As I reached the summit, the sky turned a picture perfect pastel tangerine and the entire city opened up before me. For the first time in months, maybe years, I was able to take it in as a totality and feel anything other than distrust and distaste and distemper. For a minute or two I remembered why I'd moved there in the first place. London, for a fleeting moment, was alright. It was home. Then a bloke shouted "SCHHHHAAAARRRRVES, GEEEEERRRTTCHHHYAAAA SCHHHHHAAAAARRVES," and normal service resumed.
I found myself, this Sunday passed, marauding through packs of dads and lads, with their flat pints and Mars Bars and lanyards and programmes, in Alexandra Palace. I too had a pint and a Mars Bar. I was there to watch the snooker. We were all there to watch the snooker and we couldn't wait to watch the snooker.
I'd been invited to the snooker—in this case the Dafabet Masters tournament—by none other than snooker legend Steve Davis and when Steve Davis invites you to the snooker you don't turn the offer down. Steve, a six time world champion, household name, and television personality, loves his music and, as such, loves THUMP. He's also appearing alongside the likes of Jeff Mills, Four Tet, and Nina Kraviz at this year's installment of Bloc. Yep, that's right, Steve Davis, the bloke off the snooker, is DJing at one of the most prestigious techno festivals in Europe and he "can't wait" to be on the same bill as Holly Herndon. Holly Herndon? Steve Davis? Surely this was a wind up.
Having made it to the World of Snooker desk, traipsing past a sea of Steve Davis cardboard cut outs, I was eventually ushered into the media room, only moments after Shaun Murphy's shock exit at the hands of Mark Allen. Steve Davis, wearing a coat indoors, was there to greet me. John Parrott was sat at our table. Murphy, fresh from defeat, waltzed through. The air was heavy with the smell of snooker.
For the last few years Davis has had a show on London's Phoenix FM, which he co-hosts with Kavus Torabi. Their Interesting Alternative show, well, showcases their interesting and alternative taste, leaning towards the proggier side of things. Given Davis' friendship with techno behemoth Surgeon, perhaps it's not such a surprise that he'll be stepping up to the decks in March.
We caught up for a chat before Steve waltzed me through to the players lounge, where I enjoyed a cup of tea and a peruse of the papers next to Kimmy White, before taking my seat and watching the current world champion, Stuart Bingham, beat his opponent Ding Junhui in a tense 6-4 thriller.
THUMP: Did you ever expect to be playing at one of the premiere club culture events in the UK calendar?
Steve Davis: Oh, absolutely not, no. It's come out of the leftfield. I would have considered it as a full on, dance orientated event, but there's more than one room so they cater for different audiences. That gives them a bit of leeway for DJs who play different styles. I got into electronic music after I'd listened to a lot of funny avant-garde, progressive stuff, and that was because of one of the guests we had on our radio show. He chose the music for that show and played a couple of tracks by Boards of Canada and Aphex Twin, so pretty bog standard stuff, and I listened back to the show a few times and those songs grew on me. So I asked for recommendations for other artists and that made me realize how many clever artists are out there working on computers. They're the modern day classical composers and some of them are as clever and intricate as their forefathers. Others just make BOSH BOSH BOSH stuff.
I started playing more and more electronic music on the radio and George from Bloc listened and asked me to play, as a novelty. We're going to combine my worlds and have a pool competition with the DJs on the Sunday afternoon. There'll be a prize and everything.
Reckon they're practicing? DJs don't like getting up before three in the afternoon.
Snooker clubs don't open till midday anyway!
How seriously are you preparing for your set?
We've been told that there's no requirement to beat match or fill a dancefloor. Which is handy. Because the music I like doesn't get people dancing. I'm going to try and dig out some less obvious things, things that people who like this kind of music might not know about. What kind of music do people even play at Bloc?
I guess Bloc is pretty out there in terms of dance festivals. You're not gonna have every DJ playing straight 4/4 house and techno. It's a festival for people who read The Wire.
Holly Herndon's playing, isn't she? If I could orchestrate her winning the pool event, as a fellow ginger, it's gonna happen. If I'm refereeing she's going to have a huge advantage. I think the sun shines out of her computer. Apparently she studied under Fred Frith back in America. Which is great. Her music feels to me like cutting edge stuff. It's hard to completely be original but she feels very new to me. Very new, very clever.
Do you see a lineage between what she's doing and the artists of your prog past?
Sure. I think it's a continuation of it. If you said to most people, "what does techno mean," most people will think of mindless, drug fuelled music. Humans have always liked stuff like that! You can experiment with it, be clever with it. From my perspective, sitting at home listening to Autechre and Oneohtrix Point Never, I don't really know what Bloc's about. I'd like to see Surgeon smash it out. I'm going down for the whole weekend, by the way. I dunno how long I can stay up though!
Are you gonna set up a narrative with your set?
Oh god no. It'll be here's one of my favorites, and here's another. And another. I wouldn't be clever enough to have a narrative. I'm just a fan. I hope the stuff I've picked up over the last few years is from the clever end of dance music. I know there's Intelligent Dance Music, but who's making Unintelligent Dance Music. Are they happy with themselves?
I can't answer that!
Whoever it is must be continuously asking themselves if they're good enough. They must be in a rut. When my snooker career was in a rut I retired. Maybe there's Reasonably Intelligent Dance Music, too. RIDM.
Where are you buying your records from?
I stumbled across Phonica recently, in London. Which I used to walk straight past because I thought there was nothing in it but the BOOF BOOF stuff. One of the guys who works there knows I like the weirder end of things now and points records out to me. I go through them and find stuff I love. I'm just a fan. I don't consider myself as anything other than a DJ. I'm not going to get an ego after Bloc. We just want to head down, get drunk, and have fun. I'll have a buzz. But it's the artists who're the heroes. If you get one person into an artist through a radio show or a DJ set, that's amazing. That makes your day.
You mentioned the Phonica thing there, is it more important than ever to have these gatekeepers there who know you and your taste and can recommend things to you?
There's more demand for vinyl than ever. It'd be amazing if another generation wanted to carry on experiencing music in a tactile way? There's nothing like a specialist shop. You can buy online, sure, but it's not the same. There's something wonderful about walking into a place and putting your trust in the people who work there. The way I got to know about Surgeon is a prime example. I had some time to kill in Berlin and I went to Hard Wax. I've gone in there and I only knew a few names, like Tim Hecker, and I wondered if there were other artists like him in Germany. I'm looking through the racks and I didn't recognize any of the names. So I walked to the counter and told the bloke who I liked and what I was into and the first thing he pulled out was Breaking the Frame by Surgeon. God knows how they lug the records up those stairs though.
What were the last records to blow you away?
0PN's Garden of Delete, the new Holly Herndon, and Eleania by Floating Points. Oh, and The Only She Chapters by Prefuse 73. And that Katie Gately 12" Pivot on Fat Cat.
Steve Davis appears at Bloc 2016. Head here for more information.
Steve is on Twitter