DJing isn’t always quite as glamorous or exciting as many people imagine. For every inspired moment and spine-tingling set, there are ten times as many sluggish warm-up slots, tiresome sessions in empty clubs and arguments with drunken idiots. Every so often, though, a night, party or festival will come along and completely blow you away, restoring your enthusiasm and offering a neat reminder why you got into DJing in the first place.
Saturday 27th November 2010 was one of those nights.
It all started fairly slowly. Following a fun warm-up set at my friend Abbie’s Summer Summons night at Dojo, I packed up my gear and hung around to listen to the excellent selections of local Bristol disco kids Vast & Bulbous. When headliner Casionova jumped on the decks at 2am, I decided it was time to head to the night’s main event: a party at a “top secret Bristol location” called Alfresco Disco.
As the name suggests, Alfresco Disco was initially launched as a ‘once a summer’ outdoor free party by the same crew of people who used to run Bristol’s Buoyancy parties. Over the last four years, the parties have been getting bigger and better, with stunning locations, décor and music. Until Saturday night, I’d only been to one of those – a session out in the woods close to the river Avon, somewhere on the outskirts of Bristol. That was great, though getting there and back was a huge chore.
For Saturday night’s party, the Alfresco crew had decided to “bring the outdoors, indoors”. In many ways, this was a risk; finding an indoor venue that would top their previous outdoor exploits was going to be tough, and there was always a chance that the atmosphere wouldn’t quite be the same.
In the days leading up to the event, there was much discussion of the location, which the Alfresco crew had somehow managed to keep under wraps. From time to time clues would leak out from other DJs closer to the organisers – it would be “close to Stokes Croft and St Pauls”, for example – but it wasn’t until the day before, when set times were texted over, that I got wind of the exact location. “We’re playing in an old court room,” I was told by an insider. Straight away, the excitement levels built. “I’ve had a look round and the place looks stunning,” he continued.
By the time I arrived, the party was in full swing. Approaching the venue was special in itself. Purple, blue and red lights had been placed to sympathetically show off the venue’s impressive Victorian architechture. Bumping disco grooves seeped from the ground floor windows, against which were flickering projections. Smokers in oversized jackets and woolly hats shivered outside, while girls with beaming smiles queued for the portaloos. It was obvious that this was something special on a grand scale.
Pushing through the queues, I managed to make my way in, and was suddenly hit by how busy it was. A river of people pushed and shoved their way through stone-lined doorways and into the cramped entrance. The river was flowing up and down a foreboding staircase, which led to the upstairs space. This was where I needed to be.
There were three party spaces in total, each with an attached bar. Downstairs focused mainly on house, disco and techno, while the upstairs – hosted by Idle Hands Records – had been designed as the “bass space”. Originally, Idle Hands weren’t involved, but label boss Chris Farrell was called a few days beforehand and asked to hastily put together a line-up. This was how I became involved – he called and asked if I fancied playing a “Yorkshire bleep and bass” (or, as it was labelled in the set list outside the room “Yorkshire pudding and bass”) set. Obiously I snapped his hand off.
After squeezing my way upstairs, I finally made it into the Idle Hands room and was immediately blown away by the carnage unfolding before me. It was a large room with a high ceiling, from which hung a giant mirrorball. At ground level, all I could see was a sea of bobbing heads, with the occasional arm raised skywards. With some of the original Victorian courtroom fittings and fixtures still in tact, it was an amazing sight. I couldn’t put a figure on how many people there were in there, but it must have been four or five hundred. What’s more, every single person was having a great time – the atmosphere was electric.
I fought my way through the crowd – with some difficulty, it should be said – to the far end of the room. There, my friend and fellow UFO resident Sean Kelly was on the decks, playing what could only be described as an inspired set. It was without doubt one of his best ever – a riproaring trip through the best contemporary bass music, with some obscure underground classics thrown in. At one point he did two rewinds and the room erupted.
Huddled together behind the decks were the smiling faces of some of Bristol’s best and brightest. Joe ‘Kowton’ Cowton (a superb producer and DJ with a deserved rising reputation), Lawrie Appleblim, Baobinga, Jules October, Bloc resident Joe Hart, Resident Advisor’s Richard Carnes and Tom Peverlist mingled with friends and family from the local scene. Work residents Shaun Phillips and Spooks danced in front of the DJ booth, while Hivemind.fm chief Rory Power stumbled around amusingly. “This is amazing!” he screamed. Of course, he was right.
As Sean Kelly departed to make way for the next DJ, Atki2 (whose collab with Dub Boy is still my favourite Idle Hands release), the tempo went up a notch. Sam Atki2 broke up the beats and slammed down a real carnival selection – all tropical beats, UK funky grooves and irresistible basslines. The assembled throng just danced harder and faster, pogoing around to Juke numbers and bruk bangers.
All the while, I stood to the side nursing a feeling of impending doom. Well, excitement and dread. I rarely get nervous when I DJ – I’ve been doing it too long – but the fact that the party was so good played on my mind. I’d been asked to come and drop old Yorkshire bleep classics – admittedly with a few other records thrown in – similar to a recent mix I did for Hivemind.fm. Would a crowd that had been loving harder, faster contemporary sounds be down with it?
I shouldn’t have worried. As soon as the bassline of Nightmares On Wax’s Warp classic ‘Aftermath’ dropped, the crowd went with me. When ‘LFO’ dropped, the crowd cheered. Later, when I teased in ‘Township Funk’, the cheer was twice as loud. Throughout the hour, the vibe was unreal. There’s no buzz in the world like the one you get as a DJ when the crowd’s going with you. The whole point of being a DJ – other than some arrogant desire to share music you like with the world – is to make sure people have a great time. When they really do – and I mean really do – it’s a fantastic feeling. I’d like to say that it’s better than sex, but that would be a lie. It is, though, far, far better than bad or boring sex.
I lost count of the number of people who came up to me during my set to cry “great tune” or “brilliant choice”. There was one bloke who kept asking for Michael Jackson (“If you played MJ now they’d love it!” he advised. Er, no thanks), and another who claimed to be Don Letts’ driver. Don had been playing at The Big Chill earlier in the night and wanted to jump on the decks. Don lurked in the background looking moody, apparently not enjoying the carnage going on around him. I pointed him in Chris’s direction. Chris apparently declined his request as “my mate Sell By is playing”. Take that Don!
All the while, more and more smiling faces of friends, acquaintances and Bristol scenesters emerged from the crowd – some I knew, others I just recognized. Everyone, from punter to DJ, was having a terrific time. Both upstairs and in the ground floor rooms below, the atmosphere was electric. The whole thing was like some giant house party crossed with the sort of slickly-produced all night rave you’d expect to find in Berlin, London or New York. It was the very best of Bristol – and the best of Bristol is world class.
By the time I finished my allotted hour with the 1988 original of ‘What Time Is Love’ – a record that soundtracked many illicit party back in the warehouse rave days – I was buzzing. Not from booze or drugs – as it happens, I was stone cold sober after an evening on soft drinks – but from the atmophere, the event itself and the pure joy of playing records to a crowd like that. Everyone was there to have a good time, and it showed.
As I slipped off, Rich Carnes jumped on the decks and continued the party. He was dropping some astonishing acid house, Chicago jack and even a bit of Juke/Footwork. Once again, the crowd loved it.
Having been up until 6am the night before, I made my excuses and left, a massive smile across my chops. Two days later, the smile’s still there.
There are moments in life, and particularly in dance music culture, that go down in legend; individual events that get talked about for years to come. Saturday’s Alfresco Disco was one of those events. This is in no small part due to the organisation of the event itself. The location – previously never used for a party, but just crying out for something like this – was perfect. The décor, again, was perfect. Ditto the musical programming and choice of DJs. Everything had been planned in painstaking detail and worked magnificently. The results were truly astonishing.
No-one who attended will ever forget it. I certainly won’t – I can honestly say it was one of my favourite DJing experiences of all time, up there with the various Bedmo Disco festival experiences we’ve done over the last few years.
For those interested, I’ve had a look through my Serato history and posted a setlist below. It’s a bit nerdy, I know, but these things get forgotten over time and I’d like a record of it – it really was one of those nights.
Sell By Dave at Alfresco Disco
Nightmares On Wax – Aftermath
Coco, Steel & Lovebomb – Dub It! [Big Girl Mix]
SuPaFiX – Ghetto New Yorkshire [Sell By Dave Re-Edit]
LFO – LFO [Sell By Dave Edit]
Juno – Soul Thunder
DJ Mujave – Township Funk [Sell By Dave Edit]
The All Seeing I – Booty In The I
Rhythmatic – Take Me Back [Sell By Dave Edit]
Tricky Disco – Housefly [Roots Radical Rockers Remix]
Seiji – Elevator
Kid Unknown – Nightmare [Edit]
Eternal – Mind Odyssey [Think Tank Remix]
Sweet Exorcist – Testone
Yazoo – Don’t Go [NDV Remix]
The KLF – What Time Is Love? [1988 Pure Trance Original]