In the early 1990s, the Conservative government introduced a number of pieces of anti-rave legislation that forced Britain's young people to stop taking drugs and dancing in fields, and move the party back into towns and cities. Rave culture evolved into club culture, and dance music moved into the mainstream. Just three years later, New Labour was soundtracking its election campaign with an ecstasy anthem, D:Ream's "Things Can Only Get Better".
Dom Phillips's book is about that heady period – roughly contemporaneous with the period of optimism in British cultural life during which the New Labour project still seemed shiny, new and exciting – when the use of ecstasy peaked, thousands of revellers each weekend were packing into the new "superclubs" being established up and down the country, and DJing was the new rock'n'roll. It is a celebration of hedonism and excess, in which DJs and promoters reminisce with Phillips (who was the editor of the scene's influential Mixmag magazine at the time) about the glory days when DJs earned a Premiership footballer's wage for jetting around the world playing other people's records.
There is a lot of conspicuous consumption, and most of Phillips' interviewees will admit to moments of crass egoism. However, refreshingly, the characters in Superstar DJs lack the sense of entitlement that is a distinguishing feature of real rock'n'roll behaviour. Club DJing hadn't existed as a career option when these men were first involved in dance culture. So they were blaggers and chancers; mostly working class men – a disproportionate number of them market traders and hairdressers, apparently – who'd discovered an alternative and hedonistic way of life during the otherwise depressing late 1980s, and hadn't wanted to give it up.
Here's Dave Beer, later the promoter of the Back to Basics club in Leeds, describing his first experience of ecstasy, in the Hacienda club in Manchester: "I remember going in there ... and it just being awash with people with smiley faces, everybody just going full on, full on. Like nothing I'd ever seen. It was just like, 'What?' ... Such an impact. It was like unbelievable. It was like, '... What is this?' It was like, 'That's it. This is it. This is what I do, that's where I'm at.' I just joined in and became a part of what was going on."
You'll notice that Beer still sounds like a drug-addled imbecile today, but that's because Phillips faithfully transcribes his interviewees' every repetition and solecism. An informal prose style is one thing, but when so much of your book is comprised of direct speech, this is an unkind thing to do to your reader as well as to your subjects. At one point Phillips even has the temerity to note, of Judge Jules, that "his sentences are delivered breathlessly, full of mixed metaphors that crash into each other like badly mixed beats", and mix his own metaphors in the process. If Superstar DJs has been proof-read at all, then it was by someone who'd had a very heavy night the night before. And while you get the occasional colourful line (from the transvestite DJ Jon Pleased Wimmin: "It all went a bit Woolworths and I just thought, 'Oh God, this is really egg and chips'"), for the most part, and considering its subject matter, it is a disappointingly drab read.Reuse content