The Secret DJ
The glamour, the parties, the excess, the highs: and, of course, the lows. The life of an international DJ playing at the most exotic destinations worldwide, in the most precarious…
June 27, 2018 | by James Stone
This month we publish The Secret DJ, a sensational exposé from a globally-renowned DJ of what really goes on behind the beat. The DJ, who is choosing to keep his identity secret, takes us on a personal journey through a life in the hedonistic fast lane of club culture over the last thirty years, from world-class venues in Ibiza to local pub function rooms. We chatted to the anonymous author about the music that means the most to him.
What sort of stuff influenced you the most?
I can’t give you too much by way of ‘influences’ cos I think it will reveal a bit too much. The thing about asking musicians about music is it will change almost by the hour. I’ll have ants in my pants about something today and have something new making me twerk about the house tomorrow.
Like a lot of kids, I inherited music from my parents and I ended up quite a nerdy, geeky kid cos I played instruments and was ‘classical’. I was basically a bowl haircut carrying around a violin case. I was highly white and rigid as a deck chair until the rare groove and Washington go-go thing came along in the 80s. Almost overnight I ditched everything for the funk. Never looked back really. Is there a beat more persuasive than go-go? I doubt it.
Then acid house…
No actually. Not really. I was very wary of it for a while. Or rather, it didn’t become ‘a thing’ until it was almost over in terms of being named and categorised. I was balls-deep in electronic music but all from Europe. To my ears house was a poor, DIY copy of hi-NRG. Of Italo. Disco, funk and industrial were my bag. I think maybe even some of us saw house as a bit of a fad. There were already a lot of great parties in warehouses playing a lovely, mixed-up funk and rare groove thing. After a time it was clear that ‘acid house’ was happening in Manchester and in London but it felt very much like a manufactured hype thing. To me and my mates anyway. Something that came after. It’s clear with the benefit of hindsight that factions were forming but at the time it just all felt… you know… like music. I think all the gang mentality and London hip kids trying to take ownership of things kind of went against what it was meant to be. It was more of a protest movement to some of us. When techno started to happen it felt much more akin to the things I was into from Europe.
I digress. ‘Stakker Humanoid’ changed everything for me. It just came out of nowhere like an alien. I remember being on acid at a mates house and listening to it over and over again. We were all in bands. Just kids. We all looked at each other and knew everything had changed.
When did you ‘get it’?
Ah well. Let’s just say everyone has an epiphany. Won’t say where and when. I think it is important to note that when you make music and it consumes your life, participating in ‘movements’ sometimes feels a but like what ‘civilians’ do and you, rightly or wrongly, are a bit aloof. It can be a bit “aw bless, look at them go” while you are spending every waking hour trying to learn how a sequencer works without its manual. We always DJ’d but it was before and after bands. It wasn’t considered either difficult or important. Then hip-hop changed that. I see so much about people saying they ‘started DJing when they were 12’ and making it a contest about who did what and where. It’s a football or sports fan mentality about who was first and who did what and when. At the time there was just loads going on and you were involved in some bits more than others. Gradually it became clear over the early 90s that it was better business to just pay for one person and their record box instead of 4, 5 or even 8 or 10 people and all their instruments, gear, vans and several hotel rooms. Anyway. I guess ‘getting it’ was being bang on-one and hearing Voodoo Ray for the first time. I am certain not the only one.
What was next?
To be honest I really don’t like droning on about the past. Sorry! The whole ‘heritage’ thing gives me chills. There is something about writing things in stone and an accepted narrative constantly repeating; which all feels to me like a form of control rather than celebration. I like to enjoy the new. I think that is what it is supposed to be about. Future music. That’s all I’ve ever tried to do.
Go on. Give us a 90s record!
OK. ‘The Storm’ by World of Twist. Reminds me of Megadog and Spiral Tribe when Glastonbury had no fence. It was more about acid jazz and techno for me in the 90s. Hanging out with mates who played in bands as well as made records. I’m not ashamed to say I enjoy a bit of a noodle and a slice of jazz funk now and then. Something like ‘On The Avenue’ by Ronnie Foster . . .
I like new jazzy stuff too. Bit of Midlife? ‘Magnificent Moon’? Vulfpeck too. And what’s Vulfpeck’s spin-off band called? Fearless Flyers? Love it. There’s always been a jazzy streak. Even with the DJing. Something like ‘Bagwan Love Example’ by the Idjut Boys. Can’t say there is a lot of call for it in Ibiza haha! Means a lot to me though.
What would you play in Ibiza?
Well, I’ve been based here a while but the actual island is not very adventurous musically. It’s not London or New York where you have millions of sophisticated people who can sustain esoteric vibes and dusty corners. You get money men who want to grab and drain the pockets of as many tourists as poss. And the ‘balearic’ scene is sadly very very small and populated almost entirely by pensioners. Tech-house is the tyrant haha! You’ll be hard pushed to hear anything else. I dunno, theoretically? If I was in some sort of idealised, non-industry situation I’d play some solid slabs of sunshine. Unfortunately, I don’t really get the opportunity. ‘900 Degrees’ by Ian Pooley is old gold. The tyranny of tech house means these days kids don’t really react well if you play anything else.
I’m a huge Psychemagik fanboy. Love everything they do. ‘Triumph of the Gods’ does exactly what it says on the tin. Big tin! Love Róisín Murphy! Tell you a good one actually, Aroop Roy did a great rework of Azymuth’s ‘May I Have This Dance’. A great big chunk of joy right there. Love Ewan Pearson. He has the golden touch. To be honest I could go on all day. It’s what I do. It’s kind of futile trying to make yourself look cool with these things, there is always some mean little monster somewhere taking everything you do or say to pieces. I guess I could give you a list of too-cool club bangers I DJ with, but I don’t think that will be very entertaining for anyone other than wannabe DJs hovering about with Shazam like fucking Baron Harkonnen or something. Maybe save that for another time. Could bang on about disco all day and night for example. Could happily give you a list of my favourite Fall or Tom Waits records, or Frank Zappa rarities. I think there is plenty to be getting on with there. Maybe do you a DJ mix another time?
Thanks for that.
No, thank you!
The Secret DJ is available to buy now.