Saturday, April 13, 2013

Oh, Make It Magnificent, Tonight …

When I learned recently of the uncertain future faced by popular Wellington venue/club San Francisco Bath House (safety and compliance issues, followed by a sale), I was immediately fearful that two of the most loved nights on Wellington’s social calendar – and indeed, my own social calendar – would be at serious risk of becoming extinct. I thought it timely then, to have a look at the SFBH’s ‘Atomic’ and ‘24-Hour Party People’ gigs, and the main man behind both bi-monthly affairs, DJ Bill E.

Atomic has, for the past decade or so, been the benchmark by which all other Alt-80s nostalgia nights are measured. And 24-Hour Party People, with its 90s/post-millennium bent, captures a 30s-something market simply not catered for by Courtenay Place’s trendy "clubs" and venues. The great music on offer comes with the added bonus that neither night attracts the younger or more feral hordes often associated with Wellington’s mainstream party strip.

Just like its offbeat Cuba Street location, the San Francisco Bath House is known for its sense of community, and there’s no question in my mind that the success of both nights has been greatly enhanced because of that. I think it’s fair to say that Atomic has earned the title of being Wellington’s longest ever running “club gig” (prove me wrong), and that kind of accolade doesn’t come about by accident.

Atomic was started off in 1996 at the original Bar Bodega on Willis Street. It was a pretty irregular gig to begin with, but after Bill E (or Bill Nothingelseon as he is better known) returned from a three-year sabbatical in England in 2000, it started becoming a regular fixture, firstly at the (relocated/new) Bar Bodega, before moving to Indigo, which in turn became the San Fran Bath House. By 2003, 24-Hour Party People had established itself as a genuine rival to its older sibling, and the rest, as they say, is a little slice of local history.

If I learned anything from reading ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’ – Brewster & Broughton’s comprehensive tome on the history of the DJ – recently, it’s that the fine art of successfully moving the crowd can be loosely whittled down to three key elements; having exquisite taste, having the vinyl to back it up, and most importantly, possessing an inherent ability to read the crowd. If you combine all three, other more peripheral factors become less critical … though obviously, venue, sound, and technical aspects of the craft are all quite important too. DJ Bill E brings all three key elements to the stage (literally), in spades. It’s as simple as that.
I was lucky enough to catch up with Bill recently – and naturally enough, my offer to get him deliriously pissed next time I see him was sufficient for him to agree to fill in a few square box shaped blanks for everythingsgonegreen …

If a time machine could transport a 21-year-old Bill E to only one of the following centres of pop culture excellence, where would he choose? … Merseyside in the 60s, New York in the 70s, or Manchester in the 80s?

Tough choice! I'd probably have to plump for New York in the 70s - the combination of disco, punk/new wave, no wave and the beginnings of hip-hop seal it, really. Pretty grim times in all 3 places, none of them would have been much fun to live through, though musically all were incredibly vibrant times. Much as I would have loved to see The Smiths, let alone Joy Division, New Order through to The Stone Roses and a whole bunch of other bands, the variety of what was happening in New York takes it for me.

There's an awesome documentary on New York in 1977:

Clever bugger
Someone has to write a song to save your life: Morrissey, Costello, or Weller?

My heart says Morrissey, but my head would probably go for Costello - he's a clever bugger.
 The dancefloor’s dying, you dig into the crate and pull out something produced by Martin Hannett and something produced by Andy Weatherall … which guy do you opt for?

Depends on the night and the vibe I guess, whichever feels right at the time. There's a perfect fence sitting answer for you, though there's some interesting similarities between the two - their use of space, dub elements, a certain darkness. It could go either way and you probably wouldn't be disappointed. There's a fabulous interview with Andy Weatherall on the Guardian music blog a few weeks back which is well worth a listen. He's a totally top bloke.

How many individual pieces of vinyl/black magic plastic do you own? (roughly is fine!)

3,178 all up as of today. That's 7", 10", 12" & LPs. I spent the last couple of years on and off cataloguing it all on, so you can check it out here if you're interested:

It was quite a labour intensive process but I'm glad it's done. It was nice to go through all my records one by one.

(I love Bill’s answer for that one. It makes me appear positively sane - Ed).

What are your most listened to albums so far this year?

1. Parquet Courts - Light Up Gold, 2. David Bowie - The Next Day, 3. Dexys - One Day I'm Going to Soar, 4. No Tag - Live at the Windsor Castle, 5. My Bloody Valentine - m.b.v., 6. Husker Du - New Day Rising, 7. Paul Kelly & The Messengers - Gossip, 8. Johnny Foreigner - Johnny Foreigner vs Everything, 9. Palma Violets - 180, 10. The Wedding Present - Tommy
"not guilty yer honour"
Guilty pleasure? (can be artist, album, or single track)

I'm at the stage now where I don't feel too guilty about anything. I'm more than partial to a bit of yacht rock or 70s singer songwriters, so I guess I've got to go with Taylor Swift, there's a little guilt attached to that :-)

Top 5 Kiwi desert island singles?

This is hard! Can I have a top 100? As of this very moment it's this (in no particular order):

Screaming Meemees - See Me Go, Car Crash Set - Fall From Grace, Danse Macabre - Between The Lines, Home Brew - Monday, The Scavengers - True Love

But ask me tomorrow and it'd probably be different.

New/current artist we can’t afford to miss?

Johnny Foreigner! From Birmingham, UK, they've been around since the mid 2000's. They tick all the right boxes for me: 3 piece (now 4), make a racket, male/female vocals, and they have tunes to spare.

Locally, The Eversons - loved their album from last year, and really looking forward to the next one.

What is your funeral song?

The cliched choice is probably Joy Division's Atmosphere, but it's pretty much unimpeachable, so, that. For something a little more upbeat, The Undertones' Teenage Kicks.

With the future of SFBH currently unresolved, worst case scenario, where does Bill E go from here?

I guess the worst case is that I have to find somewhere else to play records. Every year for about the last 5 years or so I've been saying that 'this year will be the last', but it's never quite worked out that way, I enjoy it too much. I have had one bar approach me to see if I'd be interested if things don't work out at San Fran, and there's a few venues around where it could work, so there are options. At the moment I have dates pencilled in for the rest of the year now, I just have to wait and see what happens about the sale and what the new owners want. I'll let you know :-)

The next Atomic is this coming Saturday night, 20 April 2013 …

Bill’s website can be found here

Here’s a taste of Atomic:


 And a slice of Johnny Foreigner!




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