I’ve undergone something of an about turn on DJs in the last five or so years.
Probably as a result of hating everything I ever heard played in a club when I was growing up, I always felt that DJs had nothing to offer me. Almost everywhere in my hometown played an identical, indiscriminate combination of chart house, RnB and covers of 80s ballads reinterpreted for synthesiser and soprano, and such was the social stigma attached to our local rock club that you’d have had a better chance of successfully organising a soggy biscuit knockout tournament than a night out in there.
As a result, it wasn’t really until I was leaving university that I realised that there were DJs who would put on nights where they’d play disco, or soul, or indie, or metal, or big band swing. It turned out I’d been going to loads of these nights, but I hadn’t really thought of the people putting on the music as DJs. I just thought that the bar staff at these places had really good taste.
When it was made clear to me that the people in charge of the evening’s playlist were, in fact, DJs – and that ‘DJ’ wasn’t necessarily a pejorative term – I began to see things in a totally new light.
Take, for example, the Avalanches. I have had their album, Since I Left You, for about 10 years now and it is one of which I have yet to tire. I loved it when I bought it back in 2001, long before I learned to love DJs, but it only dawned on me relatively recently that the album is essentially an incredibly tight, hour-long DJ set. I had always recognised certain samples in the album (Holiday by Madonna and Stool Pigeon by Kid Creole and the Coconuts are two that spring to mind as really sticking out) but I hadn’t realised that there were scores and scores – if not hundreds – of samples woven in to every second of the album. Good samples that came from longer songs – all with good verses, good choruses, good middle eights and bridges. Songs that I could find myself and own for my own.
In disassembling Since I Left You, finding the full songs from which the samples are taken and then investing in the albums on which those full songs appear, the goodness in my music collection has grown exponentially. From out of that one great hour of music, I now have dozens.
As they were a fundamental part of my learning this lesson, I since have expanded my collection of Avalanches material. I have found Breezeblock sets of theirs, mixtapes they’ve made, an EP from their early days. I won’t pretend that I love every minute of all that I have – their tastes are much more eclectic than my own, and it often strays into the unlistenable – but they have unearthed some amazing bits of music in their career; amazing bits that I would never have otherwise heard.
Here are some.
Up until I discovered the bassline from the Avalanches’ Close To You was one of their riffs, I had always thought the Isley Brothers were a band who would have nothing else to offer the world other than Who’s That Lady? and Summer Breeze (which, I later found out, wasn’t even their song). I had no idea quite how much else they had done. They wrote Shout (which Lulu made famous). They covered Twist And Shout before the Beatles. They wrote the original Caravan Of Love (which, admittedly, is kind of naff and was much improved by The Housemartins). They wrote Footsteps In The Dark which was the basis for Ice T’s It Was A Good Day. They have released some truly brilliant albums – of which Go For Your Guns is one. Were it not for The Avalanches, I wouldn’t have known any of this.
This is the main sample on the song Electricity and has an amazing groove. The Avalanches wisely chose to omit the savagely misogynistic, homophobic and sexually graphic lyrics – which, ordinarily, would have been a little too strong for my tastes – but I do keep a copy of the original purely for the immortal line “Ridin’ down the road / Carryin’ a load / Feelin’ mo’ sexy than a pregnant toad”.
Not a song I adore in its entirety, but the brass at the start of this is one of the most joyful things I know and used fantastically against ELO’s Livin’ Thing and the theme from the Mickey Mouse Club in the Avalanches’ extended When I Met You mix.
Nina Simone’s back catalogue is so overwhelmingly massive, I’ve never felt able to roll up my sleeves and dig in in the way that I know I should. Pretty much everything I own of hers has been sourced through some sort of third party. This particular song finishes the Avalanches’ first At Home With… mixtape and it is such a perfect recording they let it run untouched for four minutes. Again, a very wise choice.
A magpie masterpiece. A series of samples, hooks, riffs and melodies woven together to create a song so summery that it’s causing me to question the veracity of the whole internet (it claims it was released in November 2000 – but how can it remind me so much of summer if that is the case?)
Also listened to:
Avenge Vulture Attack – A friend’s band’s EP.
Aztec Camera – Roddy Frame is a brilliant songwriter and one of the funniest people I have ever heard speak in public.
The B-52s – I can’t decide which is more embarrassing to own: Love Shack or Rock Lobster. I doubt it’s a decision that is important for me to make any time soon though.
BT Express – Energy Level, from Lucy Pope’s incredible disco megamix compilation.
J.S. Bach – Cantata No. 48 “Ich elender mensch…”: A piece I studied for my music A Level and something I find myself singing regularly in a ridiculous German falsetto.