August was my driest month of the year. By the time of its welcome departure September was looking a whole lot more inspiring, with visits to Latvia, Ibiza, the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria and New York/ Niagara Falls on the cards.
First off was my debut spinning at Wordplay, the underground hip-hop night run by my long-time associate and former MC Kid Fury at The Cellar in Oxford. The session on Wednesday 1st was all set to be a hip-hop karaoke special, which stood to be fascinating. In the event, none of the amateur rappers who’d turned up seemed interested in doing a hip-hop version of ‘Road To Amarillo’, and instead the night turned into a good-natured freestyle cipher between three or four MCs while I did my best to make sense of Fury’s Serato selection and keep the instrumentals going. Great fun.
The following day, I set off for a two-night visit to Latvia, joining the country’s most prominent mash-up DJs Ai-Va and Rudd. London had been basking in warm sunshine when I left. We touched down in Riga to find it pissing down, and it barely let up throughout my visit. Should have packed an umbrella. Thursday night’s gig was a return to Pulkvedis, where I’d last played a year before, (and which means ‘colonel’ in Latvian, so I’m told.) The venue has a bar feel, but with a club-style atmosphere, and was just as lively as before. Ai-Va showcased his latest selection of cut-and-paste-style mash-ups, involving familiar hip-hop beats overlaid with unexpected vocals by everyone from Johnny Cash to Nirvana.
It seemed clear that the rain would affect attendance levels at Riga’s Rhythm Institute the following day. The set-up is operated by Ai-Va and exists as a resource for budding DJs and music artists. I was due to give a presentation about my book, ‘Tales From The Flipside’, and relate some of the scenarios that young DJs can expect to encounter as they move through the business. I’m a long way from hitting the after-dinner speech circuit, but having done a few of these now I like to think I’m getting slowly better!
After a meal, Ai-Va and myself set off for the industrial town of Saldus, around 120km South West of Riga. Club PMK is a venue on the edge of town which had been closed all Summer, and which was holding its opening party for the new season. It was heaving and sweaty, and my two-hour set was a real blast. Arriving back at my hotel around 6am, there was time for three hours sleep before heading back to the airport. Once back home, a recovery nap set me up for the night spinning at The Bridge in Oxford.
It was time for a bit of late-season Ibiza action on Thursday 9th, and this time, with our 20-month-old deposited with her grandfolks, I managed to get Parveen along for her first ever trip to the White Isle. This year, for the first time, Easyjet has been running daily flights at convenient mid-day timeslots, (whereas previously the high cost of securing slots from the airport authorities meant their flights left either at the crack of dawn or last thing at night). We touched down at a convenient 5.15pm to be picked up by Soul City top man Julian, who gave his usual rundown of the highs and lows of another Summer on the island. August had been a killer for weather, with sweltering temperatures that made even hardened locals melt. Happily, it was a pleasant 80 degrees or so for our visit, with a slight breeze.
After a hotel pool dip, dinner and a quick snooze, I set off on the walkway round San Antonio Bay to Soul City, located in the rowdy West End. I’d last spun there in peak-season July. Inevitably, the resort and venues are slightly quieter in September, but the SC kicking atmosphere was still in effect, and I had a blast dropping tunes between all-Summer residents Horse and Mister Ice.
Thursdays play host to Twice As Nice’s big weekly event at Eden, and after finishing at Soul City, Julian used his connections, (mainly TAN head honcho Steve Gordon on the door) to get me in for a look. DJ Ironik had been in PA, and Scottie B was spinning, with Dr. Psycho handling the mic, poised between dancing girls on the podium. There was a surreal moment when Scottie dropped Oasis ‘Wonderwall’. It could easily not have worked, but it had the crowd singing along lovely, (see the video below to relive it.) It may have been down to the fact that it was close to 6am, and most of the crowd was the worse for wear. Having had shots poured down my throat all night I was too, and I figured it might be time to leave.
Inevitably I missed breakfast and felt pretty battered as we set off for Parveen’s first daylight walk around San An. Later in the day we caught the Ryanair back to Stansted. At only 24 hours it was a fleeting visit, but I’m the guy who’s visited Ibiza for as little as eight hours on a few occasions, so by comparison this was a long stretch!
The following Wednesday, 15th, I was off for another end-of-Summer-season blowout, this time marking my debut visit to the Black Sea coast of Bulgaria. The only direct flight to Bourgas, the nearest airport, was with the Hungarian budget carrier Wizzair out of Luton. This lot have structured their entire business model around Ryanair, (apparently low prices obscuring peak-season high ones, a torrent of hidden extras, fascist-like contempt towards customers, extortionate food and drink prices, you know the score.) I swear their seats come with even less legroom than Ryanair too, with even the shortest of passengers sitting with their knees against their chins. There was an alarming moment when a black carry-on case seemed to appear from nowhere in the aisle, and nobody on board was claiming it as theirs. Thankfully, it got offloaded before we took off, much to everyone’s relief.
Picking me up at Bourgas was Gary, a Mancunian who’s lived and worked in Bulgaria for the past 20 years, so I got a good overview of the loose, anything-goes culture of the country as we headed towards Sunny Beach. The resort survives entirely off just three months of Summer trade, and we were right at the tail end of the season, Gary explaining that in Winter the beach is often covered in snow and is a desolate wilderness. My gig was at the underground Revolution Music Factory. The challenge was to prevent the crowd from dwindling too early, and a barrage of uptempo, energy-fuelled tuneage achieved the desired effect. The following day I sampled Sunny Beach itself. Again, August here was apparently like a furnace, but the September temperature was pleasant and balmy.