All week I’ve looked out at my packed dancefloors and tried to formulate explaining what it is I like so much about dj’ing in Australia. After all, I’ve been down under sixteen times (seventeen if you include a New Zealand-only tour), so I must have some idea. Let’s leave Oz’s attraction as a tourist destination to one side for a minute, and concentrate on how fantastic its club culture is. The weather’s what British would call summertime virtually all year round, so people are dressed in the attire you’d expect in Ibiza or some other holiday destination. The carefree holiday-style attitude seems to prevail throughout the country and onto its dancefloors. Globally, Aussies were amongst the pioneers to embrace dance culture, perhaps as a result of prolific European back-packing travels. I first toured Australia back in ’95 with Carl Cox and Laurent Garnier, and the attraction was immediately infectious. I’ve visited twice a year ever since, playing to a sea of funkily dressed clubbers whose sartorial influence is a fusion of club and surf culture. The atmosphere is always awesome.
For those who haven’t ventured down under, the main deterrent is usually the daunting 22 hour flight. Admittedly you do reach a mid-air point where you’re desperate to arrive and see your bags cruising slowly in your direction down the carousel. Nevertheless, it’s worth every minute when you arrive. Although the time difference of between 9 and 11 hours is debilitating, in late February you leave the short days of the UK for the tail-end of an Aussie summer, where the sun still shimmers in the sky til 8pm. Going from short to long days fills you with the energy of the summer. Whilst Aussies might look at me like I’m mad when I tell them I’ve flown in from Europe for 5 nights, the long Southern Hemisphere days and warm weather are the only tonic you need.
Our first port-of-call was a destination I’ve not encountered before, Byron Bay, in between Sydney and Brisbane. Amanda and I staggered off our day-long sortie from London to Melbourne, only to face a four hour wait for the first domestic flight of the day to Byron’s closest airport, Coolongatta (in itself a two hour flight away.) Byron’s a great surfing destination, and an intregal part of the back-packers’ trail up the East Coast of Australia. In recent years it’s become an up-market location too, attracting the attention of travel mags such as Conde Naste Traveller. Our hotel, Rae’s, was one of the finest I’ve stayed in for ages, and Keith Richards had resided there a week earlier in advance of the Stones Aussie tour. Unfortunately, the weather wasn’t on our side. It hadn’t rained in Byron for four months- there were drought signs everywhere and a hosepipe ban in place. However, Amanda and my arrival coincided with the first downpour of 2003.
Each Australian tour involves five consecutive night’s dj’ing, and some cities are more British traveller-orientated, others being a strictly Aussie affair. I arrived at my Byron gig an hour before spinning and hung out at the bar supping a few drinks. There was a constant flow of people coming up to say hello, but it was 20 minutes before I encountered a single Aussie. Everyone was British, from just about every region of the UK. Byron has a permanent population of only 5000, dramatically swelled by travellers and surfers, but the ‘it’s a small world’ philosophy prevailed, as I met the brother of my boss at Radio 1, plus a guy who used to be an MC at God’s Kitchen in Birmingham, amongst others.
It’s very important to me to play smaller clubs in addition to larger events. A few household name dj’s have priced themselves out of ever playing small spaces. It’s their loss, as intimate nights are the most gratifying in which to perform- some dj’s need a slap round the face to remind them it’s not all about money. The venue in Byron held 500 people, and had sold out in advance. The atmosphere was electric, although my notoriously weak bladder forced me to escape the confines of the dj booth and take a pee out of a fire exit on a couple of occasions. Despite it’s size, the club (Moog) has managed to secure some blue chip talent in the last few months, in the shape of Roger Sanchez, Sasha and Freq Nasty. I can’t wait to get back- the shopping the following morning was great too.
Stop-off point two on our itinerary was Adelaide, where it had also been dry for months, before our arrival coincided with yet more rain. Whilst Australia’s weather is an undoubted attraction, there’s plenty more that’s appealing, and at any rate, Amanda and I were so jet-lagged that we hit the sack as soon as we arrived. I was a little nervous about the attendance at Heaven, only a stone’s throw from our hotel. My visit five months earlier had been on the eve of a public holiday, and was predictably packed. This was just a regular Thursday night, and Heaven is gargantuan-sized. From my early days as a dj, before I became accustomed to full venues, I got used to listening to the soundsystem from outside the doors of the club before entering, to prepare myself for a quiet night. If the sound is too echoey, there aren’t enough bodies to fill the venue and absorb the decibels.
It sounded that way at Heaven, as we entered through a back door. However, my ears were clearly deceiving me, as the night was very busy, this time with a totally Aussie crowd. On my previous occasion at Heaven last October, the turntables were hoisted high away from the crowd on a scaffold platform. This time I was much closer to people, which is always better, and I was able to interact in typically animated schoolboy-like fashion, really enjoying myself.
The following day club owner John Pike took us to one of the finest Thai restaurants we’ve ever visited, and on each visit the chef’s come to our table and talked us through the preparation of some of our favourite dishes. I’ve thought about including a monthly recipe on this site, but perhaps that would be digressing too much!
The next afternoon (Friday Feb 28th) we headed North to the capital of the State of Queensland, Brisbane. Despite having played Brissie multiple times, this was my first gig there on a weekend, and the difference in both atmosphere and attendance was staggering. The club, Family, was heaving. Although the decks were a greater distance away from the clubbers than is ideal, and my view of the crowd was further obscured by two poorly-positioned CD players, the atmosphere was brilliant. Brisbane has a great year round climate, but it was far more humid than usual. The club seemed well air-conditioned, but any cooling system would have struggled with near 100% humidity, and there was a bit of a problem with condensation dripping on my records. Nothing too major mind you. Family was just so packed that I didn’t hang around for long after my set, but I sincerely hope they invite me back on my return visit to Oz in late September- what a night was had by all!
The following two nights I joined the Aussie ‘Two tribes’ festival, making its way to the country’s major cities over the next couple of weekends (although I was only doing the first weekend’s gigs.) Also on the bill were Armin Van Buuren, Layo and Bushwacka, Dave Seaman, Junkie XL and Mauro Picotto. We arrived in Sydney, catching the sensational view of the Opera house and Harbour bridge as we descended into Kingsford Smith airport. As we collected our bags, the promoter informed me that Mauro had cancelled, having ruptured an ear drum. I believe this happened to Sasha a few years earlier, and it sounds like the ultimate dj nightmare. By all accounts one has to cancel all gigs for months, and I’d imagine studio work would prove very difficult too.
When you look at the total transformation of a city’s infrastructure brought about by hosting the Olympics, it’s easy to see why countries lobby so vigorously to stage them. Barcelona, the hosts eight years earlier, gained a fantastic airport, a totally reformed roads system, plus hundreds of hotels, event venues and numerous other city improvements. Sydney’s no different, and I was lucky enough to dj there during the 2000 games. There were numerous British Olympic athletes at my gig that night, many of them…. how shall we say… very much the worse for wear. Years of abstention and training resulted in many of them ‘letting it all hang out’ once their Olympic participation was over in Sydney (and the cloud of drug testing temporarily suspended.) Anyway, I’ll say no more on that, and move swiftly back to Two Tribes 2003.
This was the second time in 12 months that I’d dj’d in a venue specially erected for the Olympics (the other being in Barcelona in May 2002.) Two Tribes took place in the Sydney Showgrounds in Homebush, and was everything you’d expect from a major Aussie festival. Regular readers of this column will no doubt have tired of my constant references to my bladder, but I’ll soldier on regardless. It was weaker than ever on the night. I had to race out of an open large cargo entrance to relieve myself in the 25 degree heat four times during my set. Unfortunately, it was only on the last occasion that I realised that hundreds of people at the front of the auditorium could see what I was doing. They pointed and laughed as I raced back to the turntables. Following me on the decks was Armin Van Buuren, whose parents (both doctors) are emigrating from Holland to Australia in June. Suddenly he’s started playing down under a great deal more, for obvious reasons.
Sunday March 2nd was the final date of my Aussie itinerary. In most European countries, the mention of a domestic flight conjures up the image of one hour or so in the air. Sydney to Perth takes at least four and a half. In the circumstances, this was a good thing, as four nights in a row of dj’ing takes it out of you, and I slept virtually the whole way (as did Dave Seaman, two rows in front.) My Two Tribes Perth set time was a very reasonable 11pm-1am, which was a relaxing end to a very jet-lagging five nights in Oz. The queue outside the city’s Metro club was enormous when I arrived, and people were still flooding in when I started my set. Finishing at 1am, there was still no sign of the next act, Junkie XL doing a live set of music. When I asked the promoters where he was, they informed me that there had been a mistake, and I was actually due to be playing til 2, not 1. The problem is that you can’t simply extend your set- you spend the last half an hour knowing exactly how you’re going to end, building up the momentum. If you’re told you’ll be playing three hours you plan accordingly, likewise two. So, in the end I played a few more records and came off stage, as I’d built the atmosphere to the crescendo I was aiming at. Thankfully Junkie XL was more than happy to start his set early. Overall it was a great night, with vibrant atmosphere. I only wish I’d been told I was going to play three hours, as I would have planned things accordingly.
I’m on the flight back home now. 14 hours gone… six to go!
More next week.