Tuesday, 3 November 2009
MD'S TOUR DIARY, OCTOBER '09
Some music-makers are a dream to interview. Others are damned hard work. I started the month with phone chats lined up with artist/ super-producer Ryan Leslie and J Dilla's younger brother Illa J. Not sure if I caught him on a bad day, but the Ryan Leslie phoner tested my skills to their limits, leaving me with the impression that the dude just had no interest in being interviewed. Judge for yourself with the following excerpts, which, I swear, have not been doctored in any way!
On Friday 3rd, I headed to Belfast for another welcome spot at Fabulouso, the weekly jam at Mono staged by husband-and-wife DJ Team Ghost and Brown Suga. On this occasion, I chose to fly from 'Bristol Airport'. This made sense as I was playing in nearby Bath the following night, which saved going home in between. I'd only flown from 'Bristol' once before, and I'd forgotten just how bloody far the airport is from the city. Calling it 'Bristol' is pushing it - it's not even in the same county, and, being approachable only by minor roads, must surely be the most inaccessible airport in the UK. Add to that some ludicrous pricing for their parking, which charges by the day of the week rather than per 24-hour period, and I can say that I won't be travelling from Bristol again.
The night at Mono was populated by an up-for-it and enthusiastic crowd, and provided a great deal of musical exorcism of some of the crap I'm forced to play at most of my English gigs. On after me was Brown Suga, who dropped a red hot dancehall selection that kept the place rocking all the way. And me.
The flight back to 'Bristol' took less than 50 minutes on Saturday afternoon. I'd barely turned my laptop on when we'd already started our descent to land. I killed the time before my Bath gig with a visit to some family friends in nearby Calne, crashing out in a spare bedroom to catch my mandatory Saturday disco nap.
The following weekend I played a session at Mirage in Aylesbury. The spot was formerly known as St. James' Club, with a sister venue in Banbury. Both are still 'gentlemens' clubs during the week, revering to mainstream club status at the weekends. I've played in a strip club and a joint with a 'live lesbian sex show' before, and wouldn't be keen to do either again. In the first, the DJs were totally surplus to crowd requirements; in the second, it was just too hard to concentrate.
I'd love to offer some wild and profound travel tales about my visit to Valencia on Saturday 17th. I learned long ago that here's plenty to say about Ryanair when things go wrong, but little to report when things run to routine. I'm not sure if I'm warming to Ryanair, or if it's just been a long time since I last had a bad experience. My last few trips have ben trouble-free and on-time. I guess I shouldn't speak too soon.
I watched the BBC's recent 'Panorama' programme on the airline with interest. Whilst I'm no big fan of Ryanair or its loathsome boss O'Leary, I felt that it presented a very biased and one-sided hatchet job, and few of its 'revelations' would be any great surprise to anyone who travels with them regularly.
I touched down in Valencia at 8.30pm ready to spin that night at Soul, a black music night run by relocated Londoner DJ Cosy O. Due to an on-line map cock-up, Cosy and myself searched for 90 minutes for my hotel in a coastal town miles away .. before realising it was back in the city at the point where we'd started after all. Although it ate into my nap time, I didn't mind as I got some great views of Valencia and its outlying districts during what was otherwise a straight-in straight-out trip. It's certainly a beautiful and impressive city with some stunning new architecture going up, and great beaches. The city is packed and sweltering in Summer. In October, temperatures hover around a very comfortable 70 degrees.
I'd forgotten just how late the Spanish party. We didn't even arrive at the club spot, Gandhara, until 2am, and it was 3.30 before I started playing. I can't remember the last time an overseas gig disappointed, and Soul was no exception. I blasted the crowd with everything from crunk to reggae to UK Funky to revivals from Prince and Chaka Khan, and it all rang off.
The European smoking ban seems to be a very grey area, (literally and metaphorically,) varying in strictness from country to country. I thought Spain had imposed the ban, but this clearly didn't extend to Gandhara as the familiar thick fog hung in the air throughout, and we emerged stinking of the cancer sticks just like in the old days. It was past 7am before I was back at my hotel, and three hours later came the painful return to the airport. Thoughts of my bed carried me through the journey from Stansted. We eventually reunited mid-afternoon.
My regular Tuesday student gig at Syndicate in Bristol got put on hold a couple of nights later to make way for a one-off Silent Disco. I had no idea what one of these was until it was explained to me. Apparently, all punters are given a set of wireless headphones with the option to tune in to one of two radio channels. Each channel is connected to a separate DJ's output from the booth, with each jock trying to outdo the other in terms of how much they can get the crowd singing along and dancing to their tunes. Must be a highly bizarre experience to walk through a club silent except for people's bad singing renditions. Are these really that common, or have I just led a sheltered existence?
The first in what's hoped to be a series of regional launch parties for Black Sheep Magazine came on Friday 23rd, as I linked up with veteran DJ/ promoter and all-round heavy guy Mr Jay. This one took place at The Emporium niterie in Fleet, Hampshire, with sounds ranging from 80s grooves through to the upfront selection. The guest on my radio show that week was Nottingham's Simone, aka C-Mone, part of the city's extended Out Of Da Ville crew. She's just put out an interesting EP project under the pseudonym Barbie Analogue, (a play on RZA's Bobby Digital alter-ego,) with self-produced beats. The tracks are very spaced-out and 80s in feel. You can check them at: http://www.myspace.com/mccmone
Any gig where I can get to play tunes as diverse as Michael's Incredible Bongo Band's 'Apache' and Singing Sweet's 'When I See You Smile' - at peak time on a Friday night and with no requirement to go into familiar pop territory - is a very special thing. Sure enough, DJs from all over Norway and beyond look forward to spinning at Teddy Touch's Soul City night in Bergen. I do too, and my return visit on Friday 30th was much anticipated.
Direct flights from London to Bergen are limited, so I spent the whole day routing out first to Stavanger, then on to Bergen. Norway was chillier than the UK, but nowhere near the Arctic temperatures I'd experienced in December a few years before in Oslo, when I could actually feel my brain freezing inside my head.
Soul City's venue, Cafe Opera, is of the small intimate variety, and it's only because of this that its adventurous, but always hip hop-based music policy works. The more expansive a club dancefloor, the more calling there is for the big hits to keep larger throngs entertained. I span between sets from Teddy, kicking off with some 90s boom-bap hip hop and ragga, then, when the time felt right, unleashing some of the more bass-heavy UK Funky sounds on the Norwegian heads, which went down very well indeed.
The only sour point was the relatively early finish, with the lights coming full on at 2.45am in accordance with the city's local law. I'm used to European gigs stretching to 5am and beyond, whereas this cut-off point was far more in keeping with UK culture. The cost of living being as high as it is in Norway, many folk habitually get tanked up on supermarket booze before heading out to the clubs. This had the effect of Cafe Opera only really being busy for the last 90 minutes of the night.
I recorded both mine and Teddy's sets, and they're available to listen back to on the following links if you fancy something different to the usual club set sounds.
Mark Devlin at Soul City, Bergen, 30/10/09
Teddy Touch at Soul City, Bergen, 30/10/09
Back at my hotel, the big dilemma was whether there was any point in going to bed for the two hours until I had to board the dawn airport bus to start heading home, this time via Oslo. I gave in, getting about 90 minutes shut-eye, but feeling worse afterwards than if I'd stayed up. An occupational hazard. I'm so used to flying Ryanair that SAS offering a breakfast came as a real culture shock.
The early flight home ad been the only way to make it in time to host DJ Cosy O from Valencia, who was arriving in to link with me at The Bridge in Oxford that night. I'd guested at his spot a couple of weeks earlier. Once I'd picked up Cosy from the train station and deposited him at his hotel, I was finally able to reunite with my bed for a couple of blessed hours.
Things were boding well for a heavy night at The Bridge, being both Halloween and payday end of the month. It ended up being the most enjoyable night I've had there in probably five of the eight years I've been doing it. There's a lot to be said for having two DJs on a session - each brings tunes the other wouldn't have thought of, in turn inspiring each other to be ever more rocking. The crowd can only benefit from the resulting selections.
... and that was October.