can you dance your way to enlightenment? princess julia finds out!
My initial attraction to a life in clubs was born out of escapism, a desire to belong to a scene where everybody felt like an outsider, a freak or just part of the great misunderstood. Clubs are places where you can dress, say and be whoever you like. There are no rules. You can express yourself, create an alter ego and get totally lost in the music. As the walls pound with musical vibration, you can immerse yourself in the clatter of clinking glasses and the whoop and promise of a high old time. People gathering together in a nightclub was once considered a decadent lifestyle, but today it is a part and parcel of youth, a right of passage before 'settling down'.
I became a bona fide DJ after experimenting with a series of projects in the 80s connected to art, fashion and music. Initially I felt drawn to a secret society, a mysterious world where anything could happen, where you might meet the most unusual people, the famous, the love of your life, or even a one-night stand. I'd always have an adventure and a tale to tell the next morning while nursing a hangover and getting ready for the next episode into the night.
In the days before DJs were granted 'rock star' status, they were expected to undertake a multitude of not very glamorous jobs - including the lighting, the smoke machine and sometimes even the coat check! Legendary DJ, Tallulah, who started DJing in the early 70s, up until he died in 2008, said of his early days, "In the booth, there was a light switch that you? could hit and the lighting engineer would get a flashing light on a phone so you could talk to him." His recollections of an underground lifestyle paint a vivid evolution of club life, from the pre-disco 60s, to the explosion of super clubs in the late 80s and onwards. I love hearing about the escapades of my friends, many of whom have since gone down in clubbing history.
"There's no better feeling than watching the dance floor respond to the music you have chosen."
I'll always recall the time DJ Jeffrey Hinton decided to "play" the slipmat at Taboo. He was tripping and thought he was at home instead! Everyone still danced though. ?In the DJ booth you are strangely detached, set apart from the dance floor, behind a booth, busy lining up music and watching the crowd for their reaction. There's no better feeling than watching the dance floor respond to the music you have chosen. Mark Moore, DJ, producer and front man of seminal band S-Express began his career as a DJ in the early 80s and continues to involve himself in the spirit of it to this day. "My experience of DJing is similar to when friends come round your house and you play music to them," Mark says. "Every record that brings joy and blows their mind, also brings joy to you. So it really is a way of bonding and sharing - communion! I imagine it's the same feeling religious types get when sharing the word of God, only you're doing it with music. Music is considered to be the voice of God so perhaps DJs are all messengers of God anyway!"
I came to DJing by being a clubber first. In the early days, I enjoyed being on the other side of the decks, the beat engulfing my every word and action... I loved to dance too. There's something ecclesiastical about the clubbing experience, a series of interactions on a number of levels - getting ready, getting in, meeting friends, making new ones and escaping the mundane struggle of everyday life. While working in clubs can take away from the mystery of clubbing, being a DJ is a strangely obtuse world where, together with a team, you create a mood and atmosphere that allows people to behave in extreme ways that are perhaps unacceptable in the cold light of day. There is an element of decadence attached to disco. Drugs and alcohol have always been part of it and are indeed enhancers of escapism. Burning the candle at both ends, however, often takes its toll. Nature has its own way of making you pay for a hedonistic night out, as we all know, cue the hangovers, the come-downs and the memories of casualties along the way.
Picture yourself in a club, it's loud and noisy, you might have had one too many and you're whipped up into a bit of a frenzy by it all. It's fair to say, you're in a jolly good mood. A lot can be said for meeting people in situations such as these. Most of my lifelong friends have come from chance meetings, so from that point of view I encourage a life in clubs. Get out there and experience it for yourself, see it as a form of research if you will. Perhaps it's not for you, but you'll never know until you go there. My theories revolve around first hand experience and living each day as if it were your last.
"You always knew you were in the place to be if you saw certain people in the house and quite by accident I seem to have become one of those myself.. Which just goes to show if you hang around long enough something's bound to happen!"
Club life is a great leveller. Wayne Shires who has been running clubs and parties in London since the 80s explains, "You can be unemployed, a student, work 9 to 5, or be a major celebrity and be in the same room enjoying the same music at the same time." When I was growing up in Stamford Hill, the "famous" seemed a world away from my existence, but club life soon changed all of that. Suddenly I was mixing with people I'd only ever read about in magazines. Many of the new people I met then became stars of club land themselves. You always knew you were in the place to be if you saw certain people in the house and quite by accident I seem to have become one of those myself... Which just goes to show if you hang around long enough something's bound to happen!? Throughout the 90s, the humble DJ became the object of much attention and no party was complete without a star billing. It wasn't long before your host for the night held just as much importance as the music itself, and clubs - just like they do? to this day - buzzed with the idea of the celebrity host.
?As disco stars crossed over into the mainstream, pop and dance became intrinsically linked by the remix. Today's 'pop' is yesterday's dance music... producer DJs rising from the club scene nowadays produce hits for pop stars. While producers from the 'pop' scene keep a vigilant eye on what's going on in the clubs. "Ultimately people want to feel good and having that 'hands in the air' moment is just as important now as it was in the 90s," Steve Anderson explains. "It's a moment of pure abandonment, where the outside world ceases to exist and it's just about joy and euphoria - that's what great dance music can do." ?Living in a twilight world, and working within a global clubbing community has provided me with an outlook on the world of immense value. When I walk out of the door, I leave my personal troubles behind. In many ways the concept of clubbing is a form of therapy. I believe in the words of the songs I've grown up with, the songs I've danced to over and over again. Disco classics such as Sylvester's You Make Me Feel (Mighty Real), legendary tracks from Kraftwerk, who really set a precedent for what experimental dance could be, 90s classics from the house scene and dance music of the 00s, which interprets elements of previous decades to create something beyond. Each song evokes a memory of a time and place. And, as we arrive in the present, music is the thing that carries me through and unites me with my peers. The characters and friends? I have made in clubs all share a sense of community. We are linked by music and the need to express a life of extremes involving art, style and personal expression. Long may it continue.?
Text Princess Julia
Photography Princess Julia archive