Creation Stories: Riots, Raves and Running A Label - Alan McGee (2013)
Chapter 22. DJING
My DJing started towards the end of Creation. It had been a long time since I’d done the Living Room but I decided to try to put on nights again in 1998, when I was becoming bored with going through the motions at Creation. Me and Bobby Gillespie would DJ but no one would come. We were quite famous at this point, doing it in bars in Soho, and no one would show up. Perhaps because it was before the internet had taken off.
Then in 2000 in Notting Hill we started Radio 4 which turned into Death Disco in 2002 and it became a really popular night, 250 people inside and 500 outside trying to get in. It was a unique and weird club night with great live bands and it brought an unusual crowd together. To start with it was full of celebrities, Jude Law, Sadie Frost, that sort, but we lost a lot of them after the first year and the night became more interesting, full of extreme rock and rollers. You’d have people like Dave Grohl popping by too whenever he was in town.
We had tons of bands come through Death Disco. The Libertines, the Killers, the Brian Jonestown Massacre, Kasabian, Razorlight, the Hives, the Darkness, and loads more. It was a great scene.
It got me into DJing again, and it’s been a really fun way to see the world. I seem to be able to get bookings all over the place, purely off the legend of Creation, and every country’s really different.
You play Japan, for instance, and no one bats an eyelid if you switch from ‘Jumpin’ Jack Flash’ to the Prodigy. I remember sharing a bill with Primal Scream at Summer Sonic, a festival in Osaka. They played to 17,000 people and I DJed to 5,000, playing Prodigy and Underworld records. I couldn’t stop thinking, This is just two guys from King’s Park Secondary.
Then in Italy you can switch between the Beatles, the Libertines, Oasis and Noel Gallagher, and the place goes so mental you can’t hear the records for singing.
In Scandinavia I had a shock when I played ‘Don’t Look Back in Anger’ and no one seemed interested. That one always works. So I stopped it and played ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ and the place turned into a riot.
I DJed in Mexico with Carl Barât once. Héctor Mijangos, who I had given the second Libertines record to put out, phoned me up: ‘It’s a hit!’ he said. ‘Can you get them out here? Can you get Pete back in the band.’ He ended up selling about 20,000 copies, which is a lot for Mexico considering that they bootleg everything over there.
I said, ‘Héctor, it’s not like Mexico here, I can’t just tell people what to do.’ I told him I could come out with Carl and we’d do an acoustic gig and some DJ shows.
We did a gig there just DJing in the Hard Rock Cafe to about 1,000 people. I was the opening DJ. The place was going nuts with me just playing Oasis, drowning out the noise of the records. Carl then came on stage, and it was like a warzone: 200 kids were attacking four bouncers in the pit to get to him, and when they got through they’d get thrown off the two-metre-high stage and on to their heads. Pan-de-fucking-monium. Carl never put on one record. He’d just say to me, ‘Velvets’ or ‘Smiths’, and I’d drop ‘I’m Waiting for the Man’ or ‘This Charming Man’.
The next gig was crazy. We borrowed a drummer, this mad jazz musician who could play any song. Should have been in Sun Ra or Miles Davis’s band. There were about 1,000 people packed into a tiny bar, a really small DIY stage. Carl played his set and the place went mental. We ended up that night going back to a house. The party went on till about seven in the morning. Then we were in some kind of bus heading somewhere. There are a lot of drugs in the van. Not mine, but everyone else’s. A police car went past and someone – I suspect Carl – gave them two fingers. Next thing we were pulled over and all had to continue on our way with considerably lighter pockets.
These days I don’t travel nearly as much. I’m a family man, and I like the quiet of Wales. People come to see us.
Bill Clinton came to stay once. I was going to do a gig in New York in May 2001, and on AOL messenger Peter Florence, the director of Hay Festival, said, ‘Hi, Alan, what are you doing next weekend?’ When I said I was in America, the next question was, ‘Can Bill Clinton stay in your house?’
I told Kate, and she was very excited. What! Of course he can.
I didn’t particularly want Bill Clinton to stay at my house. American presidents, I know what their game is. Clinton’s no different to the others, he’s just really eloquent. But if Kate wanted it, that’s okay: Clinton could stay.
The irony of all ironies was that Kate, who thought she was going to get to hang out with Clinton, wasn’t even allowed to stay in her own house! She got kicked out and had to stay with Peter Florence’s mum!
That was the end of being a hotel for the literature festival but it’s still down the road every year. I spoke there in 2012 for an event based around Richard King’s brilliant book How Soon Is Now?, a history of independent music in the UK. And Irvine Welsh texted me the other day to tell me he’s doing the next festival. I met Irvine at the end of the 1990s. We all loved Trainspotting at Creation. Irvine would have fitted in very well with the Hackney days: he was always pissed or on an E. He’d come up to me and put his arm round me but he’d be so wrecked it was like being put in a headlock. He’d talk top speed in my ear while crushing my head like a vice. I imagine he’s calmed down these days.
I’ve met many of my heroes through becoming well known in music. When I was living in Primrose Hill, I used to see Robert Plant wandering around. We’d just done Knebworth so we had stories to compare. In 2005 he phoned me up and asked me to DJ his son’s wedding.
Well, you don’t get more flattering offers than that, and I showed up at the wedding in Robert’s place down the road in Kidderminster. Jimmy Page had just got sober and was wandering around. Jimmy Page is a god to me. I’d met him once before and rented him a floor of my office block.
I remember putting ‘Lola’ by the Kinks on as the first song and seeing Jimmy and Robert head to the dance floor and start dancing together. That was the absolute highlight of my DJing career!