When I was asked to write my ‘Profile’, it seemed like a good idea to say yes. But then when you sit down to write, you wonder where to start. So, in the words of Julie Andrews, “Let’s start at the very beginning….”
My home life in Coventry centred around my collection of Matchbox and Corgi cars and my various bikes (Raleigh Tomahawk, Raleigh Grifter). My two sisters (who are eight and nine years my senior) shared a bedroom and inside was a white record player and the record collection of two teenage girls, which meant it started with the Osmonds, then David Essex, and then disco! I have endless memories of waiting for them to go out (Sarah on dates, Elizabeth to athletics training) and then diving in to immerse myself in their latest purchases.
Stand out moments for me include Abba’s ‘Arrival’ album and Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’. Not long after it was time for me to buy my first record, so with Sarah as my guide, I picked out Blondie’s version of ‘Denis’. I’d bought my first record – and what a cool record it is when the conversation comes up amongst friends (I gloss over the second, ‘Captain Beaky and His Band’).
Growing into my early teens, we moved to a new area in the Sky Blue City, where I made a new friend who went to the roller disco at a local sports centre. The first time I went I was like Bambi on wheels after a dozen black sambucas. I may have spent more time on my backside than upright, but I was hooked. But it wasn’t necessarily the skating that drew me in, it was the whole scene and the music. We walked into this cavernous hall and there were 500 teenagers dressed in the fashion of the day, all whizzing around on their quad skates. There were flashing lights and there was loud music. The impression was so strong, I can even tell you that the song playing when I walked in was Blue Zoo’s ‘Cry Boy Cry’.
The soundtrack at the roller disco definitely informed my taste. I have a real love of 80s soul/club music, breakdance music, ska and 2-Tone (my hometown music), and pretty much anything else that was played. You could judge the popularity of some tracks by the number of people who jumped up to skate and how fast they went. The standout track for me was always Joyce Sims ‘All and All (Mantronix Mix)’ – it had it all, but when it was played loud, it had everything!
My transition into DJing came in 1985 when I was asked to put on a couple of records whilst the DJ went to get a drink. It took him an hour! (You can read about that story in my ‘Where Did It All Go Right’ article in the last issue.)
Then my first residency came about when I popped to the pub after DJing at the roller rink. It was the year that Coventry City won the FA Cup and I was in the busiest bar in the city centre – what a time to be alive. Even better, when the kids who bullied you at school are now dancing to your performance!
I was DJ there for about six months before they found out that I was only 17 years old and got rid of me. From there I started playing teenage discos at nightclubs around the Midlands, filling empty nightclubs midweek with hoards of teenagers from 7-10pm. It gave me exposure to many different towns and from these came different residencies. The first was the Aero at Solihull but I also played in Nuneaton, Banbury, Grantham, Bromsgrove, Kidderminster, Corby, Kettering, Cannock and many more.
It gave me experience of different crowds and different types of venues. I also developed my microphone and mixing techniques (I was addicted to mixing) and quickly I was building a reputation as a decent prospect.
In 1989 I decided to have a crack at the Technics DMC UK DJ Championships. After months of preparation, I entered the heats at Papillon in Bristol. I drove down with another DJ from Birmingham, called ‘DJ Danger Mouse’ (I called him Darren) and we both put our sets to the test in the daytime eliminations. Darren was eliminated in the evening round but I got through to the semi-finals at The Dome in Birmingham. My whole set was based around me cutting the sh*t out of the theme from Rainbow over a hip-house beat courtesy of Stakker’s ‘Humanoid’. The gimmick worked!
Chad Jackson, Tony Prince, and Paul Dakeyne were the judges. My scratches were faster because I was shaking with nerves! The semi-final was a wooden spoon; I played an edited version of my previous set and it went well. But then came the ‘Scratch Professor’ – a 13-year-old DJ who stood on a box to reach the mixer. In the opening 30 seconds he cut two copies of Sugar Bear ‘Don’t Scandalise Mine’ in ways I’d never seen before – a double transform. He came third in the UK final that year – epic! At least I tried.
I took a mid-week residency at Faradays in Nuneaton, where I played every Tuesday and Thursday. That led me to one of my favourite gigs of all time, a residency at the Crazy Horse in Nuneaton. I started as a cover for the resident DJ, Ian Morgan, one of the original Jive Bunny creators (alongside Andy Pickles). ‘Swing The Mood’ was blowing up and he was in demand everywhere. It soon became my residency, one that I kept for eight years.
This venue always had a queue before the doors opened and it was my first experience playing alongside bands. The crowd were a mix of rock and pop fans. And the atmosphere was as great as the carpets were sticky! My best friend Marc – official box carrier and request taker – was my constant companion in the DJ booth, not to mention my constant source of encouragement. It’s a strange phenomenon when you have your best mate in the booth with you; confidence is definitely higher. We could write a book about our times shared in the DJ booth.
At the end of 2001 I started working for Brannigans Bars on Birmingham’s famous Golden Mile – Broad Street. It was my first big venue at 1,400 capacity. What a place! A full-on party palace. One highlight was being asked to watch an England game with World Cup winner Sir Geoff Hurst, along with a sofa interview at half time and a crowd Q&A at full time. What a privilege. Of course, I took the opportunity to get an England top signed by him! But more about the football later…
I toured numerous Brannigans, including a season in Blackpool and then four years in Chester. It was during this time that I got into radio. I started in the usual way, progressing from hospital radio to community radio to FM, culminating in the honour of presenting in my home city. I was also hugely into the Hed Kandi stuff, funky house, and nu-disco, but this didn’t really lend itself to Brannigans, so I started a recorded show and sent it out to any community station that would have it. It taught me loads about production techniques and I soon developed a following in that community. It also taught me a valuable lesson in marketing and I called my brand Global Dancefloor.
A close friend (and great DJ) Stu Ritchie set me up with a website and taught me about SEO keywords and how to rank higher on Google. With his help and the energy of the show, it grew to a global audience in every continent on the planet, with over 150 stations broadcasting it every week. I was in my 40s and I was cool. The highlight for me was seeing my name in the Radio Times.
The show ran for five years before its demands on my time became too much. When Global Dancefloor ended, I started presenting a show for a record label group, Mjuzieek Digital, and this ran for two years. During this time, I also had a go at making my own track with another producer, Orson Welsh. To my surprise it was signed and released. I was signed to the same label as K-Klass – me, the skating kid from Coventry!
Brannigans closed in 2008 and I went back to work in a bar for the first time since 1987. The music couldn’t have been more different. When I started, it was Rick Astley, but between 2008 and 2011 it was all about dubstep. It just wasn’t me, so I retired from DJing to concentrate on my new day job (I had never been a full time DJ). I also had a baby daughter, so my priorities were suddenly quite different. My older kids had only ever known Knackered Dad at the weekends. I couldn’t get that time back, but I had a second chance now.
I still loved music. But this time I threw my energy into learning to use Ableton properly. I started working on music mixes for my own pleasure, and to keep my hand in. One such mix was ‘Not So Obvious 80s’ and I decided to post it online to see if I got a positive reaction. I tried another, then another, then another… you get the idea. Each time, my techniques and knowledge of Ableton grew and my ideas became braver.
Eventually there were 40 editions of ‘Not So Obvious 80s’. They were borne from my love of the music of my teenage years. They also garnered me a reputation as having a good knowledge of that decade. This was the basis for a phone call from the agent that books for Butlin’s Live Music Weekends. That was a decade ago – so much for that retirement – and I was lucky enough to become a regular fixture at these amazing events.
It was the point that all my previous experiences had led to. Different venues, different crowds, working with bands, reading a crowd, keeping the energy in the room, creating a journey – it suddenly felt like I had completed the jigsaw!
By the way, if you haven’t been to a Butlin’s Weekend, they’re awesome. Whichever theme you attend, just make sure you do it with a group of friends.
It was at one of these weekends that a guest asked me if I had a fan page on Facebook. When I told her I didn’t, she advised to get one on the basis that I’d be getting a lot of random friend requests otherwise. I set up facebook.com/djjuleslittle to see what happened. Then I did the same again on Instagram and Twitter (sorry Elon, it’s still Twitter to me). Facebook was my main concentration given my audience and it grew steadily at first, reaching my target of 1,000 followers. After that it was a mixture of trial and error until, around four years ago, I worked out how to optimise the platform for my needs. The page now has over 10,000 followers and I continue to get a lot of work through it.
A friend of mine became chairman of Nuneaton Borough Football Club and asked me to join the team. Thankfully not as a player, not least because I’m too old but also because I have two right feet wearing two left boots! My role was to be hospitality manager, which involved looking after the opposition boardroom visitors, organising the matchday music, getting on the pitch pre-match to introduce the teams, and then interviewing the man of the match in the corporate area and the club bar post-match.
It was all a new area for me, so I had no preconceptions which gave me an open book to interpret as I saw fit. For example, I got new audio imaging done for the club to use on social channels and on match days. I also mixed Eminem, Robbie Williams, and Jimmy Page to make rousing new entrance music – it worked really well and was a great bed to announce the teams over. I was with the club for three seasons and got to know many people in football who I’m still in contact with today. One amazing moment was against Luton Town in the season that they got promoted.
They brought 2,000 away fans and we smashed our attendance record. It was like a home match for them! I got a call to tell me that the guy from the BBC was unable to conduct the post-match press interviews, so with five minutes notice I was asked to step in. I wrote five words on a clipboard and just went for it. It worked well for somebody who was just winging it (and it’s still on my LinkedIn profile).
In 2017, I emigrated to the Czech Republic to give my younger children a better start in life and a more traditional upbringing. My (now ex) wife was from there, so it seemed a natural fit. I was mainly a house husband but in my spare time I continued to work on my mixes. I’d been friends with Richard Lee at Mastermix for a couple of years and had been sending in ideas, which were then ghost produced by the legendary Jon Hitchen with my name attached.
Then one day I heard a track that I had forgotten about – ‘Everything’s Gonna Be Alright!’ by Sweetbox. It stopped me in my tracks! Out came Ableton, and six hours later a 15-minute mix based around the beat of that track was emailed to Richard. He called me later and said, “I didn’t want that mix to end!” (I may have got carried away by his enthusiasm, as I did make a 70-minute version that I’ve since kept in the dark.) I reproduced it and mastered it using full WAV files and sent it again. The pride of seeing my name on that sleeve in my own right was immeasurable and I will always be grateful for that moment. I continued to work with Mastermix and the team for a few years in different capacities.
Whilst in Czech I ended up working as an English teacher. After much trial and error, and lots of training and studying, I was eventually responsible for teaching the youth of the Czech Republic the spoken British English language. If you ever hear a Czech kid with a Midlands accent, they were probably taught by me! The transferable skills gained from DJing are incredible. Standing in front of a crowd, keeping them entertained, keeping them happy, keeping the energy and the attention, being in command of your room – although I admit I was more nervous teaching a class of 18 children than I was in front of a couple of thousand guests at a Butlin’s Weekend.
The pandemic, however, put a stop to teaching much as it did to live performance. So to make ends meet, I worked remotely for a contact centre.
Sadly, my marriage didn’t survive the move to the Czech Republic, so last year I moved back to the UK, as my language skills weren’t strong enough to survive there on my own. One of the best experiences there was DJing in a foreign country to a crowd who didn’t know me. If you’ve seen me work, you’ll know that I rely heavily on a strong microphone presence and I had to learn some colloquial Czech DJ terms pretty quickly. Thankfully my love of European music stood me in good stead, but playing a rap version of ‘I’m In The Mood For Dancing’ in Czech was too much for even me. I also found that they close venues a lot later over there – they just party harder and longer.
These days, I’m back in the UK permanently, although Coventry is just a family visit as I’m based in South London. In my 9-5 career I’m still a business development manager for a contact centre and they’re understanding of my ’second life‘ as a DJ. When I went for the interview, I explained my gig commitments with Butlin’s; how I’d sometimes need Friday afternoons and Monday mornings for travel and that I’d be happy to work on a quasi-part-time basis. The director explained that he understood the demands of gigs as he plays in bands. After a few questions back and forth about music, he revealed that his band had “had a bit of success in the 90s”. In fact, he was the bass player with D:Ream – insane!
My family is growing up fast. I have four amazing children, ranging in age from 10 through to 24. Some of you might know my son Benjamin, an accomplished DJ in his own right with residencies in Shrewsbury for the last few years. My 13-year-old daughter has her first controller, a Pioneer SB,
and is already matching beats! I am immensely proud of all of them. Meanwhile, my partner is totally supportive of my weekend work and she often accompanies me. It’s so important to have somebody to share the highs and lows with, and more importantly to share the music with (after all, it’s the glue that holds many people together).
Over the last few years, the biggest change in my DJing has occurred. Working for Butlin’s means working alongside four or five other DJs every weekend. I get to see how other people work and we all learn from each other, giving the team a real sense of community. Before, I was very much an island, but I am now more involved in the DJ world than ever before. And this involvement has coincided with the explosion in digital DJing, something that I totally immersed myself in.
If I can help anybody along the way, I absolutely will – just reach out on my socials. People have been kind to me and I want to pay that back. We have an amazing community that can only get better and can benefit us all.
I always said that I would retire from DJing when I was 21 because I wanted a life of my own. How wrong was I? DJing gave me the life that I have today, and it’s a life that I am forever grateful for.
The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 121, Pages 14-20.