And We Could Dance
An experiment in which a wedding DJ doesn't play shit music.
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 is old enough to remember not being that bothered when John Lennon died.
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 FOUR: AND WE COULD DANCE
I’ve long been obsessed with the idea of a free range, organic, fair trade wedding disco. The celebration of a marriage nuptials with a selection of pop and rock that’s free from the celebration of cheese; untainted by ironic student discos and nothing to do with hipsters who venerate bad 90s R&B and big room house. Surely the music played at such an important ceremony should have equal impact in the taste and nutrition departments. And I’m going to have chance to try it out soon, because my friends Adam and Charlotte are getting married and I’m DJing.
The wedding service and reception are wonderful affairs. It’s quite old fashioned in a way; both mums have done the catering, everyone’s sat round trestle tables in the brightly decorated crypt of a church. The best man’s speech is actually really good. It’s a Powerpoint presentation with slides entitled Why Adam Is Crap Without Charlotte. Then Charlotte’s dad sings the Scottish ballad “I’ll Walk Beside You” in a powerful tenor and brings the house down.
They have “I’m Your Man” by Leonard Cohen as first dance and then I’m away. There is a nice girl called Cat on hand to help out – she is there, she explains, because Charlotte was worried about the sonic carnage that could be wreaked by a friend of her husband-to-be. Adam is a big fan of both Howard Jones and Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. I tell her not to worry and crack my knuckles loudly to signify my professionalism and confidence. I explode out of the traps like an atomic racehorse with “Love’s Theme” by the Love Unlimited Orchestra, into The Isley Brothers’ “This Old Heart Of Mine”.
But then as I play more Motown, Northern Soul and New Orleans funk people start drifting off from the dancefloor to eat or to go and smoke outside. I’m dropping absolute pearls here… Maurice and Mac’s “You Left The Water Running”, Merry Clayton’s “Gimme Shelter”, Spanky’s “Sunshine Of Your Love”, but the dancefloor’s starting to look like the interior of the club where they take Joe Pesci to ‘get made’ in Goodfellas. I switch it up to 70s funk and stuff like Aaliyah, BLACKstreet, Amerie and ODB. Lots of middle aged men mumble and nod their approval, but literally no one is dancing now. It’s time to bring out a big gun: “Regulate” by Nate Dogg and Warren G. A woman walks out onto the floor, but it is only so she can stride angrily over to where I am and ask me: “Haven’t you got “On A Ragga Tip” by SL2?” I start to explain why I haven’t got “On A Ragga Tip” by SL2 but she’s not interested, and walks a few feet away to lean against a pillar, where she starts sighing audibly and drumming her fingers on her folded arms while waiting for me to play a tune she likes. Jesus. I’ve genuinely played “Regulate” at a funeral where more people have got up and danced than this. Sweat is beginning to sluice out of me. This is worse than the time I was DJing to several hundred Take That fans before a Wembley gig and I was so drunk I played “Slavestate” by Godflesh instead of “Slave 4 U” by Britney.
Cat appears to take over from me and it’s not a moment too soon. She sets up and pats me on the shoulder, “Ah, never mind… the thing about DJing is that you have to get women dancing. Watch this.” She drops “Pump Up The Jam” and suddenly the dancefloor is full of women dancing and whooping. It’s like that scene from Aliens, but instead of loads of aliens falling out of the false ceiling, it’s dancing and whooping pregnant women in party frocks doing back flips.
“I love DJing weddings”, says Cat. “It’s what I’m good at. Watch this.” She plays “Like A Prayer” by Madonna and the angry SL2 woman is on her knees screaming the lyrics at the crypt rafters. “You have to be into stuff like Madonna… not… not…” she trails off. The SL2 woman clamps one of her hands violently onto her groin and starts letting off imaginary rounds into the ceiling with her other, gun-shaped hand as she ululates orgasmically.
I go outside for a cigarette and I can barely hear “On A Ragga Tip” over the hollering of the happy women in the crypt. Cat kindly invites me to come and stand with her at the end while she finishes off with “I Feel Love”, thus sparing my ego any more bruises.
When I get back home, I see that I’ve sweated straight through my beige linen suit and the back of my jacket looks a bit like The Shroud Of Turin.
A few days later I’m DJing at Corsica Studios for $hit & $hine, Drumcunt and Die Munch Machine. I’ve got a new DJing programme and I’m just working out how to use it, but I’m already getting sucked into the possibilities of the new interface mixing up Electric Wizard, AFX, Perc, Encoffination, Sound Killer, The Bug and Gnaw Their Tongues. There aren’t any people stood in the room where I am but it sounds great at full volume. Throbbing Gristle and a live remixed “Mr Kirk’s Nightmare” are being forced together in shocking union. At one point a young man wearing a cream linen suit and with long hair tied back with a bandana walks in, and throws the claw at me before disappearing back into the room where the dubstep is. And something resembling the sublime bursts in my heart momentarily before fading away to nothing.
Follow John Doran on Twitter at @JahDuran
This column was the inspiration for John Doran's acclaimed memoir Jolly Lad, about the recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction and mental illness. A new expanded edition has just been published by Strange Attractor Press.
You can read all the previous editions of John's Menk column here.