2013 initially looked like it was going to offer more of the same. Things actually got off to a bright enough start. First a trip back to the Intrepid Fox to play for a Die Kur, MaxDmyz and Drilling Spree lineup – thankfully with considerably more polite venue staff than last time. Three DJs meant there wasn’t actually much to play, even if we were able to squeeze in a brief afterparty this time, but what was played fitted the spirit of the night and it was a nice low-pressure way of kicking off the year’s DJ action.
I Relied Upon You To Break The Silence
February saw an unprecedented four sets, including two in one night (the only time I’ve done this with a tube ride in between). First a birthday party at the Elixir Bar, where mittelalter and symphonic metal were the order of the day, and then back for a late pair of sets at Neo-Noir. And it was here that I got the first clue that my credit might be running out. The first set (synthpop and EBM) suffered from a ground loop whenever I mixed something (the spilled drink in the DJ booth might be an explanation), the second, which was meant to be a full-on 90s-style industrial dance set, was cut short by the venue staff. No warning, no “10 minutes left”, they just stopped the music mid-song, as “there weren’t enough people in the venue”.
A private party booking in South London saw a near-continuous 6 hour set from me (2 short breaks for the celebratory moments), and then at the other end of the spectrum, a tightly-packed 40 minutes of eighties hits at Living On Video. Technically, it was one of the most satisfying sets I’d ever played – a lot of DJs in this genre don’t bother with or can’t do precise mixing – even though modern laptops make it much easier than it once was. The software might micro-manage the tempo, but you still need to know the songs well enough to know which ones go well together, cue them right and figure out the best crossfade points, and on this occasion I nailed it. Laptops and tablet didn’t destroy the art of Djing, it just raised the bar.
But things were starting to go sour. I’d long been talking to promoter Kirlian Blue about running a minimal synth/old-school EBM type event – it was a style of music I wish I could have played more of, but my current sets wouldn’t allow it. The working title of this event was ‘Blind Youth’ – both an old-school Human League classic and a swipe at a younger generation who seemingly didn’t know where electronic music came from prior to the EDM boom of the time. This eventually morphed in ‘Reproduction’, we bagged a floor of Elektrowerkz and the band Futureperfect were booked to play. It was an event I really though London needed – with the tastemakers still publicly masturbating over dubstep, it would be a sharp reminder of what electronic music could be if it had space to breathe.
Late March snow put paid to the band on the morning of the event, and also scared off plenty of potential punters (even if nothing much came of it in London). It would have made sense to have run what was left of the event as another floor of Slimelight, but complicated scene politics put paid to that. Then was the issue of DJs. No issue with any of the individuals, but there were simply too many of us! Eight or nine, the exact number escape me, but there just wasn’t enough set time to go round. By the time I played my set, there were five people left on the dancefloor. About fifteen minutes after I’d finished, they closed the event early because it was a ‘waste of electricity’. And that was the end of that.
And You Think About The Past Time, When You Were Still Loved
Neo-Noir was also on it’s way out. The poorly attended February event and the loss of enthusiasm from some of the organisers meant that the April event would be the last. As a club night, this one actually went quite well once we got a malfunctioning sound system (another one?) going. By the time of the final sets, we had decided “what music policy?” and were freewheeling across the genres, a last act of defiance and a final salute for an event that remains the nearest I ever had to a club residency.
And so began the DJ desert of summer 2013. With most of the promoters I’d worked with in recent times either moved on to other things or offering their sets to others, I suddenly found myself surplus to requirements in the London scene. Only a couple of my longest-established contacts were still able to offer me something. The Renaissance festival at grown into a 12-hour epic, now with over 20 bands and 6 DJs. As a live event, it was a mammoth achievement, never sitting still for long and barely scraping in headliner Die Kur before the time was up.
However, my focus that day was as ‘DJ co-ordinator’, making sure all the changes in the booth happened in a timely manner. My own set didn’t feature until the very end – once again, no-one else felt esoteric enough to DJ support Jordan Reyne’s slot! In the small amount of DJ time allotted to me (3 band supports and a ‘go home’ song) I did manage to get in bands as diverse AC/DC, Death In June and ABBA without any of them being “out of place”, but I wasn’t going to make any lasting impressions on anyone on this day.
The other slot was two months later back at the ABBS. I’d skipped the spring event in order to sell CDs rather than play them, but now I really needed any DJ action at all to keep the flame alive. My opening salvo was closer to ambient house and IDM than anything scene oriented, in my continuing attempt to find new ways of handling the Sunday Morning Set. The later set featured a track called “World Alert” by my own project Deja Vu II, something I’d tinkered with in the Djing lay-off. The track in question appeared a few more times and I even performed it live once (more on that in 2014) but it’s hardly a spoiler to say it never really went anywhere.
It’s Been A While Since You Pulled The Plug On Me – I Tried To Keep It Together
After this, things really went quiet. I had scrabbled around and sorted myself a couple of band support slots for October (co-incidentally either side of the next ABBS), but most of my messages to people in positions of influence went ignored. But I wasn’t willing wait that long to play again. . I’ve never worked out why patience is a virtue – what is so virtuous about sitting around waiting for other people to sort your life out for you? Get up and get on with it – now THAT’S a virtue.
So that’s what I did. I tried to make things happen. At the time I had stashed a few hundred quid due to my heavily-subsidised social life earlier in the year and throughout 2012, so I first looked into pay-to-play, common in the USA and some other countries. But I tested the water, realised quickly it was a bad move on several levels and abandoned the idea. Friends talk other friends out of bad things, but only true friends don’t think worse of them for having though of the idea first. I also looked down other avenues, finding myself a booking agent and even overseas slots, but drew a blank at every turn. So, if I couldn’t make my musical statement in the confines of someone else’s event, I would have to do it at one of my own. Only problem, I had no idea how.
It was a couple of nights after the July ABBS. I’d downed a few too many beers, and decided to hit Google looking for an answer. First thing I found was a site called “Digital DJ Tips”. The technical advice was useless to me – the genres I played weren’t even acknowledged to exist, but they had a very useful, if somewhat US-centric, series of articles on running your own DJ event. I’d already broken one rule – putting on an event for the purpose of giving myself somewhere to play. So I was going to have to follow all the others to compensate.
Firstly, I needed a selling point. There wasn’t space in the London scene for another regular club night, the failure of some of the events earlier in the year put paid to that idea. So instead I hit upon the idea of ‘Irregular Events’ (IRREV for short) – one-off events, each with a different theme. The theme wouldn’t be decided until I knew who was Djing. A quick poll on Facebook yielded five names – I’d had too much trouble with crowded DJ lineups recently, so two were declined – one for stylistic incompatibility with the others (yep, he wanted to do dubstep), the other because of a residency at an existing scene night. Both took it with good grace, which was one of the more welcome lessons learned – you don’t have to put on everyone who asks. Another DJ pulled out later, but agreed to help with the promotion.
This left me with DJ Captain Howard (from Non-Bio) and DJ traumahound (of A Model of Control, also Djed Infest a few times). The line-up felt right. The name BYTE BACK was dreamt up whilst walking to the station one day, with a remit to revive tunes that were popular in the alternative electronic scene until recently, but had since been pushed aside in favour of other things. I tried to design a flyer using a retro-video-game font, but soon realised I had zero graphic design ability (five years on and I’m no better, it just ain’t my thing). In a scene full of artistic people, we would look amateurish if we couldn’t get this right. After breaking down in front of my PC trying to get text to line up, I called upon Howard’s assistance, who’s actually quite good at such things, and we got something distinctive.
Around this time, I also had to find a venue. I didn’t have any leads, so I had to start from scratch. I found a service (now seemingly gone) that would email multiple London venues and interested parties would write back. The site was clunky as hell, but I sent off my application anyway, and got a stackload of emails over the next few days. Most declined as they weren’t licensed to hold publicly-promoted events (a technically that annoys me to this day), but I got half a dozen maybes, eventually whittled down to Dirty Dicks on Bishopsgate. The hire fee was over my estimated budget, but I was so desperate to make this happen that I paid up anyway.
The promotion got underway, but I simply didn’t sense any interest. Too many “I’d love to but it clashes with —-”. I knew I was up against Inferno at the Electric Ballroom, but it turns out two other vaguely-industrial events were going on that night, all with bigger name DJs that I had – it also meant that many of my potential avenues of help were already committed to help the competition. At my wits end, with the FB attending figure in single figures with a few days to do, I posted a cry for help on Facebook. I got nothing directly but encouraging words directly, but it’s only looking back years later that I realised that something must have happened in the background. Someone must have rallied some friends or done something similar, because plenty of people showed. I had no idea who most of them were, but it didn’t matter. To whoever did this, I’m eternally grateful.
Not knowing about this at the time, of course, I was stressed as hell the night before. I worked out two music policies on my laptop, depending on whether I was playing to scene people or drunken city workers (cheesy 90s dance was my backup plan – and I still ended up playing Born Slippy.NUXX!). I didn’t get to bed until 1:30am, and couldn’t sleep when I did. This meant I slept through my alarm the next day, was late for work and was lagging behind the whole day. At 5:30pm, I went into Wetherspoons and ordered a gourmet burger. For good luck, you see? I ate one on the day each of my last three relationships truly began. I ate one on the day of the interview for the job I have to this day (remember the 2009 chapter?). If I was a general, I’d eat one before going into battle. If I was a deity, I’d eat one before creating a universe. I needed every plus I could get.
Anyway, enough people showed for opening to ensure we weren’t playing to an empty room. I deliberately played the first and last sets to leave the middle free to play the host, avoiding the temptation to talk to friends only and actually welcome the new people to my event. Howard and Adam had this covered perfectly, including a comical moment where a drunken group nearly fell over trying to dance to FLA. Howard had also prepped some retro-video game graphics to play on the screens in the venue. We had our own event, our own brand.
The last hour, and I let rip with Cubanate’s “Oxyacetylene”, followed by Funker Vogt’s “Gunman”. Actually playing my DJ set was something of an afterthought but I wasn’t going to screw it up now I was on. Eventually I had to calm things down as people went off to catch last tubes and suchlike, but important thing was, we’d pulled it off. Adopting a “pay what you want” policy – I didn’t come close to clawing back the hire fee, but as a Terminates Here loss leader, it was the best I could have hoped for.
And in case you think I spent too long writing about one event, well, I hope I’ve made it clear what made this one special. To think, if one of my earlier messages out to a promoter got me something around this time, this event most likely would never have happened. But it turns out that whilst some more assistance from those who could have helped but ignored me would have indeed been useful, ultimately I didn’t need them then, and I don’t now. But if you’ve actually read this far, dear reader, it means you’re not one of them.
The Utopia You Were Promised Has Been Destroyed
Anyway, I’d kept myself on the radar long enough to make it through to a trio of sets in a single week. There was a Saturday night band support at Elektrowerkz, featuring Paresis, Machine Rox and (headlining) a brief return for Global Noise Attack. No Slimelight overtime was possible, even though I tried. The October ABBS was the next day. There was a ‘standard issue’ gothic rock set here, but I also decided to bring the classic rock along and played a set consisting of all the bands that were too folky, proggy or psych-e to feature in a club hours set.
And then a gig on the Leytonstone High Road. History of Guns were also making a one-off comeback and I’d arrange to support this one too as part of a drunken conversation with Anton from Bleak back in the summer. The show itself was something of a reunion of at least some of the Wasp Factory/Line Out collective who made their mark on the UK scene back in the 00s, and I ever squeezed some of the bands into my DJ set, though once again an intermittent power supply kept disrupting proceedings. According to a live music expert friend of mine, PA maintenance is the first corner to get cut when venue budgets are squeezed. And it as we emerged from years of recession, the long-term price of this decision was becoming clear.
My own financial hit came the next day. A backdated electricity bill put me nearly £500 down almost immediately (yes, I protested, no I failed). That was the money for the next Irregular Event gone. If I wanted to get one more into 2013, I’d need to find a venue that would let me use one of its floors for free or near enough. I eventually found Ryan’s Bar in Stoke Newington had a cancellation and could host my event in November. Which gave me 9 days notice. I needed two DJs I knew well and a concept – Scott was an obvious choice, Shadowchaser also came on board, and we devised a 90s tribute night called ‘(Un)Common People’, my thinking being that as 80s tributes nights had been around for ages, moving one decade on would give us something fresh.
There wasn’t time for much promotion – Scott found an event to flier and I pushed it online. And on the night itself? Once you discount DJs, partners and people-wandering-from-the-upstairs-bar, we had an attendance of one. 1 person. Nothing ventured, nothing gained I guess, but that’s exactly what I gained – Nothing! The real pity was that I actually did some of my best ever beatmixing that night, the 90s dance really adapting to my style (futurepop got most of it’s ideas from there after all). But in the desperation, I also forgot to eat dinner, drank too much, and ended the night in a puddle of my own vomit. There, I said it.
I Wake Up In The Dark, There’s No Tomorrow
The next ABBS was in December, sandwiched in between a Claus Larsen double header (Leæther Strip and Klutæ in Elektrowerkz) the night before and a train to Cardiff immediately after (two day meeting starting on Monday morning). Despite the time pressures, there was no way I was missing the last solid DJ booking left open to me, and Scott and I duly put in three hours worth of music each. Each of us thought the other was doing the trad-goth, no-one did it in the end and quite frankly, no-one missed it.
It was on the way to Cardiff that I looked back over the list of ‘bands I wanted to play in a DJ set’ at some point. It had been falling in size since it started in 2011, but there were still over 100 left, and in all genres. My mission statement to cover all music that I thought was worth the airtime was still far from complete.
And this left me with one set left to play. Reptile on New Years Eve. I went there with no DJ booking lined up for 2014 at all. So whilst others were only thinking of celebration, I was trying to drum up some business. This action might have seemed out of place given the night, but it actually had some success in the end, even if no deals were done there and then. As for my Djing, I knew what my remit was, issued two sets of stuff-I-knew-would-work, one in each year, and was getting cued up for my third set when the power died. The event came to a premature end and I walked out into 2014 not knowing what would follow next.