Interview: ORIGINALS… Paulette Constable, part one
While she might describe her initial foray into DJing as a “happy accident”, Paulette Constable, aka DJ Paulette, knows better than most how to get the party started.
Hailing from a large family (she is the youngest of eight siblings), the Manchester native has been an influential name in dance music since the early 90s, with residencies at The Hacienda, Ministry of Sound, Heaven, Ibiza Rocks, Le Queen in Paris and a myriad of other international clubs, with her carefully curated blend of house, rare groove, hip hop, soul, funk… you name it, as long as people start dancing. 🙂
She also has a longstanding career in TV and radio (she currently hosts shows on Gaydio and Manchester’s Reform Radio), formerly wrote for Mixmag, Ministry, Update and 7 Magazine, spent time in both public relations and A&R, and is an active lecturer, teacher and mentor.
While Paulette has been working in and around the music industry for more than 30 years, last year was a particularly notable one, with the release of the Sheroes EP on Black Riot Records (alongside Chris Massey), as well as an exhibition about her life at the coveted Lowry Art Gallery in Salford, Homebird, which she curated.
This year, she’s making appearances at Parklife, the Bluedot Festival, the Manchester International Festival, the We Out Here Festival and this November’s Homobloc – described as a ‘queer block party for all’ – and is back in the studio working on a new release.
As 909originals discovers, she’s also an outspoken commentator on everything from the revival of rave culture to the nuances of today’s EDM scene… and a lot more besides.
Ladies and gentlemen, Paulette Constable. Part two to follow tomorrow.
Q. Paulette, thanks for talking to us. You seem to be particularly busy at the moment – lots of festival appearances, gigs etc. Things must be going well?
Timing is working in my favour at the moment, in one way. There seems to be a lot more focus on women doing interesting things – last year marked 100 years of women’s suffrage.
I’m not really doing anything different to what I always have done – the difference now is that people seem to be paying a bit more attention to it.
Also, I’ve only been back in the UK since 2015, so I’ve kind of been out of the loop a bit. I was in Europe for 13 years before that, so the UK press weren’t paying too much attention to what I was doing. But I never stopped; I was working non-stop: touring, teaching, getting involved with various organisations.
Q. Plus, there’s been more of a focus on the ‘formative’ days of the dance scene, which you played a big part in?
We’re at a time where you have the 30th anniversary of rave culture, you have Cream and Ministry of Sound turning 25 – there’s a certain ‘coming of age’ taking place in the industry. Plus, The Hacienda has become more talked about because of Hacienda Classical.
All the old ravers are now ‘gravers’, it’s literally a case of rave till you drop! [Laughs] But now you’re seeing kids re-discovering the origins of the scene, the music producers are making acid house again, or are influenced by acid house. It goes in cycles.
Fashion wise, certainly, people are dressing like they did in 1990 or 1991. I heard the tie-dye is the fashion story for 2019, while we’re also seeing a return to fluo, to utility wear – all of which is vintage rave fashion.
Q. For the DJs that have been in the game a long time, though, the ‘good old days’ have never ended – the same DJs are still touring, and still have a loyal following?
Most of us have never stopped working. Ok, the work has probably got a bit thinner on the ground, and new DJs have come along and new festivals have come along, but a lot of the older DJs are still there.
Q. What has been the biggest change, do you think?
There’s a whole different way of creating festival lineups these days – social media is changing the way people view things. I think some of the originators of the scene are perhaps working less because they haven’t got the social media presence that the newer DJs have.
There are lots of talented DJs and producers around now, but there are also those that emerge out of Snapchat and Instagram, who are basically popular because of algorithms, and followers on social media channels… many of which can be bought. It’s a case of ‘fake it till you make it’.
If you look at the DJ Mag Top 100, there are probably 10 or maybe 20 of those DJs that nobody has ever heard of – it’s all about Shazam, Spotify, Mixcloud, SoundCloud and Deezer.
The original DJs don’t think like that, and those that are producers don’t produce like that. They don’t make music to follow a template.
Back when I started DJing, it was all about creating a party. These days, I think everything has to be a strong brand before anyone will look at it, let alone absorb it into their lineup.
Q. Tell me about how you got into DJing? I believe your mother owned a nightclub, and all your brothers and sisters were into different types of music – quite the musical upbringing?
Yes, there’s always the question of was it nature or nurture? I have an identical twin and everyone is always saying to me ‘why don’t you DJ together?’ But my twin can’t DJ.
For some reason, I instinctively knew, as soon as I was in that environment, how to play records for people; what record worked next, and how to keep the party going all night.
It sounds simple, but if you give a box of records to somebody who hasn’t got an instinctive knack for making a playlist, and figuring out where things are going wrong and how they can correct it – or, if a playlist is going right, how to take it to the next level – they won’t know what they are doing.
Even though getting into DJing was a bit of an accident, it was an accident I instinctively grew into. It brought out something in me that was just there all along, I guess.
Q. There was also the record collection that your family had, which I believe was impressive.
We still have them! Nobody has stopped being into music; we’re all still following our individual paths.
Of course there has been some crossover in places. When it comes to funk or soul, I can share that with one or two of my sisters, and I can share jazz with my mum and a couple of my sisters. But certainly in terms of house music, I am the one!
It’s like a big venn diagram – there are some cross-sections, and then there are some of us that are just totally out there.
Q. When you were growing up in the 1980s, it seemed like there was a new genre every few months. That must have also influenced your taste in music?
That’s another thing that sets the older DJs apart – we have no fear of mixing genres. Mixing a hip hop tune into a techno track, and and electro track into some weird s**t like Nine Inch Nails. There was no fear – it was all about the vibe, and creating the best sort of soundscape you can from the records that you have.
Also, vinyl and music in general was not as readily available as it is now. You can get everything you want now at the click of a mouse, no matter where you live in the world. In 1991 or 1992, you played what you had, and what you bought.
Or, if you were someone like Derrick Carter, you made the music as well – if you couldn’t find what you wanted, you just created it.
Q. In 1988, as acid house took off, you were 21 years old. What were you doing?
I was singing in bands; I remember doing a gig at The International, supporting Gil Scott-Heron and another one supporting Curtis Mayfield. I wasn’t DJing – just writing songs and performing.
I was married at the time. I was aware of the Summer of Love thing but my ex-husband didn’t like nightclubs, so we didn’t really go out. We knew about it but I wasn’t a raver; I was happily married, with a house.
It was a case of when I got divorced, that’s when I started DJing. It takes a little push, I guess.
Q. You got your first DJ break at Manchester’s No1 Club, but it was Flesh at The Hacienda that took your career to the next level. How did that come about?
The girl that I was DJing with at the No1 Club knew that they were moving Flesh from the Academy to the Hacienda, so she said ‘once we’ve done this party, I think we should go for it’.
So, we applied – really, it was as simple as that – and we got the gig. It was a case of be careful what you ask for, because you just might get it.
I think they wanted something different for the second room, because they already had Tim Lennox, the main resident, upstairs in the main room, and he was was very well known in the north of England for quality house music.
They were looking for a foil for that in the other room, and the music I was playing at the No1 Club was perfect – disco, funk, rare groove, a little bit of house. Just mixing it up, you know? It was a mix of music that people really warmed to.
Q. Back in the early 90s, though, gay club nights weren’t as established as they are now – it was still quite taboo?
It wasn’t so much ‘taboo’, it was more a case that the chief of police was one of the most anti-LGBT people you could meet, as was the city council. I always stress this to people when we talk about Flesh and what it represented. At the time, if you went to a gay night, you actually ran the risk of getting your head kicked in.
Back then, in the north of England, you didn’t even have that much mixing of black and white people in clubs, so going to a gay night, or playing at one, was another thing entirely.
Flesh was certainly one of the turning points, because it was mixing everybody – gay, straight, black, white, men, women, you name it.
Q. Female DJs weren’t exactly ten a penny either.
Right. No other club put women on the decks. You can check the flyers for all the parties in Manchester between 1980 and 1990 and I think you would have been hard-pressed to find a woman’s name on any of them.
A lot of the female DJs around today came through the gay scene. Smokin Jo came through Trade, Princess Julia came through Kinky Gerlinky, Mrs Wood came through Heaven, Angel came through Venus in Nottingham. I came through Flesh.
It’s not that long ago, and it’s really interesting how much we have moved on. Now it doesn’t matter if you are male, female, gay, straight, trans – you can be a DJ.
There are so many female DJs at the top of their game these days, and they’re just considered like everybody else; Amelie Lens, Charlotte de Witte etc would be in the same booking gene pool as Carl Cox, Seth Troxler and people like that. They’re playing the same clubs, they’re on the same festival lineups, they’re playing in Ibiza.
To be honest, I don’t think I would be DJing today if I hadn’t been chosen to play at Flesh – it was a happy accident that only happened because someone was open minded enough to put a woman behind the decks.
[Part two to follow tomorrow. Main picture by Lee Baxter. For more information, or to contact DJ Paulette, visit djpaulette.co.uk]