It’s fair to say that Djing wasn’t the first thing on my mind when 2016 began. First handling a hacked home internet connection, then the whole “Windows 10 Upgrade” thing that was going on at the time, and then the usual early-days-of-the-year cold that lingered longer than it should have done. Somewhere in amongst this, I’d agreed to DJ Reptile in February, but whilst I’d got shot of the distractions by the time of the event itself, I remember little of what happened that night. There was also the March ABBS and Aces afterparty, now a regular pairing in my DJ calendar, and both delivered without drama.
Celebrate It, Anticipate It – Yesterday’s Faded
But what I really needed to take things up a gear was a wildcard, something different. It came on a Saturday morning in March. We’d planned an evening at the Yesterday’s Shadow 80s night at The Pack and Carriage (a renamed Elixir Bar). A message came through from event organiser Demondaz. One of the DJs had woken up sick, and could I replace him? Well, I was going anyway, my DJ kit was ready to go, and it’s not like an 80s set would need much preparation. So yes, I could.
Of course, the ease at which one can play an eighties set in the scene is also a drawback. The hits are too obvious and with 5 DJs, one of the others is more likely to get some of them in before me (to this day I’ve never managed to get “I Could Be Happy” by Altered Images in first!). On this occasion, I had enough time to figure out an interesting early set which was not jam-packed with hits, winged it on the second set when the dancefloor was busy, and the whole event went quite well. I was even invited back the next month, but this focus of this event was the return of DJ Paul Sticks to the UK. When people began elbowing me in the rather limited DJ area, simply due to how crowded it was, I realised this wasn’t going to be my big night and decided to wait for the next one.
But 2016 was about to explode. Most of us will remember that year, the fateful EU Exit referendum, the election of Donald Trump and the death of more celebrities, particularly from the music business, than I can name here. But with that as a backdrop, I was about to enter my busiest period so far. The main focus was getting my first set at a major scene festival. I’d played numerous one-day events in London, but could I make the step-up to one of the long-established names? With Whitby Gothic Weekend being “too political” and Resistanz unlikely to offer anything to someone without a club association (and due to end in 2016 anyway), Infest became my target. It was the one I went to most often anyway.
I actually first tried to get on the bill in 2014, but that went nowhere. In 2015, I decided to wait until I’d got an event of my own under my belt. Tragedy >For Us< indeed happened, and one of the Infest organisers even showed up, but it was too late to get myself on the radar for that year. Still, I put everything into getting on in 2016, spoke to all the right people, made the deal and on one glorious Friday-afternoon-before-the-late-May-holiday, my participation was announced and my Facebook profile went mad. Appropriately enough, my plans for that night were a Test Dept gig at the Dome, back where it all started, with an Aces and Eights pint and pizza beforehand.
I was back at both venues in a weeks time, for the now well-established Sunday DJ epic, made moreso when one of the guest DJs failed to show. Luckily, rustling up half-an-hour of extra music each wasn’t beyond Scott and myself. I’d also done a deal for get a third EBM night going, though my love of wordplay meant it would have to be called “Tragedy >For Free<”, with the resultant no-entry-price policy. Neither me, Nathan nor Kreigslok were worried about this. And having something not-to-worry-about was something of a plus in what would become the most emotionally-charged period of Djing ever.
A bombshell dropped on the night of Tragedy >For Free<, now taking place on the Hope and Anchor on Upper Street and a convenient distance from the scene’s London heartland of ‘Gothic Valley’. I won’t discuss the details here, but it resulted in having to run the event under a cloud. And yet….it was the best attended and most lively dancefloor-wise of the three so far. A few days later and we had that EU Exit referendum, with a result that threw a spanner into the works of our country that at time of writing (two and a half years on) has only got more and more confusing.
And despite my own British nationality, it was a major hit to the Terminates Here mission. Most of the bands that make my sets distinctive come from EU nations – I have to go there to see the ones I like and potentially discover new ones. Also, much of the audience at my sets are people from elsewhere in the EU, with Germans, Italians, French and Polish particularly noticeable. And there’s not the only group who’ve made this story what it was. The LGBT+ community have often taken refuge in our scene, many in the role of muscians, DJs, promoters, fashion designers or various other roles. And it all came together a couple of nights after the vote.
If We All Stand Together – It Will Just Be The Start
Friday after the vote…I was watching footage of Underworld’s performance at Glastonbury, when a message arrives. For reasons not entirely clear, I was wanted for the Slimelight goth/80s floor the following night. Unusual, as I’ve only ever filled in gaps at Slimelight when I was Djing the gig before and hence already on-hand to play the club as well. I’d never got my foot in the door in terms of Djing the club on it’s own, and to be honest, never fancied the concept of a weekly set in the same place. I’d get stuck in a loop.
I eventually put the pieces together. The London scene have a float on the Pride March each year, which includes an on-board DJ. It’s a collective that carries on hours after the march itself. They’d arranged to have an afterparty at Slimelight, but with the “daytime DJs” having been on the go for hours by then, they needed an allied DJ who’d be fresh for the late night session. In I stepped.
The opening set was OK, if a little empty. However, by the time of the second set, the room was rammed solid. With my laptop playing up, it was time to pull out the tablet. And somehow sensing the mood of the night, it was time to dig out the protest tunes. Pop Will Eat Itself, New Model Army, Sex Pistols and Sham 69 in a row. Despite being a one-off guest, I wasn’t beyond a few requests. Someone asked me to play something “camp” (like Cyndi Lauper or Elton John, he said). We compromised on “A Little Respect” by Erasure, the floor never stopped moving, and it’s safe to say I left that DJ booth feeling more emotion than at any point previously.
Djing continued for the next few months with some more low-key action. I’d agreed with Scott and the Aces and Eights management to run a ‘standalone’ version of the open request list event. We discovered late in the day that this coincided with the Euro 2016 final. None of us are renowned for sports-related events, but we turned our DJ event into a kind of warm-up, with our trademark ‘tag-team’ at half-time. I stuck around until the end, even playing a Moonspell tune to mark Portugal’s less-than-thrilling victory, but this one seemed a little less special that those that came before.
Two consecutive Yesterday’s Shadow events saw me through the usual “summer slump”. The July event was actually quite lively, though it emptied out every time there was a communal cigarette break (why are people still smoking anyway?). August was a little quieter, but since I seldom played any sets at all in that particular month in recent years, I wasn’t really surprised. Because this was the month where people were away at festivals. As I would be in a few weeks time. And this time I was bringing my DJ kit. It was time for Infest.
Illuminate Me – Make Me Complete
As a kind of celebratory action, I purchased first-class train tickets to Bradford. Perhaps it was indicative of the fact that it was a less-than-popular August Bank Holiday destination, but they weren’t actually that much more expensive. I got my AAA pass and wore it with pride. I had made it. But there was still work to do. Friday night could be enjoyed, with my first chances to see Dead When I Found Her and Pop Will Eat Itself. My moment was due on Saturday in the Escape Bar. I’d admit there was stress in the hours leading up to my set, though I still got my hour with Velvet Acid Christ before I focused on the task at hand. The headliner that night were Atari Teenage Riot, who I never liked anyway, but at least I had plausible excuse to not watch them!
Grabbed my kit from the hotel, and also located my co-DJ for the evening, DJ Ban. He was on first, and the space issues (always an issue) meant I had to play my first two tracks off tablet whilst we swapped laptops. He’d left me on The Damned, so I went into Star Industry, from there to Diary of Dreams and I was already into my A-material. No obscure educational tricks tonight, only the best would do. From darkwave, to EBM, to industrial, to post-punk, to eighties. Only downside was the soundsystem wasn’t as loud as I would have liked, but I’ll take that as a compliment.
My last track should have been Apop’s “Love Never Dies Pt 1”, the original version with the illicit Carmina Burana sample included. But as it faded out, I realise no-one was stopping me and put on one more – VNV Nation’s “Nova”. I had only ever played this song as the last track of the night, a rule I wasn’t about to break. I knew how popular they were amongst the Infest crowd. What I didn’t expect was everyone to launch into a communal sing-a-long and dance (I christened it the “Nova-Cokey”), even dragging in me and also the security guard who had only come to close the room down! Some moments stick with you forever – had this set been the early slot, or even a band-support on the main floor (the kind of set I was originally thinking I might have got), this wouldn’t have happened. But it happened. And that’s what matters.
The Sunday of the festival could then be a rest day, though Claus Larsen had other ideas and threw everything he had into the long-awaited Leæther Strip set and brought the rest of Infest along for the ride in the process. There was a distinct celebratory air about that Sunday, and even the journey back to London. The feeling carried right through to the next weekend, with the ABBS-and-open-request-list double-header. Unusually, there were some technical issues with the Aces PA this time, but luckily their Friday night resident DJ was on hand to assist, so it only hit the earliest part of the event.
Like An Endless Seeming Circle, Around I Go
This pairing took me to the tantalising count of 99 “official” DJ sets – I didn’t count pre-recorded sets, the kit-testing session or the first (Un)Common People by this point. Where would the 100th be? I first had the distraction of doing something I never otherwise do (going on holiday), not the best plan given how poorly I adapt to overseas travel. A couple of Autumn sets were arranged, though, and my 100th DJ appearance came at Bleak’s album launch on Halloween. Die Kur were there too, and I also discovered Francesco Fonte’s project ‘DJ Translight’ (actually a live improv affair). It seemed right to mark this landmark with a number of the people who’d helped me get this far.
Ad:Rem 2016 came a week later. Once again, a host of obscure European bands were brought in to play, whilst two UK projects opened up. One was Grimbergen, Nathan’s darkambient project (it’s grim ‘oop North), the other the antagonising power electronics affair S.T.A.B. I was the sole support DJ this time, with Danny back from Belgium to handle the afterparty, but my first job was to get my unwanted bass guitar amp from East London to Elektrowerkz (my contribution to the backline). It was something I purchased as a folly several year ago, pointless in the era of virtual amps and small flats, and was happy to donate it to the cause. Indeed, I have no idea what happened to it after that.
The actual event was a stressful affair, technically complex with every band having a unique configuration to soundcheck. I just stayed focused on my role as support DJ, happy to develop a bespoke lead-in set for every band on the bill – with everything from noise to EBM to martial industrial, I had my hands full with that. Danny took over when it came to the afterparty, but both he and a third DJ from one of the bands (who never got to play!) had to leave to catch early flights and Eurostar trains, and I had the 5am slot on the industek floor to handle myself.
It was time to hit the rhythmic noise again. A poster around the venue actually advertised I’d be playing the style, and after a couple of lead-in tunes, I got a group dancing to the likes of Xotox, Terrorfakt and Converter. Someone actually came up to me expressing the wish that the club would play the style more often. But whatever happened on that front, I wasn’t involved. This actually turned out to be my last set at Elektrowerkz – Slimelight or otherwise.
I recognise their significance of the venue as far as the London scene goes. I also understand that as the last remaining weekly scene event in the UK, they have to run it as a business rather than a hobby. But deep down, one remembers those who went out of their way to help, and from my perspective, there were never any favours coming from this particular corner of the scene. They occasionally made use of my services when they were needed and I happened to be on hand, and I co-operated simply to ensure I got some action from one of the few internationally-recognised UK venues on my DJ history. But that was the limit of the relationship. If you’re reading this expecting to find all the history and intrigue surrounding this venue, ask someone else. It’s not my story to tell.
You Want It Darker – We Kill The Flame
My own Djing for the year was not yet complete. The Christmas ABBS and Open Request list pairing included a number of tributes to the too-many musicians who’d died during 2016. Bowie and Cohen tributes was notable, as were those to a fallen Eagle and a Hoople drummer, but I felt it was my place to mark lost members of less-known bands like The Weathermen and Vision Talk also.
The Open Request list even carried on this theme, though there was a less-than-friendly encounter during this one. A woman feeling slighted that we didn’t have her request sent in her aggressive boyfriend to have a go at us. It was eventually quelled but it’s the kind of nasty encounter we have to deal with once in a while.
There was only the Yesterday’s Shadow “this isn’t a Christmas party” to play after this. I didn’t even think about bringing my laptop, the tablet would do, and it was a nice way to see out the year, especially when I got in childhood favourite “Our House” (Madness). Twenty sets played, as many as 2012, but higher-profile ones in most cases. If the world was indeed sliding into terminal decline at this point, I was at least ensuring the process of descent had a fuckin’ good soundtrack.