Quietus Mix 70: Lying Face Down On The Kitchen Floor Thinking About God
, September 13th, 2012 05:17
John Doran takes the raw material from playing records for King Midas Sound and JK Flesh and uses it to create a journey... from standing up to lying down
Essential moral and technical help provided by John Tatlock. For Roger Robinson
John is DJing for Om and King Midas Sound at the Scala on September 20. More details here.
After the unassailable Energy Flash, one of my favourite books about club culture and DJing is Dave Haslam’s Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel. Haslam, a time served disc jockey himself with residencies at Home and the Hacienda under his belt, is also an author, journalist and expert on the history of popular cuture and entertainment in his home city of Manchester. In his first book, Manchester, England, he looks at the last two centuries of development in the city, in a similar way to Peter Ackroyd studying the capital in London The Biography, in non-linear, more psycho-geographical terms. To him Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels working in the rainy city is essentially linked to the rise of Factory records (and quite right he is too). He has developed a fantastically understated, essayistic style which thrives on juxtaposition.
So in this book he sets himself apart from other more worthy, tiresome DJ histories by avoiding the pitfalls of the exhaustive/exhausting and the ‘authoritative’ by crediting the reader with some intelligence and opting for illumination instead. Disparate chapters dealing with Northern Soul, Jimmy Saville, Fatboy Slim, Sasha, obsessive fans of The Smiths etc provide a much fuller picture of the role of the DJ in the leisure industry with much less need for direct authorial comment.
The chapter on The Smiths night, held in a room above the Star & Garter, is exquisite. Haslam writes sympathetically about the poorly attended night and lets the cast of characters speak for itself.
Dance music is like any other form of cultural expression: over time and innovation it becomes a cliché. One reason why it’s getting harder to generalise about DJs and clubs is that the variety is always increasing. For many DJs the onus is on finding new records on import or pre-release, but other DJs go backwards, rediscovering rare groove, Northern Soul or the golden age of disco. The activity and variety, though, is a sure sign that great rock gigs are rare, pub bands are dull, bars are too restrained; that there’s a great thirst for going out dancing, whether to tech-house, lounge-core or a Smiths disco, whether at a 2,000 capacity London superclub or down the Mancehster side streets at the Star & Garter.
It’s gone midnight now, and there won’t be many more people to come to the Smiths/Morrissey disco. Those that are here will stay until 2am. I ask Dave if he pays his mother wages for sitting and taking the money [on the door]: “Yeah, I do, but, I mean, she’d probably do it for free. I’ve never made much money, but then I’m never out of pocket.’
Have you ever had a big night, loads of people in and it’s been bonanza time?
I ask him to put me on the mailing list. I tell him I’ll be back and I did go back. The next time was Morrissey’s birthday. Somewhere in Los Angeles, where he now lives, Morrissey was probably out with friends, but 200 of his most dedicated followers were in an upstairs room at the Star & Garter. Unfortunately there was no screen on the birthday night because some faulty wiring on Dave’s slide projector blew the fuse when he plugged it in. The Star & Garter was full, but there were no birthday balloons. No cake. No candles. No disco biscuits.
His authorial touch is light and these little juxtapositions are left hanging mid chapter as well. The Chapter called ‘Not The Big Market’ centres round the routine of a rising DJ, namely Lottie, who is a guest at Newcastle’s Shindig night. Haslam clearly likes everyone involved in this scene and buzzes off their energy but on reading between the lines you can sense that their style clashes slightly with his old school roots. Haslam, as befits anyone who was there at acid house year zero, has a very utopian view of the DJ as being someone who transports clubbers to another place, somewhere special. He sees the DJ as a pilot who is great at reading rooms and responding to the vibe he picks up, skilled in undertaking expert detours, manoeuvres, fly-bys, bypasses, unplanned change of destination and in the worst case scenario, emergency hazard avoidance and unplanned landing at sea. Haslam has a great time at Shindig and any reservations he has are not expressed grumpily or unfairly, they are merely there in the text if you happen to look for them.
Lottie gets straight into her set, working the crossfader gently, settling into a sound; she plays straight up, mostly instrumental house with funky basslines. She barely looks up; a lot of her bouncy enthusiasm is reined in now as she concentrates, blending smoothly, going for gentle, relaxed mixing without much quick cutting.
It’s getting near the end of Lottie’s allotted two hours. Scott and Mark are going to take over next, playing one record after another. Usually, DJ-ing, you’re improvising your choice of what to play when, reacting to the crowd, so it’s not written in stone, but all the time you have to have some idea of where your set is going, like a chess player thinking several moves ahead; you’re ready for anything but in your mind’s eye you have the next few records mapped out. Going one on and one off with another DJ means you must know and trust each other very well if you don’t want to lose the thread of the night. At exactly 1.30 Lottie finishes.
And much later:
If you look up and the dancefloor has started thinning out a bit , or the card dealing and the packing boxes [dances] aren’t quite happening, does that affect what you’re going to play next?
’No, not really, not any more…’
By the mid-90s, a lot of the Utopian/neo-hippy aspects of the house/techno explosion had come to be seen as terribly gauche… just a bit embarrassing really. Toothily grinning, saucer-eyed loons in leisure wear lumbering up to you in a club for a sweaty hug, demanding to know if you were “on one” were persona non-grata. And the idea of the DJ as shaman, who magically transported his congregation of equally important celebrants to some higher plane had been replaced by the more utilitarian idea of the Superstar DJ. The quest for a mystical route to Satori, fully improvised on the night from a massive supply of rare and lovingly sourced records, was seen as naff as a T shirt bearing the inscription: Stand Back – DJ At Work.
True, the drugs and music had irreversibly altered, changing the culture with it but also punters had maybe had enough of pseudo-religious crap being spouted by vinyl monkeys whose skills didn’t quite match up to their endless motor-mouthed self-boosterism. People grew wise to the fact that an awful lot of these highly individual and mystical journeys to a higher plane seemed to go via Josh Wink’s 'Higher State Of Consciousness' and ‘Belfast’ by Orbital.
All of this was a shame as I was a sucker for the idea of DJ set as journey. (This would perhaps account for the fact that my favourite mix CD of all time is Coldcut’s 70 Minutes Of Madness on the Journeys By DJ label.) The idea is testament to the endlessly versatile nature of house and techno. The ‘journey’ of the DJ set was of course mainly geared to the different phases of the ecstatic club experience but it was clear to me that they mimicked more prosaic trips. After club and home enjoyment, there’s nothing quite like listening to a good mix while staring out of the window of a train on a familiar route for example. And I can’t be the only one who has made mix tapes with specific train journeys in mind. (Once, I was trusted with taking the narcotic supplies for an entire stag weekend party up from London to Hull. Amongst the gew gaws I had 20 of these monstrously acidic purple pills that would melt your noggin. They were fantastically strong but very crumbly, leading to some absent minded grazing on the train. While listening to a Kraftwerk tape, compiled for this very trip, the Humber Bridge came into view just as ‘Neon Lights’ came on. The experience was so overwhelming that I burst into tears. Not long afterwards at Hull Paragon Square Station, I had to be practically carried to a pub that had “Underworld on the jukebox and lime and soda”.) The trip from my parent’s house to Liverpool Lime Street could be made perfectly, door-to-door, with a cassette that contained Underworld’s ‘Dark And Long’ (Long Train mix) and ‘Juanita/Kiteless/To Dream Of Love’ back to back and I came to refuse to believe that these songs had been written for any other purpose. This was the interaction and juxtaposition of journey, music, emotion and imagination (and sometimes narcotics) in harmonic embrace.
Recently I was DJing (putting on records one after the other) for the most fabulous King Midas Sound and the most brutalising JK Flesh at Corsica Studios, playing an Atrocity Set. This simply means deploying a lot of quite adrenalising and purposefully jarring music that includes hardcore, ragga jungle, death metal, acid house, drone, techno, industrial – not to be whacky or annoying but to put everyone into fight or flight mode, to get the adrenaline flowing. At the end of the night Roger Robinson from KMS said I should post a mix tape of the tunes I had been playing and I agreed that I would. The only trouble was that now I was presented with the raw materials of a random selection of pretty horrible songs.
I felt like a man waking from a nightmare of garish and unpleasant images – I needed to impose structure on the chaos and give it a story. I needed to make the set of random songs into a journey but maybe not the kind that Paul Oakenfold wanted to take his regulars on when he was DJing at Heaven or even one that mirrored a journey on the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch light guage railway.
Truth is, I'm not a particularly good DJ and my mixing isn't up to much so I figured I would have to go for a trip - a literal trip - that was short, brutish and straight forward.
The only narrative I could think of for the mix, went something like this: One day in 1992 I was standing in the kitchen of 21 Louis Street in Hull drinking sherry out of a cracked tumbler. I slipped in some water, decked and hit my head on the floor very hard. At first I thought I was going to pass out but eventually I didn’t. I was, however very light headed and disorientated and my head was bleeding. I became convinced I was dying and wondered if there was any salvation to be had from praying. I also wondered if there was any mileage in converting to another religion quickly before going through the fizzing portal. I thought I was going down a tunnel but I was merely looking into my sherry glass which was on the floor near my head. I wondered if God thought I was an idiot.
Eventually I was able to get up and pour myself another drink, which I had sitting down. I was slightly shaken but ecstatic because I hadn’t died and hadn't done anything daft like converting to Rastafarianism or Thelemic Satanism. In fact, I felt quite funky. From start to finish this only lasted ten minutes, so probably best to imagine the drama unfolding very, very slowly. At about one tenth of the speed.
Why am I writing this? I have no idea. I’m plagued with thinking about this stuff so I don’t see why you should be let off the hook.
Also, (seriously) I couldn’t find any logical room for other tunes which I played at the King Flesh gig and these include Maurice And Mac’s ‘You Left The Water Running’, AFX – ‘Run The Place Red’, Hirsute Pursuit – ‘Boys Keep Swinging’, Tackhead – ‘What’s My Mission Now’, Revolting Cocks – ‘TV Mind’, Oneida – ‘Brownout In Lagos’, Throbbing Gristle ‘AB7A’, Goat – ‘Dem Som Aldrig Forandras / Diarabi’, The Honny And The Bees Band – ‘Psychedelic Woman’, Oneida – ‘Each One Teach One’ & Severed Heads ‘Bless The House’. Which, now that I think about it, is starting to sound like a mix itself.
So this is probably no good for dancing to or relaxing to or even as the sonic accompaniment to a train journey but you should keep it on your iPod just in case of head injury and a lengthy wait on the floor for the emergency services.
Cyclobe – How Acla Disappeared From Earth
Pan Sonic – Corona
Autechre – pce freeze 2.8i
Burning Star Core – Benjamin
Sun Araw, M Geddes Gengras & The Congos – Invocation
Arrington De Dionyso – Rasa Sentuh
Liars – A Ring On Every Finger
Wooden Shjips – Crossing (Andrew Weatherall mix)
The Haxan Cloak – The Men Parted The Sea To Devour The Water
Guardian Alien – See The World Given To A One Love Entity
Shackleton – (For The) Love Of Weeping
Black Rain – Now I’m Just A Number
Carter Tutti Void – V2
Burial – Loner
Factory Floor – Two Different Ways (Perc Noisy Mix)
Blanck Mass – Sub Serious (Mud People Mix)
East India Youth – Looking For Someone
Paul McCartney – Check My Machine
John is DJing for King Midas Sound and Om at The Scala on September 30. But don’t let that put you off coming. More details here
Dave Haslam continues his excellent series of Close Up live interviews on September 30 with Alastair Campbell. Upcoming guests include Michael Chabon and Will Self