Attack writer Harold Heath can’t stop thinking about this Craig Richards Boiler Room set...
DJ sets, most of them, are not worth watching, they’re for dancing to. There are however exceptions, and this is one of them. Specifically, from about 45 minutes in, this Boiler Room video of DJs Lee Foss and Craig Richards is worth your time. Why? It’s not the music, although it’s all superb, excellently selected and adeptly mixed by Craig. It’s not the shadowy human-like shapes swaying in the background. No, it’s worth your time because at around 45 minutes, Craig mixes in a nice re-edit of that Doors track that all DJs play when they want to get a bit Balearic and there then follows the most unsuccessful DJ handover in history.
I feel that this video, in which a patient man dressed as a Victorian sound technician – perhaps in the late 1800s he’d have been called a Mix-Fingers or The Kick-and-Bass-Man – attempts to do his job whilst all manner of unnecessary technical buffoonery takes place RIGHT in his face, somehow stands for something bigger. That the ultimate futility of the whole episode is both symptomatic and illustrative of the worst excesses of modern dance music. Or perhaps it’s a demonstration of some other DJ truth that I can’t quite be bothered to get up on my high horse and articulate; you know, something about formats, the medium versus the message, real DJs do or don’t do such and such, that sort of thing.
Or maybe it’s just funny to watch the sheer range of human emotions – restrained because they know they’re on camera but there all the same – playing out on the various participants faces. If you take a screen shot of it, with that lighting, it could almost be a contemporary Caravaggio – The Incredulity of Saint Craig or The Denial of Lee Foss.
OK, so start the video at 45 mins. Craig drops his Doors track, removes a record from one of the 1210s and Boiler Room Man (BRM) puts the lid the deck on so Lee Foss who’s just arrived can put his laptop on it. Lee’s stage left and slips his laptop onto the deck lid. He’s wearing his best leather jerkin and has very slight pre-match nerves playing out across his face. Craig, looking like he’s making adjustments to the steam equalisation flange on his patented Melodic Mechanical Musical Machine-o-Tron pops up from behind the decks and puts a CD on. There’s a bit of cable-passing-around and then Lee positions himself behind Craig, like a ghost from a Netflix horror film, where everyone knows the spectre is behind the protagonist except them. However, ghostly Lee Foss makes his presence known, creating one of the first moments of light tension as, unable to resist fiddling, he reaches across Craig to open up his Mac (47.32), blocking access to the mixer mid-mix. I should add that Craig remains the picture of polite professionalism throughout the whole thing, but if we had brain-subtitles, there may have been times when he thought to himself, and I’m assuming that Craig Richards speaks like a Victorian gentleman artisan, “I say chaps, this fuzzledud’s podsnappery is giving me the mix-shangles, he’s going to wipe the gigglemug off my sauce-box any moment’”.
The lap top is powered up, Craig glances at the warm glow of the Mac screen, looking like he’s nodding at a particularly funny tech house meme. Lee continues to load up his Excel spreadsheets before Craig politely gestures that he really needs to access the mixer and if Lee could leave the memes alone for a second that would be great.
This is where it gets super awkward. You know that thing you do when you’re DJing and you move to one side to look at how the CDJ is doing, then you move a bit to the other side to see how long you’ve got left on the other deck? Well whenever Craig does this, Lee shoots out his arm for the briefest fiddle with his mousepad. The next time he does it and Craig moves back in front of him, Lee pulls his arm back super quickly and then styles it out by ending the movement with a low-level fist-pump, but no amount of fist-pumping can disguise the tension of a DJ who wants to get his gear set up and is beginning to realise that something is wrong. Lee keeps his headphones in one hand the entire time, choosing to do everything one-handed rather than put them round his neck which would literally double the amount of hands he had available to apply to the task in front of him. 51:00 and Lee makes the internationally recognised hand signal for ‘My fucking Mac’s fucking frozen”.
52.05 is the second genuine awks moment as Craig bumps his head on Lee’s arm as he rises from his record box. 53.55 and BRM and Lee have come to a decision to start a competition to see who can be the most annoying to Craig, taking it in turns to reach for things around Craig’s head. Lee wins by standing in front of the decks holding what looks like his Sky TV cable box, mutely staring at its single blue light as though it’s some kind of celestial digital saviour while Craig gesticulates frustratedly that he needs to reach the other deck cos the tune’s about to slip out of time.
At this point I’m simultaneously wondering if Lee wishes he’d not worn his best leather waist-coat, things going wrong always seem somehow worse when you’re showing off in you best clobber, and also thinking LEE PUT YOUR HEADPHONES AROUND YOUR NECK THEN YOU CAN USE BOTH HANDS. But Lee can’t hear me. Lee hears nothing but the empty toll of impending DJ defeat.
For now begins Lee Foss’s tragic white cable saga as for the first of many times he pushes the white cable into the Sky box a little bit harder, because we all know that feeling – something’s gone wrong with my set up, Imma push this cable in a bit harder, that’ll fix it, dammit that didn’t fix it. Despite this technique achieving literally nothing, it now becomes Lee’s default attempted solution to his growing technical problems.
The expression on Craig’s face as Lee takes his Mac and ducks out of sight below the decks is unreadable (54.50), but he stares long and hard, as though Lee had actually just opened up the secret trap door that reveals the stairs to the Boiler Room basement and was running down them as fast as he could, cables and head phones trailing behind him. Then with the air of a man who just saw the DJ who’s due to follow him open up a trapdoor to a previously unknown basement and run away, Craig turns back to the task in hand. BRM gets on the mic and gives a shout out to the technical hitch. He’s been having a great time by the way, dancing around, chatting and laughing, all is good in BRM’s world.
Lee meanwhile is in the cellar slapping his face saying COME ON LEE YOU CAN DO THIS YOU’RE A WINNER YOU’RE A LION. Craig has a brief word with BRM: “I say, this is a rum old lark, I think that chap ran down to the cellar” but then Lee makes his return. Weirdly, he doesn’t stand up fully but stays hunched over, battling his white cable nemesis, his haunted eyes occasionally peering out from next to Craig’s hips. He disappears back to the basement, this time for good and then, as though someone had ordered up a tech house rescue package, a sound guy and Jamie Jones turn up. There is a brief moment of sweetness and light at 1.07.24 as Jamie Jones and BRM start to dance in perfect unison.
What lessons can we learn from this? What truths are buried in this everyday tale of a technical hitches behind the decks? I don’t know, I just know that there’s this beautiful moment at 1.07.30 when Craig suddenly looks down and then disappears below the decks. It’s as though Lee has poked his head back up through the trap door and yelled at Craig “Dude, you are not going to believe what’s down here” and Craig’s decided to join him. I imagined them setting off on the run together, a tech house Thelma and Louise, the DJ odd couple, driving around in a van solving mysteries. But It was not to be and instead Craig comes back up and gets back in the mix.
This perhaps is where the lesson lies, a lesson for all DJs and aspiring DJs, that no matter how tempting that trap door looks, you’ve got to stay on the decks come what may. Or perhaps this film can serve as a warning to all DJs, to never press ‘yes’ to ‘updates’ 30 seconds before you’re due to start DJing. Or maybe there’s no lesson at all, and the whole thing is just a perfect illustration of both the sheer meaninglessness but also the absolute fun and games that come from time spent in discos. If nothing else, the takeaway message from all this is that we could all strive to be a bit more like BRM: smiling, happy and dancing while the whole edifice shakes and wobbles around him. Let’s go with that.
Harold Heath is on Twitter.