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ARTS

The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries

DJ History, the publishing house behind Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, follows up with a new release on the history of dance music

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The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries

By Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton Black Cat

Music has, by necessity, become less and less the dominion of major labels – and so, too, have books. Writing of all kinds has fallen prey to a downsized media environment, and that’s especially true of musical historiography about all but the most blatantly obvious stuff (Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix, etc.).

Yet as rock fans know well, self-reliance often breeds good things. The most obvious example of this in the music-writing realm is DJ History, an independent publishing house in London run by Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, whose 2000 book, Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, remains the most authoritative history of the disc jockey ever written. Now they’ve expanded that book’s scope to focus on documenting specific eras and styles – specialized sequels to Last Night, in a sense.

The big one is The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries, which has just been picked up in America by Grove/Atlantic’s Black Cat. In some aspects it’s simply 46 Q&As that Brewster and Broughton conducted for the original Last Night a DJ Saved My Life and its expanded 2006 edition, plus a handful more. But aside from a few stiffs (Tiësto isn’t the world’s biggest DJ because he’s the most interesting), the interviews read like conversations, with Northern soul veterans such as Ian Levine, Kev Roberts and Ian Dewhirst, providing breathless play-by-play of the evolution of their scene (Northern England all-night dance parties featuring obscure R&B of the ’60s/Motown variety), and the early Chicago house DJs (Chip E, DJ Pierre, Marshall Jefferson) and Detroit techno jocks (Juan Atkins, Derrick May, Jeff Mills) doing the same.

But The Record Players is the tip. DJ History has, in just a couple of years, put together a remarkably varied, professional and eye-catching book list. Especially as dance music’s influence seeps into rock, the DJ History catalog fills in details on everything from classic disco (veteran critic Vince Aletti’s The Disco Files, 1973-78, which compiles the New Yorker’s weekly columns on new dance tracks from the trade publication Record World) to early British rave – the era of both Neville and Gavin Watson’s Raving ’89, a stark black-and-white photo book that utterly captures the period, and Boy’s Own: The Complete Fanzines, 1986-92, featuring the early writing of DJs such as Andrew Weatherall – best known for co-producing Primal Scream’s Screamadelica – and Paul Oakenfold.

Somewhere in between is Catch the Beat: The Best of Soul Underground 1987-91, which mines the early issues of yet another crucial London dance zine. Soul Underground featured profiles, scene overviews and think pieces on everything from house (Trax Records, Deee-Lite) to golden-age hip-hop (A Tribe Called Quest, Public Enemy) to reggae dancehall and beyond. It’s a vibrant look back at a very creative time, one whose music charted the terrain of young Americans and Britons with a fierce commitment, with writing that was up to the music’s unique challenges.

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