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 41-year-old who will be 42 all too soon.
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 57: DON'T TELL ME THAT THE HIGH RISE HAS TO END
I've got to do something to shake the depression. It's been pressing down on my chest like an anvil for months. Despite swearing blind that I wouldn't do it, I've replaced drugs with food. I'm sick and tired due to the amount of chow I'm cramming into my maw. But there's a hole inside me that isn’t really my stomach and it needs to be filled. The hole is the size of a skip – the size of a basement – the size of an ocean-bound supertanker, maybe – and I could spend my life throwing donuts and scones and chocolate bars and rounds of cheese on toast into it and it would always remain dark, echoing and empty. I used to go to bed thinking about drink and wake up thinking about drink. Then I used to go to bed thinking about drugs and wake up thinking about drugs. Now it's Belgian buns and biscuit and raisin Yorkies.
All of this neurotic self-regard has stirred a long since dormant voice in my head. I can hear it right now as I type this. It's on a loop, saying, "You might as well have a drink and do some drugs, then. At least it'd put you in a void."
Which is why when the possibility of a night out rears its goggle-eyed and haggard face, I'm not sure it's such a great idea. When Matty The Rascal asks me if I want to DJ upstairs at the Lex near King's Cross on Sunday, my knee-jerk reaction is to think, “Oh great! I can get some drugs in, make a night of it…” which is immediately followed by the plummeting realisation that I simply can’t do that any more. However, I’m flat broke and an invitation to DJ is one of the only things that’ll get me to leave the house in the evening these days.
After a respectable 15-year stretch of having never visited the venue once without being out of my mind I have been back there straight three or four times this year to play music. Even on the last visit, it felt like everything in there had been booby trapped and that the DJ consoles might explode, blowing my fingers off if I pressed down on them too hard.
I guess the thing is that I’ve always found it really helps to be clattered when I’m manning the decks. Generally people like to see a giant, bearded, 18-stone, fucked guy hanging out of a two-storey DJ booth head-banging and shouting incoherently along to Girls Aloud: it puts their own life into context and makes them feel less neurotic about the future. Personally speaking, in the past it also prevented me from over analysing what I was doing and stopped me from worrying about my age. If I give it any sober thought, I don't really think it's that dignified DJing when you're in your forties. In fact, I’d go as far as saying that I think it makes you look like a bellend. Now, you may say, "Well, DJ Hell plays records in nightclubs and he's 76." To which I'd say, "Exactly. He’s a right bellend, so this is only serving to prove my point."
In 2006 I went to a "designer" hotel to interview Helmut Geier, aka DJ Hell, and I was ushered into his large suite to speak to him about his new album, which was punningly titled something along the lines of Hell On Earth, or Hell Macpherson, or Hellementary, My Dear Watson. In his room, Hell and his assistant were sat in large designer leather chairs with their backs to me facing a Roberts Radio which was broadcasting second and third division English football results.
I said: "Hi Helmut, my name is…"
He raised one hand silencing me and the pair stayed facing the radio.
"Wow. What a massive pair of fucking tits," I thought.
They stayed facing the radio for the entire tedious broadcast. Even though there was literally nothing other than furniture in the ostentatiously wood, slate and chrome lined room, I understood implicitly that it was worth more money than I would earn in my entire life.
When the broadcast ended they both span round on their chairs to face me. DJ Hell was wearing a white T-shirt with a life-size photographic print of women's breasts on the chest.
"Wow. What a massive pair of fucking tits," I said.
"Ja!" said Hell winking and pretended to tweak one of the nipples on his top.
DJ Hell and one of his mates
It’s odd, DJing sober. I never used to do it. I guess it’s just something I’ll have to learn. Despite running a modestly successful club night in London for four years and DJing in some pretty big clubs and venues it’s not a skill I ever picked up.
I started the Big Sexy Land night in 2005, the same year my friend John Tatlock was just starting to dabble in production and had made me a bootleg of Gary Numan’s "Cars" and Sir Mixx-a-lott’s "Baby’s Got Back" as a birthday present. London was drowning in rocket powered MDMA and we’d just got our hands on a cracked version of Traktor, so a club night seemed inevitable.
My flatmate Manish christened the night in honour of the debut Revolting Cocks album and though I still like the name, it wasn’t without its problems. Unbeknownst to us, Big Sexy Land was also the name of a chain of sex clubs on the continent. We had a lot of amazing nights but one of the worst was when there was only one punter, a European who sat in the corner glowering at us for two hours while we gamely played post-punk and acid house until storming over to us angrily demanding to know when the live sex show started. Ironically, if he had come back the following month he would have got what he wanted. A couple graduated from raunchy dancing, to stripping and simulating sex and were about to get to fourth base when I had to get the bouncers to politely ask them to put their clothes back on. I was cool with them having sex but the spectacle had pretty much stopped everyone else from dancing.
The motto of the club was Non-Stop Neurotic Cabaret as a kind of a tribute to the low levels of psychic disturbance that all the founding DJs (and a good portion of the ones who joined us later) felt from time to time. It was a toss-up between that and The OCD Soundsystem. But really the overall levels of disc jockey mental health at the club would have probably been better if there were less stimulants flying round. How we ever got past our first six months is beyond me. The bar was set pretty low on our first night. I spent so long trying to send a text message to someone on the remote control for the video screen that a man from the crowd had to come into the booth and explain to me what I was doing wrong. Then when I’d actually written a text, instead of pressing send on my phone, I pressed the big silver stop button on the Technics deck killing the music. I was so flustered that again someone from the audience had to step into the booth and lead me through the relatively straightforward "starting the record again" process. And that’s when things really started going downhill. The official line is that we ran out of records nearly two hours early due to inexperience but the truth is that I simply couldn’t remember what I’d already played and was rapidly heading towards a Father Ted incident except with "Shack Up" by A Certain Ratio instead of "Ghost Town" by The Specials. We ended up running down the road to beg a DJ friend from a nearby nightclub to come and finish our set for us.
A Certain Ratio - "Shack Up"
Thing is, we didn’t really cut down on the narcotics, we just got used to them and did a lot more practice. By the time we moved to the basement of The Albany on Great Portland Street I could pretty much DJ a good set while half asleep – which was a very good thing. I remember executing one of my best sets despite everyone in the club looking like a giant pair of chattering, wind-up teeth with a single giant eyeball on top. And no amount of experiments into combining those levels of ketamine, MDMA and cocaine ever reproduced those boggling effects again.
I had some of the best nights of my life doing that club and it was certainly worth the few misfires we endured. Probably the most ill-advised thing we did was try to launch a Manchester spin-off night. Certainly the omens were advising us that it was a terrible idea. Around the time we were discussing our new venture, John and I went on a fact-finding mission to watch Prince in London. This involved an all-day drinking session before heading over to the O2 Dome for the show. More facts were then gathered at the O2 Indigo nightclub where Prince was also playing an intimate club set. John, who, by 2AM, had reached dangerously pan-dimensional levels of funkiness was busting some spectacular dance moves. Encouraged by the Sex Nazi, he demonstrated how he could go from dancing into a 720 degree-spin and stop facing the same way again and carry on dancing as before – all in one fluid motion. However no one was watching when he successfully did it the first time so he angrily shouted at everyone to pay attention, did it for a second time and broke his own leg. A week later, when we were going to view a potential venue for our Northern off-shoot, not only was John on crutches but when we got there, in the middle of the deserted street directly in front of the door, there was an ambulance on fire. I remember looking at John – whose face was all crimson because of the blazing vehicle we were stood next to – and saying: “It’ll probably have a friendlier vibe when the students are back after summer.” We opened the night there. It was a disaster.
The London club was great while it lasted but it was obvious when it had to end. (And by that I mean it was literally obvious: Noel Fielding and Peaches Geldof showed up. We might as well have booked Stuart Hall, Adolf Eichmann and Dr Fox as guest DJs. Fucking shit was dead in the water after that body blow.) So please come and watch me DJing on Sunday if you want, just don’t offer me any drugs – I’ll take a pint of tap water with ice and a slice, please. Don’t expect any headbanging, either. Well, not much anyway and if you see me trying to send a text message on a remote control you have my permission to slap me with an open palm.
John is DJing at the Lex, near King's Cross, between 10.30PM and 3AM on Bank Holiday Sunday, 26th May. Free Entry. Click here for details.
Previously: Menk, by John Doran – Diving for Dear Life