The Secret DJ has a new book out which will no doubt be vey entertaining and also has launched a collaboration with a mystery designer (secret DJ meets unknown designer uptown) to create an artwork series to raise money for UK venues. More info and links in the footer on all of this but we got in touch to ask some questions with the result being entertaining as ever. x.
I recently saw you on Twitter talk about the nicest people in dance music. Who came top of that poll and who are your favourites?
It’s a tough one because you can’t really score goodness can you? A lot of people were like "my mate Dave!” which was lovely but kind of funny. In the end I gave up inserting caveats and rules and just left it as a sort of ‘safe space’ and nice zone for folks to be nice in. No rules. It got too big to manage, which was also very lovely. Naturally there was a lot of love for Wevvers (Andrew Weatherall), which as well as being richly deserved definitely reflected the age of my myself and my online crew but as it developed and went a bit viral we got all sorts rolling up. Testament to his character as well as a beautiful legacy innit? I remember when he died and I was almost ready with a rebuttal for the inevitable random nob. There’s always a random nob. You know the type. “Prince was shit” sort. Professional contrarians. If it is a widely held view they will oppose it just for the sake of it? No matter how ridiculous. I remember when Andrew died there wasn’t a single one! Not a sausage. Literally the only time I’ve seen that happen online. Ever.
Naturally Carl Cox was mentioned a lot, he’s a prince. James Zabiela, Jon Dasilva and Nicky Blackmarket all got mentions. I guess I am ‘referee’ and luckily I have met nearly everyone in the biz over the last 35 years so I can ‘verify’ for what it is worth. The only one I have never met, and I hope I will one day, is Luke Unabomber. Popular fella. Lottie is a legend. Such a good egg. Blessed Madonna comes highly recommended. Nancy Noise too, a genuine pioneer. Harri and Dom from the Subbie of course. Everyone loves the boys from Horse Meat! absolute sweethearts. Many votes for dear Frankie Knuckles naturally. Danny Howells and Sir Norm (Norman Jay). As I say, I didn’t want to impose rules but I did try to make a distinction between someone who is just ‘alright’ and ‘not a wanker’ as opposed to people with a solid rep for persistently shiny good vibes.
I like to ‘out’ people who sort of cultivate a moody online persona but are secretly absolute darlings. Like Ivan Smagghe or Dave Clark. Ssssh! don’t tell anyone! For me my personal faves are Johnno from Bugged Out! He’s a diamond. Been a friend forever. Duncan who was editor of Mixmag until the recent disaster, such a nice man. I love Frank Tope, hero. The Utah Saints are so nice it’s like a glow around them. Ewan Pearson and Justin Robertson have been so lovely over the years. Mr.C, Jon Carter and Richard Norris aren’t just great pals but really good souls.
Finally, it was X-Press 2 that started it all off! I was reminiscing about a mental Sunday morning in Fabric when they played the test pressing (pun intended) of ‘Lazy’ at some deranged hour like 10am! Diesel, Ashley and Rocky. A triumvirate of ace.
You reside in Ibiza right? Whats been the impact of covid on the clubs there? Have there been "plague raves" happening? Are there any illegal parties going on?
I do. The impact has been terminal for some. It’s interesting. The local clubs, the big dogs, they are run by adults. They aren’t daft. They mothballed immediately. So straight away everyone is shut, because it happened in winter, so the Island was shut anyway. Then you got the ‘legal’ plague rave dicks starting up in June/July, and I say this with conviction, all of them were both English and Conservatives without exception. They might claim they don’t vote but they are Tories to the bone. They literally thought they were going to clean up. One of them even told me “we’ll be the only club open!” I said early doors ; why do you think the big dogs are shut? Why open just for a few weeks, couple months at best with all your overheads but at least half capacity? It’s really not worth it. Madness. I mean lets not mince words, these places were super spreaders. It is SO easy to kill COVID here. We’re an island. Shut the airport (England take note) and its gone in a jiffy. You kill it now, open later properly, like Australia or South Korea. For the sake of a few quid in your hand now you’ll stretch the nightmare out for a year, longer even!
So there were a couple of ‘legal’ openings. Your British tories like Pikes and Ibiza Rocks (same owner) and Ocean Beach. Attempts were made by Zoo Project also. ‘Distanced’ of course, but how can you distance there and back? I was flabbergasted. To me, total madness. But if COVID is anything it is prism for seeing the Right Wing and capitalism laid bare. I love this place but as well as the rampant capitalists you have the maddest collection of space cadets anywhere on earth. This was the weird thing about 2020. Did you notice the Far Right and the Hippies joining hands? Sharing the same bullshit? At the plague protests it was half hooligans, half hippies. All as mad as each other. There was a lot of pressure here from the swivel eyed crystal shaggers too. You know the ones. The ‘5G is spreading it’ crew. I tried to tell them on the forums that we don’t even have it here! There is no 5G in Ibiza. Doesn’t matter does it? They ‘aint listening. The Brits were shameful early on. Had to be rounded up like bad sheep from bars and beaches. Every other nationality (and we have the lot here, every nation) was observing the rules. Not the English.
So yeah, once we locked down it was a different story. And sorry UK, but you have no idea what a lockdown is! We had Guarda Civil with machine guns, roadblocks. Not allowed outside for any reason 23.5 hours out of 24. Only to get ‘essentials’ and they checked your receipts and shopping. No ‘exercise’ or mincing about in parks or beaches by the millions. Then it eased a bit and you started to get the attempts at villa parties but this is totally the wrong place to try it on. The locals have ears like bats! We spend half the year having to deal with pop-up raves. As soon as ‘oonzt-oonzt-oonzt’ starts the Guarda are there in minutes. So they tried and failed. I mean, I did free parties as a promoter here for years. If you don’t know the island, forget it. For example you have to know never to use taxis, ‘cos they will call the police as soon as they drop you off. Just to be able to pick you up again. There’s rules.
Of course the people trying it on were always rich. There were people busted for flying in with private jets illegally, Brits of course. The few parties were at massive villas. They don’t think the law applies to them. Probably because it so rarely does. As for actual plague raves? no. Not so much. The locals are very law abiding. Some loonies up in the north of course. The hippies. Nothing huge tho.
You've written a new book - whats your favourite book on music?
Thanks yes, need the plug! It’s a small indie publisher of electronic music books called ‘Velocity Press’ so we need all the help we can get, appreciate it. There’s two that really blew my mind. One is called ‘The Music of the Spheres’ which is about music since the dawn of time and also its relevance to us all anthropologically speaking. It’s the first time I read about Pythagoras basically inventing music (Google Pythagoras and the circle of fifths for more on this as it’s super interesting - Ed), which is a hell of a story actually. I will condense it but basically he was walking past a blacksmiths and heard a sound that was very pleasing to his ear, and it was two hammers hitting the same bit of metal. It was harmony, which prior to this did not exist. And being a staggering genius he went “mmmm, wonder why that is?” and this is the bit that twists my melons off; he immediately weighed the hammers. Massive bit of divergent thinking rather than lateral. What makes a genius a genius innit? Yeah one was 5 times heavier and was a perfect 5th and he extrapolated the entire ionian mode from the mixolydian. Blows my mind. The other book will fold your head in half, more about maths than music. Although there is little difference essentially. “Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid” will fuck you up. It literally changed the way I think. That’s not hyperbole.
Whats the worst DJ gig you've ever had or your worst experience DJing?
I’d give away something I’ve written in book 2 here. Let’s just say a South American enourmodrome, a stadium with only about 500 people, some of them dressed as spunk, the others threatening to kill you, that was not joyful. Bad gigs happen to anyone but total disasters are thankfully rare. Quite a lot to choose from over 4 decades. About a year ago I had one here at a famous balearic spot that was hideous. Like I thought it was going to be the gig of the year and I got there and it was totally empty, I was completely ignored by the organisers, couldn’t afford a drink and had to pay for the privilege of playing. My car was towed just before it, and they wouldn’t do taxis anyway. Just as I was about to go on the DJ before literally played a record with someone screaming in pain on it. Not a euphemism, actual screaming. It was like audio tear gas. There was about 7 people there and I cued up my first tune and when I looked up the organisers had rounded up the 7 people and taken them somewhere else. I asked to stop early but they made me do the 2 hours to nobody. Just when it got peak dismal the handful of mates I bullied into coming turned up, pointed and laughed, and left immediately. If that gig was a car it was a clown’s car. Doors falling off and buckets of confetti in the face, on top of all the egg. It was so bad that for about a week I was convinced it was a set-up.
What do you think 2021 holds for the club scene? Perhaps we need to split this into the over 4os and the under 40s... I just get the feeling that for the younger clubbers and scene things may change quite a lot. Not sure how though…
I fear perhaps not much. I mean look at the plague rave DJs. You think any kids are going to stop seeing a DJ because they kill grannies? Most of them don’t even think something is real if it inconveniences their tiny minds. You think promoters will stop booking a DJ ‘cos they are a bastard who doesn’t care who they kill for cash? Course not. Ten Walls is still playing all over. There’s no such thing as justice in capitalism. If you sell tickets being a cunt just makes you spicy. I have a feeling things will snap back to business-techno-as-usual and saunas on the rider faster than you can say “I consider you as fucker now”.
I do think things have been revealed to us. More clearly than ever. But one of the clearest signs is that we are a binary species. Almost everything, no! I’m going out on a limb and saying absolutely everything is split 50/50. Folk are generally half for, or half against, whatever the hell it is. I bet if you asked 1000 people if gravity exists half of them would say they either don’t know or it’s a scam by Soros. If COVID has shown us anything with any clarity it is that 50% of the global population are so thick they have to whistle to know which end to shit out of. It’s not entirely stupidity, the system is long broken and lies to them perpetually. All I can say is, they are all welcome to each other. I guess when the smoke clears the good eggs will have to weave a kinder basket and do our best to learn. Lead by example. I mean, it’s got to be one of the worst years in modern history. We don’t even deserve the keys to the planet if we don’t move on positively from this mess. I’m buzzing about next year really. Can’t wait to put it all behind. I mean, the Secret DJ shows are in the pitch dark, no phones, quadriphonic system built by Andy Kayll with the DJs unbilled and behind a screen. It was nearly impossible to sell this to people in 2019. I have a feeling in 2021 people will start to understand. ‘The Spectacle’ is killing art. Murdering creativity. I have high hopes. Have to. It can’t go on like this.
Who do you think is the finest wordsmith when it comes to magazines / writing about dance music?
Magazines?? Mmmm. Not my forte. Weren’t they all killed by the internet? I read Private Eye, The Idler and The Quietus and that’s about it. I’m an old man. Dance music is not known for it really is it? I’d say Luke Unabomber is the best and he doesn’t even have a column to speak of. The industry just isn’t interested in words. Not unless it is marketing. I’ve found a total indifference to it at best, downright hostility at worst. I mean it’s kind of obvious but it is entirely about economics. When you stop paying talent and hand it to the amateur pen, you get what you pay for. Nothing.
Long before Spotify murdered the music biz, writers were the first against the wall. Magazines closed by the dozen. Who wants to pay staff or pay for a copy of a specialist publication when the internet is a vast planet-sized specialist publication entirely gratis? I totally get it shifted online. But for me, it didn’t survive the transition at all. It became bland and toothless. Instead of wit and satire it polarised into clickbait or marketing. So it was either savage and unpleasant, or excessively ‘woke’, versus fawning or toothless. The factions and ever-splitting specialisms don’t help either. The art of appealing to a wide readership is dead. It’s a real skill and produces pros. Now you just say “fuck it, I love niche golden era lead Napoleonic-era toy soldiers so I’m off to write for ‘Waterloo Weekly’, exclusively”. Probably for no money. Job’s fucked.
The system isn’t ideal either. A proper editor drives things. Now it’s just thousands of desperate freelancers ‘pitching’ constantly. No one uses their brains anymore to create, they just idly gaze and swipe left. They don’t have a plan, they just sit back and wait. ‘Oh right, that looks OK lets do that’. When I was an editor I’d call people and TELL them what we wanted. Here’s a good example. I’ve been doing the Secret DJ as a column and as books that have done OK for what? 3 years now. Do you know how many commissioning editors, magazines, radio producers, magazines or papers have been in touch? Not to publicise but to ask me to write? Yep. Zero. None. Look at it like this, even if you think ‘yeah, ‘cos you are shit mate’ the law of averages might say that it would happen once or twice. To labour the point, it’s capitalism. Everything is a market now, including creativity. You shop for it now, rather than weave it yourself. The editors are as much consumers as the readers are. Unless it passes their Generation Game conveyor belt under their nose it just doesn’t exist.
If you could bring any magazine back from the dead which would it be?
Jockey Slut. Hands down. You know a great barometer for greatness? Self-mockery. The Slut used to take the piss out of itself. Unheard of elsewhere. There was a thing I speak of in Book 2 whereby acid house had a hidden function which was to propel unskilled and/or working class people into positions of power. This was a great example. People who really shouldn’t even be allowed sharp objects making a publication that went all over the world.
And finally what got you through 2020? Any recommends for podcasts, TV or whatever?
I’m not through it yet! Might not make it in terms of finances. Get this right, and what could be more ‘Nu Stupid’ from the Conservatives; they allow banks to continue to hammer us, but you can’t go bankrupt during COVID. Madness. I nearly made it, but this place is pure seasonal. Boom and bust at the best of times. No idea if I will make it through December, Jan and Feb. Me and thousands of others though. Sadly the arts don’t even make money for the successful now, never mind mid-rangers. Again, the prism of COVID has shown how so many are just a month or two of income away from total oblivion. Something’s got to give innit.
But yeah, love a bit of tellies me. We could be here all day. I review film and TV on the side so it's a constant. I get sent promo stuff daily. It's rarely good sadly. I was impressed by, and continue to be, anything HBO-related. TV-wise I loved Succession, The New Pope, Baghdad Central, American Gods, The Boys, The Deuce, Sharp Objects, Small Axe, Watchmen, Trust and Westworld. Classy stuff. I've been saving the BBC's Martin Chuzzlewit for Christmas, as Dickens is none-more-festive and it's an all-time fave for me. I like that comedy 'Ghosts' as it's very English and you can miss that a lot. I remember my first couple of winters in Ibiza when all there was here was terrestrial Spanish TV and even the Spanish will tell you how awful it used to be. Then I got a DVD of 'Phoenix Nights' and I'm not exaggerating when I say it almost made me cry, I was so happy to have something so familiar overseas.
Film-wise, ooo! I dunno. So many. Standout? The Lighthouse? Loved it! No fish is too strange for my aquarium. Parasite. Loved The Joker. 2020 wasn't huge for film so been watching a lot of old faves. Cyrano De Bergerac is a weepy that always gets me. Death in Venice. I loved watching Amadeus again the other day. I saw Tenet, I see why people had trouble with it, feels like he's hit that ceiling of ripping himself off like Tarantino. I could blither-on forever about screen obsessions...
Music? not easy, tough one. I don’t do music in ‘entertainment’ form. It’s like Barry Norman going to the pictures for me. I have silence most of the time and only engage in music when it is ‘work’. To focus. I can’t bear it in the background. I have to listen. Can’t concentrate on anything if I can hear music somewhere. The modern malaise is a glut in output has devalued music to a point less than zero. Literally. Hardly enough hours in the day to keep up. With music I haven't calcified and stopped, or re-live the past. I've never stopped being obsessed with the future. You do get to a point with being a DJ and a producer where you spend so much time inside it all, you can lose sense of what it is used to be to just be a music lover. It gets like a job. Being aware of it happening help. For fun I enjoy the new young jazzers like Snarky Puppy and Vulfpeck. Classics like George Duke or Chuck Mangioni and maybe treat myself to a bit of the more bonkers work of Scott Walker on a Sunday.
Modern stuff is hard as there is just so much but I fell in love with Axel Boman, Nils Frahm, anything on the Citizens of Vice label and I'm sort of obsessed with a local Ibiza techno producer called MURJD currently. I've always accepted that dance music is disposable by nature, and I include my own work in that, so it sort of feels daft talking-up something that will be gone literally next week. That doesn't mean I don't value it, but I don't hoard it. I love The Fall, Frank Zappa and pop music means a lot to me still. I think Confidence Man are so awesome they make me feel like a proper fan.
Anyway, sorry for rambling! Not had anyone to talk to for ages :)
As we said at the top the Secret DJ and secret designer have conspired to make four pieces for sale in support of our music venues. Each flyer pays tribute to a style of design from the rave sci-fi to contemporary club business.
You can get more info on the new book here at Velocity Press, more info on the posters here and read more about the Music Venue Trust here as well as Save Our Venues here. Nice. x.