My name is John Doran and I write about music. The young bucks who run VICE’s website thought it would be amusing to employ a 40-year-old man who does yoga in XL leisure wear.
In case you were wondering or simply too lazy to use urban dictionary, ‘menk’ is Scouse/ Woollyback slang for a mentally ill or educationally subnormal person, and is a shortened version of mental. As in, “Your Sergio Tacchini trackie is sick la, look at that menk Doran, he can’t even afford a Walker trackie. Let’s hit him with a brick and push him in the canal.”
MENK 22: UND TANZT DEN ADOLF HITLER… UND JETZT DEN JESUS CHRISTUS
I’m DJing at a house party in a large concretion of condemned flats in Bethnal Green. Two friends are paying cheap rent to live in this place until it’s time to knock the block down. It stops people breaking in and getting squatter's rights. I guess you could say that they’re the ideal kind of flats for men in their late 20s and early 30s to have parties in. Aesthetically terrifying, brutally robust and as fucked as they’re going to get before the dynamite and bulldozers turn up. Dave gives me a psychogeographical tour of the front room. He lifts up all the paintings they have hung. Under each one is a little unpainted square of wall that reveals some 1980s issue wall paper and the previous tenant’s art scribbled on in black biro ink.
“We couldn’t bring ourselves to paint over all his old decorations,” he says, pointing at a vague approximation of the goat-headed demon from the front cover of Bathory’s first album. “This is better,” he adds, pointing to an acid house smiley with a Hitler moustache near the door. The room is a palimpsest of boredom, bad ideas and lack of attention paid in GCSE art. It’s as if the place were vacated by a heroin-addicted black metal fan who spent too much time nodding out in front of Changing Rooms.
The bathroom is unreal. There is no sink, just a toilet. The wall behind it has a painting of ammonites – the most popular of the extinct Cretaceous cephalopods – all over a background of disagreeable, brown oil paint whorls. It is as if the black metal happy hardcore Nazi has carried out a dirty protest but then had a change of heart halfway through, and tried to cheer the room back up by sticking some pretty sea shells in the excrement. Through cracks in the painting, insulating foam has oozed out and then frozen permanently, giving the impression that there are several hornets’ nests bulging out of the walls, ready to burst.
“It’s not as bad as the last place,” says Dave, and he's telling the truth, because he used to live in a converted residential brothel above a squat full of crusty swingers in Stratford. I DJ’d a party there once as well. Someone who'd attached a leopard's tail to themselves with a butt plug insisted on showing me fresh suspension wounds arranged in a neat row up his chest, and a hard faced girl who looked like a cross between Margi Clarke and Hell Boy said disinterestedly: “This music’s great. What is this?” All of her concentration was being focused on scanning every surface in the room for drugs like the Terminator, as I told her: “It’s ‘I Feel Love’ by Donna Summer.”
I can’t remember exactly when this was, but I was literally juddering with plant food so it can’t have been more than two or three years ago. That party was OK, really. My friend and business partner Luke met his girlfriend Amy there. They’re both here tonight, too, at Dave's new, condemned home, with a bunch of other good friends. We’re all in agreement that I should behave like a benign disco dictator and simply ignore all requests that aren’t for acid techno, industrial dance and dilapidated house. The partygoers tonight are going to get what they need, not what they want.
Almost immediately I’m approached by a shaven-headed, muscular guy with shining eyes and a Cheshire cat grin: “Have you got any Dr Hook?”
I tell him that I haven’t but I could play something similar, like Fela Kuti.
“I’ve never heard of them. What about The Who?”
“No man, I fucking hate The Who. Look I’ll play you something, but think that it’s Friday night, there are people here who want to dance. I don’t want to be a prick about this but why not push the boat out and choose something that’s a bit more upbeat, dance music and possibly not 40 years old?”
“OK, how about an album track off Pablo Honey then?”
I start laughing and say: “Radiohead? Why? What’s up? Are you a manic depressive?”
“Yes,” he says.
“So am I,” I tell him as quickly and as seriously as I can get the words out.
He starts telling me about his illness while standing very close to me, staring without blinking. My head starts swimming as he gives me a rapid-fire potted history of his symptoms and behaviour. “I thought I’d achieved Nirvana…” He reels off his prescription. “Citalopram… Lithium… Klonopin…” If this was Top Trumps he’d be blowing me out of the water. “I told him we should get some porn on the walls and hang loads of bike chains from the ceiling and chop up bits of car and have them sticking through the walls like they’d materialised there…” But it’s not Top Trumps, it’s mental health and it’s a game you don’t want to win. “I was exercising for seven hours a day because God told me to…” He says he’s much better now, though, as he’s aware of what’s happening to him. “I’ve always been surrounded by people who take me to the doctor’s when I need to go…”
After about 15 minutes I apologise weakly for the Radiohead jibe and he gives me a massive grin – “It’s ok! I’ve been in a mania for weeks! I used to take a lot of drugs. I guess that didn’t help. It’s good to talk about these things.”
I agree with him that I’ve probably got cyclothymia, the rapidly fluctuating, common or garden version of manic depression. I’ve certainly found my mental health a lot easier to cope with since I’ve stopped drinking and doing cocaine and acid all the time, and my delusional behaviour and beliefs have all but vanished.
I play him "Idioteque" by Radiohead and he goes and sits down with his friends, but as soon as it’s over he’s back to ask for "Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy" by Queen. As a compromise I play him their underrated funk rock number "Fight From The Inside" and then ignore all his other continual requests for classic rock. Ten minutes later, I’m playing "Lady Shave" by Frank Tovey and he’s stood a foot away from me, staring, clapping and chanting: “He inserts himself! The man who makes you uncomfortable! He inserts himself! The man who makes you uncomfortable!” I pretend that I’m so embroiled in looking for a specific LFO track on my laptop that I’m unaware of what’s going on.
Eventually he stops abruptly and walks out of the room never to come back. Immediately some people get up and start dancing but it’s far from clear if this party is going to get started or not.
“Fuck my old boots,” I say to myself a short time later as a bunch of people who have their faces covered in toothpaste walk in. One of them has gelled his hair over in a harsh side-parting and has drawn a Hitler moustache under his nose. What is it about this room? One of their party, an extremely drunk posh girl, comes over. She too is stood too close to me and it feels like I’m looking at her through night vision goggles worn the wrong way round. Uninvited, she starts explaining the toothpaste face-paint: “We thought it would be funny but we got in trouble on the way down here. Someone thought we were racists but I’m not racist, I’m just drunk and silly.”
Mr Hitler moustache is doing exaggerated robotic dancing and clearing space around himself.
She continues: “I’m very naïve about these things. I don’t really know about music. So what happens now? Do I ask you for some music?”
“Don’t feel obliged,” I tell her.
“OK,” she says, ignoring me, “what about some Bob Dylan?”
The guy with depression, I feel bad about. This bunch of tools, less so.
“Can I just stop you there? Why can’t you just fuck off somewhere else?”
She can’t decide what to do, so just stands there rocking backwards and forwards for a bit. After about ten minutes of staring vacantly at me she says: “Rod Stewart? Belle and Sebastian?”
Her and her mates eventually shuffle out of the room in a half-hearted robotic dance. And then the rest of the night is exemplary. It’s amazing how quickly a room will start jumping when you don’t have to stop every ten minutes to play "Baggy Trousers" by Madness for some fool with no social skills. I don’t believe in good taste in music, I think it’s a bogus concept. It’s also impossible to accommodate everyone’s taste in music. If you try, you end up with something resembling a mad man’s breakfast. It simply comes down to the fact that my friends are more important to me than a bunch of drunk strangers and really, the only way to enforce all this is with a rod of iron. And in future this will literally be a rod of iron. With spikes coming out of the end of it.
I’ve plotted a graph forward in time. In three years, Dave’s going to throw a party in a squatted plague pit full of zombies, spiders and cannibal tramps, and I suggest you attend because it’ll probably be the best night out ever. Just don’t ask me for any Sultans Of Ping FC because I haven’t got any.