Harold Heath’s new book ‘Long Relationships: My Incredible Journey From Unknown DJ To Smalltime DJ’ is a funny, poignant and highly accurate account of a life spent DJing at the lower end of clubland. UK house music hero Bill Brewster said of it: “Best thing on dance music I’ve read for a good while… Highly recommended.” So we’re happy to reproduce an exclusive extract from ‘Long Relationships’ here.
It’s nearly 3 am. I am purposefully taking a mental Polaroid of everything around me, as I want to remember this moment always. I am DJing, the main guest for the evening. I am having a moment of pure indulgence, playing one of my own productions, on a beautiful high-end hand-carved artisan sound system which was forged in the embers of a dying sun. We are at an open-air bar in Varna, Bulgaria, on a hill overlooking the Black Sea, on a magical summer evening. The ocean seems completely still from up here, and looks almost entirely black, apart from the silent reflection of the silver moon. Someone comes up to me and begins a conversation, but as I drop in the next song, she exclaims “Oh I fucking love this tune” and is gone, back to the dance floor.
Every tune I play seems to be the perfect piece of music, out of all the available pieces of music in my CD wallet, for that particular moment. Each tweak of the EQ and cross-fader adjustment seems to increase the energy and magic in the air. About 45 minutes ago, I began to realise that this might just be one of those nights that lives up to or even surpasses the early evening anticipation. Where we will actually feel, as we dance to our favourite music, with our loved ones under the stars, something special: synergy, connection. This venue is pretty isolated; no one is going anywhere else, we’re a closed group, here for the duration. This has become more than a bunch of people drinking and dancing together; the whole is greater than the sum of its parts; we are all part of a single mass now.
Something semi-sacred happens at a really good party. It’s not caused by the DJ or the venue, or the sound system; it’s not any one single thing, it’s a new thing created out of all the individual elements. It’s a shared experience, a group emotion that can be a genuine power for good. Some people return to the ‘real’ world and their normal lives tired but happy, improved; and the intense weekend experience can positively affect how they see the world and how they interact with those around them. Of course, some others return to the real world tired and a bit depressed, have a bath and lie on the sofa for two days eating Pringles and main-lining skunk; not everyone receives a transcendent experience every time they go out.
The sound system here is superb. It’s owned by a local DJ who spent a long time obsessively setting up and tweaking it. At one point, he firmly tells me not to play any Mp3s on it and to only play vinyl or wav. files, as though a largely indiscernible difference in audio quality might somehow infect his amp and speakers. The rig is loud, clear and full, with not a hint of distortion. There are no rattling monitors; nothing’s going into the red, there’s just the irresistible pulse of the best in house music, drawing all to the dance floor.
For a lower-mid-tier working club DJ like me, this might be as good as it gets. I am completely confident that what I will play here will go down well. Everyone here is a seasoned clubber, the scene here is really healthy: they love to party, and they love their house music. No one will make requests; they know that they’re going to get exactly what they want and there’s no air of hoping this will get better or wondering if this is just somewhere to be before going on elsewhere.
It may sound obvious, but if you’re getting your flight and hotel paid for and you’re getting a nice fee too, and all you are expected to do is turn up to a party and play some music for a few hours, then you had better make a good job of it. You have to have some very good music on you, really, it had better be the very best in your genre. And you better be connected enough to have a few secret weapons, a few unreleased bits that no one else has got. And you need to be strong in the mix, you need to be able to handle the decks and the mixer like a pro, and put it all together cohesively, excitingly. No mistakes, no fuck-ups, no inappropriate selections, no fear, no weakness, just be the best.
They’ll expect you to present brilliant music seamlessly, perfectly. They’ll expect you to ride the EQ and effects but not to overdo it; they want to know that they can completely relax into the groove, knowing that you won’t suddenly haul them out of their trance by making a gauche programming decision. Most of all, you need to somehow work out what they want, even if they don’t know themselves, then serve it up to them until the lights come up at the end of the night.
‘Long Relationships: My Incredible Journey From Unknown DJ to Smalltime DJ’ by Harold Heath is available from Velocity Press or your usual book retailer.
Harold Heath is on Twitter.
Main photo by Sarah Hedges.