Sunday, February 25, 2024

The Days Before the Deejay Was Cool












































































For decades now, deejays have been lavishly paid superstars, headlining huge raves, doing residencies in Las Vegas...  

Those not tempted by this prospect could pursue the alternative career path:  becoming a cult figure, revered for taste and esoteric knowledge, or for mixing finesse... a respected curator of the musical past, or a tastemaker in the cutting-edge contemporary.

Either way, renown, remuneration, and international travel are plausible outcomes.

Disconcerting, perhaps, to cast your mind back to the days when almost all deejays were unglamorous figures - mundane technicians, light entertainment professionals, modestly paid...  most of them were resident deejays, regular and unremarked upon fixtures at a local nightclub or tacky discotheque in their home town (many of them part of chains owned and run by big companies like Mecca or EMI)...  in status and remuneration only a notch above the bar staff and the bouncers...   Or, if they ran a for-hire mobile disco , they might travel a few miles, maybe ten at most, lugging their record boxes and audio equipment and lighting systems out the back of a van  in preparation for a long night of entertaining drunken revelers at a wedding, a Christmas office do, a birthday party, or other function.  
























Okay, in the 1970s, there were a few cult-worshipped jocks... in the New York gay disco scene...  at the Cosmic club in Italy... on the Northern Soul circuit...   selectors at reggae sound systems.... There was  already germinal beginnings of what would become the house / rave / EDM star system. 

But the vast majority of jocks were a humble, faceless lot... usually quite a bit older than their audience...   reliable providers of a service.... not known or valued for their selectorial suss or technical deckmanship...  simply in the business of punter-pleasing.... request-playing panderers...  required to play slowies for body-to-body dancing and smooching at the night's end...  

Generally they would have recourse to the microphone so as to smarmily segue between records that were not being mixed together. (hence the emphasis in the EMI Dancing advert above on the need for aspiring disc jockeys to have a "good speaking voice" - not a requirement for deejays today!).  

And the patter would be more than a little Smashy & Nicey.

Talking of which, probably the closest to deejay-as-star in the modern sense back then were the BBC pop jocks who'd go round the country doing the Radio One Roadshow... 

One of the things I discovered during my research on Shock and Awe was that the teenybop end of glam 'n' glitter was synonymous with the discotheque - the local disco that every decent-sized town had by the early '70s. There was also a burgeoning economy of mobile deejay systems for hire.  Glam was stomp-along and shout-along music, a domineeringly prominent drum sound being a fixture of records that were built for dancing

Reviewers often described singles by The Sweet, Suzi Quatro, Mud, et al, as "disco music" or "disco fodder". Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part 2" became a hit not through radio play but through  the discos, gradually breaking out as a chart entry after sixteen weeks. It took nearly four months of dancefloor spins before it got its first play on the radio! 

Although bands like Slade were big live draws and mightily rocked crowds, for the most part the pop success of glitter rock was won not through gigs but through records.... the tours came after the chart hits. 

The more astute and teenmarket-attuned record labels, like Bell, started to do out-reach to local deejays, sending them promos and in some cases getting feedback about which records were igniting the disco dancefloor. This would influence their decisions on whether to proceed to a proper pressing and a promo push with adverts in the music papers and pluggers pestering radio. 

In short: for several years before disco meant what we think of when we hear the word "disco" - black music - disco in the UK meant white pop-rock aimed at teenyboppers. 

And one of the reasons why some of the big glam 'n 'glitter artists went funk in '74-'75 - Bowie, T. Rex, Glitter -  is that a shift in teen taste was happening in the discos: from stompy big-beat rock to the sway-and-shuffle of Philly soul and Van McCoy / Hues Corporation / George Macrae style soft-funk. 

One type of "disco music" was being displaced by another type of "disco music".

So abjectly was Bolan in need of a hit in 1975 that the single "Dreamy Lady" was credited not to T.Rex but to T.Rex Disco Party.




























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Here are some snippets from my research


June 5th 1974 Melody Maker piece by Robert Partridge and Chris Charlesworth, looking at the differences between the pop scene in the U.K. and U.S.A. 

The New Pop in Britain has been broken through the discotheques. Suzi Quatro, Gary Glitter, Mud, Slade, The Sweet... all of them make good dance records…. But in the United States there is no equivalent discotheques, no natural outlet for the New Pop.”

They also point to a lack in America of kids-oriented TV shows with pop content of which there were several in Britain. 


September 14th 1974 Melody Maker feature "Going to A Go-Go", by Geoff Brown and Laurie Henshaw 

Jonathan King and his UK Records label use discos as a test market.  King will take a demo to a club, gets the deejay to put it on, and see how kids react.

Bell Records - which in the States had a history of working with pop soul - used similar methods in the UK. 

After the late Sixties, when “kids had stopped dancing and were to be found slumped in comatose heaps around the floor rather than stomping or clumping or bumping on it”, there was a revival of danceable pop: the kids “emerged from their deep sleep” and “attention returned to the feet. To the beat. Slade  stamped....T. Rex boogied… and every other manifestation of “newpop” put out 45s in 4/4 time ideal for playing loud to the accompaniment of flashing lights and flying limbs.

Bell drew up a list of every club in the land -- with information about the type of kids, the type of records played and the time in the night at which they were played.

When deejays flipped Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part 1" over and played the near-instrumental B-side "Rock and Roll, Part 2"...  “the Paunch was launched

Glitter's producer Mike Leander describes the disco as “a sort of market research.... We... are with a record company [Bell] that has terrific contacts and connections on a person to person basis with deejays in discotheques....  When a record is about to come out we now service around 600 discotheques with copies

Deejays, because of “their good relationship with the company will give a call back and tell us the reaction, especially if it’s been a good one. You’ll know pretty quickly. Either the place’ll start jumping up or the kids drift off the dance floor and sit down. The deejay is a really important cog in the machine… he’s a very good barometer.

 "Look at it is this way. There are, say, a thousand discos throughout the country each filled with 2,000 kids. Now they’ll play a popular disco record three times a night and they’ll play it six nights a week. On a national scale that’s amazing promotion.

 "The kids’ll start going into their local record shop and ask dealers for a copy. The dealers normally only stock the top 30 but in one area they’ll become aware over, say, a two week period that they’re losing a lot of sales, because this one particular record isn’t in stock. So after 40 or 50 kids have been in asking for the record and this happens in several areas the dealers will start ordering a dozen or maybe a few dozen copies and this feedback will reach the factory. They’ll notice they’re receiving 300 to 400 orders a week for a record. From the factory, this will filter back to the company itself.

But there are some records that kids love to dance to but don't necessarily want to spend 50 p to buy as a single. 

Leander: “I'm personally going through a period of making disco hits but I'm not setting out to be a producer of disco records only. I'm making records to be sold." 



Side panel on Mobile Discos


Roger Squire used to run his own mobile disco but now runs Disco Centre, a company that sells or hires disco units and lighting equipment for mobile deejays

Squire's business is booming - his annual turnover is £250,000 

He reckons that there are 20 thousand to 25 thousand mobile discos in the UK and about 40 thousand deejays in the country. 

Your average Mobile disco is a two man operation -- the deejay who does the patter and has the personality +  a technically minded pal. 

They play at weddings, Masonic dos, football club functions...

Average work rate: from two nights a week to seven nights at week.

Fee ranges from £15 to £18

c.f. what a Radio One deejay can charge for a gig:  £250 













Incidentally, the weekly music paper most plugged into this corner of the music market was Record Mirror. Specifically RM writer James Hamilton and his Disco column.  This started in September 1974 around the time the UK meaning of "disco" decisively shifted from glitterstomp to black American music, but clearly is in continuity with the fact that Record Mirror was the most teenybop-friendly of the four weekly music papers, the one with the youngest and most female-leaning readership, and that had pin-ups of the pop idols, along with a column penned by Marc Bolan. 

That said, Hamilton's column was squarely aimed at jocks -  indeed he was a deejay himself, with deep roots in the soul scene. As time went by, Hamilton got into scrupulously noting the b.p.m. of each track reviewed, and indeed in his capsule reviews even noting the changing b.p.m of different segments of a tune, if the tempo fluctuated. 









Friday, February 23, 2024

Blissed Out Breakbeat Hardcore!

The subtitle of this compilation could hardly push my personal buttons more!














Good compilation too - a surprising number of tunes I'd not heard before

1. Sleepwalker - Age of Aquarius (L.D remix)

2. Hedgehog Affair - Parameters

3. DJ Mayhem - Inesse 07:53

4. Luxury - Twirl

5. The Invisible Man - The Flute Tune

6. Escape - Escape (The Optical Mix)

7. Skanna - This Way

8. Xray Xperiments - Techcore


It's the work of Sam Purcell, the man behind the label Blank Mind, whose previous releases include a reissue of Earth Linkage Trip's Psychotronic EP. 

Release rationale for Lost Paradise:

With an intrigue for a particular niche of old UK hardcore which takes cues from Sheffield bleep ambience, heady rave futurism and soft, almost new age synth pads, Blank Mind presents ‘Lost Paradise: Blissed Out Hardcore 91-94’. Though the records gathered for the compilation span a short three-year period and bridge the gap between scenes, the collection manages to find a sweet spot where the influence of Warp’s Artificial Intelligence, back room chill out sonics and the nascent jungle boom meet with elements of Italian piano house and slower breakbeat cuts.

Opting to focus on atmosphere to highlight shared connections; in this case the duality of often serene and calming soundscapes with frenzied breaks and bass (see Hedgehog Affair’s ‘Parameters’ and Luxury’s ‘Twirl’ respectively); Lost Paradise is a formidable collection of tracks plucked from a thriving time for British dance music experimentation. The general themes of ascension and escapism channelled through digital samplers are also inescapably linked to a turbulent time in politics, beginning in the post-Thatcher years and culminating in the year the harshest anti-rave Criminal Justice Act came into force.

Initially building the compilation around DJ Mayhem’s track ‘Inesse’, Blank Mind label founder Sam Purcell and Amsterdam based producer Tammo Hesselink began a process of swapping favourites and deep cuts to spread across this 2x12” doublepack. The compilation avoids any obvious centrepieces through masterful sequencing, allowing for moments of refrain and tempo changes in a way that helps add to their overall vision of what this music is and can be; “We wanted to frame hardcore in a different light, looking at this idea of ecstasy through the traditional meaning of the word and exploring that symbolism”. By drawing from what some might consider the softer edges of the movement, the pair offer a look into the relevance of these tracks in the contemporary era, where the past years have seen both an explosion in popularity of old ambient/new-age music and a certified jungle revival. 

Releases March 25, 2024

Preorder it here





Tuesday, February 20, 2024

more future talkin' (Death of Rave)

 Xenogothic exhumes a panel discussion from 2014 involving Mark Fisher, Lee Gamble, Kode9 aka Steve Goodman, Alex Williams, and Lisa Blanning - and bearing the title The Death of Rave - and does a public service by getting the debate transcribed.

Go here for Matt's reasons for digging this up and reflections of how it relates to current glumness, state of clubbing and club music, as well as the transcription itself





Monday, February 12, 2024

Straight Out of Future

 An interesting article with an interesting title - Techno: Inside the Museum of the Living Dead - from interesting new-ish blog (really a SubstackInfinite Speeds, the interesting work (go check the archive of previous essays) of Vincent Jenewin. 

This essay juxtaposes the "musealization of techno" with the club-closure crisis.

I particularly enjoyed the bit about "the little "Drexciya-industrial-complex" that has popped up within the last few years". It is bizarre - yet also all too logical - how that tuff little unit has become the basis for a production line churning out PhDs and dissertations. Not that they haven't made some great records with a fascinating mythos wrapped around them.... But you don't see the same level of exegesis with the equally-rich-and-ripe text that is Marc Acardipane / PCP.  Or [insert your own example].

But  more to the point, there's plenty of fantastic electronic dance music that doesn't have any text around it as such - music that sonifies rather than signifies - tracks that simply execute the task it's been set . But for those reasons gives academia nothing to latch onto. 

Musealization seems to capture everything eventually, perhaps it's futile to resist. or pointless to complain... And of course I'm in this business myself, rather often. 

But in the conclusion to the original 1998 Energy Flash I suggest that the vitality of a genre or music movement is in inverse relation to the amount of history written about it, before wryly noting that my own tome might well be an early sign that the prime was passing - had literally become The Past now, past-ure ready for memory-mastication and digestion. For when things are most vital, things move too fast for retrospection: you're in it, living it. Under the bracket "history" could be included not just books but exhibitions, box sets, documentaries, podcasts, oral history features, and every other form of curation and annotation. 

If techno-house etc is fundamentally a bliss-machine, then...  well, this old favorite quote springs to mind:

"Criticism is always historical or prospective... the presentation of bliss is forbidden it: its preferred material is culture, which is everything in us except our present

- Roland Barthes, The Pleasure of the Text. 

This one too: 

 "Beauty will be amnesiac or it will not be at all."

~ Sylvère Lotringer, "The Dance of Signs" 


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Related themes and quandaries - ideas of futurity, lost futures, looking back to looking-forward - flicker through two new excellent bits of writing at Pitchfork...

A review by Philip Sherburne of the new Burial release "Dreamfear"/ “Boy Sent From Above” 

Gabriel Szatan s Sunday Review flashback to Jeff Mills's Live at the Liquid RoomTokyo, the legendary 1996 deejay-mix-CD 

The Burial release - it suddenly struck me that it is now 

A/ almost 20 years since Burial's recording career started 

B/ in reference to the darkcore-'93 flavour of "Dreamfear", we've probably now had at least 20 years of aunterlogikal ardkore 

(Well, the very first example dates to 1997 - Jega's "Card Hore" - but then there's a long gap, before you get Zomby's Where Were U in '92?  in 2008... I don't think there are any examples between Jega and Zomby... Then again, there was The Caretaker's Death of Rave project)

Listening to "Dreamfear", I felt the same way I did about Antidawn, that it floats in this zone where it could either seem self-parodic or consummate + inimitable, depending on how you tilted your head. More of the same, only more so.  

Here's how Sherburne negotiates similar feelings: 

One of Burial’s chief fixations has long been nostalgia for a halcyon era of renegade freedom... 

Or is it becoming a shtick? It can be hard to say. If you love Burial—particularly the maudlin turn of his work over the past decade—you’ll love the outsized pathos of “Boy Sent From Above” and the high drama of “Dreamfear.” If you feel like you’ve heard enough pasted-on vinyl crackle to last a lifetime, or aren’t particularly invested in the hagiography of rave music’s formative years, you probably won’t find anything new here.

But newness isn’t the point. Using not just the same tropes but even many of the same samples he’s used before, Burial seems to be pursuing his long-running project of world-building and self-mythology to increasingly hermetic ends, burrowing deeper into a state of déjà vu—as though if by recreating the memory from every possible angle, he could preserve it forever.

And here's the relevant bit in Szatan's incredibly in-depth, gets-into-the-nitty-gritty, nuts-and-bolts-of-turntable-artistry review of Liquid Room, where he zooms out to this question of futurity: 

"In a recent campaign for fashion house Jil Sander, Mills was asked to expound upon a theme, “mid-’90s optimism”—with the unspoken “that we’ve lost” echoing not far behind. There’s no glint of awe in our collective eye when DJing’s premier cosmologist collaborates with NASA. It’s just a thing that happens. The idea that technology could be inspiring or even fun anymore has dissipated. Accordingly, the notion that techno might be a pathway to revolution has lost resonance. So many arenas and aircraft hangars have passed in front of Mills’ eyes now that, by his own account, he sometimes zones out mid-performance and begins to dream, instead, of the stars. To some degree, he stands as an avatar for a future forestalled.

"Yet I’d encourage you to listen to the mix and consider the opposite: that this is the work of an individual who believed so unreservedly in the possibilities of what lay beyond that they gave up their best years attempting to tear open that wormhole. At the root, Mills told author Hari Kunzru in 1998, his spin on techno has always been “about making people feel they’re in a time ahead of this present time. Like if you’re hearing someone speak in a language you don’t understand, or you’re in surroundings you’ve never seen before.”

The final point Szatan makes resonates with me: that for all the talk of posthuman this and posthuman that, 'the machines are taking over" etc etc - that excitingly depersonalized discourse that many of us got caught up in the '90s - what makes the record exciting is that it's a human being grappling in hands-on real-time with (by today's standards) unwieldly mechanical technology and analogue slabs of sound-matter.  The friction and the sparks come from this battle between the will-to-flow and the resistance of  materiality. The disc captures a pre-digital moment, steampunk almost compared to what can be done today...