Brkn Arrw Blog: Last Night A DJ Saved My Life Book Review

What better way to almost begin a blog for DJ’s & producers than with a review of the most comprehensive book about the journey of the DJ and their place in history & the musical context of our times, the book described as “a riveting look at record spinning from it’s beginning to the present day... a grander & most fascinating story than one might imagine” by Time Out upon its initial release in1999. This exhaustive title has recently been extensively rewritten & brought up to date with five new chapters & over 100 pages of new content.

Upon first discovering this book in the early ‘00’s, I was fascinated, the narrative starting with the earliest developments of records & transmitting sound through the air and the birth of the radio Deejay. Since the beginning DJ have been moulding the way we experience music, the early DJ’s hadthe power to make or break a record therefore helping shape the record industry at large, unfortunately they didn’t always use this power for good, as seen in the great payola scam of thelate ‘50’s which found the world biggest radio DJ Alan Freed being investigated by none other than the FBI and was unable to carry on as a professional disc jockey with his reputation in tatters. I said it was a fascinating story.

From the early days of the radio DJ we move onto Reggae with a well-researched storyline & extensive interviews. We are invited to witness the birth of Soundsystem's toasting MC (a close cousin of the Hip-Hop MC thanks to pioneer DJ Kool Herc’s Jamaican heritage), the reggae producers first foray into the dub plate (which were still used until recently by producers & DJ’s to test tracks ina club environment, giving the eureka moment for many of the worlds most loved club tracks), These same DJ’s & producers were also among the first to try the remix by way of invention of the dub mix, adding longer instrumental breaks to give space for the Soundsystem toaster to boast over the already familiar tracks, usually they would boast about the power of the Soundsystem & about their prowess as a toaster or MC (as we came to know them) along with shout out's to friends in the crowd & advertisements for the companies who sponsored the events (very similar to the birth of the Hip-Hop MC in just a few short years).

From sunny Jamaica we move to the grim north of England to dance halls & working man’s clubs of the Northern Soul scene & the inception of the first retro club scene, a scene where most DJ’s played & prided themselves on having rare & hard to find forgotten soul gems from the United States (often covering labels so the track couldn’t be identified). Although the scene peaked in the 70’s with some clubs like the Mecca in Blackpool & Wigan Casino pulling in 1000’s of revellers most weekends to dress up, drop a handful of semi-legal uppers & dance until dawn (sound familiar), The scene still refuses to die with Northern Soul nights still going on, there are now a million different compilations of NS classics & club stompers (a term invented in the Northern Soul scene) are even appearing in modern television advertising.

The following two sections of the book, the creation of D.I.S.C.O. & Hip-Hop culture (all four elements not just MC’s & DJ’s) were incredible for me. It seems that although both scenes were essentially created in the same city, frequently using the same records, in many ways they couldn’t have been further apart with the Champaign, Cocaine & mirror balled opulence of the discotheques in uptown Manhattan to the almost war zone like environment of the outer boroughs like Brooklyn, Bronx, Queen’s & Staten. All of the different areas playing their part in developing their artform to a place it could be legitimised with the melding of the two scenes on the first Hip-Hop break through hit Rapper’s Delight, which cobbled together the groove from Chic (massive disco hit) Good Times with the new fresh rhyming of three New York MC’s giving rap its first hit & the first time many of us would have heard the new strange artform. Again, all of the main players in both genres are extensively interviewed, their formative years & then hit records are discussed & dissected.

One of my favourite thing's about this book is that the authors do not hold back with letting you exactly which records helped mould & shape these scenes, giving you the ability with modern technology to make your own soundtrack to the book (not so easy upon first reading in ‘00’s but even then I found enough on Napster to keep me interested & send me down a few rabbit holes).

Now that the authors have established the genesis of club culture as we know it, with most of the pieces being in place as early as the late ‘70’s, they then move onto Hi-Energy, possibly the main forerunner to House Music, then Acid House, Techno in the United States. From this part of the book the Brits & Europeans take over again with the second summer of love & rave culture as we now know it. For the remainder of the book they extensively discuss & discover every dance music genre (I use that term dance very loosely) & scene to have emerged in the past 30 odd years, Again all of the major players (& a lot of minor faces too) are interviewed or discussed, all of the classic & not so classic tracks are listed & discussed in context to their unique place in history.

A riveting read throughout, which I have found hard to put down every time I have read, an essential book for anyone involved in or interested in dance music in its greatest terms, If you only ever read one book about the history of the DJ/Clubbing/Club culture & modern music as we know it (which I hope you don’t as there are some terrific books out there, I have listed a few below) then make sure it is this one. Highly Recommended 10/10 for newest edition.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you find & enjoy last night a DJ saved my life.

Stay Safe, Peace, Tristan Brkn Arrw, Ardrishaig, Argyll, Scotland, May 2020.

Below there are a selection of links which relate to the above article, please note if you purchase any of the items below using the links I will receive a small paid portion for directing you there.

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life

Further Reading:

Energy Flash – Simon Reynolds

Altered States - The History of Ecstasy Culture & Acid house – Matthew Collins

The Second Summer of Love – Alon Shulman

Hot Stuff: Disco & the Remaking of America Culture – Alice Echols

Love Saves the Day – Tim Lawrence

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