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.
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This made me smile Andy!! I always think of the music that I’ll be rocking too when I’m older. Will we all be going to raves for the over 60’s…..?
I love the fact that you observed for a night the comings and goings of people. I’m always going onto Gaz about the dance floor and that some DJs (not all) don’t actually look at the crowd and feel the vibe when their playing.
I think your one of the few to keep your eye on the dance floor and re-energise the crowd when it’s needed. I also think Neil P is good at keeping tabs too. I guess it just depends where you are and the people around you.
Thanks Emma.. I was actually thinking of you when I commented about the females !
DJ Chris Hill, one of, if not the greatest club DJ, the UK ever produced said “always stick to your guns” when playing-out. There is the famous story of him playing at a gig in northern England when he dropped Roy Ayers ‘Running Away’ and a punter jumped up on stage, ripped the record off the decks, shouting “I didn’t pay 2 quid to listen to this shit”. Then the crowd all starting throwing one pound coins at him, “Have your money back then!” (Dave Furze was at the gig, and will give you a more accurate account).
That was a great observation … “At one point he (the DJ) was playing records, going onto the floor and was the only one dancing to his tunes”. You gotta luv these guys … playing out a 2 minute record, skipping off to the loo, rushing back to the dance floor for a quick shuffle, then back behind to decks to start to next tune … REEEESPECT! Undoubtably, they are extremely passionate about the music.
I was in the black music record collecting business for 5 years. So, I know first hand, about attitudes towards record collecting and ‘one-up-man-ship’, and that is an unattractive side of the scene.
The one good thing about the family, or is it? From my limited experience of house music and the VBW, not too much of that goes on, or perhaps less so than any other music scene.
Club DJing has changed so much over the years since I played out in 70s. Head phones have replaced the microphone. For me the best DJs have a vast knowledge of the music they play, and know how to analyse the dance floor, and they fall somewhere between the two catagories. Spot on and I agree that there is no right or wrong answer to the question… but nobody likes a smart arse … period!
Next time I take you out, it’s a Karaoke night.
Saludos mi amigo
nice one Tony. I have made the comment several times recently.. I hate music elitism. It sucks, big time !
I’m glad you enjoyed the night and yes some northern soulies have always had a trainspotter mentality but thats true of every genre of music,most music fans!! go to enjoy themselves listening to what they like and hopefully the dj reflects this with what he/she plays.
Back in the early/mid 70s there was a split in the music played at venues with newer funkier sounds being played by the likes of colin curtis,ian levine and the soul twins while dj’s like keith minshull and soul sam would only play the music they always played.This resulted in some moments including as tony says the aggro with chris hill at the ritz alldayer in manchester and the purists wearing babges saying curtis and levine must go lol.
However back to your comment about still playing/dancing to your music in your 50s I would say no to having the same records being played as you play now (with a few timeless exceptions) as house music still evolves where as northern soul music like last nights has always been about the oldies.
I agree with Tony’s last paragraph. A dj who is prepared for, and can adapt to the crowd’s needs is a great dj. Read the crowd is the best way. For some pro djs it is their bread n butter so it’s a case of needs must.
As an example of this I remember Si Sutton had to completely change what he was going to play at a gig because the folks were hyped up and ‘Avin’ It’ as the lineup had changed from when Si was booked and a QH style set would have cleared the floor and the bar of punters except for us loyal Soulful bods. Anyone can dj nowadays with the software etc -but it is still an Art and mastering your craft is a long game.
Luckily, selfishly, we all know what we are going to get at VB Weekender so it is a case of no worries. I have been to gigs and expected great things, only for the big name djs (mostly American) to be playing for themselves and a few hangers on and trying so hard to be edgy and ecclectic, mostly clearing the floor and (for the want of a better expression) @dissapearing up his own arse’ leaving other djs and punters feeling alienated and cold.
I feel so blessed and spoilt though with our djs at pressure; they all serve up what we want and rarely step out of the box, unless it is a one off special show and with management permission beforehand.
I am grateful for this post Andy. I have been feeling as if I am way too old to be galavanting at gigs and the VBW. I admire the folks at the Northern Soul gig for having a good time. This post has made me think again ! Cheers x
I wondered where this one was going when I read the first line of your post
I echo Emma’s words… this made me smile big time :O)
I’ve been to many a train spotterish NS night , soul night when house was taking a hold (me djing house to mixed crowd who couldn’t quite decide whether to like it) and have also had the pleasure of nights listening to Chris Hill years ago.
Think you very nicely summed up what it’s all about .. and that is whatever it means to the individual i.e. the guying knowing the name was loving it .. as were the five girls who didn’t know.
If you look back though your experiences they’ll be varied… some not so great times .. some amazing times.. but they all make up part of the story … and we still go back for more – the common link is the music.
In some ways to some people the dj has become the focus when the tune he is playing is and always will be the real star of the show (present company excepted :O) )
In answer to your question about you at 55 …don’t care mate.. if you keep on doing what you’re doing and write gems like this and the “Out with the old” (which I hope you know from the comments you received was a powerful and heart tugging piece) … you’ll always have a few people to bounce around with
Respect Swonko.. it’s great being able to chuck it all down knowing people will take time to read it. See you in the chat.
Hey Andy – cheers for posting. Glad to hear your ramblings as sometimes if you do not voice these thoughts, that’s all they will ever be…. now it becomes a debate. My few shekels worth into the pot…. 1.I love music and appreciate it for it’s sheer creativity and how it makes me feel (whether out or indoors) and I know when I am 55, I will still be murdering a dance floor. I can be someone who goes out for a specific type of music and know it’s gonna be like karaoke, where my jaws ache at 7am after singing along very badly. Alternatively, I can go out and not know a track all nite and have a blinder…. 2.The common denominator in both given scenarios is the DJ who knows their craft (bit old school but both the Art and Science of DJ-ing). Put simply, as a punter I don’t really care how well you can work a CDJ or 1200…. the question is are you sincere and humble enough about what you do to know, anticipate and ultimately care about what the crowd want? I saw a big name producer/DJ last year who is consistently pants and I now believe does gigs just to have an intellectual wank (Yes, I said it) 3.Irrespective of production portfolio, as a DJ keeping in touch with what people – those who religiously buy the music you play – want on the dance floor and having the flexibility and sense to adapt even if they aren’t “your people” seems like an excellent way of ensuring longevity. To be continued I guess…
Obviously Andy if he hates doing Mixes then he does not know what its all about being a Dj. That is the Essence of bringing toether the different music sounds, and he probably grew up on this new Electronic age of mixing and mixes which makes it so easy today . I grew up the old way on wax and TT mixers and you had to have an Ear and Eye for the craft oh and a feeling, and know your records. I am not knocking the new stuff but i love the challenge of working my craft.