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Review: Happy Mondays – Excess All Areas – by Simon Spence

Happy Mondays

This is the third Simon Spence book that I have read. He is a very talented music journalist from Manchester with a taste for documenting, wild, stylish cultural movements that have emerged from the Madchester craziness. Excess All Areas covers perhaps the most successful and innovative band to have ridden the early acid house craze that swept the nation in the mate 1980s. With the charismatic Shaun Ryder heading up the band, a true hedonist, a notorious substance abuser, it was always difficult for the true Happy Mondays to translate through the myriad web of journalists who tried to document them. Ryder, much to the annoyance of most of the musical backdrop of the band, Paul Ryder (Bass), Gary Whelan (Drums), Paul Davis (keyboard), Mark Day (Guitar), Mark ‘Bez’ Berry (dancer), got into a habit of blagging the press and feeding them over the top exaggerations of the band’s history and exploits. In hindsight, this was pure marketing genius and led to much of the mystery and notoriety that paved the way for success. However, it sifting all the bullshit, has made the writing of this book that much more difficult for Simon Spence. The early days of a relatively privileged middle class upbringing contrasts with the bunch of Manchester council estate ‘scallies’ they tried to portray themselves as. Sure there was petty crime and shopflifting etc. but nothing serious, although perhaps the addition of Bez to the group was actually verging on real true life crime as he obviously was up to the neck in it as a youngster and quite obviously expanded his mini empire quite a lot under the guise of being part of the band…. Manchester Giants, Factory Records and Tony Wilson picked up the band and signed them which paved their way to success following the ilk of luminaries Joy Division and New Order and allowing them direct access to one of the UK’s most influential music venues, the Haçienda. It all happened at just the right time for this band, as the cultural rebellion against failed Thatcherism took hold of the UK’s disillusioned youth masses and expressed itself in the ‘Acid House’ movement. Ecstasy-fuelled, fashion shifts, mass movement and gathering of people in raves, parties and festivals, vast increase in polydrug clubbing and mainstream ending of anti-drug taboos. A lot of this movement was driven by DJs and the Mondays’ uniqueness was that they…

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Review: Altered State – The Story of Ecstasy Culture and Acid House – by Matthew Collin

altered state

I’ve already read a Matthew Collin book – This is Serbia Calling – so I was chuffed when I stumbled upon this work, a history of UK dance music culture. As a DJ and Promoter for 24 years I’m quite aware of a lot of the history of dance music in the UK. This book, however, filled in many of the gaps, and was a thoroughly entertaining and enlightening read. The well known story of how acid house culture came to the UK via Ibiza’s Summer of Love where Nicky Holloway, Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold and Trevor Fung experienced the delight’s of Alfredo weaving magic on the White Isle and brought back their ideas to the London clubscene, is a familiar tale, often recited religiously in club culture publications like Mixmag. The author gives a comprehensive account of the beginnings and it was great to hear the true story and what bliss these guys must have experienced. Shoom, Spectrum and the Milk Bar launched successfully and the early adopters were soon welcoming new ‘Acid Teds’ and a hippy revival based on lush house electronica began to hit the mainstream. The book looks at London and Manchester in detail as well as exploring some of the less likelier destinations of UK club culture like Blackburn and later the countryside free party and rave movement. The study of the fracture of dance music into its various sub-genres and the movement of people that followed each branch provides much analysis and we see Warehouse parties, techno anarchists, drum and bass division and later the emergence of new genres like speed garage, grime and dubstep. The book focuses a lot on the role of narcotics in this new ascendant youth culture. The critical importance of ecstasy (MDMA) to the whole movement which eventually led to a massive increase and normalisation of drug culture across the country, with polydrug use becoming popular and clubbers and ravers exploring acid (LSD), cocaine, heroin, ketamine, amphetamines and the various different types of cannabis. It’s amazing how much anti dance music propaganda was spread by the media. Governments were scared and there was a great deal of legislation set up to counter the whole movement. Enlightened masses were a danger to the establishment and the whole culture was seen as an alternative political situation. The long-running battles between promoters, DJs and the UK Police was interesting and it was…

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Review: The Life and Lines of Brandon Block by Matt Trollope

brandon block

I was a DJ myself back in the 1990s and although I never played alongside Brandon Block, I had the pleasure of meeting him a couple of times. Once, on his father’s birthday in a London bar/club, I had just got out of one of my early mental health hospital stints and I think Brandon was in recovery…. I asked him for some advice and told him about my experiences and he gave me some real pointers about how to deal with my situation, probably moreso than any other professional who works in this industry has given me. Read this book and you read a tale of horror. People believe that DJing is glamorous and fun, but just get stuck into Brandon’s revealing, heartfelt story, and you will immediately see the pain and suffering that comes your way in the murky world of dance music performance. After all the early breaks, once the scene got into full swing and Brandon Block had established a growing reputation, he was pretty soon stuck into an ounce a day cocaine habit. He’s a personality DJ in house music, meaning not that he chats and laughs while playing – his sets are pure banging party rocking professionally done same as may other at the top of their game. Brandon likes to party too much and his notoriety led him well astray. I loved hearing how he began the whole Space Terrace and his fame in Ibiza alongside Alex P is pretty much unrivalled out Ibiza way. The whole Flying and Charlie Chester story was really interesting even if it broke apart slightly. He seems a down to earth good guy, a victim of his own success. Some of the mental health battles after drug addiction took its toll really hit the nail on the head for me. A lot of the venues and clubs were very familiar as indeed many of the characters. The clubscene fraternity is only but a village, even in its global stretches that it reaches nowadays. The 3 gigs a night blasting around the motorways and hitting lines of coke at every red light when the traffic stopped. All seemed absolutely necessary to continue to deliver the acid house that this Big Name DJ believed in. In latter years Mr Block did his fair share of charity work, feeding back into drug rehabilitation centres as a qualified counsellor. He is…

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Review: Dangerous People, Dangerous Places – by Norman Parker

dangerous people, dangerous places

Author, Norman Parker served a 24 year jail sentence for murder. On his release, wanting to experience life to the fullest, he took advantage of his writing skills to become a journalist for lads mags and the Daily Express and set about tackling the niche market of visiting dangerous places in the world and through his criminal contacts by meeting dangerous people. The book details his adventures and his journey takes him to the far reaches of the planet. Colombia, Haiti, Israel, Northern Ireland, Sri Lanka. Parker can be found mixing it up with narco-traffickers in cocaine laboratories as well as hanging with terrorists, insurgents and guerrillas. He seems streetwise in his travels and has a remarkable self discipline that allows him to survive in the danger zones. As the story unfolds he reveals more of his personal journey and seems like a nice character, in spite of his convictions. I’d be keen to learn more about what transpired at the end of the book when he seems to agree on settling into an Israeli settler community, mainly due to his Jewish heritage. Enjoyed reading the variety and excesses of a global whirlwind travelogue.  

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Review: Chasing the Scream – The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs – by Johann Hari

chasing the scream

This is a solid well written piece of investigative journalism, exploring the history and present situation and indeed future of the War on Drugs. Hari traces back the war to a zealous prohibition agent, Harry Anslinger, who carved out world policy in this fight back in 1930s America. It’s very bizarre how one man’s irrational efforts have so thoroughly shaped world policy and are indirectly responsible for the thousands of deaths that occur today in the narcotrafficking industry. The story progresses through a series of anecdotal tales where the author interviews various characters whose lives have been affected by the War on Drugs. We have Mexican hitmen, Transgender crack dealers, mothers who have lost children, plus the sad tales of addiction. The world journey that took several years for the completion of the book takes Hari on many routes, culminating in an examination of decriminalisation policies in Holland and Portugal plus also the legalisation of Marijuana in Uruguay. Whether to separate the case of marijuana from harder drugs such as cocaine and heroin? The book draws out many thought provoking and indeed revolutionary ideas and solutions and took an approach that was unbiased, informative and educated. A good book for anyone who might have an interest in exploring this dark subject.  

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Review: El Sicario – Confessions of a Cartel Hit Man – by Molly Molloy and Charles Bowden

el sicario

This is an explosive book, real revelations from a sicario or hitman for the Juarez cartel in Mexico. In the murky world of narcotics enforcers are employed by the cartels to assassinate and extort owed money from victims. This sicario was trained as a policeman with this training funded by the narcos. In the law enforcement school he learnt all the surveillance tricks and how to use the necessary weapons that he could employ in the narco world in a Mexico that was careering out of control. Often holed up for weeks or months on end with kidnapped victims, the sicario often had to execute people in an instant at a moment’s notice. Very often he was high on drugs (cocaine) and drink and his world of ultraviolence is revealed in a brutal and honest narrative. As the sicario rose up the ranks and became ever more embroiled in the dirty work, he ultimately found a way out through zealous missionaries who protected him and allowed him to seek repentance for the insidious murders he had committed. This is a journey in a world that is stranger than fiction and the tale is well worth the read.  

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