Something I've been interested in doing for quite some time now is spending a few days shadowing a DJ to find out what life is really like when they're on the road. After a couple of failed attempts at making this happen, I finally had the opportunity to go on tour with Andre Crom – owner of OFF Recordings and someone who is rising quite rapidly up the ranks, with plenty of his label's releases charting in high positions, as well as his own music, which has in turn led to an increase in bookings around the world.
For this particular adventure I followed Andre on his very first label tour in the UK, taking in London, Birmingham and Manchester as part of rollercoaster three-day trip that has left me in bits.
It all kicked off at the Lightbox in London, where local promoters Apogee hosted Andre alongside Chris James, Chris Carrier, Darius Syrossian and Martin Dawson. The rotten weather put a dampener on spirits, literally, but the music was on point and those who'd made the effort to come down to the event were certainly in the party mode. It was here Andre and I met in person for the very first time – this can sometimes be quite awkward, the distance offered by communicating via the internet can often mean that actually meeting someone in the flesh is either a) disappointing or b) awkward as fuck... fortunately for both of us it was actually pretty comfortable and I don't think either of us was disappointed by the other either.
After getting acquainted, I left Andre to prepare for his set in Room One, while I prepared for my own on Room Two... yes, I'd been asked to play at the same event – happy days. After we'd both finished our respective sets, I managed to catch some of Martin Dawson after which we all headed up to the artist's area where things got quite messy. Darius' penchant for booze led to a few rounds of tequila shots and the drinks continued to flow right up until the close of the event at which point Chris James' hotel room became the perfect place for the post-club hangout. Back at the hotel we all carried on for a bit, though knowing we had another three nights ahead of us meant we called it quits at around 6.30am... relatively early by normal standards.
Saturday consisted of a painful train ride up to Birmingham with Andre, Chris James and his mate Lee (the other half of Purple Velvet with Chris) – painful because I'd had four hour's sleep, virtually no food or drink and there was no shop on the train we'd jumped on. Funnily enough no one seemed to be in as bad a state as me, even Lee who went missing after we'd left the club and ended up in Peckham, losing his phone and wallet in the process! So I spent two and a bit hours trying to stop myself being sick and kicking myself for not buying any water before we'd jumped on the train. On the way up Andre plays us some new demos that have been sent to him for his label, among them are two Dusky bangers – I hope he signs them as they're too good to let go elsewhere.
We also discuss the relevance of Mixmag, as the latest copy of the magazine gets passed around, and which electronic music outlets (print and online) are the most important/widely read... a few names get bandied about and they're all the usual suspects. For me it's interesting to be in the presence of people who operate almost on the other side of the world I occupy. They're the ones doing the real hard work really... toiling away in the studio, working out which music to release, when to release it, then traveling all over the world playing it out and road testing it. Meanwhile, I spend most of my time in the comfort of my own home, listening to the music, or out raving. It's nice to get their perspective for once and to speak about the importance of both the role of writers like myself and the publications we work for and to understand the perspective of music makers and label owners.
In Brum we grab some much needed food, and spend a while getting to know each other better. Andre is clearly a man with good business sense and very firm idea of where he wants his label to be and where he wants to go himself – in my eyes he's already well on the way to getting there, too. He recommends a book to me as I tell him that I often struggle to work out where I'm heading with this journalism business – The 4-Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferriss. He tells me it's been a great help in terms of working out new ways to go about his business, looking at things from a different angle and building new strategies – if you look at the success of OFF Recordings, it's clear that he's doing something right. I make a mental note to pick the book immediately upon my return home.
Later we book in to our hotel, catch up on some sleep and then hit the bar for round two of the tour. On this night we head to a new night called Colore' which is held in the infamous Rainbow Warehouse. It's a busy night with local boys One Records hosting a room, Ossie headlining in another part of the complex and, of course, Andre who plays a brilliant set. After catching the beginning of dharkfunkh's set, we head back to the hotel for another short but sweet few hours of sleep. During the course of these last two days I begin to understand why DJs end up complaining about things that may make them sound like divas to any ordinary Joe Bloggs... when you're travelling constantly with very little sleep, small things like good room service, comfortable beds and so on become crucial to making the whole experience that much better. No matter how amusing I find the 'DJs Complaining' Twitter account, I do now have a greater understanding of why they often moan about things that seem insignificant to me and everyone else.
Anyway, on Sunday we have a canalside lunch with the dharkfunkh boys and their girlfriends. As we chill, eat and chat I think to myself, 'This DJ life isn't all as rock n roll as one might imagine', which is no bad thing. As many of the DJs I've interviewed so far have said to me, one of the best things about the job is traveling and meeting new people – that lunch was most definitely a great representation of that statement. Once we're done, it's in the car with Chris James to go up the motorway to Manchester for the final leg of the tour. Admittedly, not being used to all this touring business, I'm already feeling under the weather but I hold firm and try to keep myself buoyant on the road up to Mancland. More chill time at Chris' hotel precedes a huge nosh at a 'world food' buffet with Manc promoters John and Jordan, Audiojack, Chris and Andre. We have a quick stop off at the hotel to run through some new music and have another short nap, before heading down to Sankeys – which, despite doing the job I do, I have never been to before. Neither has Andre, so it's an exciting first for the both of us. At Sankeys we meet the main man Brogan, who promotes the monthly night, Vision, with John and Jordan. As soon as we walk in we instantly know that this is going to be the highlight of the weekend – it's a Sunday yet the place has attracted around 150 people to the upstairs of Sankeys (aka Spektrum) where the infamous LED ceiling is in full swing and everyone's bouncing to the sounds of Audiojack.
Coincidentally, Jamie from Audiojack is just cueing up their rework of Jaydee's Plastic Dreams when we arrive – I say coincedentally because Plastic Dreams is the track that pretty much changed my life during a fateful trip to Ibiza in 2010, and I'd already told Jamie that over dinner. “Must be Karma,” he says when I arrive, showing me the track he's got lined up. “Brilliant!” I say. And from then onwards the night got better and better, Audiojack work up the crowd up in superb style followed by another hot set from Andre which includes a sure smash forthcoming on OFF – dharkfunkh's cover of Adamski's Killer – among several other OFF bangers and, one of my personal favourites, Subb-an's remix of Pleasure From The Bass.
By the end of the set a rather merry Andre looks at the crowd in front of him, then turns to me and exclaims, “This is why I've been doing this for 15 years!”. Looking at the club, I understand completely. Great vibes from beginning to end. Outside Sankeys several ravers are still bubbling next to a car which is blasting out music. We head to an after-party for a bit where things get messy, so messy in fact that Andre misses his flight back to Berlin – a first for him, he tells me.
Being on the road with Andre for three days was certainly an eye-opener in many ways. The ups and downs of the life of a DJ are not just related to lack of sleep and overindulgence, there are many other factors that affect your experience as I found out. From stories about badly organised events, dodgy promoters, and useless equipment to the great people, hyped up crowds, new towns and clubs and witnessing the success of unreleased tracks. It's an overused cliché but very apt in this case, so I'll say it... there are plenty of high and lows in this business, but the high points most definitely outweigh the lows. Oh and the lifestyle certainly helps to strengthen the immune system...
|Andre Crom Online|