Anyone who’s read my book ‘Tales From The Flipside’ might recall me mentioning a dude called Damien Mendis in one of the early chapters. We went to school together in the backwaters of Oxfordshire, and since then he’s gone on to become a highly successful record producer working on both sides of the Atlantic. A quick glance under his name on www.discogs.com shows his extensive track record so far, the highlights being remixes on Foxy Brown’s ‘I’ll Be’ and Brandy’s ‘Full Moon’. Sadly, we lost touch at the end of the 80s, and apart from a brief reunion when he visited a club I was spinning at in Bristol in 1997 with his act Akin, we haven’t seen each other since.
Damien’s now back in the UK for a short while, and in the first week of October, we finally got the chance to link up in a quiet pub in Witney. Catching up on twenty years of career memories was always going to take a while, and I feel we did pretty well to get it into three and a half hours. It was fulfilling to exchange stories on what each of us has been up to since the days when we used to bring radio cassette players into school on Tuesday lunchtimes to avidly catch Gary Davies revealing the brand new Top 40 on Radio One. Really shouldn’t leave it so long next time.
Regular business for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday with ‘Just Buggin’, G’s and 300 at The Regal respectively. Saturday 4th involved my monthly trek to The Second Bridge in Bath. The venue’s just opened its trendy new feeder bar upstairs, and I took a quick look before descending to The Vaults level. All town and city centres have their hazards at 2am on a Sunday morning, and Bath is no exception. The town’s got a high student population, and their levels of responsibility and tolerance when it comes to alcohol leave a lot to be desired. While in cities like Newcastle and Glasgow you might worry about getting your windscreen aggressively smashed, in Bath, naïve, spoilt college kids out of their minds of champagne and falling into the road is more the thing to watch out for.
When it comes to hip hop towns, Abingdon, just South of Oxford, isn’t exactly up there with the likes of London, Bristol and Nottingham. I should know – I lived there for eight years. So I was intrigued when I came across an Abingdon-based MC by the name of Gillespie on Myspace, and promptly invited him in for a live radio spot on ‘Just Buggin’ on Wednesday 8th. Gillespie’s made use of the mundane way of life in his hometown as inspiration for his lyrics. As a result, his songs come across as a kind of musical version of a Mike Leigh or Ken Loach movie – gritty social realism. As well as addressing heavy issues like Britain’s gun and knife culture, however, he knows how to fool around and display a sense of humour. His resulting live freestyle made for another piece of classic radio. There’s a piece of footage from the session on my Youtube channel – www.youtube.com/markdevlintv
Once the rest of the weekend was out of the way, (ending with Que Pasa in Watford on Saturday night), Parveen and myself were free to set off on a long-awaited luxury hotel break. She’s now seven months pregnant and feeling the strain so I felt a spot of pampering was in order. Flying’s out of the equation at this late stage, so we’d booked into the Alexander Hotel in West Sussex for the Sunday, followed by the Spa Hotel in Royal Tunbridge Wells for the next night. Being the last time we’d get away before the big occasion, we made full use of the hotel’s facilities, (which notably marked my first time in a gym and swimming pool for an embarrassingly long time.) The weather held out, too. The pattern’s always the same; I get so entrenched in my work, I find it difficult to initially make the break and relax. But after a couple of days away from the computer, not to mention an incredible Destress massage, I’d have been more than happy to spend another week.
It was back to the grindstone on Wednesday. I now produce two weekly radio shows. Besides ‘Just Buggin’, I put together an hour-long revival mix called ‘The UK Throwback’ for K Sera Radio, a new black/ urban station operated by Australian Radio Networks. (Check it out at www.kseraradio.com) Only a few years ago, such an arrangement would have been nigh-on impossible; the time taken to get a DAT tape halfway round the world, even by courier, would have presented logistical and administrative nightmares. Now, in the age of FTP and upload sites, a show can be sent down under in minutes. My show airs on Sundays at 6pm Australian East Coast time, which equates to 8am on Sunday in the UK, a time when, if I’m not fast asleep, something has gone seriously wrong.
My newly-washed Case Logic CD wallet got exhumed for G’s on Thursday night. The previous week some careless twat had knocked an alcopop into it, causing sticky havoc. The only way to remedy things had been to strip the wallet of all CDs, (which had to be individually wiped down,) soak the wallet in soapy water, then dry out in the airing cupboard. (I’d overlooked the fact that the cover interiors were made of cardboard, so now the whole thing’s weirdly mis-shapen.) It’s this type of ‘accident’ that makes me so wary of adopting a laptop-based DJing approach. CDs can be replaced, but the impact of having some fool knock a drink in to your laptop just doesn’t bear thinking about. I’d also be terrified of leaving it unguarded in the booth even to go to the toilet for a few minutes. Maybe it’s just the DJ company I keep?
Although getting paid twice on the same night is never a problem for me, I can’t say I’m a great fan of playing more than one gig in a night. The racing around, combined with trying to put in a top-notch performance at both gigs, is just too hectic. The latest situation occurred on Friday 17th, anyway, with a schedule which at least looked neat and manageable on paper. First off was 300 at the massive Regal in Oxford, a night that’s turning out to be rammed every single week. My set was interspersed with a performance from an electronic one-man-band by the name of James Yuill, who looks more like an accountant than a dance music star. He sings, plays guitar and programmes live beats in a fusion of indie and electronica. Not entirely my cup of tea musically, but a fascinating performance from a name who’s seemingly poised to become big news.
On after me each week are a succession of student DJs from Oxford Brookes University, and for the third week running, the guy up next had failed to turn up with a pair of working headphones. Like the others, he’d simply assumed he could use the previous DJ’s cans, not considering the possibility that I might have to leave with them straight away. I’ve no idea how they’ve coped playing to a packed room from up on a stage when I’ve exited with the only working pair, but to honest, it’s their problem. Ensuring you’ve packed a working pair of headphones before you leave for a gig is fundamental to being a professional.
After battling my way across the Regal dancefloor, I had two hours to get to Bournemouth for a 2-4am set at Toko, right in the town’s lively club and bar hub. This marked the opening session of Sweet As Candy, a new night being operated on the club’s lower level by Bournemouth DJ Adam Bomb. For one of those inexplicable reasons that’s hard to put your finger on, the town’s venues had taken a hit on numbers, and Toko wasn’t busy. We did, however, manage to play some seriously heavy tunes to a few appreciative heads. Toko’s DJ booth was unlit, and the only way I could read my CDs was to constantly flash my mobile phone’s display light on them. I eventually realised that every time I’d been doing this, I’d been inadvertently entering the phone’s internet mode. It’s going to be an expensive bill next month. It was 6.30am by the time I eventually fell into bed. Twelve hours later, I was back on the road for the latest instalment of Vivente at Que Pasa in Watford, finishing at the blessedly ‘early’ time of 1am.
300 at The Regal on Friday 24th marked the appearance of The Scratch Perverts, and I had the job of hyping up the crowd before their performance. An extended job, as it turned out, with them arriving 30 minutes late. As is the standard DJ etiquette, I started to point out to Prime Cuts where the booth monitor control was on to the Pioneer DJM909 mixer. ‘It’s OK, I know,’ he said. ‘We designed it’. Oops. The Perverts went on to captivate the crowd with an energetic three-man, four-deck, two-CD, two DJ-mixer set, which was far more into electronica territory than anything resembling hip hop. I’ve posted a piece of footage on www.youtube.com/markdevlintv, where you can see just how rammed to the rafters this night was.
The only other thing to say about the weekend was that the extra hour of sleep after The Bridge owing to the clocks going back was very much appreciated!
I’ve visited a handful of European cities in a single day, and Madrid became the latest on Tuesday 28th. I headed out at the crack of dawn, arriving home after a very scary snow-bound return at 9pm. The occasion was a quick meeting with the European Vibe club promotions crew, who handle the city’s most successful urban music parties. It’s run by English ex-pat Scott Edwards, and we discussed some potential new contributions to their magazine, along with a couple of Spanish gigs in ’09. Sadly, it pissed down all day, the strong winds blowing my umbrella inside out several times, but being my first time in the Spanish capital, the elements had to be braved in order to take in some of the sights. My beloved Apple iBook is finally back from repair and the day marked the first time I’d been able to use it to pass the time on a flight for several weeks. Editing an audio mix on headphones sure beats crosswords.
The last excursion of the month saw another double-header, starting off with The Regal. Being Halloween, the queue of freakishly-dressed punters was already stretching round the block when I arrived at 10pm, and there was barely room to move on the spacious dancefloor. The 300 night is nothing if not diverse. A week after The Scratch Perverts, I was given the job of introducing an extremely camp snake charmer act complete with lesbian sex simulation, and a 12-foot python. You know, as you do.
Straight after finishing, I set off for Swindon to guest alongside Dale Colsell, aka DJ Cybernetic, at the launch of his new monthly Cybernetic Soul night at Rehab, (formerly The Studio.) This promised to be highly musically satisfying, having been marketed as a night of real music for people who feel music. As anticipated the night had drawn a quality mature crowd, and between us we dropped a very broad selection of 80s grooves, soul, funk, disco, old school hip-hop and neo-soul. This was exactly the sort of gig I’d choose to go and hang out at on a night off – and there’s not many I can say that about. The only thing that marred an otherwise perfect session was the club’s sound system, which had been set to eardrum-splitting decibel levels. My ears were still ringing the following morning. I recently read the account of Way Out West’s Jody Wisternoff concerning the acute case of tinitus he picked up from playing a gig with mind-melting decibel levels. It’s certainly a cause for concern.
… and that was October.