Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Spirit of Sharing Music

I have always been missionary spirited about music. It seemed the sole function of cassette recorders was so I could make mix tapes to share. And share I did, recording and duplicating programmes from pirate radio stations, white labels from friends working at the coal face of the music industry, plus my own selections, including everything from Afrika Bambata to The Grateful Dead. It never occurred to me that I was doing anything wrong by giving. Music is for me an expression of friendship and shared emotion. Why would I not want to share it.

Such a sharing attitude might be seen as be contributing to the decline of the music industry by promoting music for free. In reality though I, like many music fans, don't stop buying music just because some of it is available for free. So I tend to pay less for the more popular stuff, but the money I do spend tends to get redirected towards the more obscure producers who, to my mind, need it more than the famous acts. 

Also, as a devoted advocate of non-compressed music files, I often have to pay a supplement just to get my music in uncompressed WAV format. I think the music business does pretty well out of me. I know, I've heard all the arguments that there is very little difference between MP3's and WAV's but I'm not convinced. MP3's only carry about a tenth of the musical information of a non-compressed version so something is being lost somewhere. Maybe if you are playing banging stuff the difference won't be noticed over the beat, but in general if you want to keep the subtleties of a piece of music I would advice people to go for the none compressed versions.  I can usually tell when a DJ is playing MP3's as the music seems to lack punch. 

But I digress. I was talking about sharing music....

When I first arrived in Ibiza I mentioned to one DJ friend that I had been heartened by how supportive other DJ's had been towards me. I had half expected a cut throat competitive relationship between many of the DJ's, but what I found in most cases was unity based on shared experience — maybe they connected with that shared spirit of missionary zeal, of spending hours in record shops or on-line emporiums hunting for that elusive track that will be recognised for its greatness when played in public. 

However, one DJ told me that in his early days he had been a Hip Hop DJ and that things had seemed much more competitive then. Most of the records he played were hard to source imports and the scene was so competitive that he used to soak his new vinyl in the bath prior to a gig so he could remove the central label to prevent anyone stealing a glance over his shoulder and spotting a single clue to his unique appeal as a DJ. "Consequently," he moaned, "I now have tons of vinyl that, even to this day, I am not sure who the artist is!"

I suppose what prompted my comments about the supportive nature of other DJ's was an incident last season on the island. I had been doing a bit of Mac maintenance work for a DJ when he casually said, "Take what you want", meaning the music on his computer. I thought for a moment and then told him that as I was only staying somewhere temporary I didn't have a good internet link and had not been able to download any new tunes for the past couple of months. 

"Here," he said, "Take that folder. It has everything I've downloaded over the last two months." 

I happily copied around 300 WAV files onto my hard drive. Now this is a DJ I greatly respect. I enjoy his sets and admire his ability to hunt out new and obscure mixes. So I was looking forward to sifting through them. 

Later that evening though I was reminded of the special nature of our individual taste. Because no matter how much we appreciate another's taste, there is no doubt if we have spent time cultivating our own taste, then our taste will diverge from another person's in many ways. So out of 300 tracks there were only around 20 that took my fancy and probably no more than 10 which I might have bought myself had I the opportunity. And I realised that this would no doubt been the same had I passed on 300 of my tracks to him. 

Sharing music, no matter how rare and treasured, does not compromise or undermine our unique taste as a DJ. It's not just about having a particular tune to play, it's also how we frame that tune, what we mix it from and with. Based on this realisation I started to think the protective attitude which some have towards their collections might be a bit misguided.

I am always pleased when good things happen to friends of mine, when good fortune shines on them and life seems to give them a step up and a wave on their way. Strangely though not everyone shares my viewpoint. It's as though some people think that good fortune is a finite resource so when something good happens to someone else there is less possibility for it to happen to them and resentment and jealousy rear their ugly heads. 

My view is that our lives are all unique and what comes to one person is drawn by the action and energy of their lives so it is pointless to resent goodness that has been bestowed on another. I would rather focus on improving my own good fortune through my own efforts. 

In the same way I don't believe that sharing my own tunes with others will undermine my uniqueness as a DJ. To me it feels as though this spirit to share is an essential element that makes up the spirit of a DJ. The spirit to discover, appreciate, promote, share, that hopefully expresses itself in the unique sets we play.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Beat vs Mood Mixing

One of the main conventions of DJing is beat mixing or beat matching - the method of creating a transition between two tracks with a matching beat. If done well this can create a seamless transition from one track to the next. Perfect for the dance floor. This can be so satisfying for a DJ that it is all too tempting to build a set comprising similar tempo tracks even if the musical demands are not so dance orientated. I tend to play pretty eclectic sets so I find that my challenge is not how to how to create seamless beat matched sets but how, for example, to create a transition between one track at 128 bpm's and another that takes it down to 100 bpm. 

At first I started looking for tracks that had a similar music breakdown and start up. That is to say, if I could find one track that broke down at the end into a solo piano and another track that started with a solo piano, they could be butted up to each other to create a seamless transition. However, this is quite limited as there aren't too many tracks which fit this description. I then realised that the greater challenge is mixing moods not tunes. How can I create a sense of light and shade in a set. Do I really want to keep to the same tempo or has it got a bit intense? Maybe people would appreciate a breather with a lighter tone. 

Once I started playing with the idea that there is much more to DJing than beat matching, a world of possibilities started to open up. I could mix two tracks simply because they contained the same obvious word in the song lyrics, be it love, tears or, in one case, the word 'caravan' (The Doors Spanish Caravan mixed to Caravan by Mojo Rising). Although in this case the second track is an instrumental version so any possibility of people seeing the link would have been dependant on people knowing the original vocal track.

Another element now available to DJ's is mixing in key. That is to say, when playing digitally it is possible to identify the key of a track. I think that this technique is largely employed by club DJ's to create continuous seamless sets. But I don't want seamless sets. With seamless sets you stop noticing the music. Sometimes it is fun to be jolted out of complacency with something unexpected. However, I have started to use mixing in key because some tracks break down at the end to a single tone with the beats minimised. This means that the outgoing tone can be used to bring another track in the same key, which although initially quite subtle will then take off in a completely different direction. 

All of this is only available thanks to my devotion to the digital mixing software, Traktor.  The track listing window of Traktor helpfully provides information on track name, artist and genre etc but also allows for a comments section. For years I limited my comments to such descriptions as, 'Banging house good bass line' or 'Chilled mellow'. Then I started to realise that I have hundreds of tracks which might fit such a description so why not try to use more adjectives. It occurred to me that as the whole data base is instantly searchable I could make it as complex as my brain would allow and so I started to use many more adjectives and keywords. My data base has now been modified to such an extent that I can simply put in a word search for such terms as stimulating, muffled, anticipation, jubilant, heartfelt, crystal or many other emotive or descriptive terms that might be appropriate for the moment. For example, if I type in the word 'detective' it will immediately bring up about 30 tracks from all genres but with each features a sort of film noir theme. 

The problem with such multi layered mixing is that of endless possibilities. It is also means that caprice of my mind has suddenly presented me with two tracks which I have never mixed before. Add to this my personal dynamic that even when I have chosen a track to follow on I do not stop contemplating about the current mood in the bar or club. Frequently I will be hit with the thought that I want to change direction and mood when there are only around 30 seconds left of the outgoing track and I have to work at breakneck speed to find the replacement to mix to otherwise I will envelop the floor in silence. Of course such erratic behaviour means that I drop a mix every now and again but at least it keeps me amused and hopefully the audience too.

I was rather ardently explaining my method of DJing to a very patient and much more experienced chap one day and noted that probably no one had any idea what I was doing when playing a set. He said, 'Yes of course they won't, but that doesn't mean you should stop doing it.' It does however explain why, at the end of a six hour set, I feel brain dead ;-)

Thursday, 10 October 2013

The Whispering Voices of Deep Balearic

I have always been a great fan of  vocal tape inserts in music. The Beatles were to a certain extent pioneers in the field and songs like I am the Walrus and Strawberry Fields both feature tantalising extracts of spoken words toward the end. In fact the words in Strawberry Fields were so tantalising that they were used by some fans to give fuel to the rumours of Paul McCartney's death signaled by the misheard line "I buried Paul." Paul McCartney later explained that in fact the words John Lennon had said were "Cranberry Sauce" Even more clearly elucidated pop lyrics are frequently misheard as a rather amusing routine by comedian Paul Kay illustrates. However, for me it is the very ambiguity of spoken word overlays that I find thrilling.
Frank Zappa was also a great exponent of this and his 1968 album, "We're Only In It For The Money" which parodies the Sgt Pepper cover is, thanks in a great part to voice overlays, a very powerful social comment on the times. I have listened to this album so many times that I know just about every whisper including what sounds like the ravings of  an acid head at a party being questioned as to whether she is "hung up."

The Clash and Mick Jones's follow on band Big Audio Dynamite also used tape to great effect and I particularly like what, to me, sounds like Michael Caine and others featured on their hit E=MC2

In the Dance world the use of vocal overlays has been used very successfully to bring power and pathos to a melody. Probably one of the most effective of these was the use of Martin Luther King's, "I have a dream" speech placed behind the haunting melody of Mr Fingers track Can You Feel It

Malcolm X has also been thoroughly sampled but what I really like is something more ambiguous - tracks that feature whispering barely discernible voices that hint of another dimension to the music. Thankfully this summer I have found rich pickings, so much so that I have identified it as a new sub genre and given it a name: welcome to Deep Balearic. 

Don't ask me to explain, instead I'll let the music do it for me with a selection of tracks that feature a beguiling simplicity of melody but with voices that gradually and hypnotically pull you in. I am obviously not the only person to feel this, the first few times I played each of these tracks they brought people rushing over to the DJ booth to demand the title.  

First off is Isaac by Superflu. The rap - from a time when rap meant rapping with the audience during a set, not rhyming rhythmic vocals - is from the master of on-stage rap, Isaac Hayes. To me it sounds as though he is chatting with someone in the front row, but maybe he is also introducing a song with a rambling tale of his own. I don't really know and it doesn't matter, but somehow each of those faintly grasped words is thrilling to me.

Monkey Safari's Hi Life is a very powerful track which in my imagination features the recordings of an elderly black American street junkie, recounting his early experiences of addiction and getting high on cocaine. This is no advert for the drug and at one point in it you can faintly hear his plaintive sigh as he notes, "It ain't always fun to be that high."

Andhim's Hausch This doesn't quite fit my description of taped overlays but the song samples have been degraded and distressed like a well-worn pair of jeans. I nearly drove myself and others mad trying to work out where the line came from that states, "She's not just a plaything, she flesh and blood just like a man." However thanks to the wonders of Google was able to remind myself that I know the line from Aretha Franklin's song Natural Woman. 

Speaking of new genres, did you know that one of the latest is called Night Bus. If I am right in my interpretation, this is a genre of fairly gentle tripped-out music that would be ideal for listening to after a night clubbing and journeying home, still rather high, on the night bus. The genre features music which is just psychedelic enough to feed your mood but not too raucous to blind you to any possible conflicts arising around you from other less chilled night bus travellers. 

I like the music but I also love the obscure concept of the genre almost as much as the sub genre of Nu Disco, which is described as Disco Not Disco, ie it features some of the motifs of disco such as the wacka wacka guitars, hand claps and orchestral stabs but combined in such a way that they bear no resemblance to disco, Nu or otherwise. And they said Dance music would never last....

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Living in the moment

I am starting to become deeply concerned about how many couples walk into a bar when I am playing and immediately take out their smart phones instead of chatting or listening. Maybe they've run out of things to say but I think that it is more a case that we have been seduced by digital engagement as a way of validating our experiences.

Camera's are probably the most obvious example of this. Go to any concert and you will see hundreds of people avidly recording the event rather than experiencing the gig. Some years ago I watched a wonderful film called 2 Days in Paris. The gist of the film is that a French/American woman played by Julie Delpy has taken her boyfriend on a tour of Europe culminating in a 2 day visit to her parents in Paris. At the start of the film her voice can be heard explaining that she is a professional photographer but hasn't taken a single photograph during the whole holiday because she understands that taking photographs separates you from the experience. By contrast, she explains, her boyfriend has taken thousands of photographs and hated the whole experience of Europe. There then follows a montage of his photos which include everything from cups of coffee, gondoliers, meals and monuments.

I had a similar seminal experience of this some years ago when my wife and I visited Thailand. After an evening carousing with friends in their beach side hut we found ourselves staggering home closely followed by some very mangy stray dogs. Before long dawn appeared providing us, with what I think to this day, was the most epic sunrise I have every seen. Desperate to capture the moment on my new all singing and dancing camera I was frustrated because I couldn't work out how to turn off the auto focus and so couldn't get it to focus on the sunrise. Then I got the great idea that if I placed the dogs in focus in the foreground I might be able to capture the epic sunrise behind them. The result was that I have about half a dozen photos of rabid dogs licking their balls against a wall of blackness. Strangely enough these photos remain a tribute to that sunrise and a reminder that the best camera/recording device is the human mind and I since then I try to consciously capture memories by being aware of them when they are happening.

Young children now learn from an early age how to assume an on camera stance that will please the parents. They have now become the most photographed generation. Some time ago I had to help salvage a computer photo library for parents of delightful twins. I understand the pull to capture each stage of development but 20,000 photographs by the age of six might be a trifle excessive! On the other hand I have very few photos of my childhood apart from those first day at school pics and one of me stretching my legs to touch the floor on my new bicycle. I don't feel deprived.

Recently Shazam (the smart phone app which allows you to discover details of a piece of music) has tied up with Beatport, one of the largest DJ music web stores which means that many more of the obscure mixes we DJ's play are immediately searchable. The result of this is that I have seen people spending much of their time Shazaming my set. Maybe they don't want to bother me but actually I would much rather have a brief conversation sharing our enthusiasm for a track than being silent pillaged with their smart phone. However, I do understand how seductive collecting can be. Remember years ago when video and then dvd's first came on the scene. Remember how many of us set out to build our own personal libraries. Years later most of these many libraries, often containing unwatched brand new films, simply gathered dust and were then discarded as we downsized or moved homes. I realised sometime ago that thanks to You Tube much of the stuff that I wanted to save is now communally available and if not then it is great fun to try and explain the premise of a film or tv programme to friends.

It can be the same with music too. I have often sat listening to a DJ set by one of the master music explorers and wanted to run up to them every few minutes to ask what that track was. The truth though, in my experience, is that even if I had everything they played its joy might never be repeated outside the situation I first heard it. I experience this recently when a friend of mine played a wonderfully strange arabic techno track. I had never heard anything quite like it and wanted to own it for myself. Yet each time I've played since then it it has never excited me the way it did when I first heard it because it wasn't just a piece of music it was also a time and a place and a state of mind.

Obviously I am not calling for an end to the digital age, as I'm a willing participant myself, its just that I think we should stop and question whether the capturing and collecting of images and music actually adds to our appreciation. Next time you want to reach for your digital device maybe you will find it a useful to stop and think what you are experiencing. Why does this music resonate with you? What tone is it? What other tracks does it remind you of? What is it about your friends smile that you want to remember, because it probably isn't the posed version that you will get when you point a camera at them. What could you say or do to encourage it more frequently? I recently saw a young girl playing taking photos with her new iPad. She was pointing it at everyone she could and each person readily adopted the pose - which now always seems to include ubiquitous hand expressions or fingers pointed at the person next to them - this is most common when the person next to them is deemed as more famous or important. I suggested to her that if she really wanted to capture some good photos she should try to do it without people knowing. A while later she returned with a fabulous selection of secretly grabbed spontaneous shots of people just being themselves. Maybe that is the challenge. Just being, whether we are listening, talking, eating or whatever. The joy is in the experience and not as the manufacturers of these devices would have us think, in capturing the experience because experiences are ephemeral but when captured in our aware mind they will last much longer than their digital counterpart.

Monday, 22 July 2013

The Emperor's New Clothes

I suppose what I react to most strongly to is the idea of any sort of mono culture developing. The idea that one element of culture is cool while others must be ignored. This is particular true for me in music. Yes I have a bit of a hard time getting my head around opera and some of the sweeter elements of country music but otherwise I take it all as I find it - good, bad and indifferent. A friend of mine recently recounted how, when playing at a wedding reception, the groom approached him and said, "When are you going to play some proper Ibiza music like David Guetta?" My friend said he would have hit him but it was his wedding after all and while he was entitled to his opinion and besides he actually didn't have any David Guetta with him. The groom probably couldn't understand why my friend thought this to be such an outrageous statement but living on The Island one can will find a marvellous variety of music if you look for it. If you aren't looking then all you will see are the monstrous billboards with David Guetta crassly cupping his wife's breasts in his hands.

It seems to me as though the dance scene is in danger of being side tracked into a sort of fascist view of what is cool and in the main this seems to be focusing on Tech and Deep House. At least this seems to be the main fare in most of the clubs. Both are genres I have a great affection for but its just that hearing them to the exclusion of all other variants bores me rigid. Sometimes I wonder if the people listening to it in the clubs really enjoy it too. I was talking to another broadminded DJ friend of mine the other night who described visiting one of the mega clubs to see one of the mega DJ's at work. He told me that after a couple of hours, if someone had told him that the DJ had been playing a repeating loop tape he would not have been surprised. The only enlivening that seemed to be appearing from the endless knob twiddling of the mega DJ was the rather lame periodic removal of the bottom end. Maybe you have heard this from time to time. It's where the DJ twists one of the EQ buttons so that it takes all the bass out of the track leaving you with a whispering remnant of the melody. Then just as the bass kicks (suprise, surprise) he twists it back to central position again to accentuate the kick. I am constantly amazed how this simple trick seems to entrance some audiences for hours on end. The music goes wispy and the audience prepares themselves to leap into action like pavlovs dogs that have been trained to respond to dance music*. The thing is, I'm not sure if that many clubbers do enjoy this endless bland noodling. The music industry is very adapt at elevating some DJ's to such giddy heights that many club goers think that if they don't like it maybe they are not cool enough and after all, they had to take out a mortgage to enter the club and pay for drinks all night so it must be good.  I have often found myself wondering what drugs one can take that are able to transform such boring bland music into an enjoyable experience.

Maybe this is part of the problem. It hadn't occurred to me till recently just how all pervasive use of Ketamine has become within the dance culture. Of course drugs have always had their place in dance and youth culture but while Ecstacy (which I understand was once referred to as Empathy because it engenders and empathetic state of mind) is ideal for a shared experience on the dance floor, Ketamine is an all together more solitary experience. Recently I read a very good article by Tom Armstrong titled 'Dancefloors Against Ketamine' who described his excitement at attending a rave with a particular group of DJ's. What he found though was that the music seemed to have taken on a much darker tone that he was expecting with much slower beats and a very buzzy bass tone. What he observed were a large number of people obviously out of their heads on Ketamine staggering around the place barely able to keep upright let alone dance. He left the event part way through the evening but what really shocked him was, when reading the reports in various chat rooms over the next few days, how many people describing it as one of the best gigs that they had ever attended. In truth it may have been a great gig but only in each individuals head. It wasn't a shared experience in the sense that I have come to think of successful raves. There have been times when it has seemed to me that some raves have been an almost religious experience with their shared sense of ecstatic jubilation. Having read this article I have now begun to wonder how much influence K is having on the diet of music that is being fed to us in clubs.

It feels to me as though certain elements of club culture might well be finding a parallel with the fairy tale where a shyster persuades the king that he is giving him special invisible clothing. All works well until one noble subject shouts out, "The King has got no clothes on." Maybe it is time for people to stand up in the kingdom of dance and say, "I don't care if everyone is telling me he is a king, his music is dull and boring." 

Just in case anyone should think that this the rambling of a poverty stricken DJ, jealous of his more wealthy fellows I would like to say that I had the pleasure of being the warm up DJ for the warmup for the warm up at Carl Cox's birthday bash the other day. Carl is famed for his love of Techno but for his birthday both he and Pete Tong, who played after him, presented a widely diverse set which expressed something of the breadth of their love for dance music. Of course they are both adept at changing their sets to suit the occassion but I thought it was great that, Carl in particular, who has such a strong following for his hard core Tech sets was not afraid to show his sweeter side. Contrast this with some other DJ's who seem to be revelling in the studious intellect of mono culture. Of course I understand that we all have preferences but surely the whole dance culture was born out of a spirit of cross pollination so to ignore these roots would seem to be a narrowing of vision. It is also contributing to the same homogenising that has taken over our high streets. I for one would like to raise the banner for individuality that makes DJing entertaining not only for those listening but for the DJ as well.

Strangely enough I have found that younger audiences are the most conservative and prone to mono culture. I suppose I shouldn't be that surprised as when we are in our adolescence it is a time when we are still developing our sense of self and for many young people this brings with it a fear of being different. ie "I love techno but I f***** hate house!" The influence of mono culture is all pervasive. Even if we think we are behaving as individuals it is sometimes shocking when looking at photos of ourselves from times gone by to see how much we conformed to to the style of the times. To a certain extent we are limited by what is available and the mass media is a very powerful force in convincing us what is the cool way to exist. However, if we don't in some small ways challenge this tendency the end result is fascism or an intolerance of anyone who doesn't espouse our own views. 

I once attended a one man show with Quentin Crisp. Individuality was a major element of his talk. At one point he noted that if we look out of our window and see that the person to our right has built a path travelling from right to left across their garden and the person on the left has built a path from top to bottom, we should first of all think, "Am a diagonal person?" I have often considered that the loudest noise one can get out of a radio is when it is perfectly tuned into the station. In the same way we are at our most powerful when we are true to ourselves. Opening up to the various facets that comprise our personality brings power. This is true I think whatever area we work in. In DJing I have found that I get no joy out of playing something I don't want to play. Maybe it is a request for a track I actually like and have with me but it feels sadly hollow when I am playing something just to please someone. However it is a great thrill to introduce people to a newly found gem of music. I can't explain why I think it's a gem and in some cases I have to play it several times over a few gigs before others begin to see what I saw too.

So my appeal then is for greater individuality. I understand affiliations - being a dance music DJ is an affiliation and I am aware that there are many who would find such an affiliation very narrow but in our chosen area there is much to be discovered both in terms of heritage and new directions. Please can we hear more of this.

* I am certainly not the best exponent of some of the finer points of mixing but just to give an example of how some DJ's are more inventive than the hackneyed EQ cut, I had the pleasure the other day of witnessing a master at work on a famous beach. At one point he was playing a track which featured a sample of a jolly and familiar French jazz track. After several minutes of break beats and returning riffs the music suddenly and significantly started to slow down. This grabbed everyone attention and I am sure that some people maybe forgot for a moment that he was working digitally as it sounded as though the turn table was running down. Then it became clear what he was up to. He was slowing the whole thing down to the speed of the original French Jazz track so that he could cut it in and play it in its original unedited jubilant style. Magnificent. Risky yes but great fun and very entertaining.

Monday, 17 June 2013

Balearic DJing

I love all kinds of dance music in rhythm, style and tempo. The problem is that most clubs, understandably work under something of a beats per minute (bpm) tyranny. In order for people to be able to join the dancing throng there needs to be an element of predictability. Generally this means that a bmp of around 130 which is often maintain throughout the evening as DJ's mix seamlessly from one track to another. The objective of clubs is to get people dancing and keep them on the dance floor. That's what clubs are for. 

Maybe my problem is that I have a short attention span. I first noticed this some years ago playing in a small but rammed bar in Camden Market, London. the dance floor was bouncing when I began to notice that after about 5 house tunes many of the dancers were starting to use the same movements. I thought they might get bored if they carried on much longer (though it might have been me that was getting bored with their repetitive movements) so I decided that I was going to radically change style and tempo. There's no gentle way to move from House music to Reggae so I waited for the break in a track where the beat was less obvious and with a quick zip on the EQ and slid into reggae. There was a moments confusion on the dance floor but then a whoop went up as everyone immediately adapted and started to enjoy the different movements which the music encouraged. From that moment the spirit of Eclectika Sessions was born and I've continued to embrace diversity in my sets. Obviously that rules me out for most mainstream clubs but fortunately I have found my flavour and favour playing private parties, cocktail bars and daytime sun drenched venues.

For cocktail bars or private parties the criteria of engagement are quite different to clubs. If it's a private party I understand that the first couple of hours are going to be taken up with conversation and canap├ęs. That doesn't mean you can't engage people. During the canapes and conversation stage of a party I have even had people approach me to apologise for not dancing, as if that is the only way they can show their approval. I reassure them. My objective is to stimulate and entertain and as I look across a crowded room I can see the head nodders and compulsive feet tapping unseen under the tables. I know when people are engaged. Of course as the evening progresses so do the beats and before they know it the food will have been cleared away and the dance floor fills up according to my party plan.

Daytime on beaches is a whole different arena. If I start playing round lunch time it will be breakfast for many of those who have dragged themselves to the beach after a hard nights clubbing. Some will have fragile heads and the cool beer they are clutching will be the hair of the dog. So for me Balearic lush beats are usually the order of the day, at least for starters. I think I first learned from my mate and fellow dj, Jon Sa Trinxa, that what some people might regard as chilled music can take you head off when played at volume. I would hate to be regarded as a chilled DJ as for me that often translates as bland and I certainly don't do bland. Some people refer to it as Downbeat but then again while I love a lot of downbeat stuff I would hate to feel confined and so regularly take off uptempo. For me it's about light and shade. Downbeat offsets uptempo just as a haunting melody in a minor key highlights the exuberance of an uplifting major key track to follow. What I would term Balearic beats are usually between 100 and 110 bpm with the kick of the beat softened by the lush overlays of the track. Even thought the music appears pretty chilled the volition of the music is still progressive. Here are a couple of examples of what I'm talking about.

Escape from New York by Filippson & Ulysses

Violet Morning Moon by Bubble Club

By a wonderful coicidence this same this same bpm is also the defining tempo of the Nu Disco genre which I have come to champion in recent years. Nu Disco is often made up of old disco tracks which have been slowed down and stretched with a hypnotic and heavy kick beat added. Consequently my sets tend to be interspersed with a healthy dose of Nu Disco. Here are a couple of examples.

Barry & Marvin by The Players Union

Hang On (Sade) by Get Down Edits

However as I said, I have a short attention span so it wont be too long before I start to drop in Minimal Techno tunes. Ah minimal techno. An evening of it would drive me to distraction because not a lot happens with Minimal. However, to my mind, in some cases it sounds as each tone has been hand crafted and shaped for precision and beauty - actually some Minimal is clangy and unpleasant but I tend not to buy that stuff ;-)

Dangly Panther by Jimpster

Unfortunately it seems that many beach bars on the island have been infected with the tyranny of the club music. I regularly encounter DJ's pumping an incessant diet of high volume techno or deep house to bemused looking sun worshippers.  Why I wonder? Maybe they don't really want to be playing on a beach and live in hope that a promoter from one of the big clubs is going to hear them and rescue them from their place of exile on the beach. Maybe it's because they can really only play what they like and just happen to have landed a poorly paid residency in a beach bar. Another DJ mate, George Solar, takes a more strident approach and maintains a strictly low bpm with his self named Comfy dub sessions. When asked recently why he didn't play techno in the very successful Babylon Beach bar he simply said, "Because I can." And who is to argue that his sets are anything but appropriate as he envelopes his audience with warm dubby tones while they soak up the rays or become engaged in beachside dinner conversations.

My own approach is somewhat more eclectic. Nothing is outlawed based on tempo or genre but I try to play with a degree of sensitivity to those present and a typical several hours set will see me visit most genres as I seek to actively engage everyone. When the whole Ibiza scene kicked off nearly 30 years ago the musical choices played in the clubs and terraces where decidedly eclectic. Over the years this inclusive eclecticism seems to have been narrowed so that people wrongly think that the Ibiza sound is techno or house. To my mind, by designating myself as a Balearic DJ means that I am aligning myself with the inclusive spirit on which the original scene was based. Some years back, for one of my Frisky Radio broadcasts I tried to roughly define what I mean by Balearic music. In some ways its very eclectic nature means that it defies definition but if you listen to the start of this mix you will hear my voice trying to explain my personal perspective on it. As I said this mix was produced a couple of years back but looking through it now I see that it was a valiant attempt to define Balearic and within a two hour mix which features a wide range of genres. (for convenience I have split the two hour mix into two parts which you can download if you wish)

What is Balearic? Part 1.

What is Balearic? Part 2

Monday, 10 June 2013

The View From The Booth

In most venues where I play if the DJ booth if not on a raised plinth then at the very least it is usually in a pretty good vantage point to see everything that is going on in the club or bar. And what a view it is. I can usually see who is going to make a move on who quite sometime before they build up the courage to do so, I see prostitutes identifying and then zone in on new engagements, illicit office affairs and young loves on their first nervous dates, and holidaying couples who, shell shocked by two weeks together 24 x7 realising sadly that they have run out of things to say to each other and oddly mismatched couples brought together by the attraction of excess wealth to youthful beauty. Recently I saw a group of three women, who sadly, I realised too late, had come into the bar with the express reason of creating a flirty wall of distraction while one of the group focused on lifting and emptying someone bag. I have often been the first person to note when someone in the bar is getting troublesome usually because of over consumption and have, on a number of occasions been able to notify the security to rescue a girl who had become the unwilling focus of increasingly agressive attention from some dope who could not understand why anyone could resist his alcohol and coke fuelled charms. In fact I made one noted rescue myself. A teenage girl had been flirting with me by the booth. I recognised immediately that it wasn't because she fancied me but because she hoped to get me to play her favourite selection of tunes. Whatever, it was fun to chat. Part way through the evening she returned and apologised for troubling me but, "There's this guy on the dance floor and his hands are everywhere." What to do? "Tell him I'm your Dad." She looked at me shocked for a moment but then realised it was very plausible so she went away armed with me as very virtual cool Dad the DJ. That night I realised that I was getting older.

Because of my vantage point I have always made a point of introducing myself to and get to know the security. A quick nod to them means that distressing incidents on the dance floor can usually be avoided. In the main they are a decent bunch of guys and I am quite happy that someone is making sure that no guns or knives are finding their way onto dance floors. To my mind it is one of those jobs where contrary to popular opinion, brain and psychology are much more effective than brawn. One guy I met told me that his main strategy was to simply say hello to everyone who walked past him on the way into the bar. If they returned his greeting they were generally let in but if they ignored him he would then stop them and take it from there. Maybe they hadn't heard him or thought he was talking to someone else but more often than not he found that when challenged he would discover a person with an attitude.

Sadly many security guys seem to be more intent on intimidation than protection. The last time I visited London's Ministry of Sound (and it will be the last time) it felt as though I was in a concentration camp policed by over aggressive guards with torches which they used to like search lights scanning the dancers below them. When they were really needed the were useless. It was in the early hours of the morning and a mate was taking over the decks in half an hour when somewhere on the dance floor one of the punters threw up. A horrid acrid smell of vomit began to fill the dance floor and people gradually moved into one of the other dance areas. We tried to alert the security who seemed totally uninterested in doing or requesting anything be done about it. Our team of friends then sent out our own patrol to sniff out the location so that we could lead someone there to clean it up which they did ineffectually. Half an hour into my mates set I had to make my excuses and leave before I added to heaving stench.

In some of the larger clubs the DJ booth is set so high above the crowd that it can be quite isolating. Yes its great to feel the roar and response of thousands of clubbers but it can also be quite lonely which is why many of the big name DJ's arrive with an entourage. Its good to have people within talking distance who can shout encouragement and, occasionally take the piss if something goes wrong and you produce a train crash mix.

On a number of occasions I've played the wonderful Atzaro Spa hotel in Ibiza where its not so much a dance floor as a fairytale garden. The objective is not to get everyone dancing but rather to entertain with an eclectic set. Even when it's quite busy there are times when many of the people are concealed in small groups on fabric strewn day beds. Periodically I would leave the booth and wander round the garden to see who was still listening. One evening around 1am I realised that there were only two couples left, both oblivious to each other but loved up and drifting with the music. For the next half and hour I played an unapologetically romantic and suggestive set directed specifically at these two couple until they could constrain themselves no more and hurried off to their hotel rooms to consummate the evening. Mission accomplished.

Thursday, 16 May 2013

So Many Genres

Once upon a time there was just Pop music. This largely consisted of syrupy ballads and love songs. Then along came Rock 'n Roll with it hard edged sexuality. But within a few years this too had been largely reduced to syrupy ballads and love songs. Then came the came the Blues revival of the early 60's which gave birth to Rock. In parallel to this was the Soul scene much favoured by the Mods and their all night amphetamine fuelled dance nights - most notabley in the UK at the Wigan Casino which used to draw people from all over the UK for their all nighters. Meanwhile Rock music eventually split and gave birth to Hard Rock, Metal, Thrash and many other sub genres. 

In the late 80's to early 90's Dance music was born. At first this was Acid (it psychedelic variant) and it then settled into the genre known as House. Lots of people said that Dance Music wouldn't last and that it was yet another phase that we would all grow out of. Instead of which it has has grown and transmogrified into hundreds of sub genres. Out of House grew Hard House, Jungle and Drum and Bass and out of Drum and Bass came one of my particular favourites Intelligent Drum & Bass with its flag waver LTJ Bukem. Since then it has split into Techno, Tech House, Progressive, Minimal Techno, Trance and many many more classification. 

Intelligent Drum & Bass, Links by Chameleon from LTJ Bukem's album Logical Progression

Actually I think Trance and in particular is variant of Goa Trance probably predates all these genres by a decade or so. Back in the early 70's there was a wave of hippy trippers who took the high road to India and in particular the lush environs of Goa. They hadn't been there long before the party scene took off on beaches. As with most incarnations of the dance scene it was fuelled by drugs or at least supported by drugs and in this case the most appropriate drugs where copies quantities of hash brought down by the truck load from the north of India and a seemingly endless supply of LSD. 

MOC (Master of Ceremonies) Paoli was one of the founding fathers of this musical scene. (Paoli is now long time resident of Ibiza who should, to my mind, be accorded national treasure status for his ability to grasp the atmosphere of an event and, with his kaleidoscopic knowledge of
music, play to just about any group of people). Paoli (with me on the left in the picture) once explained to me that playing music for the Goa parties they realised when playing to a party of 700 or so on a beach, many of whom where off their heads on LSD, tracks with words in tended to mess with people's minds. They therefore evolved an idea whereby they lined up two tape decks and recorded the intro of a song, paused the recording machine, rewound the other and recorded the intro again. This might be repeated again several times before winding the tape on to the instrumental break which would also be looped several times. Bearing in mind that this was many years before the first sampling machines were commercially available, the principles of looped samples were then established early on with Goa Trance. 

Thinking about the appropriateness of drugs to a particular music scene the British Soul scene was particularly interesting. At this time, in the early 60's, Slimming Pills or to give them their true name, Amphetamines, were being widely prescribed by doctors. Hence every aspiring villain came to realise that Pharmacies across the country were stocked high with these new wonder drugs. I once heard an interview with one of the drug dealers who help stoke the Northern Soul scene with pharmaceuticals and he described how he and a couple of mates would leave London on a Saturday afternoon headed for Wigan, Manchester or Stoke. 

Sometime out of London they would turn off the motorway into a small town, find a pharmacy in a back street, break in and retrieve enough Amphetamine to keep any club they visited dancing all night. This, I understand, was the primary source of Amphetamines at the time. It wasn't Meth labs or similar but rather knock off from Pharmacies. Of course in most cases they would have been insured and within a week or so I have no doubt that the Pharmaceutical reps would have been knocking on their door offering to restock them, paid for by the insurance money. I have often wondered how much these companies must have benefitted from this cycle of burglaries and restocking. Not something they are likely to shout about but it must have been a nice little earner for them.

However, I digress. Since the advent of the dance music scene the genres have multiplied and transmuted into a bewildering range of sub-genres to the point where the industry has now spawned countless cottage industries. Whereas at one time the only way into the music industry was with the all important contract with one of the big distributors, now there are many producers working from home studios producing work to satisfy the niche markets of a given genre. For example a friend of mine is a highly respected record company boss producing Jazz House variants. His limited edition singles are always well received but it is a niche market so unless one of these crosses into the mainstream the income is still quite limited, so he is also a plumber. Many new genres have emerged over the past few years which have absorbed other genres most notably Indie Dance and Nu Disco. New Disco is essentially a reworking of old disco tunes. Often this involves slowing them down, chopping and looping them and adding a much heavier kick so they are transformed from happy go luck catchy dance tunes into hypnotic downbeat tracks, which are more tribal that John Travolta. One of my favourite innovators of this genre are Scots producers Craig Smith & Graeme Clark who work under the name 6th Borough Project.

Just a Memory by 6th Borough Project

Amusingly in a search for sub genres which can be used to identify variants within a genre Nu Disco has given birth to my favourite concept with the sub genre: Disco Not Disco. To my understanding this is a genre of music in which the producers have taken some of the motifs of disco e.g. the hand claps, orchestral stabs and Wah-wah guitar to produce a music which in no way resembles disco other than by the presence of these motifs. What creative thinking.

The complexity of genres can provide additional problems for the DJ. Traditional Vinyl DJ  would arrive at a gig with around 100 tracks for the evening. However, with the advent of CD's and digital DJing this can be multiplied to the point where each DJ will be carrying several thousand tracks with them. If like me you enjoy crossing genres in a set the classification of these tracks becomes something of a librarians nightmare. Yes I can classify tracks as Chilled, House, Latin House, Jazz House, Deep House, Tech House etc but the chances are that each one of these classification will include several hundred tracks themselves. I have therefore found that I have had to identify my own sub genres for no other reason than to help me identify a trend which I am focused on at the moment. So far my private sub genres have included Detective (a cross genres definition which I have applied to tunes which have a certain Film Noir, Blaxploitation or Suspensful feel):

Detective 1. J-Walkin' by Blame

Detective 2 The Assassin Act1 by Street Live Originals 

Clockwork (a style of electro and minimal Techno which seemed to me to have an almost childlike quality reminiscent of clockwork toys:

Clockwork 1. Carousel by Ramon Tapia

Clockwork 2. Pina Colada by Rodrigues Jr.

and Chuggers (down beat largely instrumentals tracks which gradually build to create an epic anthemic feel). 

Chugger 1. Shulme by Smith & Mudd

Chugger 2. Violet Morning Moon by Bubble Club

Within each of these sub genres I will add epithets like Haunting, Upbeat, Spectacular and host of other adjectives so that I can quickly access any element of the comprehensive emotions which dance music now populates. And they said it would never last. 

Sunday, 12 May 2013

What do DJ's do?

I think it was the legendary DJ Larry Levan, famed for his decade long residency at the New York club Paradise Garage in the 80's, who said, "I don't play tunes I create atmospheres." To my mind that sums up a DJ's job whether it is creating a convivial ambience in a bar or filling the dance floor in a club. Sometimes the atmosphere makes you want to dance, some time just tap your feet and nod your head. 

The way most DJ's do this is a simply matter of matching the beats per minute (bpm) of one track to the next so that the mix from one to another is fairly seamless. Sometimes they get it wrong and the rhythms collide with each other creating a 'train crash'. Sometimes DJ's mix whole tracks together. Sometimes this is called a Mashup other times it is more a matter of adding for example some latin percussion from one track to an electro arpeggio for another to create an interesting juxaposition.

More and more DJ's nowadays are producers in their own right and will break down their own or other peoples tracks into small components which they can digitally sync with a time signature and drop in an out. A good friend of mine does with this with what I have described as mashed up ghetto funk. He takes components of 70' Funk and whether it is an orchestral stab or a percussion riff and loop while adding other often familiar samples on top. This is driven by two incredible percussionists into a danceable frenzy. Fabulous, but you probably have to be there to appreciate the wonder of what he does.

Sometimes the mix bit is a simple transition, aided with a bit of EQing ie taking out the bass on one track as it is brought in. A lot of mystic has built up around the mix and some DJ's are rightly exalted for their ability to create interesting mixes. Sometimes the mystique of the mix hides the fact that they DJ doesn't really have very good taste in music but has rather selected a bunch of tracks which are all of roughly the same bpm and can be easily mixed with each other.

Very simply I tend to divide DJ's into Mixers, Knob Twiddlers and Selectors. The best DJ's combine all three skills. Although nowadays more and more DJ's work digitally rather than with vinyl the principles of mixing are pretty much the same and some DJ are amazing Mixers, demonstrate incredible acrobatic skills in balancing several tracks and components together. Sometimes I am awe-struck by their abilities but sometimes too I find myself thinking, "Mme very clever but it's a bit of a cacophony."

DJ Mixing Skill

Some DJ's are very good at Knob Twiddling, messing around with
the EQ on each track so they whoosh and splinter in spectres of the melody before coming crashing back in on a bass kick. Sometimes I have observed DJ's so engrossed in their knob twiddling that they seem oblivious to the people they are playing for and I think that if they got more interesting music to begin with they wouldn't have to do so much twiddling to make the track sound more interesting.

I suppose I would place myself in the Selector camp in that to me the most important element is interesting tracks. Yes I can mix and I do a bit of knob twiddling from time to time is if I feel that a track would benefit from it but my main concern is the quality and originality of the tracks. I estimate that I might spend around 20 hours a week hunting for new tracks which is another reason why it can be a bit frustrating when people come and ask for requests of some tired old track that has been played to death.

I once heard a story about a Japanese food critic who went to visit a restaurant which claimed to serve the best sea food in the whole of Japan. To test them out he decided to order a basic dish of king prawns. The chef came and stood in front of him, lit a small flame and then slowly turned the King Prawns on a skewer over the flame. He then presented these on a plate to the critic who in a voice of outrage said, "You claim to serve the best sea food in the whole of Japan yet all you did was toast three King Prawns over a flame." "Yes sir, thats right", said the chef, "First we find the best sea food in the whole of Japan and then we cook it." I like to apply this same principle to DJing. Find the best tracks and then play them (in some sort of progressive order)

Because of my style and the venues I play in I am not tied to the tyranny of 128 bpm, or whatever the standard club speed of the time is, and so, while I am overjoyed when I find two tracks which can segue in an interesting fashion with one melody growing out of the other I do not like to confine my mixes to same  bpm. I love it, for example, when I find one track that ends by breaking down into a solo piano and mix this with another track that begins with a solo piano. If this works properly you can take people from a downbeat tempo of around 100bmp up to 128 with no one being aware of how it happened.

Because I like to play eclectic sets I like the idea of framing genres. That is to say there might be people who while they enjoy jubilant gospel house with vibrant singing would say that they don't particularly like the form of stripped back electro known as Minimal Techno (or simply Minimal to the congnicenti). However, if done properly I think that it is possible to take people across genres without them being aware of it with the Minimal providing a clean and refreshing respite from the full on bounce of gospel house. For me the best DJ's not only create a great atmosphere but also take you on something of a musical journey.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Do You Do Requests?

This is one of the strangest phenomena that all DJ's experience, regardless of their reputation. In most cases I think that people who come up to me in the booth to ask for a requests just want to connect. They are saying in effect that we appreciate your music and share a similar good taste. However, not all visitors are so gracious. Most DJ's I know will report that at some time they have had heard one of the following comments:

1. "Can you play something we can dance to?" - I have heard this at times when the dance floor has been packed and bouncing. If this request comes from a man then the subtext is probably that he has his eyes on a girl who he wants to get off with. She isn't dancing because for example, she has told him that she only likes dancing to Abba so he is trying to negotiate Abba so that he can get her on the dance floor. Generally speaking it seems that girls prefer to dance to stuff with words or something anthemic. I was once advised not to follow request from the guys because often they are showing off their nerdy comprehension of dance music and will lead you into all sorts of obscure stuff that is guaranteed to clear the floor. Get the girls dancing and boys will follow.

2. "When are you going to play some good stuff" - bearing in mind that most DJ's spend many hours each week hunting down, sifting and classifying new music this is a bit of an insult and the subtext is that they want to hear something they already know. Generally speaking I have found that there is a division between people at gigs between those who don't get out very often and only want to hear what is familiar to them and those who go to a gig because they want to hear some of the new stuff that the DJ has uncovered.

3. Have you got any (fill in a name, any name). I have had people request Bob Dylan when the place has been full on dancing. I think part of this request stems from the fact that we are increasingly living in a demand led society. People can go to You Tube or iTunes and hear exactly what they want. For me, DJing from a computer and in some cases people assume that I am connected to the internet and can therefore play anything that is demanded. If someone asks for an artist that I don't have I have even had situations where people have tried to push me to one side so that they can browse my screen. At which point I have had to say, "Oh of course now I see the problem. You think I am a juke box." Frequently when I receive a specific request for an artist I like to say, "What flavour do you want?" i.e. "Do you like funky, deep, progressive, dub, hip hop, minimal?" Since I tend to play pretty long and eclectic sets there is a good chance that I will be able to fulfil their flavour request whatever it is.

4. "When are you going to play something we can dance to?" As I often play in cocktail and lounge bars dancing is not always a prerequisite. Clubs usually carry with them a sort of tyranny of the 130 beats per minute which is an ideal speed to keep people dancing. From my perspective I prefer playing in bars, terraces, beaches and private parties  because you can have more fun by altering the tempo. In fact sometimes when I've played several house beat tracks I have noticed that people start to adopt the same dancing moves and to my mind (as a regular dancer) this can get a bit boring. The problem is that it's very difficult to transit from, for example, funky house to reggae. Inevitably this means that there is a period when people find that the dance moves there were using don't work with the new beats but usually after a few seconds they adjust and adopt new moves which keeps it interesting. When playing bars my object is not usually to get people dancing but rather to entertain and enervate the conversation. I am a great fan of Nu Disco which often means that the tracks are based on familiar disco themes but often slowed down, often to around 100 bpm, stretched out and with a hypnotic big beat added. I can easily dance to this but but for some people it simply awakens the desire to dance and they assume because they are now enjoying the music that the next step must be that the music must be taken up a notch to full house dance mode. Sometimes I oblige and sometimes not as I'm paid to make that judgment call.

5. Something intelligible shouted at loud volume. Drugs have definitely impacted on dance floors through the decades. Personally I would much rather play for a group that are loved up on ecstasy that wired up on coke (which is sadly more and more common these days) which can make people rather insensitive and loud.

It's quite common for DJ's to develop hearing problems. I've had tinnitus now for around 30 years. I remember the moment well. I was at a reggae gig at the old Dingwalls dance hall in Camden. The place was rammed and I decided that I would join the slow moving crocodile of people moving towards the toilets. Unfortunately at one point the queue stopped moving at a point where I was standing by one of the speakers. I didn't notice at first but then felt a sharp pain in my left ear. I left the gig later that night with ringing in this ear and then noticed that three days later it hadn't stopped. It never did. Fortunately for me I have been able to phase it out so, generally speaking the only time I notice that I have a ringing in my ear is when I hear the word tinnitus - I can hear it now ;-) I have been very fortunate because I know that some people have it so bad that it drives them mad and certainly would prohibit a career surrounded by loud music. For me the sound changes from time to time. For many years until recently I lived in a place which backed onto some beautiful verdant gardens. Sometimes when I went to bed in the early hours of the morning I would lay in bed listening to the exotic sounds of the dawn chorus. Then, around six months ago my partner and I were staying with friends. As we lay in bed I remarked on how beautiful the birds sounded to which she replied, "There are no birds!" At this point I discovered that sometimes my tinnitus changes to the points where it resembles the most beautiful sound exotic birds randomly chirping and calling each other. What an amazing affliction to be blessed with.

Having said this I do try to protect my hearing wherever I can but the for me the most dangerous and often unexpected one is the screaming customer. Frequently cocaine is the cause. This wired up individual will walk right up to me and scream a high volume request in my ear. I now try to spot them first and put my hand up to protect myself or maybe slip my head phones on with the volume turned down.

So generally speaking I'm more than happy to chat to people while I am playing but please understand that I am working and there will be times when I have to break off and line up the next track or search for it. Forgive me if I am not that responsive to requests. I wouldn't dream of visiting someone in an office and suggesting to them how they should do their work. In fact I have never asked for a request from a DJ. What I will frequently do is complement them on their selection (everyone like a bit of encouragement) or ask the name of a track. If I don't like the music they are playing there is no way that my request is going to solve the situation and I prefer to let them get on with it or leave if it really is that unpleasant.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Gravers

Jack and Jill were both passionate about music. In fact it was through music that they first met. Both had started to visit The Club, though at the time both of them were seeing different people. Gradually they became part of an extended group of friends who liked to think that The Club was Their Club. This same group would, on occasions, travel to see superstar DJ's or make arrangements to visit festivals. Sharing mix tapes or CD's was common place and there were certain anthemic tracks that used to fill the whole group with a thrill each time the opening bars were heard.

Jack and Jill first got together soon after Jill split up with her two timing boyfriend. She was going to have stayed at home but her friends urged her to come out as usual to The Club. Jack had split with his girlfriend a few weeks before. In his case not through any dramatic encounter but largely because the relationship had run its course and besides she was moving away to do a course at Uni. Jack noticed Jill at one point sitting rather forlorn in the foyer. He dance up in front of her and said something trite like, "Cheer up it might never happen," before realising that she was on the verge of tears. Fortunately a couple of her friends were on hand and one put her arm around Jill and hugged her while the other castigated Jack for being so insensitive, after all, "Didn't he know that her boyfriend had two timed her." Jack retreated hastily as he felt no desire to get involved with such an high emotion. However, Jill noted through her tears that Jack was the only one of the guys in their group who had even noticed her sadness. A few weeks later they began to casually chat and the joy quickly returned to Jills face as the two fell in love with each other.

It's hard to work out now why they stopped going to The Club and how their affiliation with music declined. Maybe it was when they were saving up for a deposit that they started missing weekend nights out in favour of a DVD and a takeaway.

Jack still enthusiastically pursued music and continued adding to his collection any missing anthems from this golden age. Within a couple of years they were married and had their first child which seemed to put paid to all their regular social life. Jack music collection was put into boxes to provide extra space for the child but that was ok as he had a couple of Greatest Anthem CD's in the car, though increasingly he was getting a little bored with these and was more likely to listen to the car radio.

Then one day they received an invitation from a dear friend who was celebrating a significant birthday. They were proposing that the whole gang meet up again for a night at The Club. It would be great. They had hired a VIP room and would be providing free drinks and it was guaranteed to be a wicked night. Sadly things didn't work out quite as planned. The regulars who now inhabited The Club seemed much younger and brasher than they were in their day.

There were a couple of uncomfortable encounters when jealousy seemed to erupt amongst their friends. Girls accused boyfriends of ogling girls in micro dresses or boys faced up against younger boys who they perceived to have been flirting with their partners. The music also seemed to have moved on. Yes some of the anthems were still played but more often as samples which was frustrating to those who knew the originals. After that their association with music virtually fizzled out and they consigned it to their history as something that they used to indulge in.

It was several years after this that they were persuaded by close friends to join them for a  holiday on The Island. They had hired a villa large enough to incorporate both couples and their children and perhaps more importantly, were proposing to arrange a nanny service so they would be free to venture out in the evenings confidant that the kids would be in safe hands.
Dancing one night in a bar Jill looked around and was surprised to see a much wider age range than she had ever experienced at home. No one appeared to feel self conscious and in fact some of the more outrageous and humorous dancers were the older ones who were often the more eccentrically or unselfconsciously dressed. It was at this point that she first hear the term Gravers - Grey Ravers.

When they returned to the UK it was back to normal but now they both longed once more for their newly rediscovered social life. They had no desire to return to The Club where they would have to encounter long queues of over enthusiastic teenagers before running the gauntlet of humourless bouncers. Part way through the evening the toilet were an embarrassment and in most cases the music was played at such high volume ordinary conversation was all but impossible. It seemed that by their mid to late twenties society had deemed them too old to participate in contemporary culture. Frankly they had both reached an age where they wanted to be treated with greater respect. They wanted a social environment that would enable to enjoy contemporary music in a comfortable context. Jack began to do some research. Surely there must be some bars that catered for their age range where they could hear some quality tunes. Well yes there were but in the main the music was played as muffled background drone.

But Jack was not going to be defeated. He believed that there were many people out there or their age an above who longed to feel connected once more to the life blood of music which had once brought them so much joy. It seemed strange to think that at such a young age they were consigned to dull domesticity and while he was loath to admit it the first grey hairs were beginning to appear on his head and so he realised that he had a mission to provide something in his home town for The Gravers. Within a couple of weeks he had dusted off his old music collection, started hunting download sites for interesting remixes of classic tracks and was even discovering some productions from the new generation. A few weeks later he approached his local bar. 
Did they know that he had been an experienced DJ back in the day? (an outrageous exaggeration but what the hell) Would they be interested in doing a once a week chilled set in their upstairs bar - nothing too banging but a place where Greyvers could gather. Within a couple of months word was spreading and more an more people were joining them for their weekly nights with Jill acting as hostess, welcoming new people and introducing them to each other. After a year or so some younger folk were also starting to come along, attracted by the calm fun of the evenings and bringing with them invitation to other events helping to reconnect this broader range of friends and enthusiasts to the vibrant music culture that was the dance scene.


A friend of mine, 'Reasonably Famous DJ' invited me along to a large club at which he was playing the warm up for 'Very Famous DJ' When we arrived in the DJ booth we were looking down on an empty expanse of dance floor as the evenings clubers gradually trickled in. My friend began his set, regardless of the number of people present and as the dance floor filled up he gradually wiped them up into something of a frenzy. At one point I noted that groups of mainly Italian ravers, sporting football shirts, began to engage in some chants. My friend responded to this by cutting the music with the faders in rhythm with the chants coming from below on the dance floor. In response a cheer went up from these enthusiastic football fan ravers.

After a couple of hours the dance floor was heaving and eventually 'Very Famous DJ' appeared. He baredly acknowledged my friend or the fact that his warm up set had created a lively atmosphere on the dance floor, on which he would be able to build his set. With no comment of thanks he simply pushed my friends CD's to one side, unplugged his headphones tossing them aside and proceeded to line up one of his own tracks to take over. I was appalled by such obvious lack of gratitude. How is it possible for people to arrive at such a apparently elevated state that they have no appreciation for those who surround and support them.

Some years ago I attended a lecture on Buddhism. Much of it had seemed rather theoretical until the speaker came to what was his main point. He then stated very firmly that, "If we experience gratitude it will open up a realm of your life that previously you didn't know existed."
I was intrigued and excited. A new realm of my life and one that I was previously were unaware of? The phrase was immediately etched on my mind. At first I began to test this principle with simple daily activities and discovered that gratitude can transform a simple meal of cheap wine and cheese with friends into a banquet fit for a king. By contrast I realised that even the finest champaign and caviare will loose their taste if gratitude is not brought into play. Some time later I was reading about the debauchery that typified elements of the Roman empire.

Apparently at some of the enormous banquets bowls, known as vomitariums were positioned round the dining area so that when people could eat no more they could make themselves sick so that the consumption could be continued. This seemed to typify for me the dangers of a society in which quantity was valued over quality or in which appreciation was discarded to be replaced by simple gluttony. Over subsequent years I tried to apply this principle of gratitude to my own life and amazing to say I found it to be absolutely true. Gradually my sense of gratitude became second nature to the point that I genuinely felt that I wanted to express appreciation and offer respect to many of the people around me who we frequently take for granted. We might for example complain periodically about the lateness of our postal delivery but how often do we express appreciation that on most days our post is delivered often before we get out of bed. From the postman's point of view I suspect that they frequently receive complaints of one sort or another but how often does anyone thank them for their consistent efforts on our behalf. Obviously not very often judging by the way in which my postman seemed to be genuinely delighted when I thanked him one day for all his efforts.

Little by little it felt as though elements of my life have been illuminated through gratitude so that it truly felt as though I new realm of my life was being revealed. Some years later I found myself playing a DJ residency in a bar. Each day as I played my favourite tunes for the punters I noticed how hard many of the waiters and waitresses toiled and it occurred to me that their already difficult job could be made even more so if they didn't enjoy the music I was playing. Chatting to one of the waitresses one day I remarked that I was trying very hard each day to try and find new tracks or to rediscover ones I rarely played so that it would make it more interesting for her and her colleagues and so that they wouldn't become bored with my sets. Her response shocked me. She said, "None of the other DJ's even care what we think!" How could that be? How could DJ's reach such a state of ingratitude that they should think the serving staff in a bar or disco were not worthy of their consideration?

Which brings me back to the ingratitude that 'Very Famous DJ" expressed towards my friend, 'Reasonably Famous DJ'. Once my friend had been summarily dismissed we went to sit in a VIP area which overlooked the DJ booth and the dance floor. At one point my friend burst into laughter and I asked his what he was laughing at. He explained that he had played for this group of revellers before and witnessed that they freuquently began chanting football slogans which was why he had decided to play with them cutting the music to the rhythm of their chants. "Very Famous DJ' on the other hand had not recognised this and, on hearing the chanting mistakenly thought they were chanting praise to him and was waving his hands in a benevolent god like manner in appreciation of their praise. As my friend noted, "They really don't give a shit about 'Very Famous DJ' they are just having fun shouting stuff at their football rivals on the dance floor.