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Great DJ #3: DJHistory.com


In researching my book’s chapter on what, for want of a better term, I’ll call the “disco” movement of the early 1970s in New York City, I have – had – been making liberal use of the eight-year old site djhistory.com web site. Maintained by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, DjHistory.com served in part as a repository for the interviews they conducted researching their own book, the highly regarded (and eminently readable) Last Night A DJ Saved My Life. Of particular interest, for me, were their interview manuscripts with influential New York DJs who are no longer with us – a list that, unfortunately, seems to be longer than the list of those who are still with us. (E.g. Francis Grasso, widely hailed by all who heard him as someone who shaped an entire movement – and not least because he was arguably the first to get around equipment limitations to properly mix his choice of music. He died in the early 2000s, after Brewster and Broughton interviewed him for their book.)

Francis Grasso, whose influence in 1969-71 shaped a generation. Judging by the size of the record and the photo’s file name, this picture was taken in 1979. “It wasn’t until the middle 70s when everybody got into disco and Saturday Night Fever, and then it became so routine and mundane, and everybody wanted to be a disc jockey. Like hey, everybody’s a disc jockey. Everybody and their mother’s a disc jockey actually.”

Last week I got an e-mail from Bill announcing that DJHistory.com had been completely revamped. And what do you know? It has been. The new site seems intended to serve as a repository for everyone’s DJHistory – and with an all-embracing understanding of the word “DJ” or “dance music.” For example, the opening story in the site’s “Features” section is on the forgotten heroes of “Working Men’s Soul” – the cabaret bands of the British holiday camps. And alongside predictable pieces on the Paradise Garage and Chicago House music, there are Brewster’s pieces on the groups 23 Skidoo and Imagination – a mix I’m not quite sure I would ever bump up back-to-back on my turntables, but which speaks volumes to his open musical mind. The Resources section includes a list to some of Britain’s top dance record shops (and web sites), and the Interviews Archives includes just about all the interviews from the previous DJHistory.com web site, a madcap list that ranges from Jazzie B and Jeff Dexter to Terry Noel and Tony Smith. (I found the Grasso interview still buried online by doing a Search.) A Mixes section includes a bunch of free mixes by some promising newcomers (I’m listening to Cedric Woo’s decidedly eclectic non-dance obscurities as I type), there’s a Forum that’s been carried over from the old site that is so filled by avid trainspotters I’m scared to stick my head inside, and I’m particularly taken by the Books section. This merchandise page includes a hand-picked selection of key music books from over the years. Last Night A DJ Saved My Life tops the list, and if that seems a little self-serving (though, hey, it’s their site, they can promote what they want), their “How To DJ Properly” is at the very bottom the last page, so they’re not entirely ego-centric.

Monday morning is perhaps not the best time for me to recommend the kind of web site in which you can lose yourself for days, so perhaps you should do what I did: visit it, skim around, book-mark a couple of pages you plan to come back to and when night-time falls, cue up one of the dance mixes, tuck into one of the Features or the Forum, and have some fun. And remember, DJing does not mean Let us know when you emerge! And remember, being into DJ culture does not mean having to dance till dawn. As John Peel described his current job, in 2004…

“Living out in the country, hearing music that I like and playing it to other people. Now I do one show a week from my home and that represents for me an achievement because that’s what I wanted to do when I was 12: sit at home and play records I liked for other people to listen to.”

Sounds good to me.

John Peel: Some Great DJs enjoy staying home at night.

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Discussion

5 Comment(s)

  1. 21 April, 2008 at 8:00 am

    Hi Tony – I’m sure you probably have, but have you checked out Tim Lawrence’s “Love Saves the Day”?

    Also, if you haven’t spoken to Barry Lederer I would definitely suggest it. I could put you in touch with him if needed.

    Really looking forward to this book!

    Tim

  2. baby jebus

    21 April, 2008 at 3:40 pm

    Remember Tony, in London you’re never more than six feet from a DJ…

  3. Geo

    22 April, 2008 at 1:14 am

    Someone tealeafed my copy of “Last Night a DJ saved my Life” a long time ago.

  4. 22 April, 2008 at 9:44 am

    geo:

    Bastard – I’d go after them with my steak knives!

  5. Geo

    22 April, 2008 at 6:31 pm

    Wouldn’t waste my new steak knives on it. It’s gone to a loving home I suspect.

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