When my agent, Matt Johnson, booked me in for ‘A Night With…’, I hadn’t realised that it did exactly what it said on the tin, namely present just the one DJ for the full 8 hours the venue was open. I generally play for either 2 or 3 hours, with the odd 4 hour slot along the way – the only times I can recall playing longer (since I started out again), was a night at The Key in London back in 2005, and then the Credit To The Edit launch parties, both Sunday All-Dayers held at a couple of East End boozers (The Dolphin in 2005 and The Horse & Groom in 2009), so, as you can imagine, it came as a bit of a shock when the penny dropped and I realised that I’d unwittingly signed up for a marathon, but I quickly warmed to the idea and began to ponder the possibilities it presented.
The brainchild of promoter Derren Smart, A Night With… kicked off in March 2010 and its previous guests have included Derrick Carter, Andrew Weatherall and Soul Clap. I was guest #22, which just happens to be the perfect number for me, so the omens were good. I’d originally been booked to play at Basing House in Shoreditch, but when, a month ahead of the event, the night had completely sold out, Derren suggested we move it to Loft Studios, which could house an extra 150 people.
It was a dilemma, for on the one hand it seemed the obvious thing to do, given that a load of people were now contacting me direct, frantically trying to track down tickets, whilst, on the other, it would mean that the event would now be held in another part of the city, which could piss off those who are more local to Shoreditch and don’t like to venture further afield. I mulled it over for a couple of days, and talked it through with Matt, before deciding that, given it was such a unique event, enabling more people to attend outweighed the option of staying put at Basing House. Derren informed everyone who’d bought tickets that, if they weren’t into the change of venue, he’d refund their money, but, thankfully, only a handful of people took him up on his offer. It definitely turned out to be the right decision – as some people who usually stay close to Shoreditch told me, it was extra special for them because it had been a bit of an adventure, taking them out of their comfort zone – this added to experience, they said. The space itself is excellent – a perfect party environment.
Ahead of the event I did an interview for The Ransom Note, explaining my intention to approach the session as 2×4 hour halves. I told them that ‘the first half will be a selection of tunes I played during my original years as a DJ (1975-1984), the second being tracks I’ve played since my DJ return, covering a similar period of time (2003 to date) to give proceedings a certain symmetry.’ That’s the past / present balance I’m always looking, and now the idea had solidified it was just a matter of preparation, getting a load of the older tunes into a coherent quick reference order on CD (I switched from PCDJ on the laptop to CDJ2000s earlier this year), to give myself plenty of options on the night.
It ended up being a bigger job than I’d anticipated, as these things often are, and, following my friends‘ wedding on the previous Saturday (shout out to Dan & Naomi), I hardly had a spare minute before the weekend was upon me and I was off to Brighton for my Friday booking at the Disco Deviant party, coincidently at The Loft (fate had decreed it a Loft weekender for me, and Brighton, always a favourite destination, set things up nicely before I went the longer distance in London).
All the extra effort proved worthwhile and I was able to enjoy the experience to the full, knowing I was armed with the full span of music I wanted to represent. It was a magical night for me, it felt like my birthday or something – the 8 hours (not forgetting the additional 20 ‘one more tune’ minutes tagged on at the end) passed far too quickly – time flies when you’re having fun. It seemed like everyone else did as well, the room still packed when the house lights were switched on just before the music stopped (aptly, as things subsequently transpired, the Soulwax mix of ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ by The Rolling Stones concluding proceedings). It was undoubtedly one of the highlights since I returned to the clubs in 2003 – thanks to all who shared the trip with me.
I didn’t get much sleep that morning before heading back up North, but I hardly felt the tiredness as I was still in full-on buzz mode. When I got back home I went straight into my studio to upload the recording I’d made, at which point my parade well was and truly rained on. I was horrified to find that the levels had completely overloaded, sections of the mix an inaudible mess of distorted sound – there was no way I could salvage even part of it. I’d been having some recording gremlins of late, hence why I wanted to listen back at the earliest opportunity. A few weeks ago when I played at the Mint Festival in Leeds the recording only came out on one channel. I’d put this down to the mixer I was using (not my own), presuming that there was a fault on the input, but when I played in Brighton I uploaded the recording to my computer once I got back to the hotel, as I needed to free up time on my SD card to make sure I had enough room for the whole 8 hours, and I was somewhat disturbed to discover, once again, that only one side of the stereo had recorded. So, before heading to London, I stopped off at Maplin to pick up a new lead, hoping that this was the problem rather than the device itself, whilst I arranged to get to the venue a bit earlier so I could do a test well ahead of 10.00pm, when the night kicked off. Fortunately it turned out that the old lead was indeed faulty, so everything was set and ready, and I could relax, knowing all was apparently in order.
I don’t always record myself, and there’ve been previous occasions when the recording hasn’t come out properly, but I can generally put this down to one of those things / it wasn’t meant to be, with the next chance to record only a week or two away. However, this night was a real one-off, where I was taking a totally different approach to things in those first 4 hours – as I explained in the lead up to the event, I’d be drawing from my original DJ years, taking in ‘Soul, Funk, Disco, Jazz-Funk and Electro-Funk, the main genres I was associated with back then’ (I also managed to slip in a touch of Reggae), and that, given this connection to the past, things wouldn’t ‘unfold in a linear sense, from downtempo gradually building upwards through the bpm range, but, instead, it’ll be more like it used to be, with greater fluctuation.’ So, to realise the recording was ruined was an absolute sickener, which brought me down like a ton of bricks from the cloud I’d been floating on. I felt I’d be letting everybody down – so many people, a number of whom live a continent away (so were obviously unable to make it in person) emailed to ask if it would be recorded, which I assured them it would, and now I was going to have to tell them all I’d fucked up (in my relief at solving the stereo problem I’d taken my eye off the ball and hadn’t thought to check the levels going into the Zoom H2 unit I use). For about half an hour I sat there shell-shocked and sick to the stomach, but then a partial solution occurred to me.
There was nothing I could do about the second half of the night, that was a complete write-off, but I realised that it was possible for me to recreate the first 4 hours. The fact that I hadn’t used the Revox during this time, holding it back for the final 4 hours, when I approached things in exactly the same way as I did for any normal gig (just longer), spinning in random sounds and effects, the type of things that are totally spur of the moment and would be pretty much impossible to replicate with any sort of precision (unless you painstakingly reconstructed everything a brick at a time, which would take forever). Doing something live is spontaneous, but trying to repeat that when there are additional elements to consider, peppered throughout, would make something that took you 4 hours to do live take more like 4 days to get even close to.
So, in ordinary circumstances, the whole thing would have been unsalvageable, but I’d prepared in an extraordinary way, approaching those first 4 hours from a completely different angle. I didn’t include any re-edits, just stayed with the versions I originally played during ‘75-’84. This had presented a problem when I initially fixed on the idea, as throughout the majority of that period, as was the way with British DJs back then, I used the microphone to link between records, and, whilst I wanted the music to be authentic, there are some things better left in the past. From a mixing perspective, a lot of these records were hardly DJ friendly – the only type of mix possible being a straight chop from one to the next. With this in mind I did a bit of preparation beforehand, cutting the tracks to the length I was going to play them, so that on the night I could jigsaw things together live by mainly chopping between them – this pre-planning enabling me greater spontaneity for when I was in the flow of the night. By the nature of what I was doing I knew that, as I stated, there’d be ‘greater fluctuation’, but I still wanted to make things flow, albeit jaggedly at times, as best I could.
The fact that I’d approached it this way is precisely what saved the day when it came to this mix – it turned out to be totally fortuitous, a very happy accident. Knowing it was something of a puzzle that could be put back together again I immediately set about the process of rebuilding it piece by piece – I couldn’t settle until the whole 4 hours was as it was.
And now here it is – 50 tracks in all, all jigsawed into place, transition for transition, and evoking, for me, fond memories of the Chelsea Reach, the Penny Farthing, the Golden Guinea, Wigan Pier and Legend, the 5 clubs where I put in my most DJ hours (every night was ‘A Night With’ back then, generally a 5 hour shift from 9.00pm-2.00am, this being the normal club opening hours in most parts of the UK in those days). A selection of records spanning 18 years, linked together in fresh juxtaposition via 4 hours on an October night in North-West London.
The 2nd half of the night will have to remain a memory for those who were there, which isn’t a bad thing – the being there is something that can never be replicated, they haven’t invented the type of recording device to do that, yet. If you want an idea of what the remainder of the night was like, the best example would be the mix from The Bunker in Brooklyn last August, which, with a running time of 3 hours and 37 minutes, built in a similar gradual manner:
The Ransom Note Interview:
Next up for A Night With… is Sasha on November 10th – Facebook Events page here: