I know where I want to go with this, but I don’t know how to get there. I’m fairly sure what you are about to read will have been edited at least 4 or 5 times before it got posted… so hear goes.
Last night I went out to a bar, some 15 minutes from my home and a mere 5 minutes away from where we have the VBW. I was invited by Tony Poole to attend the Jasbah‘s second (?) Northern Soul gathering, hosted by DJs Stevie B & Dave Moore.
Now Northern Soul is a scene that I’ve never really been into, apart from playing at a couple of events around the country in 2nd rooms and a few of my friends & colleagues being real ‘officianados’ on the music. I am fully aware of it’s influences on today’s house music and latter day rave culture, so don’t start screaming at me about not knowing what I’m talking about.
As I stood at the bar it was quite interesting watching the whole dynamic of the night, the crowd the music and the characters. I’d hazard a guess and say the average age was about 55 with a few people either side of this demographic, an even blend of men and women. There were a group of maybe 5 women happily dancing to the tunes played by the DJ, they didn’t look like your typical Northern Soul fan so I assumed they were just out for a good night with friends and they were clearly enjoying listening to music from their pasts…whether or not they knew any of the records is a mystery. One thing that’s for certain… I didn’t know one record all night long, although I thought I knew every one as it began ! This is where I’m getting stuck…. how do I get to my point ?
Ok, I’m trying to get across my dissection of the crowd and the reaction to certain records. There was this one guy, you know the kind.. I wasn’t sure if he was a friend of the DJ or just a real ‘trainspotter’. Asking for certain records and clearly loving letting everyone know that he knew the words to every song and whooping in delight as he saw the next 7 inch being lined up. “Aaah this next one’s a fucking tune” I could here him relaying to his friends. Funny. The familiar sounding records (every record sounding like a famous tune I recall from my youth listening to Motown, just not as good) seemed to work best. The rare records that no one knew emptied the floor and there were just the guys who knew the words enjoying it. This made me think about the normal cross section of a club night today. Let’s talk about, for example, The Vocal Booth Weekender.
There were close on 400 people at last year’s event, every one of them there for a good time with good people and good music. I wondered how many DJ’s girlfriends were really ‘clued up’ on the music they listened to, if they knew the name of the singers or indeed the tune. The same goes for the lads, although let’s face it.. most guys that go to house nights are DJs aren’t they ? I think about certain females that listen to my and other people’s shows and podcast that know EVERY tune, I also know men and women that listen faithfully to my mixes yet don’t have a clue about the names, they just love the vibe. Anyway.. I’m digressing again from my point.
The happy songs about love and romance had every one rocking, the sad songs about broken hearts killed the floor. It was really interesting to watch how the crowd reacted to different styles of records. This has no reflection on the DJ in a negative way, he was playing music he loved and was clearly enjoying every selection. At one point he was playing records, going onto the floor and was the only one dancing to his tunes, quite funny actually but a pleasure to watch. It reminded me of some of my favourite nights behind the decks, sometimes I have played to a room of 600 people, yet the final 45 minutes of a 3 hour set has been myself playing and 30 people on the floor singing their hearts out. Priceless memories.
Which brings me onto a key question. Which DJ is best, the one who plays solely for himself or the one that analyses the crowd and gives them what they want ? There is no right or wrong answer to this, however there are those who are arrogant enough to think their answer is the right one. Even at specialist nights, where a promoter books a DJ for his specific style of music and playing, there will be people in the crowd who just want to dance to music they recognise, it doesn’t have to be commercial but they will prefer dancing and singing to tracks they know. I’ve had reports from people who went to a party and the reports where “He was amazing, I didn’t recognise one record all night” and “He played OK but I didn’t recognise one record all night.”
So back to last night.. as we enjoyed the vibe I wondered what lay ahead for us, how our nights out will fair against these Northern Soul parties. At 55 years of age, will I be the guy stood with the headphones on behind the decks rocking a packed out floor to “Sunshine in My Life” or will I be the loner singing along to “Well of Love” ?
God willing, only time will tell !
P.S – I was right, 2 hours to write and about 6 different subjects raised and deleted. Thanks for reading… Comments ?
Shout out to Tony & Elaine, Adam, Dave and Snoopy.