UK DJ pioneer tells it like it is ahead of History of House club night
Graeme Park is renowned as a key pioneer of the British dance music scene. Working in the ’80s as a singles buyer at notorious Nottingham record store Selectadisc, he was one of the first DJs to bring Chicago house records into the country – and to drop them on UK dancefloors. ‘Back then I was so focused, I was one of the first DJs to play American house. People didn’t welcome it at first – they were like: “stick the Talking Heads and New Order back on”. But I stuck at it. I never planned to be a DJ, it just happened. [Today] I’m still getting paid to play music to people. I would never have believed that.’
But it all kicked off further north at The Haçienda, the legendary Manchester club credited with igniting the UK acid house and rave scenes of the late ’80s and early ’90s. ‘You’ve got to remember The Haçienda had such an influence on people. Never a week goes by when someone doesn’t come up to me to say “I used to go Haçienda, this is my wife, I proposed on the dancefloor” or something. This is the influence it has on people. In the late ‘80s Britain was in recession and it was a very grim place. The Haçienda was a massive release for people.
‘I’d like to say I’d be in a similar place without The Haçienda, still known for being one of the pioneers of British house music but working somewhere else. But The Haçienda was a big part of making that music big, at its’ peak it was the greatest club in the world.’
But the club notoriously haemorrhaged money. Owned by Factory Records and members of New Order, it was propped up by record sales: Bassist Peter Hook estimates it lost Dhs110 million in its 15 year lifetime, which ended in 1997. ‘Peter’s worked out it personally cost him ten pounds for every single person who came to The Haçienda. But it was never run for business. New Order were the directors and they just said “we need to do this thing, it will be massive”. It could have made money, but I really do believe if it had been run properly it wouldn’t have had such an influence. A club for hedonists, run by hedonists.’
He doesn’t plan what he’s going to play. At all. ‘I never have any idea of what I’m going to play until 15 minutes before. I’ve made a whole career out of making it up. When I see DJs tweeting about how they’re preparing their sets I think: How can you? What if the guy before you plays the stuff you do? A night out is not just about the DJ. A lot of DJs forget now that – it’s about the place, the vibe and the music. If I played the same records every night I’d jump out of the window.’ Surprise, surprise, this vinyl veteran is no great fan of modern technology... ‘It’s a lot easier for people to [DJ today] because the technology has democratised the music making process. But it means any half-wit with a computer can put something together and put it online. There’s a lot more rubbish out there. There’s not any more good music than 10 or 20 years ago, the amount is about the same, but because now there are so many people making rubbish music it’s harder now to find the good stuff.’
...or most modern DJ/producers. ‘Every fledging DJ decides they’re going to be a producer, gets a Mac and makes horrible tunes. Promoters now look at how many tracks you’ve put out when you say you’re a DJ – that’s terrible. I’m a DJ who has put out some music and I think you should concentre on one or the other. You should do six months DJing and six months producing. You get DJs tweeting “I’m sat on the plane writing a new track, I can’t wait to drop it tonight” – and it’s going to be [rubbish]. You can’t make a track on a plane. You just can’t.’
He’s played Dubai more times than he can count, last spotted spinning at the now defunct-Trilogy in February 2013. ‘I’ve been playing in Dubai since 1996. I have no idea how many times I’ve been over. My best friend from school lives out there and he could tell you every time I’ve played. I remember the first time it was just desert. [The scene] reflects the people in Dubai – the people I know all have really good jobs and have a large disposable income. If you live and work in Dubai you want to go out and enjoy yourself in plastic surroundings.’
If you ask Parky for a drink after his set, he’s likely to make his excuses. ‘The older I get, at the end of night people say “let’s go for a drink”, and I say “yeah I’ve just got to take my gear back”, go to my hotel room and put the kettle on.’
Graeme Park performs at History of House on Media One Hotel’s 41st floor on Friday March 7, 9pm. Entry Dhs100. Reservations on 055 887 4126.
**This is a previously unpublished interview conducted with Graeme Park in June 2012.