Graeme Park is about to go on tour with Hacienda Classical. Graeme’s contribution to dance music is legendary, his influence has spanned 33 years; having been a resident DJ at the Hacienda in Manchester during the summer of love, his productions pushed dance music into the mainstream and his radio show has always maintained new music disseminated to the masses. Seen as the ‘DJ's DJ’, Parky still plays constantly all around the world and is still very passionate about his craft.
How are you feeling about the upcoming Hacienda Classical tour?
I'm really excited as we've got a brand new set. The easiest thing to do would be to play the same set as last year, the second easiest thing would be to keep most of last year’s set, but after much debate and deliberation, we've gone for a brand new set only keeping three songs from last year, which makes it all the more challenging but far more exciting! The thing is loads of people who missed it last year said “I can't wait to see it next year”, well they'll never be able to see last year’s show, now, as this is a whole new set. Those that did see it last year might’ve been thinking ‘well I've seen that show, why would I want to see it again?’ Well it's a whole new set list, that's why you've got to see it again and that's why I'm excited!
It keeps it fresh for us, we've gone for a combination of a third of the tracks as really obvious ones, that people will recognise instantly. Another third are recognisable but I guarantee people won't have heard them for many years. The other third are quite obscure, but they work beautifully with an orchestra, so If you're a proper trainspotter regards house music, you'll remember them, but if not they might not be recognisable but you'll enjoy them.
So what did you learn from the 2016 tour?
We have approached it differently from last year, as Mike [Pickering] and I chose those tracks, and then I created a DJ mix that I would have done if I was playing in the Hacienda, so it started laid back and built it up. However we realised after the third show that in the live setting the set was taking too long to get going, which is great in a club, yet wasn't right for a classical show. This year we're going straight for the jugular.
The other difference is that last year Mike and I fairly quickly decided on the tracks together, this year it's taken us weeks and weeks of debate and argument, it's been really full on, but we got there in the end!
How about the gigs this year?
I can't wait to do Castlefied Arena again, that really was very special and I'm also looking forward to launching the tour in Leeds. Yorkshire has always had a massive Hacienda following, I'm very excited about that, to be doing the launch in a new place for us gives it a bit of an edge. The after parties look great; the first one at Church, Leeds, looks fantastic, I haven't been there yet but I've heard amazing things about it, so that will be a very special night as well.
Do you ever plan for your sets?
No it's pointless planning because these days, different crowds expect different things. It's not like when I was at the Hacienda for 7-8 years, where I knew the crowd and they knew me, you could pretty much do what you liked and it was all about your new music, however these days it all depends on the crowd. For example when I played Belfast recently, I literally had no idea what I was going to play, but that's what I like about the fact that after 33 years Djing every gig is still different. I've got a rough idea about what I'd like to play and the technology is such that I've got access to twenty thousand tracks when I do a gig, so If I have a rough idea of what I'm going to do and then realise that it’s not going to work, I'll just think of something else. That's part of the excitement for me, it's like doing everything on the fly. What I like about technology is when someone comes up and asks for the most random, obscure tune that I've not played for years, I've probably got it and I'll go, ‘you know what, that's a great shout’ and I'll put it on.
One thing however, that has been happening for the last 3 years is that someone will ask me put on a really obvious classic and I'll say no, why don't you just enjoy what I'm doing. Some of my peers seem happy to play the same old classics each week, however it's not for me I'm afraid, I just can't do it.
To answer your question, I really don't know what I'll play but you've got to get the balance right. You get some people who don't go out for weeks and weeks so when they do, they just want to relive their youth and that's fine but don't book me if you just want a classics set only, as I'll play some but not all, unfortunately some promoters just don't get that concept. Just imagine after 33 years playing the same set, I'd rather flip burgers than do that.
How was the summer of love back then and how does it compare to now?
The summer of love was incredible, there was nothing like it. There was loads of amazing, new pieces of music coming out at the time, from Chicago and Detroit techno, as well as all the Latin House stuff from New York and Miami. Also the introduction of ecstasy! You had to really look for the clubs playing this new found music; apart from myself at the Garage in Nottingham and Mike was doing it at the Hacienda, there weren’t many! Forget London, they weren't interested until after the summer of love was almost over and suddenly London thought “yeah it's alright this stuff actually”. It was very exciting times and Mike and I knew something amazing was happening. It's difficult to compare now, as now there are some great club nights, but everyone has got access to every single track any DJ plays ever. When you were playing from 1988-95, if you wanted to hear a specific track, the only way to do that was to go to a DJ who already had that track.
The difference now is that people have Shazam on their phone. When I'm playing some obscure old stuff, especially the stuff that sounds quite contemporary, and a kid tries to Shazam the track, of course it won't recognise it and they'll ask me “what was the track you just played?” I'll go ‘here you go mate’ and type it in their notes, and they come back 5 minutes later and go “is that right? Have you spelt it right?” When they've looked online, or on Discogs and still can't find it. I'll explain you won't find it, as there's only five hundred test presses released, or it never got released. Then they might say, “if I sent you my email will you send it to me?” At that point I'll send them on their way and tell them to find their own tunes! This current base of music fans it's all about sharing, that's great, but if I was listening to Kenny Dope for example, I might ask him what the tune he was playing if I didn't know it, but I'd never ask for a copy! I'd try find it, but that's the different generations. The current generation its perfectly acceptable to ask and do that.
What would be your best bit of advice for an upcoming DJ?
Ignore what everyone else is doing and concentrate on your own game. That's kind of what I’ve always done. I've never played records I don't like. If I really have an issue with a record, I don't care how big it is, or how popular it is, if I don't like it or if I feel disingenuous playing it, I won’t.
However, that doesn't work as much for the radio; when I was on the radio a lot, it's always a compromise. If I was to play some obscure, banging techno tune, I'd have to play something from the charts but radio is a different thing. As far as concerts are concerned, I never play something I don't like, even if half the crowd are begging for it. If you enjoy what you play, that will come across to the crowd and if you're any good you might get somewhere.
So what do you feel about radio right now?
I do miss that. When I was doing radio in the 90's, Kiss 102 in Manchester was 24 hours a day, 7 days a week dance music. Those days have gone. Specialist radio now is a very niche thing. There is great specialist radio but you have to go find it on the internet. My favourite radio station is BBC 6 music, they play everything and anything and it’s kind of what I listen to anyway. I think technology has made radio very exciting but I never go through the FM dial in my car, unless by accident, and I guarantee some absolute utter sh**e will come blasting through the speakers! I've not heard anything through the FM dial that I liked for at least ten years! I'm sure I'm doing myself out of a job saying this, but it's true, it's utter garbage, however on digital radio, internet radio, community radio and pirate radio, that's where you hear the exciting stuff.
And in terms of technology, production and DJing, what's your thoughts on that regards the current world that we live in?
I love modern technology, but it democratises the whole process. Up until about 20 years ago in order to release music you had to get a lot of money together to actually make something, then of course you had to put in the ground work to try get a record label interested. The record labels would only release something if they thought they could make money and people say it's different now, you don't need all that sh*t, but I beg to differ, I'll get sent a hundred really tedious, dull, average tracks that twenty years ago wouldn't have been released ever, because the A & R process would ask who would buy it? I'm not knocking creativity but any halfwit can go and buy a cheap PC laptop with basic music production software, make something and put it on the internet, it doesn't mean it's any good though.
So what's Graeme up to now?
I'm finishing off the backing track for the Hacienda Classical tour. I'm lecturing two days a week and pretty much DJing every weekend and I'm a father, so I'm busy. Finding the time to do anything else is difficult, however if I do any production, usually it's a test collaboration, so I'm keen to test some tracks after the tour and I think I'm going to whack something out as it's been ages.
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