The sequinned-sporting, Grace Jones-idolising, history-loving, dancing DJ on why she wouldn’t ban anything…
When you used to do PR in the 90s I believe you used to pitch clients to us for this very feature?
“I tried to get in Roni Size, 4hero, Nuyorican Soul… I was press for Mercury Records for five years from 1994. I also looked after David Morales, Todd Terry and Manifesto Records. I found it a battle doing press, though I did get some good things. Roni got the Mercury Prize and he hadn’t had any mainstream radio, only press.”
I have your book ‘Welcome to the Club’ pre-ordered – what can I expect?
“Some people were surprised I was doing a book, but before I was a DJ I was a copywriter and had a degree in English, I was supposed to teach. At the moment I was going to do my MA I started DJing. What to expect? I didn’t want to write a chronological then-I-did-this, then-I-did-that book, and I don’t have the Fat Tony, ‘stars, bars and gutters’ life story. I’m a history student and because the publisher is Manchester University Press it had to have a cultural, sociological point. We are only ever given one history; we’re taught Henry 8th was a good king even though he chopped his wives’ heads off. My thing has always been that there isn’t always history happening to everybody in parallel. There isn’t just one story. So, in dance music it’s always Ibiza blah blah. But so many other things were happening, and I was part of some of them. We need to have more of a 360 view of our electronic dance music history. When you start to miss out people different groups get disgruntled and the scene breaks up. I discuss my history and then bring in the people I was working with at the time like Gilles Peterson, Peter Hook, Paul Cons, Kath McDermott to get the back story for the things I was involved in. Like Flesh which came off the back of Queer Nation and what was happening in New York. It also looks at women’s place in the history which is changing. That chapter is called FAQ’s - female asked questions. Certain questions get asked of women that they don’t ask men. It also looks at the cycles of success. A lot of famous people have a 3–10-year moment, so I write about what happens when the moment stops…”
Do you feel like you’re having a moment again now?
“I’m in another cycle, yes. I couldn’t get arrested for a while. But having X amount of years of experience I knew how to fix it. I could see where it was going wrong and I put all the pieces back together again.”
Before Flesh you were a go-go dancer at Manchester’s Number 1 club. How did the hours of dancing help your DJing?
“I was absorbing what Tim Lennox played from my podium – Inner City, Todd Terry, the early house records. He was instrumental in the house I played – vocal, uplifting, very gay. All my family are dancers and music collectors. I cherry picked from my brother and sisters’ record collections. I’ve been clubbing since I was 15 so I know what moves me on a dancefloor – I came at it from a punter’s point of view. If it doesn’t make me dance I won’t play it.”
Do you own any bits of the Haçienda when they had the auction?
“No, I couldn’t get to it, I was in London. But I’ve got my sequinned knickers from the Flesh first birthday. In 1992 we didn’t have Primark so if you wanted anything with sequins you’d make it yourself. They are framed on my office wall.”
How do the gay clubs of today compare to Flesh?
“They’ve benefitted from those days along with what Trade and Queer Nation did, all the barriers and boundaries we crossed. Before Flesh we didn’t get the men and women partying in the same place for one thing. Gay wasn’t a cool thing, there wasn’t cool clubs to go to, we were pariahs after the AIDS crisis and Section 28. You got spat on for holding hands in public. We did Flesh at the biggest club in Manchester. It was ground breaking. We were out and proud. Being gay wasn’t just for old queens or dodgy old backstreet pubs, it could be young and aspirational and in everyone’s face. Then straight people wanted to go to a gay club which hadn’t happened before. People wanted to experience what was happening in this gay world. I think that’s how the gay clubs now have benefitted as it became part of the culture.”
If you could add to your 2018 art exhibition HOMEBIRD what would it be?
“I’d put the hashtag Black Lives Matter as I didn’t have that, but it was exactly what I was talking about. Michael Simpson the director said I talked about all these themes before it all broke out again. It would put an umbrella term over it.”
You sit on the Musicians’ Union? They tried to ban synths in 1982 – what would you try and ban?
“I sit on the regional north union. I wouldn’t ban anything, there’s a place for everything. It’s dangerous when you start to ban things. That’s how you erode the rights of the individual.”
Who are you all-time favourite Sheroes?
“My mum, she’s a bad ass. She was a singer and put out her own album in the 70s, was Branch Secretary for Equity and had her own club called The Ebony Club. She’s everything, the reason I do things the way I do them. She went to Oxford in the 60s – probably the only black woman there. Her name is Blanche Finlay. Grace Jones was the first artist I modelled myself on. She showed you didn’t have to have the big hair, the big wig. She had another idea of beauty. I’ve never been a girly girl and Grace was: ‘I’m not going to be like everybody else. I’m going to wear men’s suits and high heels and have a flat top.’ She’s my number one idol. I copied her as much as I could on a budget when I was younger. She holds her own against the men. She’s 75 now and she’s still kicking it.”
What’s your fave musical and who would you play?
“I have many, I was brought up on them: ‘West Side Story’, ‘The Sound of Music’, ‘Chicago’, ‘Seven Brides for Seven Brothers’. ‘Annie’ just popped into my head. I was that girl that wanted to be in the big house.”
Do you have a fave hat and is there a story behind it?
“I suppose the mirrored hat that Brett Dearden made for my 50th birthday. I used one for a photoshoot and he then made me one. Over lockdown I’d been doing streams for the Haçienda and others. The first one I did for La Discotheque there was this moment, we started off my set and I had that hat on my turntable spinning round and the lighting guy hit the hat with a light and it had a mirrorball effect that lit the stage up which then bounced off my sequinned jacket. I looked like a vision in a ball of light. Lockdown was difficult for many and it gave everyone a moment of lift. I still get people who stop me to mention it.”
Which three words would you choose to describe yourself?
“Resilient, funny and decent.”
Have you ever ridden a horse?
“I have an affinity with horses, they always come up to me. One took a chunk out of my thumb when it was eating an apple from my hand though. In cowboy films they ride them easily - you think it will be the same. My friend Jill worked at a horse-riding centre, and she took me round and it was the hardest thing to do. It was a good experience, but I’ll need a dozen lessons. You need to be in sync with the horse. I’d like to learn so my arse doesn’t hurt as much as it has done before.”
This article first appeared in issue 4 of Disco Pogo magazine which you can buy here.
DJ Paulette is playing Bugged Out! & Disco Pogo @ Drumsheds on 21 October.
Get your tickets here.