OK, so, how exactly do I do this without sounding like a complete idiot? It's a bit of a tough one, to be honest. Yeah, I got on a plane, yeah, the gig was amazing, yeah, got paid loads etc. etc. etc. So let's begin like this: Even after a fair few years I still find myself incredibly excited about house and techno music, nightclubs, DJs, going out, meeting new people, seeing new places, dancing (badly) and the "scene" in general, so I truly hope that comes across in this article...
My aim with this (master) piece (that was a joke by the way!) is to tell you my point of view, my opinion and my thoughts on three gigs I did recently. Obviously I'll be mentioning myself a lot, and my favourite records and records I made or remixed, or maybe I'll bring up where I regularly play or labels I work with. I'll be doing this mainly because, well... I'm me! Who the hell else am I supposed to talk about? So if you don't want to know/don't care about my opinion on something (can't really blame you if you don't, to be honest), now would be a good time to stop reading.
What I won't be doing is whining about the lack of decent sandwiches in the business class lounge at Schiphol, I won't be describing a full dance floor as "a group of people immersed in a parallel universe sharing the same pulsing heartbeat of bass" or some pretentious shit like that (sorry RA writers one and all!) and I definitely won't be showing pictures of what I ate. What I will be doing is probably talking a fair bit about records. I like records. It's liking records that started this whole thing anyway. That, and having fun. So, records and having fun mainly. And some other random rubbish too. But primarily records and fun.
Some of you will like it, some of you won't. Some of you will realize when I'm joking, some of you won't. But hey...that's life. If you like it, that's great. If you don't, build a bridge and get over it. It's only house music.
The finest club in all of Valencia.
What can I say about this lovely club that lies about a 20 minute drive just outside of the beautiful city of Valencia? I've played here once before, and it was definitely one of the best gigs I've ever done, so to say I am excited to return is an understatement.
The night before, though, I returned to the Motherland and played a gig in London at Cargo. The schedule of the flights meant that I had to leave Cargo as it closed and proceed directly to the airport. On arriving at British Airways T5 I immediately strode through the fast track lane, popped into the business class lounge and then ate an excruciatingly overpriced full English breakfast at the Gordon Ramsay restaurant, where I bumped into [insert A-list DJ name here]. For pictures of the bacon and eggs, please check out my twitter feed. Wait. That's actually not what happened at all.
I actually left Cargo, hopped into a cab, hotfooted it down to Gatwick and checked into my Easyjet flight, as they had the best flight times to Valencia. It was a direct flight, and that means I got to spend the whole day in sunny Valencia and not connecting via somewhere else. I do know a lot of DJs that would have taken the first option, just for the air miles and bragging rights of "I don't do budget airlines." I guess I'm just not one of those DJs.
That said, I DID get an extremely overpriced English breakfast at Cafe Rouge (disgusting!—no pictures) and I did insist on Speedy Boarding. Or as I like to call it, Ghetto Business Class. I wasn't going to be getting a lot of sleep this weekend, so it was a lot easier to get 2 hours sleep slowly drooling down a window, than it is in the last (middle) seat of the plane, between two screaming five year olds.
On leaving the airport in Valencia I am greeted by the smiling face of the promoter, Javier, who tells me it's Las Fallas week in Valencia. This is basically some crazy tradition where there are fireworks going off night and day constantly for an entire week. At one point I even see a four year old girl being given a lit firecracker by her proud mother!
One of the things that I really love about doing what I do is being able to see different countries in a way that I would never be able to see as a tourist. I've been taken for the best sushi of my life in a tube station in Shibuya, copped two tickets for the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow with just five hours notice (and at a great price) and jumped off large rocks in a beautiful national park near Sydney. All because various people were kind enough and generous enough with their time to help make these things happen for me. I've also nearly been beaten to death in Georgia and thrown in prison on New Year's Eve in Russia too…but you take the rough with the smooth.
Javier kindly invites me to the Las Fallas celebrations in the centre of Valencia where I meet some of his friends and his father, who, embarrassingly, speaks even better english than me and after some killer tapas and beer, I'm treated to an ear splitting firework display in broad daylight. I head back to the hotel for a quick sleep and then it's time for La Barraca.
I bounce out of the hotel for a quick dinner and am introduced to my fellow guest DJs of the night, Dana Ruh and Undo. Luckily, as can sometimes happen, there are no egos around the table tonight and we all shoot the shit and exchange gossip and laughs about various things, people and places. Dana has come directly from Panorama Bar where she was playing last night, and still manages to look fresh as a daisy. She's on in my room, directly before me and after the club's resident. I've never heard her play before so I ask to hit the club a couple of hours before I play to check her out.
As I walk in, she's controlling the heaving room with consummate ease. The venue is packed in all rooms and while some DJs feel the need to "smash it" in this situation, Dana coolly continues to dish out beautifully hypnotic tracks by the likes of Mountain People and Sascha Dive to keep the crowd happily dancing away. As the evening wears on she subtly ups the energy and drops her own "Freya" track (made with collaborator Andre Galluzzi) amid similar fare that sees the crowd progressively go crazier to each record she selects, a particular highlight being Timid Boy's "La Mandarina." I also take time to check out Undo in the techno room and find him smoothly moving between some great tracks I've never heard before and the odd track I do recognize, like the excellent Radio Slave mix of Carl Craig's "Darkness."
The two rooms complement each other well and it's testament to the people behind Barraca and their crew of excellent resident DJs that the club works so well. It hasn't been going for 20 odd years by accident... Myself, Dana or Undo are hardly the huge names you see on Ibicencan billboards or festival mega-lineups, yet tonight, between us and the residents, we draw in over 4,000 people and the venue is filled to capacity until the police shut us down, towards the end of my last "one more" record. A lot of club owners/promoters could learn a thing or two from Barraca.
As Dana finishes with one of her own (excellent) unreleased tracks, I step up and start my set. To be brutally honest, I don't think I play especially well. I know this is the part where I should state that I "killed it" or "tore the roof off" but, in my mind, I don't really feel I did. For some reason I just couldn't seem to find my groove and I feel that I can't really compare to Dana's excellent set preceding me. This is the truth of the matter, of being a touring DJ. Not every gig is "amazing," not every club is "rammed" and not every crowd "gets" your music. What separates the men from the boys, I feel, is how you deal with it. If you, personally, can feel a little unhappy with your set and yet keep the crowd and promoter happy, then you may just have something.
I keep my head down and dig deep, working through some new tracks from my debut album which (thank god) seem to go down pretty well and also dropping in a couple of great new remixes passed to me earlier in the week by Radio Slave. I combine this with some lovely music from the likes of Brothers' Vibe, Delano Smith, DJ W!ld, Andrew Grant, Stablo and Skudge, and begin to think maybe I'm not that terrible after all. Maybe.
As the lights come on, I realise the room is still packed and no one has left since around 2 AM (it's now just past 7) so, feeling a little better, I happily play the "one last track" of the night.
Not your average Berlin club.
What would be the biggest cliché to write about, considering I am an English dj/producer living in Berlin? Panorama Bar. So let's talk about Cookies instead. Cookies is not Panorama Bar and it's not Watergate. It's different. I've been lucky enough to play both of these venues a few times, and they are among my favourite clubs in the entire world, but I am sure we've all heard quite a lot about them already. Also, as a relative newbie to Berlin, (I've lived here just under 2 years now) I thought it would be nice to write about a club that's a little under the radar.
Cookies isn't in an edgy part of town, it doesn't have phenomenal views of the Spree, it doesn't open for 40 odd hours straight and its resident DJs don't tour the world. Cookies is a great, midsize club in Mitte, a pretty swanky shopping district of Berlin. It has two rooms, a cool booking policy and a very decent upscale vegetarian restaurant above it called "Cream." (See what they did there?)
The main room has a great booth featuring a Rane MP2016 rotary mixer and a XP2016S expander, and the walls are panelled in wood to ensure the sound is really warm and doesn't bounce about the place. It's this attention to detail that typifies Cookies. The cocktails here are amazing, the ceiling of the main room is dominated by a couple of beautiful chandeliers and, strangely, for a club in a party town like Berlin, it's normally only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
I've seen some great DJs at Cookies and danced many a time on their wooden floor. I also like the way they always seem to plough their own furrow with their bookings, rather than reacting to what should be seen as cool. In the short time I've been in Berlin I've headed down there to check out such acts like Phonique, Discodromo, Filippo Moscatello, Sasse, Roman Flugel, Hardrock Stryker, Jerome Sydenham, La Fleur and Moodymann. In the forthcoming weeks they have an all-night long set by Ben Klock as well as a Wild Pitch set by DJ Pierre, with Robert Owens performing the same night. A couple weeks ago they had a live PA by Kurtis Blow! In a scene where a lot of clubs/nights want to be seen as only one style of music, I've always appreciated these smaller clubs that are determined to do their own thing.
As it's a "hometown" gig there are no bag limits or weight restrictions tonight, so that means VINYL! Berlin still has a huge culture of DJs playing vinyl and it's these DJs that support the city's thriving record shops such as Spacehall, Melting Point, Hardwax and Rotation. If you're playing a gig in Berlin, you can rest easy that, nine times out of ten, the decks will be working great and be tuned to the system. Unfortunately, I've found, this is rarely the case when you travel. More often than not, the decks will be abused, have no needles, not be plugged in, or there may simply not be any at all.
I made the decision a long time ago to pick one format and stick to it, so for me that has meant playing 90% CDs. Every track I download is a .WAV and every record I purchase is recorded as a .WAV and then burned to CD. The records I've bought in the past week that I haven't had a chance to burn are thrown in a small tote bag and away we go. It works for me, it's convenient for traveling and it means I can play the best of what I buy in the stores along with the best unreleased stuff I get sent or make myself.
I've never really understood the (relatively recent) mentality of DJs saying "Yeah, I haven't bought vinyl for years..." If you're a DJ, shouldn't you want to have the best/latest records? Isn't that what drives you? To play great new music to people? If you don't go record shopping, then you're going to be missing out on a lot. Some of my favourite records this year have been vinyl-only issues such as the amazing Italo Johnson 12-inches or the excellent Stablo series. It always amazes me when I'm playing and another DJ asks me about a certain record that's been out for three or four months and where they can get it. I just think, "if you went record shopping, you'd have it! You wouldn't have been able to avoid it." To each their own I guess...
I arrive at the venue before the club opens and am treated to a great meal at Cream before I head downstairs to hear resident DJ Norman Methner warming things up nicely. Norman's played at most of the major clubs in the city and also worked at DJ Hell's International Deejay Gigolos office (in Berlin) so he knows his music, and in the hour or so I hear him play, he lays down a faultless selection that fills up the dance floor with ease. Moving from some Motorcitysoul-esque deepness into the Nina Kraviz remix of Anthony Collins "Another Lonely Night," the dance floor is full and people scream and shout as they normally do to one of Norman's excellent sets. Towards the end of his allotted time, Norman ups the ante a little, even dropping the odd cool acid track and also pulls out one of my favourite recent records, the phenomenal "Here's Your Trance, Now Dance" by Omar S. Soon enough, it's my turn and I begin with a favourite old Underground Resistance track, the latest Italo Johnson 12-inch (the orange one, main side) and an edit I did of the Dyed Soundorom remix of "What They Say." Nothing tooooooo crazy, just some good solid house music.
The club is completely full and stays so throughout the night. A lot of friends make the effort to come down and say hey, which is always appreciated, and I feel completely at ease in the booth—good times! I don't often play on Rane or Urei mixers but I've used them a fair few times and although it sometimes makes using my loop machine a little tricky, they are a lot of fun and it makes for a nice change. As the night moves on I find time to pull out a couple of older tracks like Sandy Rivera's "The Path" and Ame's "Basic Track," as well as a great new mix of Romanthony's "The Wanderer" by Rob Mello. I break out a few current records I really like by producers such as Ryan Elliot, Dinky, Bearweasel and Andrew Grant and pretty soon my time is nearly up.
Norman suggests we go back-to-back for the last half hour or so, which is great fun and we close on a disco track I made with Dan Beaumont for my album ("The Look"). It's always tricky to play a track you've made because if it's embarrassing to clear a dance floor, then it's especially embarrassing to do it with one of your own records! Luckily, the crowd react really well to it and I'm extremely happy as the volume fades and the night ends.
The best passport holder for a DJ ever?
It's a gloriously sunny morning in Kreuzberg, as I frantically run around my apartment making sure I have all the necessary things to get on a plane and go somewhere to play records. Have I got my passport? Where's my loop machine? Do I have all the right leads? Do I have my laptop? Do I have the adaptor? And on and on until I finally consider my bag packed and head out the door to the airport. As I stroll down the road to the station, I start thinking, as I normally do when leaving this city, how happy I am to be living here.
I left London a little under two years ago after a relationship I was in ended particularly swiftly—and brutally—and came to Berlin with a suitcase, a few records and not a great deal more. I had to move out of the flat I shared with my ex, and being of no fixed abode, felt like the time was right to get out of/run away from London. If I'd had friends in Barcelona, Amsterdam or Paris maybe I'd have gone there, but I didn't. What I did have, though, was a very good friend who allowed me to stay with him here in Berlin for three months while I found my feet and a new apartment, something I will never forget. Ironically enough for the poor bastard, I finally found a place on the very same road as him! The look on his face as I explained that, after three long, long months of seeing me every single day, he would still probably see me every single day was truly special. (I think he was crying tears of joy, but I can't be entirely sure.)
So although I consider Berlin to be the best place in the world right now for the music I buy, go out to listen to, play and (try to) produce, it was never the defining reason for moving here. You could take every record shop, club and bar out of the city and I'd still be proud to call it home. I'm happy to say I've made some wonderful friends and had some great experiences in the short time I've been here and it's these kind of thoughts I always seem to end up thinking whenever I'm setting off to travel somewhere else.
I arrive at Schonefeld, get my boarding pass and proceed through security. Everyone gets on the plane, the stewardesses do that funny dance where they point out the exits (remember, your nearest exit may be behind you) and we're off. The captain comes on the intercom and introduces the crew. Why he does this, I have no idea. Is anyone gonna leap out of their seat and shout "YESSSSS!!! We've got Claire as head purser on this flight. She was on my flight last year to Mallaga and she's AMAZING!"? Then he explains the route we'll be taking. "Slowly up through Germany towards Belgium where we'll take a left, towards Scotland." Again I have no idea why they do this. Am I gonna suddenly pipe up and say, "Don't go left at Belgium, you mug! It's always rammed at this time of year, go to London, turn right and go the other way!" As these inane thoughts rattle around my tiny brain, I drift off to sleep.
Tonight, I'm off to make my debut at probably Scotland's best venue—Sub Club. I'm extremely excited and nervous at the same time. Previous guests have recently included Lil Louis, Ame and Loco Dice, so it's fair to say they know their music here. I strongly believe that, in an era when everyone is a DJ and/or producer there are a few clubs in the world that really prove who you are and where you stand in the whole scheme of things. Either you play them, or you don't. Sub Club is one of them.
First of all though, I am playing a day party with Terrence Parker. I'm sure some people envisage DJs to live a charmed life where it's a non-stop round of deciding which Nobu to hit next and groupies blowing cocaine up certain orifices. For me, though, a great deal of time is spent in hotels, in my underwear, burning last minute CDs and finishing off edits to play that night. After not having enough time to do it the night before, that's exactly what I was doing in the final minutes before going to play. A beautiful mental picture, I'm sure you'll agree?
Terrence Parker is on before me at 8 PM, and I start at 10 PM, so it's not exactly daytime, but from the look of some of the crowd, it's definitely been going all day. I arrive to hear Terrence going crazy across 4 CDJ's on a stage placed at the end of what seems to be an indoor market. My heart sinks a little. No decks, and I'm on a stage. Two things i'm really not a fan of. I can understand that people want to see the DJ, but being on a stage always makes me feel extremely awkward and, I find they tend to make people just dance in a straight formation, everyone facing forwards and not actually dancing with each other. To a certain extent, I do understand that people want to see the person playing and that it's this culture of revering the DJ, that pays my bills, so I just suck it up.
Terence is on fire, playing two copies of the same record, one beat behind each other, then phasing them and then scratching acappellas over the top. I can honestly say he is one of the best technical DJs I've ever seen. In 45 minutes he manages to work his way from some old school house tracks to disco classics, to some gospel house records, to two different versions of "Billie Jean" (and the a cappella) and a breakbeat version of "Smells Like Teen Spirit." It's at this point I begin to get pretty nervous. The venue is not entirely full, but the people are generally going for it. I begin to think that I'm not really built for this particular gig...
Terrence finishes to a well-deserved rapturous round of applause, and I nervously press play on the CDJ, sparking my first track into life. I feel a bit of a fraud simply mixing records together and overdubbing loops with my little loop machine after Terrence's virtuoso performance, but the crowd seem to like what I do and—as it doesn't seem to be a super hardcore club crowd—I embrace the opportunity to not play quite as tough as I might in a club. I select some of my favourites such as the Italo Johnson 12-inch I mentioned previously, a great old track by Pete Moss on Ovum, a personal favourite of mine by Kevin Yost and various other tracks of the same ilk. I also manage to air the new Maurice Donovan track "Babeh" and the new Joy Orbison single "Wade In" and they slotted in perfectly. I throw in a couple of edits I've done of classic Marc Kinchen productions alongside some great new music by Kennedy Smith, Alexkid, Dana Ruh, Justin Drake, Rio Padice, Radio Slave and Reggie Dokes and everyone seems happy enough. Some good quality house music, old, new and unreleased was the path I decided to go down, and it turns out to be the right decision. I pack my stuff away and get ready to head to the Sub Club, thinking to myself, "the people that were there when I started, stayed until the end, and they all danced—job done."
There's a huge queue outside the Sub Club and as I descend the stairs I begin to see why people speak about it in such reverential tones. A simple room, low ceiling, minimal lighting and a great system. You don't need much more. As I arrive, Harri is playing a low slung deep house warm-up set that is keeping everyone in the room moving and the vast majority pinned to the dance floor. As he finishes, Terrence steps up and ups the tempo a little. His battle skills are in full effect and "Billie Jean" gets an outing again as the room happily sings along. Terrence ends with some tracky type house that fits the room perfectly, so I kick off with an edit I did of Moodymann's "Emotional Content." My set is pretty short as the Sub Club shuts at 3 AM, so I keep the energy high and zip through some old Chicago/Detroit-y type house before dropping into my secret weapon of the night, a phenomenal new mix of my "The Improvised Minotaur" track by Parisian DJ and Rex Club resident Molly. No one has ever heard this mix before, yet the heaving room roar their approval as the final drop comes in. I knew how much I loved that mix, but it was truly great to see the crowd wholeheartedly agree. I play a couple more records and, as my time is nearly up and the Sub Club has such a great techno heritage, I end with one of my favourite Galaxy 2 Galaxy tracks.
Domenic takes over for the final part of the night with an amazing selection of nothing but quality house and techno and as the lights fade up, and the music fades out, all left in the DJ booth are greeted with a still full dance floor of sweaty, ever so slightly crazed-looking, smiling faces.
And it's always nice when that happens.