Superstar DJs Here We Go (Book Release)



Dom Phillips (ex- Mixmag) charts the rise and subsequent downfall of the Superstar DJ whilst highlighting the aspirations of those that were caught up in the fast living lifestyle of that period.

If you have ever wondered why you hardly ever see those big names synonymous with the boom years in this country anymore or why your local club enterprises or promoters have slashed their entry fees in recent times then maybe this book will provide some answers.

Not too sure how much musical content lurks within the pages of this book but one would hazard an educated guess that the book itself is more of an observation on how a popular culture rises and falls when it's core element becomes only a small part of the whole picture.

Even today the legacy of those recent times is still evident within the entertainment industry and although it's very sad to witness emptier clubs spaces and increasingly elaborate promotional methods, at least for some the attraction of going out and listening to music was never about an unattainable or short lived lifestyle choice which on initial inspection the book itself should make clear.

An interesting and hopefully poignant read considering global affairs at present as thoughts turn to fields and convoys, basements and late night cafe spaces, festivals and trips further away as our cathedrals of worship undoubtedly take on different forms once again.

For some though the switch is already well underway but you already knew that....................... didn't you?

Bankers aren't the only fabulously remunerated fat cats to have taken a tumble in the public's estimation recently. As Dom Phillips points out in his highly entertaining account of the rise and fall of British club culture in the 1990s and beyond, “superstar” DJs no longer command the devotion, or the fees, they used to.

Back in the 1990s, DJs were adored, their antics big news. When Radio 1 nearly lost two of its top jocks, ZoĆ« Ball and Lisa l'Anson, after they got trashed before going on air in Ibiza in 1998, following all-night club benders, the nation was agog. Characters such as James Lavelle (DJ, producer, and the boss of Mo'Wax, the ultra-fashionable dance label), who in one year ran up personal debts of £270,000, were worshipped like rock stars. Many behaved like them. One lost his wife after she discovered a clause in his gig contracts specifying the provision of a blow job.

While the superjocks are still in demand abroad (South America is a prime market), the British dance crowd has moved on. Sasha, Sparrow, Judge Jules and the rest are yesterday's men. The scene's biggest name, Norman “Fatboy Slim” Cook, sold more than 1m copies here of his 1996 album, You've Come a Long Way, Baby. In 2004, his last release, Palookaville, managed less than a tenth of that.

In a chapter headed Millennium Meltdown, Phillips identifies the tipping point when the bubble burst in UK superclubland. New Year's Eve 1999 was supposed to be the superstar DJs' finest - or at least their most popular - moment. Dozens of huge events were planned all over Britain. Cream in Liverpool hosted five, the most expensive of which charged £99 a ticket. For the top DJs, jetting around the country cramming in as many as four engagements in a 12-hour shift, this was their most lucrative payday yet. Pete Tong made £125,000 that night; Cook pocketed £140,000.

Sadly, though, the venues they played were seldom more than half full. The supergigs of millennium eve were vastly undersubscribed. At Renaissance, the club that kickstarted the scene in Mansfield in 1992, the promoter sold fewer than a fifth of the tickets he needed to break even, and lost £200,000. Cream lost twice as much.

Those customers who did stump up for what turned out, in most cases, to be a decidedly draughty all-nighter, were unimpressed. At Gatecrasher in Leeds, a loud chorus of “w***er!” interrupted Judge Jules's set. It was, Phillips argues, a classic case of the emperor's new clothes. In a memorable phrase, he describes how the realisation finally dawned that superstar DJs were “playing a real game with an imaginary ball”.

This was not the way it was in the early days. Few of the pioneers of the superclub boom seem to have been strongly motivated by money, and, when it started to roll in, they were unsure what to do with it. Sparrow buried bundles of bank notes in his mother's back garden and stashed £315,000 in her attic. Nicky Holloway, a prototype of the superstar DJ who ended up broke and in rehab, would earn his £500 a gig (the standard fee in the early 1990s) and then swiftly blow it on drink and drugs.

The clubs that turned into giant cash generators started out as an inspired merger of two dance sub-cultures. The unlicensed, impromptu acid-house raves of the late 1980s (which were coming under increasing pressure from the authorities and were banned in 1994) were restyled along the lines of the glamorous, themed discos that flourished in New York. Musically, the scene was fuelled by the advent of sampling - easy-to-use fast digital editing that allowed electronic artists a creative freedom they had never known before. What really kept the party going, though, was the drugs, specifically ecstasy, an amphetamine derivative that made repetitive beats sound magical and crowds of strangers feel like lifelong friends.

Privately tolerating and managing dealers while publicly maintaining an anti-drugs policy soon became a crucial balancing act that all successful club men had to master if they were to survive. Cream, once described by its co-owner Darren Hughes as “ a drug-dealer's paradise”, was threatened with closure by a court case in 1996 in which 18 members of its security staff were charged with drugs offences. What helped get the case dismissed was Cream's claim that it had become a key cultural asset for Liverpool, bringing much-needed cash and prestige to the rundown city centre. Applications to Liverpool university, defence witnesses alleged, had soared because of Cream - an assertion that was later repeated by the university's vice-chancellor in an interview with The Times.

Cream's triumphant reprieve marked the beginning of the end for the superclubs. Mainstream acceptance and loadsamoney had their usual, coarsening effect. As cocaine gradually replaced ecstasy as the clubbers' drug of choice, the ethos became edgier, louder and less friendly. The DJs were too busy “larging it” to care. According to one, “it was about wearing designer clothes, pulling out a wad of twenties when you were buying your champagne. It was about buying your coke in an eight ball [a quarter of an ounce].”

Mimicking the superclubs' tendency to celebrate their own success, new Labour, ever ready to hitch a ride with a happening youth movement, chose a top club anthem, Things Can Only Get Better, as its election-night victory theme in 1997. By a nice irony, one of the most successful superstar DJs, Paul Oakenfold, currently owns a house in London's Connaught Square next door to Tony Blair.

As a journalist for Mixmag, the clubbers' in-house glossy, Phillips had first-hand experience of most of the events and characters he describes here. Although his decision to tell the story thematically muddles the chronology at times, his book is so packed with bizarre incidents and larger-than-life personalities you scarcely care. Especially attractive to the general reader is Phillips's ambivalence towards his subject. He acknowledges that ecstasy can, in rare cases, kills, and that without it, a lot of 1990s dance music makes little sense. As a fan of the original, anarchic spirit of acid house, he looks askance at the commercial feeding-frenzy it spawned.

Phillips's clear-eyed awareness that many of the scene's leading players were, first and last, cynical businessmen does prompt a question - why did the clubbing public take so long to find them out? James Palumbo, the owner of Ministry of Sound and, according to the 2008 Sunday Times Rich List, worth £160m, made no bones of his disdain for the music that made his fortune. “I don't find it interesting,” he commented. “Now Beethoven, there was an innovator.”

Pre-order here for £12.99

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