Classic Clubs Vol 1

Way back in Spring I got my first radio commission. Well, actually, I got three: a short feature about tattoos and piercings which I made for The Surgery and went out in August; a documentary about why people make music which transmits next year; and a two-parter on Classic Clubs.

The first part of the latter goes out tonight on 1Xtra, with the second part going out next week. As the name suggests, it’s about nightclubs. Part one is about the clubs that laid the foundations for the powerful and self-regenerating underground music scene we’ve got in the this country, and part two looks at three clubs that invented a new genre. I chased down MCs (got some, lost some), DJs (ditto) and club regulars to try and tell the story of what those places were really like, and to show what they created. I honestly believe that clubs are a massive motor of creativity, and a place where social boundaries can be explored and extended, and I wanted to find a way to communicate that. Clubs (and those that know, will know) can be more than places to show off, more than places to pull, more than places to experiment with drink and drugs. At their best, clubs become a focal point for creativity, for flow, for good times, and for building things that didn’t exist before. Alright, so I’m sounding excitable, but I can’t help it. I’m just not a cynic.

I interviewed Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clark for the documentary and he summed it up: “to see a scene develop in front of your eyes is the ultimate thing for any music fan.” There are tonnes of clubs I never went to that I know had major impact: daytime1970s club Crackers, the clubs Norman Jay and Gilles Peterson ran at Dingwalls in the ‘80s; AWOL, Roast, Labyrinth and the hardcore clubs that helped invent jungle; Speed; Eski Dance; Club 69 in Paisley where Detroit techno dons would come and play in a basement under an Indian restaurant on an industrial estate and many others. When people make music together their biochemical signals synchronise: a group’s heart rates, blood pressure and breathing step into collective line and I’d bet a large amount of money that the same thing happens to people who are on a dancefloor, lost in a musical zone.

I took my friend Graham Styles to Deviation a year or so ago, when it was still at Gramophone. Deviation sums up everything I really rate about London clubs: amazing music, a solid sound system, a cool, mixed crowd and that interplay between DJ and crowd that you only get at proper clubs. Graham was one of my original club buddies and we drove in his car from Orpington up town on numerous occasions to numerous clubs. When I took him to Deviation he completely understood and totally loved it. He found his spot at the back by the speakers, and it was like he’d never left. On the way home, he summed it up “I’m just glad the stuff we built is still alive” he said. And that’s why this country is so good at nightclubs, at proper clubs. We keep building on the foundations like a city, pulling down derelict buildings and building new ones, layer upon layer, sound upon sound, memory upon memory. We build, we destroy, we build and that’s why (along with pirate radio) our music is picked up all around the world.

Anyway, the documentaries are what they are. I interviewed DJs in my car in Beckenham Marks and Spencer’s carpark. I caught up with grime promoters on a Northampton roof. I went round to the delightful Jazzie B’s house. I went down to Heartless Crew’s subterranean studio. I finally managed to grab Goldie for ten minutes before he went to DJ at the Red Bull Revolutions in Sound event on the London Eye. It’s not perfect, it’s not definitive, but it was made with love and respect for all the people everywhere who’ve ever had the balls and the energy to put on a club so they can hear the music they love.

Right then, I’m off.

Zone Music

I went to see Martin Clark yesterday. He produces and DJs on Rinse FM under the name Blackdown and also runs Keysound Recordings. I was talking to him for a radio documentary I’m making about influential club nights and got a good hour of insight and stories from his years spent watching over dancefloors from Metalheadz to the recent Butterz Records party at Cable. Afterwards, he drove me back to the station with the Vex’d album on the stereo. I hadn’t heard it, but listening, it occurred to me that it was what you might call ‘zone music’; sounds that allow you to build you own imaginary external space and lets you live in it a while. If pop songs build you a castle with defined walls and furnishing, zone music lets you build you own.

I think most of the music I really love is zone music. I like songs although I have to admit I mostly hear vocals like another instrument. Unless it’s a really powerful performer, I tend to hear sounds and emotion, not words, which is odd given that I’ve spent a vast portion of my working life dealing with words. You’d think I’d be a lyric freak but to be honest I hardly ever hear them, which might explain the fact that I only know the words to about three records. It’s frankly embarrassing at times.

But back to the zone. Music must have developed as a way of communicating information (drums as ISDN lines) and as a way of allowing people to experience altered states. Anyone who’s ever sung with other people on terraces or in church, or got lost on a dancefloor, or disappeared into a mosh pit must know that. If you’re reading this and you’ve never experienced the loss of ego psychologists call flow then you need to close the blinds, crank up some suitable music and let it invade and transport. I’ve never actually done this but I think it might give you the idea.

Zone music can come from any time, and from across musical worlds. I know very little about Early Music apart from the fact I really like Catherine Bott’s Early Music Show on R3 and I can see myself getting heavily into music from a thousand years ago. Like this piece written by a French dude at the end of the 12th Century. He knew about the zone.

Perotin ‘Viderent Omnes’

Leaping forwards a millennia, this is music that takes you away from yourself, into another space.

Mala ‘Lean Forward’

I could go on, including things like Armando’s Land Of Confusion, or Dillinja’s darkside transporter The Angels Fell, but instead I’ll finish on this as I’ve started to appreciate a new type of zone. I got into this band through discovering Mark McGuire whilst testing out various clips on Boomkat and I really like them. So much, I’m going to see them with Fennesz at The Union Chapel in a few weeks as part of the Barbican’s Transcender festival.

Emeralds ‘Candy Shoppe’

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