The music of our wedding

It was my fifth wedding anniversary on Saturday (don’t worry, I didn’t spend it writing this). As is usual when our anniversary comes around, I’ve been thinking a lot about not only our marriage, but our wedding day itself. In particular, all the music that played a part in that day. Music has always been a huge part of our lives, both before and since we met (at a music festival as it happens), so there was never any doubt it would also play an important part in our wedding.

We married at the Unitarian Church in Brighton, a venue which we had first attended, and fallen in love with, for a concert (part of the city’s Great Escape festival, which utilises pretty much every venue in town). One of the many good things about holding the ceremony there was that a piano and pianist came as part of the package, we just had to decide what we wanted him to play. We chose ‘Come Rain or Come Shine’, the Chet Baker version of which is one of our favourite songs, for my wife’s walk up the aisle, and ‘Here Comes The Sun’ for our exit from the church. For the intermission of the ceremony, where my wife and I disappeared off to sign the register, a less obvious choice, Aphex Twin’s Avril 14th, a brief but gorgeous piano interlude on an album otherwise comprised of discordant electronica. I like to think we were the first couple to ask for an Aphex Twin track to be played at that particular venue, but this is Brighton we’re talking about, so perhaps not.

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On the closure of Fabric

I only went to Fabric once, way back in 1999, on the second night it was open in fact. I had a great night, as far as I can recall 17 years on, but never ended up going back again. London was a long way from Manchester for a night out, and I didn’t have any friends living in the capital during my clubbing prime, so the opportunity never really arose. By all accounts though, it was one of the best, if not the best, club in London. Certainly, I was impressed when reading the line-ups advertised by Fabric, in the back of Mixmag or Jockey Slut, and they put out a fantastic series of mix CDs, some of my favourites of all time, mixed by  everyone from John Peel to Four Tet to Diplo.

But all this largely beside the point, even if I had never been to Fabric, or hated the music that they played, the decision to close it would still be monumentally stupid and short-sighted. Of course the death of 2 people in Fabric after taking ecstasy is a tragedy, but to think the closure of one nightclub is going to stop people taking drugs is ridiculous. If you close one nightclub, people will go to another one. If you close all the nightclubs people will take drugs in bars, or at house parties, or illegal raves or any of the other hundreds of places that people take drugs. More knowledgable people than me have pointed out that the closure of Fabric will actually lead to more drug users coming to harm, as they move to less regulated environments.

The authorities who revoked Fabric’s license claimed that it didn’t do enough to prevent drug use, including insufficient searches. Not only is that disputed by most people who ever attended the venue, the fact remains that people can hide drugs in places that nightclub bouncers are not allowed to search, so it’s impossible for any venue to entirely prevent drugs getting in. And once they’re inside, unless you’re watching every single clubber at every single moment, you’re not going to stop them being taken. If Fabric can be closed on this basis, so can any nightclub, and we can kiss goodbye to London’s clubbing scene. London should be developing and promoting its’ nightlife, as another way of attracting visitors and creating an image of a vibrant, modern city. Berlin promotes its’ techno clubs even on its’ touristy souvenirs (see my place mat below), but London seems to have chosen a different direction.

Many have put the case for why the decision to close Fabric was such a bad one, none more eloquently than co-founder Cameron Leslie, in his full speech to Islington Council, but why does it mean so much to me? I only just wrote about how clubbing is not really part of my life anymore, and most likely I would never have attended Fabric again, even if it had remained open. Given everything else that has happened in the UK this year, it might not seem a big deal, but it’s just another small step on our road to becoming a bland, joyless, unwelcoming land. Almost every club I enjoyed when I was younger has been turned into a Tesco Express or luxury flats. It may seem a weird thing to wish for as a parent, but I want my daughter to have the opportunity to go clubbing when she grows up, should she wish to. I want her life to be full of joy and I had a lot of good times in those places. I don’t want her to grow up in a country where they barely exist.

This also seems like an attack on electronic music itself. I’m old enough to remember, if not actually have experienced, the Criminal Justice Bill of 1994 which was ostensibly focused on closing illegal raves, but with its’ specific attacks on music with repetitive beats, was really an attempt to criminalise and destroy dance music culture altogether. Now, again under a Conservative government, those attitudes seem to be returning (witness the ridiculous attempts by the Fabric review board to claim that music with a higher BPM led to an increase in drug use). Well, they may have closed down the illegal raves and driven dance music into nightclubs in the 1990s, and they may well be trying to drive it out of the nightclubs in the 2010s, but it will always find somewhere else to go. For a long, long way back in human history people have congregated, taken mind altering substances, and danced. No matter what happens they will find a place to continue to do so. I’m just sad to know that Fabric will no longer be one of those places.

Can’t Techno More

Some of my best friends spent the weekend just gone at the Dekmantel Festival, a techno festival in Amsterdam (well ‘electronic and experimental music’ to be strictly accurate, but there was certainly a lot of techno on the bill). Having just bought a house a few months ago I have no money to be jetting off to music festivals, and being honest, I don’t actually like the idea of being away from my wife and child for more than a night or two. There was the odd moment in the week leading up to the festival where I had a pang of envy though. That is, until I though about the reality of what it would be like. I can no longer stay awake until the early hours of the next day, or even close, and I know myself well enough to know that I would get tired, I would get grumpy, sulky and sullen, and wouldn’t be much fun company for anyone.

Thinking of the festival did bring back some good memories though. My first trip to Amsterdam was for a one day festival called Dance Valley, back in 2001. Almost exactly 15 years before Dekmantel in fact, which suddenly makes me feel very old. The festival itself was great fun, but as it drew to a close, the heavens opened with the heaviest rains I’d ever experienced. We rushed to get a shuttle bus to take us back into Amsterdam, but soon realised the number of buses was wholly inadequate for the number of people. We had no choice but to start walking the seven or eight miles back into Amsterdam. We were cold, we were miserable and we had somehow lost one our party along the way. We trudged for an hour or more in increasingly heavy rain before managing to get a lift the remainder of the way, still worried about our missing friend. As we arrived back at the hostel, wetter than we’d ever been in our lives, we found him sat at the bar, in fresh warm clothes, drink in hand. He’d managed to stow away in the luggage compartment of a coach, the bastard.

Much of my late teens and early twenties (and a bit of my mid to late twenties too) were spent at similar festivals and club nights, dancing the night away until hours that are barely imaginable now. I still love the music (or some of it at least – my early dabblings in psychedelic trance are perhaps best forgotten). I loved the way a great DJ could blend three records into an entirely new piece of music, the way they could judge a crowd, knowing exactly what record to play next. Most of all, I loved the sense of adventure and excitement, travelling off to different cities or countries, leaving the normal world behind for a night or a weekend.

I have no desire to go back to those days though. I’m glad I enjoyed my younger days and spent more time and energy having fun than working or studying (although it will be interesting to see if I pass that advice on to my daughter when she’s older). I’m sure I will still go out dancing from time to time, but the days of emerging bleary-eyed into the early morning light from a basement techno club are long gone, and were gone long before I became a father even. What’s not gone and never will be are the friends made during those years, and the memories. Memories of speeding down the M6 on a warm spring day to get the last few tickets to our favourite club night before the record store closed. Memories of the adrenaline and excitement that flowed through a room when the DJ dropped Jaguar or The Bells or Emerge. Memories of Amsterdam, Hungary, Liverpool and Birmingham.

My life is different now, less wild perhaps, but full of a different kind of joy and wonder, and entirely new reasons for being up at 5am on a Saturday morning. Those raving days though are part of what made me the person I am. I wouldn’t have the life I have now if it wasn’t for the life I had then, and the memories of those days make me smile still.

Blog – The Pixies Conundrum

A minor conundrum arrived in my e-mail inbox today. Pixies are once again touring in the UK this winter, but for a change they’re playing my home town of Leeds. So what’s the conundrum you might ask? My all time favourite band playing in my home town, buying tickets as soon as they go on pre-sale tomorrow is a no-brainer surely?

I mean, there are always concerns about getting a babysitter, but having two grandmas nearby means we’re usually ok in that regard. Having recently acquired both a child and a mortgage, and with a car next on the list, money is tight enough that we can’t just spend £60 in concert tickets on a whim If we wanted it enough I’m sure we could find a way to pay for it though.

So, why aren’t I jumping at the chance to buy tickets? When I first became a Pixies fan, it was well after they had first split up, and there was nothing I longed for more than a reunion. So much so that, when they actually did reform to play the Coachella Festival in California, I seriously considered spending thousands of pounds flying to the festival in case it was their only gig. As it turned out, that really wasn’t something I had to worry about. I saw them 5 times over the next 5 years, and the gigs were everything I hoped they would be, some of the best of my life. But despite that, the law of diminishing returns began to apply. The first few times were joyous, emotional occasions, the crowds having thought they might never get to see this band again. By the fifth, whilst it was still a great gig, it wasn’t that different from going to see any of my other favourite bands. Familiarity hadn’t bred contempt, but it had lessened my excitement a bit. I thought maybe I would leave it a few years before seeing them again.

In the meantime, the band themselves recognised they had to freshen things up a bit. They started putting out in new material on a more consistent basis in 2013, having only previously recorded 2 songs in nearly a decade since they reformed (one of which – Bam Thwok – I am rather fond of). To be honest though, the new material has been hit and miss, or even worse, just average. More significantly Kim Deal left the band, also in 2013. This is a big deal for me. Musically, I love Pixies the most when Kim is to the fore, or at least on equal footing with Frank Black, and emotionally it just doesn’t feel right if Kim isn’t there. I have friends who are insistent the band are just as good without her, but I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t feel that way.

So, do I decide that I’ve had enough great live Pixies memories to last me a lifetime, and that I don’t want to witness what may be the beginnings of a slow decline. Or do I just bite the bullet, buy tickets and accept that, whilst it will most likely still be a pretty good gig, it won’t be a life changer. Either way I’d better decide pretty quick, those tickets won’t last for long.

Blog – A proper writer?

As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I recently (or recentlyish) wrote a chapter for a book about Joy Division and today (Ian Curtis’s 60th birthday) is the day the book is finally released. So does that now make me a proper writer?

I love writing, obviously, otherwise I wouldn’t spend so many of my precious spare moments writing this blog. I never intended the blog to be a springboard to a career in writing though, and that is still the case. I actually quite enjoy my real job, although it is one that I suspect many people would find awfully boring, and am happy to keep writing as a hobby.

Still though, it’s pretty exciting to have some of my words in print, it gives me something to show off to my friends and family (and don’t worry I certainly will be doing that). It’s more permanent than the many thousands of words I have poured onto the internet, and it gives me the ego boost of knowing that there are some other people out there who think what I write is worth reading.

I also really enjoyed the writing itself, writing a piece that was more in-depth and much longer than anything I publish on the blog, researching, drafting, re-drafting, knowing that there was no way I could go back and edit my work once it was done. Even if only for my own amusement I would love to write similar, longer pieces in futures.

My instinct as an English person is to self-deprecate, and minimise my own achievements, but I have to admit I’m proud of what I’ve done. To be in the same book as Stephen Morris (who wrote the preface), Kevin Cummins (who wrote the intro) and loads of great writers makes me happy. And if this turns out to be the only thing I ever get published, well, that will be enough to me.

Joy Devotion : Ian Curtis and The Importance of Fan Culture is out now on Headpress. Thanks to Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdike for making this happen.