The early days of 2014 saw a couple of the seeds I planted on New Years Eve began to bring forth promise. First was a birthday party, back at the Elixir Bar and with a simple classic rock remit. I also found myself back in the role of DJ co-ordinator and found myself with two half-hour sets at either end of the night. The first half-hour was played to a near empty room, and nine of those minutes were eaten up with the no-one-else-would-play-it request “Freebird”.
Thankfully, the joker dealt to me on NYE was an ace this time. Itching to get back on before everyone disappeared, one of the DJs failed to show (he did my a favour so will remain nameless). I got extended play and hence dropped in the cheesy anthem rock, with everyone singing over the PA once more. It was like Nightrain all over again. Apart from the Hawaiian shirt dress code. I’ve still got mine. Never found another use for it, really.
There was my third and final set at the Intrepid Fox with Die Kur, MaxDmyz and co, which went without a hitch this time, even if the writing was on the wall for the venue, what with Crossrail redevelopments and the like. The Fox briefly moved to the complex on the Archway Triangle, which itself became something of a scene focus point for a few years, but the pub itself didn’t last and hasn’t been heard from since – another scene name was lost in the name of “development”.
You Blame Yourself For Wanting More
The most interesting set in the early part of the year wasn’t in London at all, though. My conversations on NYE night had opened up one particularly interesting opportunity – the Asylum Club in Chelmsford were interested in putting me on one Friday night. It was only a short train ride from my East London residence, so a deal was quickly put in place and my first set outside the capital occurred in the city where I had my first full-time permanent job. On arrival, discovered my original office was in the process of being demolished, never liked the place anyway so I shed no tears.
A couple of bands (Faceless Dolls and Swivel Man) were booked. I’d originally agreed to play after they were done, but I quickly agreed to play short sets before and between them also – having come this far, I was going to play every minute I could. So I got in short sets hovering between grunge, shoegaze and experimental rock (best I could do with the clues soundcheck offered) and then two lengthy afterparty sets, one in the upstairs ‘live’ room and a second in the downstairs bar, not stopping to the early hours of the morning. My take from the night didn’t even cover my hotel costs (DJ Terminates Here has always worked at a net loss), but I didn’t care. I’d pushed the boat out and not sunk!
Another lengthy set followed at the March ABBS with Scott – this set out of all of them wasn’t particularly competitive and many of the guest DJs we’d put on were now focusing on other things (acting, tech writing, live bands, etc). But once again, I had the feeling that once it was over, I didn’t want to stop. But stop I had to. No bookings were forthcoming. But thinking back to last year, I realised destiny could still be in my own hands.
With The Wrong Tune Playing ‘till it Sounded Right
Initially I wanted to re-run my 1990s event, but not-enough-available-DJs prevented that taking place immediately. I did establish that the Elixir Bar would let me put on free entry nights on the occasions they weren’t booked for anything else. With only Scott showing any interest in working with me at the time, we dreamt up an open-genre event called ‘Vs’, which soon evolved into a kind of ‘the audience decides the music policy’ event. We held it on Good Friday, clear of obvious scene activity from others. Though obviously many people would be away, it was still the best option open to us.
I wouldn’t say the place was packed, but it was a moderately successful event. The open request concept eventually took off, even scoring a free beer for playing AC/DC, thanks to some old men who’d wandered in expecting nothing more than a quiet pint. It was also the point where I met a couple of DJs from ‘Oop North’. DJ Electric Dream is someone I’ve yet to play an event with, but I’m sure it’d work if it ever happened. DJ Nathan Nothing, however, would go on to play a role in the later chapters.
The next event I put on was back at Dirty Dicks – I’d originally planned to use a club in Shoreditch but the sulky management and high deposit demanded just presented me with a sign pointing back towards Bishopsgate. X-KiN were ready for another video launch, and a venue with both a PA and screens was required. On this occasion, I had the benefit of X-KiN’s front man Karl to design a flier, something he was much better talented at that me. However, as it was also his leaving the UK party, I also had to accept his choice of DJs.
At least Howard was back, and DJ Jester (ex-Inferno, ex-Neo Noir, now Slimelight) came along and did his thing without fuss. The fourth DJ, well, I won’t name him here as he’s got too many friends in high places, but I only remember him kicking up a lot of fuss about the substandard equipment (including my own DJ laptop) – I was close to kicking him out, but the repercussions of such an act could have been severe at a time where he was several step further up the scene establishment than I was. However, it reinforced my belief that my own events should focus on up-and-coming DJs, one used to working with less-than-the-best. Because people like me can’t afford the best. And don’t need it anyway.
This event was still the best attended of my ‘Irregular Events’ so far, but it felt a little hollow as it’s the one over which I had the least creative control, as if X-KiN had outsourced their party organisation to me rather than serve as something I’d dreamt up myself. Still, there was time to think of my next move. The June ABBS gave me a two low-pressure hours of Djing – though in attempt to distinguish this set from the others I was playing at the time, I ended up inserted things as obscure as Karjalan Sissit, Monte Cazazza and Amon Amarth into my playlist. But Summer 2014 was turning ugly.
And Then Dance and Drink and Screw, Because There’s Nothing Else To Do
It was a warm and muggy summer, with the atmosphere in the scene as thick as the air outside. I was never directly involved in the various occurrences, but that was in fact part the problem. There is a Diary of Dreams song with a lyrics that say “You cannot help where your help is not wanted”. And that’s pretty much were I stood at the time.
I thought I might try to drum up some international interest in my Djing at Wave-Gotik-Treffen, but in a city full of scene people from across Europe, it was impossible to find the promoters, shot-callers and other people of influence, especially when English was the second-at-best language to use (anyone thinking I should have become fluent in multiple European languages, easier said than done and scarcely the best use of time on a return-on-investment basis). It later became clear that all the people I needed to speaking to were in the sealed-off worlds of VIP lounges, places where my regular wristband didn’t grant admittance.
On my return, I faced a multitude of domestic breakages, eating up the money I didn’t have. And then the Reptile club, location of some of my most memorable sets, were booted out of their original venue. This story at least had a happy ending – they ended up in Nightclub Kolis in North London, a better location for most, a friendly and receptive management and a more suitable facility all round, the only downside being they couldn’t host NYE there any more. But for the summer at least, their future was uncertain.
In all the confusion, I managed to bag the Elixir Bar one more time to re-run my “(Un)Common People” night with budget only for a few monochrome fliers. Scott was back on board as DJ, and as Shadowchaser was unavailable, we brought in Ross Liddle as our third and we were on. It was another moderately successful night, unsure of the correct balance between ‘dance’, ‘rock’ and ‘pop’ but covering all bases in the end. And then for the next few months, the story ceases to be mine to tell.
Alt-Fest collapsed amidst acrimony, the initial sympathies for the organisers evaporating once the true scale of the fuck-up became clear. Some hastily thrown together substitute events, a few one-off DJ nights and then an Infest hit by three line-up changes. And I was just a punter. I’d tried to get my foot in the door at various points, but no, it wasn’t my moment to shine. At this point, I was travelling to work starting into my DJ notebook, thinking “What action could I take right now to improve my booking rate?”. I’d exhausted my own idea pool, pulled in all the favours I could, even resorted to Any Question Answered (AQA) at one point, and had drawn a blank.
And the solution? When you can’t think of anything, try everything.
I Have Roads to Walk, I Have Mountains to Climb
Firstly, I though the ‘open request list’ idea had legs, even if it needed two DJs who knew each others styles well enough to divide up the tunes into manageable chunks in similar styles. Secondly, I knew the ABBS was my one remaining sure-fire booking and that many people stuck around hours afterwards in nearby pubs, especially Aces and Eights on the other side of the crossroads. And I knew they had an upstairs DJ booth used on some nights. Could I put all these pieces together.
Yes, I could. The Aces and Eights management agreed to trial the idea of occasional Sunday night DJs, with the proviso of nothing too noisy being played – something we defined as ‘no extreme metal, no harsh noise, no dubstep’ (we’ve broken one of these once, another a couple of times, and another one never – can you work out which?). We still had the issue of the ABBS itself before, which Scott and I decided to play on our own, meaning we had 3 hours of Djing under our belts before we’d even opened up the floor for requests.
We had some initial issues getting set up, a lesson we later learned involved getting a guest DJ to do the last hour of the ABBS whilst we got a head-start over the road. As it was, I got in a couple of warm-up tunes whilst I got used to the PA, before the requests landed. There then followed the process of taking the disparate collection of tracks asked for, working out which one I had, which one’s Scott was likely to have (between us we had most of them), working out which ones would mix well together and trying to make a DJ set from crowdsourced suggestions that was an improvement on a jukebox or iPod on random.
There was even the continuation of our habit of tag-teaming (alternating tracks each) the final phase of the night. We’d had some practice back in April, but now we’d made the format work on all levels. It’s almost as though I’d found the format to which my DJ skills were best suited. A lot of DJs I’ve spoken to simply shuddered at the idea of turning up with blank pieces of paper that could take you in any direction. But my background musical knowledge allowed me to solve that puzzle on-the-fly. To this day it’s my favourite Djing format to actually play.
Hand Me a Line – Really Hand Me a Line
This short burst of DJ activity continued for a few weeks. There was a downstairs Elektrowerkz slot supporting the Dutch industrial metal band Deadcell, though it was more apparent than ever that the Slimelight DJs really didn’t want me to play any overtime in ‘their’ bit of the night. There was also a totally unplanned set a few weeks later at the Black Heart in Camden. It was an open mic/jam session event, and I’d turned up with my laptop planning to give my Deja Vu 2 tracks an airing.
This indeed happened, with my anti-dubstep anthem “Invasive Species” getting the best response. But I also had a tablet by now and hence pulled double-duty but piecing together the various live contributions (experimental projects, performance poets, live covers) with various pieces of music played through CrossDJ (which I still believe is the best Android-based DJ software). I then played a half-hour afterparty and then packed up my things contented with progress in multiple areas. But once again, it was a false dawn.
Deja Vu 2 never progressed further – I hit a brick wall with creativity soon after. What I most wanted to do was get another Irregular Event going. The DJ Nathan Nothing had recently moved to London, and we’d spoken about getting an old-school EBM night started. I’d always had a thing for the style, more so since my return to Wave-Gotik-Treffen in 2013. I didn’t make it my first Irregular Event as I didn’t want to risk anything too specialist until I knew what I was doing – also with London in the throes of the dubstep fad at the time, it’s not a concept that would have been well-received in late 2013. But despite some increased interest in the concept, trying to find an available venue suddenly became impossible.
I thought I had it at one point, only to find I’d booked an event clashing with ‘Beat:Cancer’ at Elektrowerkz – no chance against that, but more upsetting was that I didn’t even know the event was taking place until someone pointed it out. Had I seriously fallen out of the loop to that extent? I got various leads on possible venues, but e-mails weren’t replied to, even with the offer of money. Because that’s what venue mangers like, right? I also tried to find myself a booking agent, again with the promise of a cut of my take, but the genres I played seemed to exist in a black hole as far as anyone on the dance scene was concerned. Nobody that could of helped did, and I had nothing I could offer to incentivise them with anyway. Unlike some, I’ve given up on the notion that the majority of human beings will do something for another without something in it for them.
Some Doors are Better Left Unopened
So I had to hold out until the next ABBS. Even here, my Djing seemed fated, the door to the room with the PA kit was locked with the keys nowhere to be found in the venue. In the end, the handyman had to unscrew the lock for us to gain access, and we were an hour into the event by then – notably when the management of the Dome changed, one of their first acts of note was installed combination locks instead. At least we were back at Aces afterwards, with a welcome set of requests for various German bands that I seldom get to play elsewhere.
The Renaissance festival moved to Elektrowerkz in 2014 and took place six days later. Once again, six DJs and countless live acts were booked across the day-long duration. With an additional second stage improvised in the back bar, it also meant a whole lot more Djing to do than the previous year. Starting at noon, I was playing classical, film score and darkambient music to whoever happened to be in the room at the time. Some of the other DJs (Scott, Vade Retro and Jester) also took the chance to play extra sets – the CD DJs really missed out on this chance. Everyone got a go on the main floor, too – and I also took a chance for 45 minutes on the goth/80s floor of Slimelight later on, my energy finally failing at around 1:30am, thirteen hours after my first set of the day.
There was meant to be one final set at Reptile, supporting the Welsh band ‘Protafield’ (aka Jayce Lewis’ project), but a police cordon outside the venue on the night put paid to that. Perhaps not in the best state of mind, I went on AQA once more in desperation to try and find an alternate venue, a futile mission, with everyone else heading for home or Slimelight, I was left standing in Archway wondering why I thought, even briefly, that I could be the saviour of the second biggest non-event of the year (Alt-Fest was the biggest). All that I remember afterwards was downing a six-pack of Lech lager back home.
But in many respects, it may have been a blessing in disguise. I was not in a happy place emotionally for much of 2014, though this was largely due high-pressure period in the day job (a massive story in it’s own right), which left few escapes. I was sleeping poorly, drinking too much and generally just zoning through life. Had I played Reptile that night in December, I most likely would have gone through the motions, such was my state of mind.
A few days later and stress-related illness put me out of action for the rest of the year. And it seems a pity to end like that when in actual fact, 2014’s Djing adventure really saw me take fate into my own hands in terms of defining my destiny. But there’s a difference between “making your own luck” and “bashing fate’s head against a wall to force things to happen that otherwise wouldn’t”, and this year just felt out of balance in every sense.