Though it often feels like clubbing moves at breakneck speed, there’s always been a deep-seated respect for those that have taken the long route, swerved chasing the limelight and built a reputation through love and dedication to the culture. Two of London’s finest to fit that bill are Andy Blake and Gideön. Between them they have been DJing for more than 50 years, and their record collections carry almost as much weight as their names. Not only that, both are behind some of the best parties of the last decade.
Andy Blake runs the legendary World Unknown parties, no frills with a complete focus on the dance floor. It became a hallowed celebration of otherness and, as a monthly night at the arches in Brixton, and later a not-quite-secret location in Camberwell, it was ground zero for a generation of dancers in South London. These days World Unknown happens less frequently in larger venues, moving and growing with the times. Gideön is behind Block9 along with Stephen Gallagher. He co-founded the Absolution parties in Berlin and has a weekly show on London’s Soho Radio. Block9 has long since transcended its status as a section of Glastonbury festival and the jewel in its crown, the NYC Downlow, is widely (and rightly) considered to be one of the best clubs in the world, open for just one weekend a year.
The pair play together at Stevie Wonderland on 22 September, taking the reins of Bussey Building’s second room for the whole night. In anticipation pulled them together to chat to them about clubbing, politics and what it takes to maintain a truly special party.
Hi guys. Thanks for chatting with me. Have you linked much in a DJing context in the past?
Andy: We’ve done a couple of things together. I’ve played for Gideön at NYC Downlow and he’s played for me at one of my things. We both played Discosódoma earlier this year at Dalston Superstore too. So our paths have crossed fairly regularly.
Gideön: Jim Stanton of Horse Meat Disco originally mentioned Andy to me as somebody who had a record collection that was worthy of note. That’s what originally led to the NYC Downlow booking at Glastonbury. We’ve crossed paths thereafter, and we’re both South Londoners too.
A lot of people think that clubbing in London is in a really bad way, some disagree. Where do you guys stand?
Gideön: I got asked to do an interview recently on why clubbing wasn’t in such a bad place. I just flatly refuse to try and paint something in an upbeat way when it isn’t. Essentially, international corporate capitalism is totally fucking up London in the same way that it killed New York. Manhattan is dead now.
Back in the 90s, the Tories introduced draconian legislation to stamp out free parties, squatting and all musical events linked to political dissent: the Criminal Justice Act. That was about shutting down the epicentre of a political scene by rooting out where there was music. In the aftermath there’s been a crackdown on club culture and underground parties, and more often than not it’s big promoters that survive. Bigger commercial parties tend to be the shittest, so yes, personally I think London is experiencing a really tricky time. I just hope that we can manage to flip it and start the revolution.
Andy: Gideön’s bang on there. The thing is, diversity by its very nature is very difficult to control. It’s not meant to be controlled. But some people want to control everything. The club scene was the last bastion of freedom in the music world and it’s being invaded now.
Parties are seen as an opportunity by very organised people who know how to make money. They are trying to colonise it, to contain it and control it. There will always be an underground – there will always be an independent streak that bites back – but there’s a lot of stuff that is bog-standard and commercial, presented as ‘underground’. That word is dangerous when it becomes branding: when everything that isn’t EDM is considered underground, it’s easy to exploit.
I do remain hopeful, there’s always a way out of it. Then again I don’t want this scene I’ve been envisaging from time to time in my less upbeat moments; a kind of Mad Max post-apocalypse where there are few of us gathered around coal-fired record players living in buses and going through dusty wastelands. That would be rather shit, especially with all these options open to us. I’d far rather we end up partying in outer space.
Do you think that makes it doubly important for parties like WU and NYC Downlow to be political?
Andy: Yeah but it’s every person’s responsibility, not just nightclubs. People need to buy the right books, read the right fucking things, listen to the people who actually know what’s up and get stuck in and do the things that need doing. Big chunks of the media, including social media, are just a bunch of adverts, and there need to be more people standing up, maybe being a bit unpopular from time to time, but trying to get people thinking. We’re not going to save this thing just through having a few good discos when everything else has gone to shit. But if people can come to the parties, dance, get high and get off with each other, and then also have the conversations about how we might actually make the difference they become really useful melting pots. That’s the great thing about them isn’t it? It’s where the rich, poor and people from all colours and creeds come together. It’s not immediately obvious who’s who so people are disarmed.
Gideön: Everyone who is in a position of influence in any capacity in society, including people doing parties and events, has a duty to be political. Otherwise we are fucked. I think it’s a bit irresponsible to not use the momentum you’ve created and give it a direction. I’m not saying that I endorse a particular political party, although obviously fuck the Tories every day of the week, but if people are looking in your direction then I definitely think that having a cause is essential, even if that’s as simple as unity with as many people as possible. I’m looking for a political leadership that has the balls to call Brexit what it really is… a fucking huge mistake and something we must stop now!
It must be hard to maintain that sense of inclusivity while getting bigger, when you run the risk of people coming for the wrong reasons. What do you think of the way somewhere like Berghain manages this?
Andy: Often there is a need for some barrier. Hopefully it can be quite porous. We’ve been really lucky with World Unknown, something about the way it comes across seems to stop it from appealing to the kinds of people we don’t enjoy having there.
When we were at the arches, every six months we would get written about in some trendy magazine and have a night that was a little bit more hipster orientated. What would often happen is a load of the new influx would just piss off at 2 o’clock a bit disgruntled because they really didn’t get it, and a bunch of the others would really get into it and become fully committed WU crew for months or years after. I think it’s really important that everyone has the opportunity to check these things out, but every once in a while you can smell someone or a group of people that might be a bit of trouble and some kind of diversionary tactic has to be employed. To be honest, that in itself can be quite amusing. The balancing they’ve managed at Berghain is brilliantly well done. I’m sure you heard the story that Prosumer got turned away one night, so anyone can fail the test. But it can be a difficult trick to pull off, it’s the single most difficult part of it I think, especially for somewhere open all weekend every week.
Gideön: I was having this discussion a couple of days ago. I just did 12 hours at Berghain on Sunday and Monday last week. We were in the guestlist queue watching people getting turned away and I have to say, brutal as it may be, I am an advocate of the door policy. I had a completely wonderful 12 hours in a totally homo-centric, crazy, queer, techno-rugby-scrum of a party listening to really fucking amazing music. They have to have a hardcore door policy there. Otherwise you endanger that magic and that rare building of a space around a queer sexuality, which is what Berghain is. Letting in every euro clubbing tourist would totally decimate that. It might look unsightly, but as we’ve found with NYC Downlow, being a victim of your own success is a massive problem. It’s something we’re currently grappling with. For the record this is me talking, not Block9.
That brings me on to a question about how you feel about clubbing as formative experiences. How important do you think clubbing is as a means of allowing people to find others who are likeminded and learn about themselves?
Gideön: It’s essential to me as a person, to my sound musically and to all of the parties that I’m involved in. You need an alternative to the hetero-normative reality as you grow up. It’s also really important to tell the story of queer, underground culture: our music and what we’ve inherited from the generations that came before us. My sound is purposefully very evocative of all that came before it. It used to be that simply being gay and existing outside of heterosexual, binary roles necessarily meant that you were an outsider, and you were kind of forced to make radical left-wing alliances just to get by. Where has that kinship gone? All of the most authentic musical experiences I’ve had have been linked to a cause of some description, overtly or not. So for me it’s essential to re-politicise music, to re-politicise clubbing, and personally speaking to re-politicise being somewhere on the LGBTQI spectrum.
Andy: What Gideön said is spot on. You’ve got to seek out the origins of this disco culture: they’re gay, they’re black, they’re latin. Nominally I’m a straight white guy, but it ain’t my world. I don’t fit in and never have done. I’ve always hated that crappy macho imperialist thing that seems to pervade. So there’s always been refugees of all kinds coming to these safe, inclusive places to congregate, and that’s good. But in the last few years it’s changed and it can become tricky, with people showing up at the sanctuaries from their orthogonal bullshit thinking it’s ok to bring all that crap in with them, when it most definitely isn’t.
You guys are playing all night together at Stevie Wonderland for an hour each at a time. How do you feel about back-to-back sets?
Andy: I’m more into the idea of a couple of people taking charge of the music for the whole evening. I think the standard back-to-back can be quite a limiting format: it can often end up with people pumping out the generic bangers one after the other. But if you’ve got a couple of people who are reasonably in tune with one another, dealing with the journey between them as opposed to individually, it can be an excellent way of doing things. And it’s a nice way to hang out with your mates as well.
Gideön: Yeah I feel the same. It can be a bit of a wind up. Everybody’s sound is very different, mine and Andy’s sound is also definitely different, but then Andy is a great DJ.
Andy: With half hours or hours, you get a chance to go on a little detour and then put it back into place for a good handover.
Just to round us off, could you tell me anything about what you each have planned for the set?
Gideön: I will be exploring the deep, dubbed-out, homocentric fantasy of house music with half an eye on the masterful Andy Blake… because I just know he is gonna out-school me hahahaha!
Andy: Very kind of you to say but I think it’s going to be very nicely balanced on that front. Gideön is one of a few people I can hear DJ for an hour and not have a clue what anything is. I’ll be taking the opportunity to dig through my disco records that don’t get as much play as they should and mixing them up with some house and italo. And maybe a bit of heavy 70s soundsystem reggae 12” action early on. I’m really looking forward to it. Hats off to the Stevie Wonderland chaps for having the vision to suggest it.