They said, “It can’t be done.”
My wife said, “It shouldn’t be done.”
The schedule was deemed to be impossible – especially by a guy with Multiple Sclerosis(MS) on a mobility scooter. My book All Crews: Journeys Through Jungle Drum & Bass Culture had been translated into Russian. I’d written about Our Music in Russia but never imagined I’d be back to play there.
Talk about full circle. I always joke: “I must be the only author to do interviews, book signings, then DJ to a club full of people.” This time, it’s St Petersburg and Chelyabinsk – the city where the meteorite crashed to Earth last February.
Here’s the deal. Fly to Russia. Play at two different clubs in two different cities, attend book launches and press conferences, board six different aircraft in three days without returning home exhausted and ill. The main DJ Metalheadz giant Bailey decided that the excessive time hanging around Russian airports between flights would all be too onerous and cancelled.
To be fair in all his years of globetrotting, he’s been there and done that. For me who’s rarely lucky enough to be flying for free to far flung destinations with my tunes, it had novelty value. But it would leave me heading both gigs, without a friend to guide me, my bags and scooter through the whole journey.
Each and every facet of the whole complex operation had to be spot on. I couldn’t afford to have bureaucrats, circumstances or the universe conspire against me. To be absolutely honest, my usual modus operandi has always been somewhat ‘last minute.com.’ So unsurprisingly, when my passport from the Russian embassy hit the door mat, it was still somewhat nauseating to read the enclosed ‘declined’ note.
Your passport may be valid for months but it’s not uncommon for foreign authorities to demand a minimum of six months before they’ll grace its pages with a visa stamp. It’s a major headache. Although my wife Kate refrained from saying, “I told you so.” the way she exhaled said it all.
Six days before departure I found myself needing a new passport and a Russian visa otherwise the whole trip would be off. So the tempest before the whirlwind began with panicked calculations – Number of official hoops to jump through, divided by the number of days before my plane headed east to Russia and I felt even more nauseous.
There would be no room for error. You know what it’s like with those impassive official forms – too many crossings out, a missed signature here, the wrong sized photo there or ‘We can’t find your referee on the system’ as mate Ryan warned as he signed my passport application form, it’s no go. And if your name’s not on the list and you definitely ain’t getting in.
I can’t say that the enormity of the actual book launch and performance wasn’t daunting. I’d practised my DJ set for weeks and well …Perhaps it’s one of life’s clichés but around the time I first became ill, I found religion. I became a Buddhist. I guess it’s unusual or ‘not the done thing’ to mention religion in a dance music forum but I don’t know where I’d be without my faith. We’re the chanting more than the medative type.
Don’t ask me why by chanting, “Nam-myoho-renge-kyo” over and over makes anything possible but it does. And with such a huge mountain to climb I had no option but to chant. I took inspiration from my friend and top dancer Esther. When faced with a challenging audition for a big London show she decided, as the others Lycra clad souls spun, pirouetted and arched with attitude, that she was, “Going to absolutely mash it up.” And so she did.
There are those times when you know you’ve had a seriously powerful, chanting session. A friend visited one evening a few days before take-off. And I remember my mental state shifting from, ‘I can do it’ to ‘I will do it’ to ‘I’m going to absolutely rinse it.’ From that moment on everything changed.
For once I accepted the fact that having MS means that it takes longer to choreograph and accomplish my goals than I usually liked to concede. So I finished my packing ahead of time. Arrived at the airport ahead of time. Unlike the time in Berlin when I missed my flight. That was after I checked in. And before finally registering my name being called by the terminal’s p.a. system; then sprinting, sweat streaked along corridors, arriving to find a terse stewardess ripping up the passenger list. Behind her, the gate had terminally closed. This time I rolled smoothly through departures mumbling my chant well ahead of time. This brand new, stress free approach was thoroughly refreshing.
Travelling by air when you’re disabled essentially means placing your trust in a whole chain of people who don’t know about you or your needs – especially when riding an electric scooter. Airline regulations dictate that your batteries must be disconnected during the flight. With most scooters you simply detach a cable.
With mine it means removing one of its three batteries. So imagine my horror when all three of its batteries were removed. The possibility of any one of them going astray filled me with horror. Worse case scenario would leave me stranded and dependent. As they disappeared down a conveyor belt, I returned to chanting.
But within seconds I was filled with unbridled terror. A kindly member of airline staff had ‘helpfully’ loaded my hand luggage on to the conveyor belt irredeemably on its way to the planes’ hold. The case contained my 15-year-old precious, irreplaceable ’94/95 old skool set which had never left my home or my side. Tales of other DJs loosing their tunes between departures and arrivals resonated. I’ve no words to describe how I felt.
Two planes later after a pit stop in Moscow, I’m alone in the baggage hall. There I sit in a clapped out wheelchair, staring forlornly at an empty carousel and the motionless plastic-curtained oversized baggage entrance. Just as I accepted that the worst case scenario had predictably come to pass, there was a flurry activity. Apologetic porters came running case in hand and rolling my scooter, anxious for instructions of how to insert all three batteries.
To say that I rolled through the gigs on the crest of a wave is an understatement. Night clubs, often quirky by nature aren’t disabled friendly spaces. Chelyabinsk’s Underground club is rumoured to be either a former shooting range or nuclear bunker. It’s hugely metallic, welded, smelted, bolted innards are graced with Goldie’s felt-tip drawn, autographed graffiti.
Thankfully everywhere I went, muscle bound men appeared to scoop me up and carry me around. I’d be carried to the decks, gently placing me on the right height bar stool. I felt in control of the equipment and vinyl like a virtuoso on stage at the Albert Hall. Mixing the beats of two complimentary records done well, drives crowds crazy, done badly has the same soul shattering affect of hearing a draw of cutlery crash discordantly to the floor at full volume.
Rolling inside the music is an indescribably wonderful experience. Some how when I’m about to panic or loose my way in the acoustic melee, I still always hear Kemistry & Storm’s calming words in my head. Not a jobbing DJ, it’s a privilege to have a chance to infuse joy into the hearts of the souls on the floor.
I’ve never known a reaction like it. My set done there’s banks of camera lenses and effervescing flashes. Anna Sapegina and Sun & Bass devotee who translated All Crews into Russian and has organised the whole trip, beams with satisfaction. I’m signing autographs on flyers, bank notes, peoples’ T-shirts, even pages of people’s passports are thrust under my pen. From the scrum of well wishers I’m hearing, “Never heard such wonderful music.”
“I drive 300 kilometres to hear you play. “I come back early from China. Spasiba!”
“… Mixing – technically perfect.” A beautiful blonde leans forwards mouthing, “… I give you hug?”
After the gigs and a few tokes of what’s exhaled through clouds of smoke as, “…Finest quality southern Russian herb…” a clutch of new found friends sit in a park bathed by the midnight sun. Never thought I’d get to experience the enchantment of a midnight sun.
Back home in Tottenham my carer’s just left. He visits six days a week, helping me shower and dress. I gulp a handful full of pills stopping my muscles cramping in painful spasms. MS often confines me to home. Most trips now are for hospital appointments.
But I still love life and the occasional jaunts which All Crews and the opportunity to be DJ Zy:on. I’m blessed that my wife and two beautiful kids bring joy into my world. And utterly convinced that with faith, all obstacles can be overcome – Especially when they say,”It can’t be done.”
- It’s The Way – DJ Taktix
- Helicopter – Deep Blue
- Black – DJ SS
- Warning – Roni Size
- Burial – Leviticus
- Hearing is Believing – MA2
- Truly One – Andy C
- Cool Down – Andy C
- Ready Or Not – Dope Dragon
- New Dawn – The X (ST-Files rmx)
- Ricky – Remarc & Lewi Cifer
- Simon Says – Opas
- The Lighter – DJ SS
- Metropolis – Adam F
- Subway – Ed Rush
- Threshold – Dillinja
- Kilimanjaro – Ed Rush
- Shout – Shout
- Golden Girl – Makoto
- LK – DJ Marky & XRS feat Stamina
Very special thanks to: Big Hand Connection – St. Petersburg and Alex Sahnov for staging the whole event. Photos coverage by Alex Lotus are available here. Also thanks to the people at drumandbass.ru who posted shots here and deepest thanks to Anna Sapagina – The Russian connection. The original All Crews is available here.