Last Night a DJ Saved My Life (Book Review)

The self-styled “definitive” history of the humble art of spinning plates of vinyl, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life steps up to the turntables with worthy pretensions. The work of journalists Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton, who, between them, have worked on The Face, i-D, Rolling Stone, and Musik, they certainly know their deep house from their speed garage. But while Last Night A DJ . . . is an impressively knowledgeable compilation of information, they never quite decide whether this is an intellectual resource, a complete history, or if they’re playing these records just for kicks.

So in the preface fun is poked at “abstract nonsense about postmodern intertextuality”, and the pair thunder into well-reasoned, impassioned debate about the DJ being a modern-day shaman–pulse-racing stuff, which makes it all the more uncomfortable when it segues into an unremittingly dull chronological history of the invention of the record deck. The pace quickens with an excellent chapter on Northern Soul, and in hot pursuit follow impressive histories of the reggae, hip-hop and disco genres. But then Acid House–perhaps Britain’s most important musical evolution ever–is given short shrift and techno is dismissed over a mere ten pages as “house’s swotty offspring”. The term “definitive”, it seems, has been faded out of the mix.


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Last Night A DJ . . . is no Bible for the penitent vinyl worshipper, and its difficult chronology makes it an uncomfortable read. Still, if you think that Northern Soul records were made in Leeds and disco began with the Bee Gees, there’s a wealth of knowledge here that’ll put you right

Louis Pattison

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