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ARTICLE
By Alastair Craig.
My parents were a little frustrated with me as a child as I couldn’t maintain interest in any hobby for more than five minutes. But in 1982 all that changed. I was only 12 years old when two events happened that would go on to influence my whole career. The first was the Falklands conflict; I watched the news coverage intensely, particularly any items about the Royal Navy and especially the Sea King helicopter. The second important event was that Christmas, when my parents gifted me a simple but effective computer called the Sinclair ZX81.

From the moment I received that ZX81 I was on a mission to make it work for me. I learnt to code BASIC and then Z80 assembler. After the ZX81 I progressed to the ZX Spectrum, a beast of a colour machine for its time, and this is when I started to move into programming. I always had a love of sound and I created a very basic sampler for my Spectrum. I proved that it could be done with 48k, but it was actually of little use because my samples took up most of the memory.

Ultimately, spending time in my bedroom as a teenager led to me making things and my parents were relieved I had found a hobby that also allowed me to earn a little money.
But computing really was just a hobby, as I was determined to be a pilot in the Royal Navy. I was accepted after completing my induction training at RNAS Culdrose, but due to my failing eyesight I had to start wearing glasses. Sadly, I could no longer be a pilot. That dream was over too soon.

Luckily I had a fall back and I knew I needed to develop my skills as a programmer. The Atari ST was my favourite machine of the late 80s and I found my niche of creating samples as well as coding routines for others to use in their own programs. At 18 years old I felt like a pop star, giving presentations with Atari at various shows in the UK and Europe – I was even asked for my autograph! My coding took me on a journey to help others achieve their goals and I was a busy lad. I also got involved in a few music projects with bands to help convert samples from the Atari ST to Akai samplers and vice versa.

I really don’t know where my love of music came from, as my parents weren’t really into it. If music was played then it would be my mother’s choice, probably something by Cliff Richard or Barbara Streisand. On the other hand, my two older sisters were playing Sparks, Queen, punk, pop and new wave, including Duran Duran and Adam & The Ants. But I really discovered music in 1988, when I turned 18. I delved in big time, listening to various artists from Jean-Michel Jarre through to big rock acts like Queen and U2. But mostly I was into electronic dance music and I was greatly influenced by those bands who used samples. One of the most influential was undoubtedly the KLF, whose creative use of samples and fun, quirky nature caught my imagination. To this day I still play all their tunes – much to the annoyance of my family, but hey, they need to be educated like I was.

At that time, the idea of being a DJ wasn’t even on my radar. A good friend of mine, Dave Legge, was preparing for his wedding when his fiancée left him. He managed to cancel everything except the honeymoon, which was already paid for, so he asked me to go with him.

On our first night out we found a bar where the DJ hadn’t turned up. Dave had dabbled at being a mobile DJ, so he bravely stepped in and provided some entertainment with the limited vinyl available. Watching on, I thought, “I could do that.” And so it began. I gave it a go and loved the buzz. Mistakes were made but we had fun and the next day we went to Ibiza town to buy a load of 12” vinyl. That night we had a blast. My new hobby was found.

Back in the UK, Dave and I talked about getting a mobile DJ business together. He had some great contacts in pubs to get us started, and along with another friend, Andy Webb, we started to pull finances together for gear. My grandfather could see the potential and he offered some money to get the best gear we could, becoming our silent partner.

The three of us searched for the best deals and found Technics 1210s, Sony Karaoke CD players and a Maplin mixer to get us started. As an electronics engineer, Dave knew his stuff, so he modified the mixer with pre-amps and made the CD players remote start from the mixer.

All we needed next were a few lights and some decent speakers, so off we went to Squires Sound & Light in North London to purchase a Squire 450amp along with two 12” tops and 15” bass bins. Chatting to one of the guys in the shop, we got some valuable advice: “always buy a good sound system as nobody dances to light.” Based on that, we went second-hand for the lights, coming away with an Abstract Scatscan and a Hypermoon.

We were ready to go – almost. We didn’t have a name. Different combinations of names and words were thrown around, but none really felt right until my window cleaner said the word “nightlights”. In September 1990, Nightlights Disco was born.

With the disco up and running, I subscribed to DMC and Mastermix to gain dance mixes that were not available commercially. I still remember the excitement of waiting for them to arrive in the post as 12” records on the first Friday of each month – it was the best time ever. We played them as soon as they arrived and Dave, Andy and I quickly decided which tracks we would play that same night.

Our first bookings were for friends, which gave us valuable learning on how to set up and make tweaks to the kit, as well as perfect our playing style. On 31st December 1990 we played our first proper party at a pub in Didcot.
Yes, I was excited, but at the same time intimidated by everyone staring at us. We set up, played the music, celebrated the new year, packed away and left with a payment. That payment was the best thing ever, but sadly it wasn’t enough for Andy, who didn’t want to continue the DJ journey with us. We paid him back and continued to move forward.

We managed to get plenty of pub gigs, which were great for building our experience, but I wanted to do more. My parents had a successful wedding fair business in 1992 and we started to exhibit as Nightlights to see if we could gain bookings – luckily, we did.

1992 saw the launch of the Atari Falcon 030 and I was fortunate enough to get my hands on a development version for launch. This helped me create some great samples using the onboard DSP. I also developed a system to extract vocals and instruments from music, so even back then I was involved in a version of STEMS that many Virtual DJ users love today.

Alongside the DJing, I was still working as a freelance programmer in the games industry. Dave was committed to his full-time job and in 1993 decided to leave the business due to his workload. But despite the setback, I was determined to keep Nightlights going. I did more wedding fairs and started to build a solid reputation for my services in the area. The brand was also important to me, so I pushed forward to the best of my abilities using the time I had available. In 1994 I started to wind down my programming projects due to the downturn in the 16Bit computing market and it was the same year I got married to my wife, Tracy. For my wedding present she purchased a SCUBA diving course, which has now turned into another one of my ‘expensive’ hobbies. My DJ work was still expanding but I couldn’t really afford to give up my main income stream. And I kept thinking, if I do go full time with the DJing, will it kill my passion?

My DJing took an unexpected turn when I was asked to look after a nightclub and bar in Bracknell called Frisco Jacks and Masquerades. I was the resident DJ for six months before they decided that my pay would be cut, so I walked away. By then I had moved away from programming completely and into designing media systems for photographic re-touchers, an area I spent 11 years in. This included becoming a project manager, assisting a large portrait chain of photographers to convert traditional film to digital, something which was a huge success resulting in the opening of over 100 studios in the UK, Ireland, Spain, USA and Hong Kong. My DJ skills came in handy, as I was asked to produce music for viral videos for a photographer I knew. This got me into music production and, by combining my DJ skills with my sampling background, I managed to create some great tracks from dance through to drum ‘n’ bass.

Over the years my marketing increased and the advent of social media meant my business grew from strength to strength. Many people thought I was full time, a perception I was happy to give out without actually saying I was a part-time DJ with a full-time job in IT. In reality, mixing IT work with DJing was great and with my background in technology the jump from vinyl and CD to digital was effortless. My world of music expanded even further with digital downloads.
Converting my collection to a digital format was a huge, time-consuming task but once I had designed a workflow the transfer was seamless. With all my music collection held on a laptop along with backups, I was ready to go live. I tested many software applications but finally settled on Virtual DJ with a Denon MC6000 MKII as my working setup.

My IT job was well-paid and it took me round the world, but in July 2018 the company was sold and I was made redundant. The redundancy was a breath of fresh air, as it made me focus on what I really wanted to do: become a full-time DJ. The sudden lifestyle change and becoming my own boss made me really focus and with the full support of my family I leapt in and made it work.

My time was focused solely on DJing, which allowed me to plant seeds that would enable the business to grow. I didn’t want to expand quickly but grow organically instead. 2019 was a great year that showed what could be achieved; I gained more clients as well as new venues.

I reinvested in the business for growth and I’m proud to say I was an early adopter of the Prime 4 from Denon DJ. This move was a true business changer, as it cut down on setup times and changed my DJing style for the better. I felt like I was back in my early days of using Technics 1210s but in a totally digital world.

Then, in March 2020, coronavirus hit and we all went into lockdown. Although the pandemic did hit my business, I didn’t worry too much because I had a business continuity plan in place, with money reserved for such life-changing events. I had enough to last 11 months, although it’s worth mentioning that this all happened whilst I was having the extension done on our house.
In the midst of the pandemic I started getting bored. I just wanted to get out and do something. So in July 2020 I began working for Sainsburys as a delivery driver. I was lucky that I didn’t really have to worry about the money side, but what was rewarding was helping others in less fortunate circumstances – that alone made it well worth it.

Six weeks into my job with Sainsburys an IT company called to offer me some work overseeing projects with servers and storage, so I started on a part-time basis. This new role confirmed that my heart was certainly no longer in IT and when the lockdown rules were eased in July 2021 I started DJing again.

Business began to ramp up and the quality of events increased too. I’d made the best of the lockdowns and had completely revitalised my business model, but more importantly it had given me a mind reset. Going back to DJing at weddings was great and I felt more at home behind the decks than I did in IT, so I took that leap of faith yet again and returned to full-time DJing.

That day was Christmas Eve 2021 – and I have not looked back.

Having started this journey in 1990, I never thought it would provide me with such rewards. I’m the first to admit that I’ve made mistakes along the way, but I can only learn from them, adapt to my business challenges, and ensure my clients are dealt with in the best possible way, something that’s reflected in the feedback I receive.
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The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 113, Pages 16-20.
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