Alex James: 'It always bugged me that DJs commanded prestige just by playing records'

Click to follow

Arthur Baker offered me a grand to DJ at a nightclub in Barcelona. The Razzmatazz. He said that Claire could come and they'd throw in dinner - and that it was really cool.

Arthur knows what cool is. He's a dude. Barcelona is always good. I had to be in Manchester the next day, to do University Challenge - The Professionals, but Claire was up for it, and so was I. In fact, I felt that I had a point to prove. She's always talking about such and such being a "really cool DJ", and so and so playing "just the best tunes", and opening her mouth and nodding in ecstasy along with their "tunes". And, frankly, it has always bugged me that these twits with their poncy hairstyles and crap names can command prestige among the ladies just by playing records made by other people. Even the Wolseley is full of DJs. So I said, "I can do this, Arthur, we'll see you at the Razzmatazz."

It was a grey day in Barcelona. But there were posters around town with my name on: DJ Alex James - Bajista de Blur. I could tell Claire was impressed. The dinner went well, though I lost a filling on a razor clam, but Arthur had had his passport stolen or something and didn't make it, which was a shame as I had hoped he would lend me a few records. I only brought one with me, partly to show off to Claire, who went out with a DJ about six boyfriends ago, partly because it was a cool record - the Ultimate 80s 12-inch compilation, a triple album.

It was quite a big do, and there were two other DJs at dinner. They were called The Loose Cannons. Do you know, they were really nice boys. They knew a lot about music. By the main course, the mixed grilled seafood, I wanted to be like them. They had style, and cool hair. One of them said, "Pah! The Smiths are crap", which I thought was quite brave. They were asking what I'd be playing, and I said mainly vintage vinyl, mainly 12-inch remixes, mainly 80s. Around dessert, I started to feel quite scared and asked if I could come and see how they did it. They were playing in the bar, and they were very accommodating. They had loads of CDs in those nice folders, all indexed with titles like "Mental" and "Massive" and "Madness" (that was in the Ms).

With DJing, there are a few technical issues involved. You have to cue up the next record on the headphones while the current one is playing. It's like flying a jumbo jet - you've got to keep the party airborne so that the people who are dancing don't lose the beats. So that the music flows continuously, there are two turntables, two CD-players, and a bunch of faders and cross-faders. People come up to ask you to play something else, and distract you. The most important thing is to throw your hands in the air occasionally, and speak DJ language. I was learning lots of new words. For example, if you're going to put a "massive" tune on, you say to the other DJ, "I'm going to 'drop' Franz, then I'll lay down some Massive Motown, and it'll be over. O-ver. It'll be Mental. It'll be Massive. Massive Madness.'

You have to emphasise all the DJ words with a flick of the wrist, and chuck in little pauses. It's very exciting. Especially when the girls start dancing. My new best friends and heroes, "The Loose Cannons", were rocking the joint. We dropped the bomb, man. The bomb. It's important to talk a lot to each other and nod and smile and touch your headphones and camp it up. By the time it was my turn in the big room, I was having it all.

You can, using the wonders of the digital domain, change the speed of the tune you're dropping, to cut another one in. And that is massive. Jules, a Loose Cannon, who kindly helped me and lent me his records, made loops of AC/DC, and cut in raps. We were standing up on the stage, spotlit, high-fiving, wrist-flicking and showing off to our hearts' content.