familiar reliables and relative obscurities depending upon your audience, being able to tell or at any rate fabricate a story. Gratifyingly the set went down pretty well - the occasional wooden spoon-wielding ingrate notwithstanding - and if only I hadn't mucked up the sequencing such that the Black Ingvars' "Bananas And Pyjamas" (they're a Gothenburg metal group who dress up like the Teletubbies and cover children's songs in the Loud Heavy Rock Metal style) accidentally switched to momentary blankness, it would have been flawless. Oh well - I'd been out of practice and was a bit rusty.

As enjoyable as doing Poptimism sets is, there comes a point when you want to do something a bit more. and inevitably since it is, strictly speaking, someone else's club night you have to adhere pretty readily to their agenda which can sometimes be frustrating when you want to strike out further. Furthermore I want to get back into DJ practice again; it's been a long time and my fingers are itchy. The only answer really is for Lena and me to set up our own club night but I'm afraid I have absolutely no idea how to get this going. We certainly have a lot of ideas which extensive research (ahem) shows are not being catered for in clubs elsewhere in the capital, but how to make the first move? Is it as simple as going round pubs and asking if you can hire the upstairs/downstairs room free or dirt cheap on the last (whatever) day (it is) of the month or similar? Publicity is another matter and we've got plenty of ideas in that department. But just from the point of view of getting started, how does this middle-aged novice go about it?