Paul Sparkes (UK): “The audience couldn’t have cared less about the music”

Paul Sparkes and Marceline September 2020
The British DJ/producer Paul Sparkes had been Amsterdam-based for quite a while. In 2015 he told me about his first gig. “The venue stunk of stale beer and ashtrays."

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My own little nickname for the British DJ/producer Paul Sparkes is mr. Handsome. Because he is. Amsterdam-based Paul Sparkes has been around in the dance scene for quite a while. In 2015 he told me about his first gig. “The future was happening, but it seemed a long way off on that first night.”

“My debut gig was in 1995. I was 16. It was in a town called Halesworth, near Ipswich, in Suffolk, two hours north of London, where I grew up.”

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Pete Tong

“Back then, Pete Tong’s BBC Radio 1 show was really the only source of dance music. Dance music was extremely niche back then. DJ Mag UK was one of the only industry publications then.”

Posters

“I remember being very nervous all week before the gig. My debut was on a Friday night and my audience consisted of farmers wanting a late drink and were looking for a suitable Mrs. Farmer. The audience couldn’t have cared less about the music, even though I had made a half-hearted attempt to put up posters in the town centre, advertising a house night. No-one knew what that meant.”

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Stale beer and ashtrays

“The venue stunk of stale beer and ashtrays. I don´t think it had ever been cleaned. Most people used it to shoot pool, gamble on fruit machines and consume heavy English ale. People from Suffolk don´t do excitement.” (laughs)

Boom boom boom

“Back then I could only afford a few 12” records, so I was pretty unprepared. Because I was a teenager, I lived off about 20 quid a week, and I was in my parents’ house driving them crazy with the constant boom boom boom.”

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Lonely experience

“On the night itself, I had to play many records twice, as I was playing the whole night. Probably I played all the B sides as well. No-one danced. My long-time best mate Steve was there that night (see picture), picking up decks and staging them to facilitate the booth, then drinking loads and messing about having fun at the gig itself. DJing was a very lonely experience that night and I remember wondering if it was really for me. So now, I´m forever grateful for Steve’s moral support.” (laughs) “I was due to play both the Friday and the Saturday. The owner told me not to come back for the Saturday.”

Fight

“I didn’t have any monitors so the mixing was probably awful. The mixer didn’t have split cue and the owner was angry that I had not introduced the names of the records on the microphone, as was the norm of the time. There was a fight at the end, some drunk guys. I remember positioning my body in between one of them and the turntables to protect them.”

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Strobe and smoke machine

“After that experience, I spent time thinking about how I could succeed with the concept of that night. How could I market it? How could I make the booth work? What records would work? I worked at it to such a extent it became a residency. I hired a sound system that was way too big for that room, and proper monitors. Technics decks. Also strobe and smoke machine which eventually overheated and melted one night.”

The future was happening

“I quickly realized, I could expand my circle by booking other DJs and then being allowed onto their territories too. The future was happening, but it seemed a long way off on that first night.”

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“The venue is now a block of flats, but I still look at the site with affection on the rare occasion that I am back in Suffolk. That first night still gives me the shivers.”

“Twenty years are a long time. That first gig lays a mountain of experiences behind me. I’m proudly looking forward to September 26th (2015, red.) , Club NL Amsterdam. That night, I’m playing an exclusive solo set to celebrate my anniversary. Two decades of dance music will pass by that night. See ya there?”

This interview is originally published on DJMag,nl in September 2015

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