feb-2017-tbrI’m a bit of a sucker for a music book, and as I do a lot of transcription for music journalists, I can always claim that they’re research, too … I started this one before my recent holiday in Iceland but couldn’t get it finished, which was troubling me as I like my reading to be tidy. So I wanted to polish it off first, before finishing the other two I’m reading.

Dave Haslam – “Adventures on the Wheels of Steel”

(3 September 2016, Astley Book Farm)

I’ll say first of all that I’m not an expert in club culture or modern(ish) dance music. I don’t look down on it at all, it has just never been my main thing (if I tell you that I got my 45-year-old self all happy and excited hearing The Cure playing over the speakers in Sainsburys yesterday, you’ll get where I come from). So I had to not worry about not catching all the distinctions between types of dance music, and not being able to hear all the songs mentioned in my head. The author, however, is a DJ himself, playing at the last night of the Hacienda club (and the recreated version, as we shall see) and he guides the reader through the book with his knowledge and good writing.

It’s also worth saying that this is much more than just being about the rise of the superstar DJs, as the subtitle suggests. It offers a comprehensive history of DJing, from the very first record-only parties through various genres or tribes like Northern Soul and disco to house music and the rise of those big-name guest DJs from the 1980s onwards (amusingly, the author relates this to the rise of stand-ups and celebrity chefs in that period).

Published in 2001, it is of necessity dated, with a fair bit about Jimmy Savile and stopping before the rise of the current EDM DJs/producers, but this doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have value. It’s great on both the workmanlike, well-referenced history and the actual feel of being in a club, behind the decks, watching the crowd, following both the big stars and the doyens of smaller nights, even a Smiths night. The presence and influence of different drugs in the different eras of club culture is just that: it’s not ignored, celebrated or castigated, just presented and recorded.

The history follows the haters as well as the lovers, with the interesting point made that people hated disco because it was an arena for black people, gay people and working class women. The movement of exclusive club culture and its subcultures and specialness into general popular culture is explored and the loss of that exclusivity of club-only tracks mourned. There is some lovely description of club nights and some great imagery, for example comparing the swapping of the decks from DJ to DJ at all-nighter to the way the spirit of the music has been passed from venue to venue.

The book ends with the author’s horror at having to DJ at a disco (the mobile disco DJ and club DJ do not mix or cross paths very often) and his joy at taking part in the recreation of the Hacienda for the film about its scene, “24 Hour Party People”. Humanity is kept alive in the varied people who request tickets for the filming and in the DJs still running their own clubs, even as the superclubs become more soulless and the pirate radio stations go commercial.

A good and interesting read.

Oh, and for anyone reading the book and worried, names in inverted commas are club nights / brands (which might move around) and those not in inverted commas are static venues. I couldn’t work it out and tweeted the author, so I know from the source!