Move on up
Towards your destination
Though you may find
From time to time
We’re already in the latter part of January yet apart from the monthly instalment of Living To Music, this is my first blog post of the year, something I’ve intended to write ever since the month began, but haven’t been able to access the headspace required to do so. I’ve found it hard to gather my thoughts, having failed to find any real momentum during the past few weeks. I suppose that, after a busy end to the year, and given that I take a break from my DJ schedule during January, it was far too tempting, and probably necessary, for me to relax back and zone out. Anyhow, it’s time to switch back on again and get into the groove of 2013. I’ve got a busy year ahead of me with some exciting new projects to unveil along the way – it’s time to open up a few new avenues, not least with regards to releasing some tunes of my own.
Next month will see the launch of Schooled In The Classics, a series of groove-based dance tracks I’ve set myself the task of producing (initially to play out myself), which will be issued at quarterly intervals throughout the year ahead, both digitally and on vinyl, the first 2 ready to roll late February. I’ll be blogging about this in due course, so I won’t say anymore for now, other than that production is something I’ve wanted to get back to for a number of years (producer once being my primary occupation) and Schooled In The Classics marks the first steps in this direction. I’ve obviously put together a lot of edits during the last decade, as well as a number of remixes, but I just haven’t been able to set aside the time to produce my own tracks since my DJ career reignited, so that aspect of my work has had to go on the backburner. During the past 3 or 4 years I’ve become increasingly fed up of hearing myself say in interviews that I’m planning to start recording my own stuff again – the intention has been there, but the years keep passing and I just can’t find the time. So in 2013 I’ve decided I must make time, enough is enough – there ain’t nothing to it but to do it. Although it’s good to finally set these wheels in motion officially, so to speak, I’m also aware that making this announcement, before half of the tracks have even been started, is putting an additional pressure on myself – however, this proclamation also provides the motivating factor for me to get myself into the studio more regularly, which is exactly what I should be doing.
I feel that, in the coming years, I need to get a balance between my re-established role as DJ and my evolving role as producer, each nourishing the other. Thinking about it, I’ve never properly locked these parts of myself together – up until 1984 I was a DJ, and since 2003 I’ve been a DJ, whilst in the time between my focus was on producing records, not playing them. It’s only now I’ve thought this through that I’ve come to the realisation I’ve never actually been a DJ and Producer, not at the same time, although this is how I’d list my occupation. So this is the next phase for me, a new venture and, on the surface, a natural progression, but one that hasn’t been easy to facilitate. Sometimes it takes a while for things to align – all good things in all good time.
The omens are positive. As we entered 2013, with all its new challenges, I was given a sign, which reminded me that sometimes, as a DJ, the significance of some of the choices you make is only revealed to you after the event, and that this can be characteristic of life itself.
I spent New Year’s Eve home from home in Manchester, at 2022NQ, a great new art space that opened in the Northern Quarter during 2012, and is destined for many a top night in the years ahead, with a number already under its belt. Neil Diablo, whose El Diablos nights have flown the flag in the post-Electric Chair era, was behind the night, and deejayed either side of me, bringing the New Year in before I kicked off my 3 hours at 12.30am. The party had sold out in early December, and the anticipation had been building ever since. It was a night where people, rather than drunkenly staggering from one year to the next, walked in with a smile and, a number of hours later, went out with a smile. That’s how it appeared from my perspective – people grooving on a smile, the dancefloor radiating with good vibes. It definitely felt that we’d set the year off on the right foot.
It wasn’t until later, when I listened back to the recording and was writing down the tracklisting, that it dawned on me that my final selection, ‘Move On Up’ by Curtis Mayfield, had an almost identical title to my opening track, ‘Movin’ On Up’ by Primal Scream. That was pure serendipity, nothing pre-planned – I had thought about playing ‘Movin’ On Up’, but I’d intended to open with something else and then follow with it (the only time I’ve played it out previously was as my closing track at Bestival in 2010). It was only when I was there, all set up and ready to go, that I’d decided ‘Movin’ On Up’ would make a better opener that night than the track I’d earmarked. Then, as I was coming to the end of my spot, I still couldn’t have told you what I was going to conclude with, I’d left that to spontaneity, and with about 10 minutes to go I scanned my CD wallets for something that encapsulated the vibe of the night, and ‘Move On Up’ just jumped out at me. I didn’t so much select it, it selected itself!
So, having later mulled over the whole far-out karmic consequence of this auspicious happy accident, it makes the night all the more special. Further to this, I’ve been able to share the recording with people far and wide via SoundCloud, thus spreading our New Year experience and the Movin’ On Up / Move On Up mantra.
By the end of 2013 it’ll be 10 years since I re-entered the DJ fray. That December night at Music Is Better, once again in Manchester (at The Attic), doesn’t seem anything like that long ago. It’s only in more recent times that I’ve stopped thinking of myself as newly returned. In reality I’ve been a DJ longer this time around than I was originally (9 years and counting, as opposed to 8). My role is very different now to what it was then – when I stopped, back in 1984, I was a black music specialist playing the latest imports to an upfront audience, whereas now I’m all about connecting the past to the present, playing mainly older music, but, thanks to the re-edit movement, with a contemporary twist, this re-packaging of the past enabling me to present our heritage as an evolving form, not something static and distant.
It’s not enough for me to be a DJ, I need to know why I’m a DJ – there has to be a deeper personal meaning. My current role was best clarified for me a few years ago when I was chatting to a friend of San Francisco based DJ Anthony Mansfield, Marissa Ryan, who told me that she regarded what I do as ‘bridge building’ – providing a means for people to access the past in a way that’s relevant to the here and now. Mentating on this, I certainly understood myself better.
There are DJs who want to play the latest music available before anyone else is playing it, or like to dig deep, unearthing rare gems. I have total respect for those who fall into these categories, as I once did myself, but I have a different calling these days, more akin to a cultural custodian. It’s my responsibility to help make those past / present connections, to give people who weren’t there when these records first appeared a taste of the times in which they were made, which is why my writings on music and popular culture is such a vital aspect of what I do. History isn’t just a series of facts and figures – that’s important, but the meat is put on the bone via the recollections of those who were there. Being of a certain age, and having an overview of how dance culture truly evolved in this country, and with much of my knowledge garnered from personal experience, I’ve found I’m able to enthuse people with regards to what went before and, most importantly, how this is relevant to now – I think that’s what my friend, the Manchester based artist Edward Barton, meant when he once described me as a ‘warm historian’.
As I’ve said many times before, my desire to tell it like it was, especially with regards to what was happening on the UK club scene pre-Rave, is what brought me back into the DJ fold, so this is obviously fundamental to all I do. I made a leap of faith by launching the Electrofunkroots website almost 10 years ago, in order to draw attention to what wasn’t being explained in the existing accounts of British youth / club culture, and by doing so I raised my head above the parapet, which turned out to be a fortuitous move for me, the catalyst for my DJ comeback, as well as a means to get my message across.
I suppose it all comes down to getting your voice heard, and now, thankfully, through my DJ work and online presence, I have a platform. I’m fully aware of what it’s like to have a head full of stuff when nobody is prepared to listen – it’s a very lonely road, not to mention highly frustrating. But now I’m able to connect with people all over the world, something I couldn’t have conceived of in my darker days, the internet key to my redemption. Now the fresh challenge is to negotiate the oncoming ‘culture of steam’ you might have heard me mention elsewhere, hastened by our enthusiastic exploration of cyberspace in this new post-millennian epoch.
The internet provides us with access to unlimited information, the implications of which we can barely fathom. Alan Moore’s assertion that our culture is turning to steam, provides me with my best means of comprehending what’s going on around us. I’ve blogged about this previously, but, to re-cap, here’s what the wise sage of Northampton had to say on the subject 10 years ago:
“History is a heat. It is the heat of accumulated information and accumulated complexity. As our culture progresses we find that we gather more and more information and that we slowly start to move almost from a fluid to a vaporous state as we approach the ultimate complexity of a social boiling point. I believe that our culture is turning to steam…As I understand it, at the last count human information was doubling around every 18 months. Further to this, there is a point somewhere around 2015 when human information is doubling every thousandth of a second. That means that in each thousandth of second we will have accumulated more information than we have in the entire previous history of the world. At this point I believe that all bets are off. I cannot imagine the kind of culture that might exist after such a flashpoint of knowledge. I believe that our culture would probably move into a completely different state, would move past the boiling point, from a fluid culture to a culture of steam.”
When you look at the amount of information people are uploading to their social media, you can see the culture of steam in full flow – it’s enough to keep up with your friends, let alone anything else. I know I spend far too much time online myself – it’s so easy to completely lose focus and go off on a tangent finding all manner of fascinating stuff that, as interesting as it might be, is stopping you from keeping on task. We’re not yet disciplined when it comes to our use of the internet – I watch people live their lives on Facebook, often sharing personal information with wild abandon. We’re all being sucked up into the steam, so it’s no surprise that the next stage is placing all that information onto ‘clouds’, for that’s, of course, where steam ends up.
So, amidst this information overload, it’s vital to bring as much clarity to what you’re doing as you can, otherwise it’s going to be lost in the fog of a thousand other things. My online presence, via the blog, SoundCloud, Electrofunkroots and social media, is all geared around this ‘bridge builder’ role – my hope is that someone might hear a track I play, or read a piece that I’ve written, and then, because I’ve made the information accessible to them, begin to look deeper of their own accord. For example, someone who wasn’t around to experience much of the music I play when it was originally released might hear an artist, Curtis Mayfield being a good example, in one of my mixes, and, having found out who it is, google for further info, checking out more tracks on YouTube, and, hopefully, embarking on an enriching voyage of discovery unearthing music they might not otherwise have been opened up to. Curtis Mayfield, as an older generation will testify, is one of the greats of both black music and social commentary, but you can’t expect a younger person whose never previously been exposed to his work to be aware of this. There needs to be a gateway before you can begin to crystalize such knowledge.
The way I see it is that I can help people move along the street, help them map things out, but it’s up to them to explore the avenues that branch off. I’ve come to realise that my passion for the things that I’m into often rubs off on others, and I’m able to arouse their interest by giving context to something that was previously obscure to them. This can stem purely from a track they might have heard me play out, maybe by an artist they’re already aware of, but have never properly connected with until that point. Once we realise what rocks our boat, the internet truly comes into its own, serving as a wondrous resource that places a wealth of history right at our fingertips. As many of you will have, no doubt, heard me repeat on numerous occasions, my firm belief is that ‘to know the future, first you must know the past’ – the cyclic nature of things, and how apparently unrelated events connect up, becoming more apparent as you add to your personal map of the past, which can be invaluable to your navigation of the present.
Now, when I look at a playlist from one of my nights, I see a whole array of artists, the great and the good, a combination of music that might span half a century all brought together in a new context. By the same token, I can look out from the DJ booth and see people in their early 20s, and even late teens, dancing next to older heads who started going out to clubs during the Rave era, or earlier still. It’s this spectrum of people who influence the spectrum of music I play, consisting largely of classics and cult-classics, but presented in a non-nostalgic manner thanks to all those DJs out there who are putting together timely new edits and reworks of great older tunes – re-constructing the past to serve the future.
Many people would put the accidental bookending of ‘Movin’ On Up’ and ‘Move On Up’ down to simple coincidence, but the symbolism of this happenstance juxtaposition can’t be denied. There are messages in the music, I truly believe this, as long as your remain sensitive to them, and this one sets the tone for the year ahead – a double-dose of focus, serving to provide an aspirational slogan for 2013.
Primal Scream Wikipedia:
Curtis Mayfield Wikipedia: