Interview by Henry Johnstone on 18/6/12
The term 'legend' gets thrown around rather loosely these days, though when applied to the name Graeme Park, it's completely justified. A DJ for over 28 years now, Graeme began his musical journey working for Nottingham's Selectadisc Records back in the 80s, before becoming a resident at the infamous Hacienda nightclub in Manchester. The rest, as they say, is history.
With an impending tour of Melbourne and Sydney on the cards, Pulse caught up with Graeme a couple of weeks back for a chat about vinyl, his thoughts on DJing and music at present and his love for Australia - including a few memories on his first ever Sydney gig at The Hordern Pavilion way back in 1989.
Pulse: Hi Graeme, what have you been up to recently? Graeme Park: This year has been absolutely mad. This week was great because we celebrated The Hacienda’s 30th Birthday by having a party in the carpark underneath the Hacienda. They knocked the club down about ten years ago and built some apartments in its place. So Peter Hook, who still owns the Hacienda brand, decided to throw a party underneath the Hacienda apartments. It really was like going back in time, it was unbelievable to see the same faces that used to come to the club 20 years ago, though just a little bit fuller faced and fuller around the middle. We had so many DJs on that all anyone got was around 30 or 40 minutes. I played the last hour and I was so nervous even though I’ve been doing this for 28 years, because of all the online conversation that was happening on facebook and twitter. About an hour before I headed down to the gig my wife told me to stop looking at it all, if it was making me so nervous! Anyway ten minutes before I came on my nerves went and I played an hour of hit after hit, sort of like a Hacienda on 45s set. And everyone just went crazy. I’ll be uploading the set to my website so you can check it out there.
Sounds amazing. I’ve seen photos of that carpark underneath the Hacienda apartments – haven’t they painted the pillars in the black and yellow Factory Records stripes? Yeah they did. They got access to the carpark a few days before the event and painted the pillars – they’re a permanent feature now, which is quite cool. They also put in a kicking soundystem for the party, which is something that the Hacienda never had. So that party was part one of the birthday celebrations, part two is Laurent Garnier playing at Sankeys in Manchester, because before Laurent went and joined the army in France he was a Hacienda DJ. Then as part of the Golden Jubilee weekend for her Majesty is me and Kevin Saunderson also playing at Sankeys. So for those who weren’t fortunate enough to get an invite to the carpark party, they can come along to that. But of course if you’re on the other side of the world you can’t come to any of them.
Yes, I’m aware of that! However, funnily enough I’ll be down your way very soon which I’m very excited about!
Yes, you will. What have you got planned for that? Will it be a Hacienda style set? Well as I say to everyone, I have no idea. For 28 years I’ve never known what I’m going to play until I’m in the club. Sure I’ve got a rough idea of what I’d like to play, but in my experience there’s no point in planning what you’re going to play because you never know what the crowd or the vibe are going to be like and similarly you don’t know what the DJ before you is going to play. I’ve seen some very well known DJs over the years come unstuck because the DJ before them has played a lot of the tracks they intended to play. I think that happens even more so now because so many younger DJs travel around with their laptops and create their sets on the move, which is great and something I admit am guilty of too on a long flight, but I would never create a set in advance, because what if the crowd aren’t interested?
However having said that I know for a fact from the amount of contact I’ve had from people down under that there will be people who have come to see me in Australia throughout the 90s, people who used to come to the Hacienda who are now living in Australia, people who have visited the club from Australia – I know that those people will be coming to see me. So yes, I will be playing some Hacienda style classics. But there’s also a lot of current stuff around at the moment that I would’ve played at The Hacienda if it were still around today that I hope to play as well. My ideal set is mixing new and old – there’s three decades of stuff I can play. And there’s a lot of kids these days making music that sounds like it was made in the early 90s.
I was going to say there are so many strands of house and bass music coming out of the UK at the moment that sounds like a mutated form of music from twenty years ago. For someone like yourself, how does it feel to hear it come full circle? It’s brilliant. Obviously to keep on top of the game you’ve got to adapt to whatever’s happening with the various trends, but only to a point, because you’ve got to stay true to what you believe in. I’ve never played a record I genuinely don’t like, because what’s the point? It’s difficult though because sometimes I’ll get booked by a club and I’ll realise they’ve chosen me for my name but don’t really get what I do, then I’m faced by a crowd that are all under 25 who are asking me for records I haven’t got. Now I know it’d be the easiest thing in the world to go online, download the tracks, play it and have the crowd go wild, but then I’d feel like a complete fake. In those instances I just have to work hard and rise to the challenge. Those gigs are hard but at the end of the night when three or four people come up and say, “Mate, I’ve never heard you before but I got it, that was fantastic,” then it’s worth it.
Coming from a background working in record shops, how do you feel about the digital revolution of music? Obviously there’s good and bad points to everything, but do you feel we’ve gained more than we’ve lost, or vice versa? Well I mean the massive gain is having a world of music at your fingertips and being able to download it instantly. I did a private party for this millionaire recently and his grandad came up to me and said, “I can’t believe you haven’t played anything by The Beatles.” And I was like, “You know what, I can’t believe that either…leave it with me!” So I hopped onto itunes on my phone, downloaded a track and four minutes later I was playing Back In The USSR. Now that is just incredible. If you’d said to me when I first started DJing that you’d be able to be able to do that in the next century, I wouldn’t have believed it. In fact, I guy I used to run a label with said to me in 1987, “You realise that in 20 years all your music will fit onto a little piece of plastic.” He wasn’t that far off!
But I think there’s two main bad points. I love Beatport and Traxsource, I think they’re great for finding music, but in my experience the majority of people just download the top ten and go play it. Too many DJs put too much reliance on Mr. Celebrity DJ’s Top 10 instead of digging for their own tastes. So for me that feels like a downside, that despite having millions of tracks available, people aren’t as adventurous.
The other big downside is…when I used to work in a record shop it used to be a meeting place where DJs, clubbers and like-minded people could all get together and exchange ideas and discover things. And what you discovered would depend on who was in the shop at that time of day you came in. When I stopped working in the shop I still used to go into other record stores to discover music. Even when I used to come to Australia twice a year from 1989-2003, every single time I came I visited I was in the record shops. What’s that famous one in Australia called?
Ah, not sure, but in Sydney we just lost Spank! Records about a year ago. In terms of buying 12-inch dance vinyl in Sydney there’s only really one place left, The Record Store. It’s a sad state of affairs really. It’s the same the world over. Wasn’t there quite a famous one in Melbourne that was a record label as well?
I should know that but I can’t think of anything. My memory gets worse as time goes on! But basically I used to love that whichever city I was in the world, there’d be at least half a dozen independent record shops. I think it’s a real shame, there used to be a whole underground community. People say that community is now online, but you can’t beat the physical communication about music with someone at a record shop, then going for a coffee around the corner. That’s the great thing about Rough Trade in London, they’ve got a coffee shop in there.
It’s a great shop that one. There are still a few record stores here in Sydney though - they sell rock, jazz and electronic etc but they’re mostly LPs. Well I’m 48 and I’ve been collecting records since I was 5 or 6. I have one of the most eclectic selections of vinyl you could imagine. I sometimes surprise my wife with some of the records I come home with, be it a first issue of a Yes or Genesis album or something like that. I just love collecting vinyl.
Well you’re going to have to check them out when you get here. I will! I arrive in Sydney on the day of the gig but this time I’ve got a couple of days free after which I’m so excited about. When I first came to Australia in 1989 it was with i-D Magazine and Mike Pickering and we played all the major cities in 2 weeks, and I just had the most incredible time. I think it’s an amazing place. My first Sydney gig was at the Hordern Pavilion, whereas all the other cities had been small clubs. I’d played some outdoor raves in the late 80s in the UK where there were like 4,000 people, but they told me I’d be playing to around 15,000. The night of the gig there was one of those torrential summer rain storms that was over in like 20 minutes and I went down to the Hordern in a cab. Mike Pickering didn’t want to come down until he was playing – he was being a bit miserable. He didn’t even change his watch…he spent two weeks in Australia on UK time! Mind you, he wasn’t jet-lagged when he got home. Anyway so I went down early and I get out of the cab and everyone in the queue is soaked. I go in the back entrance and hear thumping bass, step out on stage and all I can see is a sea of bodies. And they had the world’s largest glitter ball going up and down on a hydraulic lift - I’m pretty sure you’ll find that in the Guinness Book Of Records. There was a fairground out the back and the most incredible smell of amyl nitrate, but let’s not go there. I remember there was this guy in a very loud Hawaiian shirt and shorts who introduced me and Mike. He introduced Mike as ‘The Godfather of Acid’ and me as ‘Graeme Pink’. I was laughing so hard at Mike being introduced as the Godfather of Acid House. And for my next two or three trips to Sydney, that same guy still thought I was called Graeme Pink. I think it even got put on a flyer.
But I’m so excited to be coming back, there’s so many old faces I’m hoping to see and people I haven’t spoken to in years. I’ve got friends who have sinced moved to Australia since I was last there. Unfortunately I’m only going to be in the country for five or six days, but the older you get the more responsibility you have. I’d love to stay longer but the wife and children aren’t very pleased that I’m going without them!
Well Mr. Pink, we look forward to you coming down. Me too, really looking forward to it.
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