Dare To Be Different! Part 2
You’ve just been given a Saturday night residency at Heaven – ‘Europe’s biggest and most famous gay nightclub’. It’s for a new night called ‘Fire’.
(1) playing a warm-up set that isn’t really your kind of music
(2) playing the final hour which IS your kind of music
Residency at Heaven pretty much guarantees you all the free advance promo records you could want AND gives you free entrance as a punter to any of London’s major nightclubs. It’s a brilliant gig!
But six weeks in, the night’s struggling and the manager explains that when a new night isn’t working the club usually gets rid of all the DJs involved and starts with a clean slate.
“However,” he tells you, “something about your opening slot really sets the whole night off right. So we’d like to offer you the opening slot on the relaunch.”
What do you do?
Do you take the blue pill and accept the warm-up slot of music you’re not really into?
Or do you dare to be different and take the red one, explaining that you’d rather move on if you’re no longer going to be allowed to play the music you really love?
Good Times and Bad Times in Heaven
I’d never been to Heaven as a punter. Friends told me it was a tourist trap with an over-priced entrance fee, and I was new to the scene and took their comments at face value. So the club wasn’t really on my radar, but apparently it was struggling on its most important night: Saturday – the party night! Hi-NRG producer and resident DJ Ian Levine had seen the club rise to dizzy heights with queues round the block but, as the club management later admitted, he’d been kept on a year past his ‘sell by’ date and the audience had dwindled dramatically week on week to the point where Levine had to be ‘let go’. Music had changed significantly with the arrival of House and Acid, but the DJ hadn’t.
A new DJ, Marc Andrews, had eventually been taken on and revived attendance to its former glories, but management were now in panicky ‘micro-management’ mode after a particularly rough year, continually interfering in the music policy and questioning the DJs’ choices. So when rival nightclub The Fridge launched a new gay-oriented night called ‘Love Muscle’ and asked Marc to take the main slot he was more than happy to jump ship.
Replacement DJs were tried, but this was the era of the weekly Mix Mag Update and fortnightly DJ Magazine when newer, naive DJs were simply playing what those magazines were telling them was ‘cool’, instead of going with their own gut feel or passion. Heaven had never been a ‘me too’ club where music was concerned, and punters didn’t want it to become one now. They started drifting elsewhere.
It’s Not Your Mix Tape, It’s You (that gets the gig)!
Martyn Butler and Chris Heard, two almost fanatical clubbers who’d heard me play a short run of late night Monday slots at The London Apprentice in Hoxton, were very loyal to Heaven and they would often repeat the mantra “We need to get you on at Heaven” whenever we met. It was Martyn who helped put together my flyer for The Paradise Club [last issue]. He was a bit of a chancer (HMRC were always chasing him, to the point he eventually went bankrupt and disappeared from the London scene) and his main claim to fame is as the guy who lit up the Canary Wharf Tower with a laser countdown clock one New Year’s Eve. More importantly, he’s also the guy who sold me a new desktop PC when I needed one.
This meant that it was Martyn I turned to when my scanner broke down and I found myself unable to scan in the 12” record picture sleeves that I needed to make the reviews that appeared in my Prime Cuts newsletters more visually attractive. A deadline was fast approaching and I had no images. Martyn pointed me in the direction of Alan Purnell, who had a scanner and also happened to be the technical manager at Heaven!
For helping out with my scanning, I gave Alan a mix tape, which was ostensibly what got me a ‘trial’ warm-up gig at Heaven. Although what really excited Alan, I found out much later, was meeting a DJ with passion and conviction about what constituted ‘gay’ music, and with a belief strong enough to write about it and produce a monthly newsletter promoting it. After months of what he called “endless cardboard cut-out wannabes with no allegiance to any of the music” he apparently saw me as a breath of fresh air and, unbeknownst to me at the time, fought hard and long behind the scenes to get me a trial slot at Heaven.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 74, Pages 50-54.