Paul Burke

For one night only, I was back on the DJ decks

I’d forgotten the thrill of getting people on the dance floor

  • From Spectator Life
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Hard to imagine now but I was once a hot club DJ. I now need to go to bed on the same day I got up but once upon a time – in fact, hundreds of times upon a time – I dropped big tunes at famous clubs including Le Beat Route, the Camden Palace and Stringfellows. I was knee-deep in cocaine and hookers but had no interest in either. My only interest was the glory I gleaned from filling a dancefloor with shiny, happy people.

Being irredeemably shallow and easily flattered, I faux-reluctantly agreed

Playing clubs was relatively easy. Revellers were keen to dance, especially those who arrived, shall we just say, ready-stimulated. Far harder were the countless parties and weddings in featureless function suites, council estate community centres and the backrooms of pubs that made the Queen Vic look like Claridge’s. There is no crueller shame than an empty dancefloor, where nothing you play will coax any guest to shake a leg until Dr Alcohol has done his work. Your only friend is time, so you have to use it wisely and skilfully until eventually, a handbag is placed on the dancefloor and three girls start dancing around it.

You then need to keep them there and encourage others to join them. Not verbally – nobody wants to hear your sprightly repartee – but musically. You have to build the atmosphere slowly, keeping an eye on your demographic and playing what you think they might enjoy. Take requests by all means but unless a high percentage of guests are male, long-haired and double-denimed, ignore the bloke who keeps saying, ‘Got any Quo?’

All this came back to me as I entered The Windermere, a rambling old pub near Wembley for my mate Pete’s daughter’s 21st birthday party. It was in the function room at the back – a venue I’ve played many times but not since there were Cortinas in the car park.

Surprisingly, the place was mostly unchanged – apart from the DJ equipment.

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