Interview: ORIGINALS… Paulette Constable, part two

In the second part of our ORIGINALS interview with Paulette Constable (click here for part one), we chat to the Manchester legend about her move to Europe in the mid-90s, her subsequent return to a vastly changed UK club landscape, why ‘vinyl only sets’ aren’t the be-all and end-all, and the recent exhibition about her life, Homebird, which took place in Salford last year.

Paulette plays Psychedelic Discotech at Manchester’s The Carlton Club next Friday, and follows that up with performances at Gilles Peterson’s We Out Here festival the following week, as well as the inaugural Homobloc festival this coming November.

She’s also contributed to the Sweet Harmony exhibition, currently running at London’s Saatchi Gallery.

Over to you, Paulette!

Q. After The Hacienda, your career took you through Brighton’s The Zap Club, to London’s Heaven and Ministry of Sound, before you decided to move to Paris. What prompted that move?

I had got as far as I felt I could, first of all. I had wanted to move to France for quite a long time, but had put it off because I had a flat in London. When I sold that, it was a case of ‘do I want to buy another place, or will I try to move over to France?’.

So I gave it a go, with the view that if it didn’t work out, I could always move back. But I ended up staying there for nine years.

When I got into my tenth year, I had to make a decision whether I wanted to be naturalised or not. I decided I didn’t want to, but at the same time, I didn’t want to move back to England either.

So I moved to Ibiza, and tried my hand there – to see if I could tap the same amount of success as I had in Paris.

Unfortunately it didn’t quite work out like that, but it was still a great experience. The lessons I learned over there certainly helped me get set up in the UK, 13 years after I left.

Q. What did your friends and family think when you decided to return to the UK?

Everybody thought I was insane! [Laughs] There were a couple of people that supported me and told me that what’s happening in Ibiza wasn’t really good for me, that I should try something different. And then there were others that said I didn’t have a chance of breaking back into the club scene in the UK, that the clubs and the people had changed too much.

That last part was true; in terms of the clubs and the promoters, I didn’t know a single person, so I had to start from scratch.

I went from earning good money in Paris to earning 30 quid for a set in a bar, taking what I could get, really.

Q. But you stuck with it, and are now reaping the rewards again.

There are certain things I know about myself that just cannot be changed, and one of those is that music is is my driving force. That’s been the case for pretty much the whole of my working life.

If I ever wanted to stop, I couldn’t – I’m a DJ, that’s what I do. I know the difference between a good record and a bad record. Ok, what I play might not be to everybody’s taste, but I know I can make people dance.

I’m not saying that in any egotistical way, it’s more about knowing who you are. Playing records is second nature to me, I could do it all day. And I have, I’ve done nine-hour sets, seven-hour sets.

Q. I read somewhere that you prefer to DJ from USB keys. We spoke to CJ Mackintosh recently, and he told us that it didn’t matter what medium a DJ used, the selection of tracks is still the most important factor. Do you agree?

Yes, absolutely. I have what I suppose you would call a ‘set’ of tracks that I will instinctively turn to when I want to do a party. It’s not the same set every night, and some nights there may be a core set of house tracks, or a core set of R&B tracks, or a a core set of disco and rare groove tracks.

It’s like a Rubik’s Cube; you don’t always have to go the same route but you want the same results.

When I moved back to the UK from Ibiza, my vinyl didn’t follow me back – it took me two years to bring my vinyl over – so during those two years, I couldn’t play vinyl at all.

So I built up what would have been my vinyl set on a USB, and when the boxes finally came back, I realised that I had pretty much replicated my record collection on digital.

Q. So the current trend for ‘vinyl-only sets’ doesn’t carry much weight with you, then?

Ha! I wish people would stop being so snobbish about music. If it’s a good record or a bad record, I don’t give a s**t if somebody plays on CD or on digital or on vinyl, as long as it makes the party rock.

I absolutely detest the snobbery about ‘vinyl is better than digital’, or that if you don’t play vinyl, you’re a s**t DJ. I’ve heard some pretty shocking DJs playing vinyl, so there you go.

Anything where people are more interested in style over content, I detest that.

Q. ‘Style over content’ is a term often attributed to the EDM scene – what’s your take on EDM?

Within the EDM thing, there are some producers that are f**king good at what they do. I knew Avicii over the years, and you can go back to some of his early stuff and it’s still very strong.

What I dislike about it is the VIP culture, and the amount of money they earn, and the private jets. I wish they would just concentrate on the music. I can’t listen to a lot of EDM any more, and I used to play it.

But I do know which producers are good, and which ones are still rocking it, and which ones I would rather avoid.

At the same time, plenty of people think I’m crap too, and I’m fine with that. I don’t kid myself by thinking everybody loves me and everybody is my friend, but thankfully there are still plenty of people out there that enjoy my sets and will continue to support me.

Music is subjective, after all. And like Anthony J Pike (RIP) always said, “you can’t always be everybody’s cup of tea”.

Paulette is among the contributors to the Sweet Harmony exhibition, taking place at London’s Saatchi Gallery

Q. Tell me about the Homebird exhibition, which took place at the Lowry Art Gallery last year?

It was an incredible experience, which came totally out of the blue, off the back of a poem that I wrote and posted on my WordPress site. The poem was called I Am The One, and as my site is linked to my Twitter and Tumblr other social channels, it went out to the world.

Then, out of the blue, I get an email from the director of The Lowry, who saw my poem, and asked me if I was interested in doing an exhibition, incorporating aspects of my life. It’s not everyday you get asked that, so obviously I said yes, and I went in and I had a chat with them about what structure the exhibition would take.

It was important to have music at the centre of it, but there were so many other aspects of my life that I also brought to the exhibition. I’m a post-Windrush baby; a first generation black British citizen. My parents came over from Jamaica in the 1950s.

So the exhibition was very much about the experience of a young, black British woman growing up in the north of England from the end of the 1960s to 2018… some of the most politically and socially tense years in history. Miners’ strikes, riots in Moss Side and Brixton, Margaret Thatcher, all of that.

On top of that, you have the fact that I’m bisexual, and how I ‘found my tribe’ working at places like Flesh.

One of the walls of the exhibition was a TV wall, and for that, I created a page of the Radio Times, on which I put many of the programmes of cultural and social significance over the years. I remember seeing Sesame Street when I was a child, and it was the first programme that featured black people in a central role, without them being just an ‘extra’, or portraying a criminal or something like that.

Then, you had the likes of Trevor McDonald and Moira Stewart reading the news, and for a young black kid in Manchester, this was groundbreaking; black people were in a position of authority, we were reading the f**king news!

The exhibition ended up running a little over budget in the end, but it was a success; they had 7,000 people through the doors in the end. There were lots of things in my personal possession that I was able to bring along, like my decks, gig posters, things from my time as a publicist, TV presenter, radio presenter. You can see some of the exhibition on my website.

Q. That must have taken it out of you – turning the mirror on your own life?

After the exhibition finished, I didn’t leave the house for two weeks. I was exhausted. It kicked up a lot of dust, and some of that dust had been lying around for a long time. But I’m happy they asked me to do it.

It’s one of the proudest things I’ve ever done in my life.

[Thanks to Paulette for the interview. Main picture by Andrew Aitch. For more information, or to contact DJ Paulette, visit]

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