How Not to Start DJing
1994 was a great year for dance music. UK Garage had just kicked off in the capital, Bugged Out opened their doors in Manchester, Cream was cleaning up in Liverpool and Miss MoneyPenny’s ruled the roost in Birmingham. Even Toni Di Bart and D:Ream managed to score a couple of UK number ones with their club classics ‘The Real Thing’ and ‘Things Can Only Get Better’. The country had a brand new ‘anything is possible’ vibe; it felt like there were no more rules. That’s probably one of the reasons some friends and I decided to join the celebration of life with our own little shindig called ‘Debbie Does Dallas’.
We had just sampled our first taste of nightclub promotion by holding the first ever student party at the Ministry of Sound. Launched on a Thursday night under the unusual moniker of ‘Don’t Throw a Sausage at Me!’ the party, in conjunction with University College of London and the London College of Fashion, was a financial disaster but a lot of fun for those who attended!
With all three rooms of the club open (bad idea), we booked Tim Westwood to play the VIP area, Nicky Holloway in the bar and Tony De Vit (RIP), Nancy Noise and Jim ‘Shaft’ Ryan in the main room. We were just 19-year-old kids at the time, but watching Holloway and his cronies spill their Ascot winnings all over the VIP area made us crave a bigger slice of the capital’s exuberant club scene.
I was living in Pimlico at the time, sharing a shoebox of a room with my best friend who also happened to be a wizard on the decks. Unfortunately his musical tastes were a little too techno for my palette, so I started shopping for my own tunes at such independent outlets as Quaff, Black Market and Flying Records. It was a great time to be living in London and as my pile of Nice N Ripe, Strictly Rhythm and Nervous Records grew ever bigger, the time was right to launch my DJ career. The fact that we were starting our own night also helped the decision and so it became that ‘Slinky McVelvet’ was born.
Looking back on the name choice, it’s hard to fathom exactly what was going through my mind at the time, though to be fair I didn’t come up with the astoundingly ill advised alias myself! 1994 was the time of handbag house, baby doll dresses, tartan trousers and Dexter Wong. Transvestites ran the doors, as feather boas lightly brushed the glam and glitter from the nation’s dance floors. The name encapsulated the time and the place well, though I must admit I may have taken things a step too far with the velvet cape. That maverick manoeuvre still gets mentioned to this day such were the tremors of embarrassment felt by my friends; a veritable earthquake of shame!
Anyway, I digress. After months of meticulous planning (which usually involved getting extremly drunk) Debbie Does Dallas was born. We managed to secure one of the best venues in London, ‘RAW’, which was an old converted car park just off Tottenham Court Road. Also home to the uber fabulous Billion Dollar Babes, RAW was definitely one of the finest clubbing destinations in the capital, so to have the opportunity to utilise the space for our first party was something special.
We went about putting a great team together for the launch party to add the extra bit of pizazz that was required in the early nineties. Fashion Editor for Mixmag, Kirsty Drury, came on board as set designer; ‘Wit & Wisdom’ from Hyper Hyper put together the dancer’s costumes, whilst the irrepressible Toni Tambourine was door whoring like only he could. We even had our own little ‘Debbie’ on the night, Jaime Murray, who removed our horrendous blonde wig and later went on to star in the BBC TV series ‘Hustle’.
The main area was pretty full on house with the likes of Smokin’ Jo, John Kelly and Jeremy Healy, whilst the smaller back room, ‘Slinky’s Creamery’, was pure disco, garage and vocal goodness. For the opening party we even managed to secure Patrick Smooth to play in room two, who was something of a hero of mine after seeing him tear the roof off The Steering Wheel in Birmingham on numerous occasions. My own prowess behind the turntables was improving slowly but surely, though I was still very much a novice compared to the esteemed company I was keeping on the opening night.
The promotion campaign had gone well and there was a definite buzz about London Town for the party. I had a good crew from my hometown of Northampton in attendance and the long nights of flyering at 4am seemed to have done the trick. We had a queue around the corner before the doors opened and by midnight the whole venue was packed. As the atmosphere began to reach fever pitch, well, that’s when the nerves started to kick in.
We made the highly dubious decision to allow me to follow on from Patrick Smooth after his peak time set, which meant I was playing 4-6am. This seemed like a great idea at the time (clueless!) but having been in the club all day helping to set up, I was already tired and a bit drunk before we even opened. By the time Patrick hit the decks I had the mental capacity of a lettuce and an unquenchable thirst to drink the first night nerves away.
With the waves of terror slowly being numbed by the alcohol, I stumbled through the packed dance floor to the decks at 4am to take over. By this point I was beyond wasted, then realised that I had lost my headphones. Thankfully Patrick kindly offered to lend me his, which also meant he would have to stay and witness the absolute car crash that was about to unfold.
The room was rammed when I took over, with 50 of my friends cramming their way to the front of the dance floor to show their support. Things started badly when I realised I couldn’t read what was written on the record sleeves. I begged a friend to leave the dance floor and join me behind the decks to act as some sort of interpreter. Little did I know that he was in an even worse state than I was and as he started handing me these strange circular objects, it began to dawn on me that neither of us knew what we were doing. I didn’t recognise any of these records. I could barely see let alone mix.
At one point I somehow managed to completely turn off the whole sound system. The room fell into silence. I scratched my head and looked at my mate. He was slumped in the corner, dribbling. I looked at Patrick. He looked at me. I had absolutely no idea what I’d done but as I frantically beckoned him to come over and help I managed to press the right button; just as Patrick walked past the speaker stack, nearly deafening the poor bloke in the process! He jumped back in shock, looked at me and shook his head, then walked out of the room. Within 20 minutes of me starting my set, the only people left in the previously full room were me, my mate and a couple of wasted space cadets sitting on the floor talking. Great. Great day.
After just about mentally surviving that catastrophe, I now look back on the night with a mixture of pride and embarrassment; a heady emotional cocktail I can assure you. How we managed to put together such a great party with very little experience really was an achievement, though the look on Patrick Smooth’s face will haunt me forever.
What should have been my finest moment behind the turntables turned into my worst nightmare. I guess sneaking in a second record box full of Red Stripe and Moet was always going to have some repercussions. Thankfully I lived to tell the tale, with my tail between my legs.
We took Debbie Does Dallas from RAW to The Cross, then the Aquarium to the Ministry of Sound. There was a real sense of ‘anything goes’ in London at that time and I think we proved that with the legendary ‘Debbie Does Dallas’ parties. The less said about my opening night performance though, the better.
Is there a moral to the story? Well, if you have the ability to choose your own set times, never play last. If you’re going to be a successful DJ, you need to be able to operate heavy machinery whilst under the influence, and don’t ever wear a velvet cape. EVER.
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