DJ Paulette’s Welcome to the Club ushers us into the Hacienda hero’s world, not only exploring her career behind the decks, but also her love of storytelling and experiences of being a black female DJ in a male-dominated industry. Anecdotes of parties past meet observations about the current state of the scene surrounding dance music and suggestions about what needs to change… Rob Smith chatted to Paulette for a full debrief about the upcoming book.
Why was now the right time for Welcome To The Club?
It was April 2021 when the then commissioning editor Tom Dark emailed to call me in for a Zoom meeting: he’d been impressed with what he’d seen and read from me through lockdown and asked if I had ever thought of and would be interested in writing a book. I’ve always felt I would write a book: it’s the reason why I did my degree. I’ve been writing for some time but until that point nobody I’d presented it to had seen the value or relevance of my story.
It came at that moment when everything was dark and in crisis around me. The pandemic and government was ongoing and adding pressure, the George Floyd and #metoo aftermath was making the discussion of race and gender issues more important than ever and it was like someone had switched a light on. This was the point. It didn’t matter that I’d never written a book before. I’d been waiting for this moment and it was time to step up and start talking about all the things I’d been silent about. I could see clearly, knew what I wanted to do and how best to frame my story.
Part of Welcome to the Club is about lifting the lid on discrimination within dance music, did you face any challenges pitching the book to any publishers?
I met the discrimination before I was approached to write the book. No matter who I spoke to I was a DJ and not a writer so incapable of writing or having not enough of a story to fill or sell a book. Too serious, not that interesting, or not famous, fabulous or French enough, so I didn’t actually pitch it to any other publishers. I remember tweeting authors who told me that editors look online to find authors and was encouraged to start a blog which I did on WordPress and Tumbler but let slide once I got more into Twitter / Facebook and Instagram.
The book offer came out of the blue and after a few meetings felt like the right place to start. It was a small independent publisher but it offered me the guidance, the direction and the perfect opportunity to say what I had to say and make some educated and academic comments about my first-hand experiences. Tom Dark helped me to corral a huge tornado of ideas into a tight, structured shape that passed the submission process and was commissioned on my birthday in December 2021.
How did writing a book compare to touring? Did the process come naturally or was it a challenge?
Writing has come naturally to me since I was reprimanded for joining my letters up in year one at primary school. My teacher, Miss Sands, accused me of getting my sister to write my homework because my handwriting literally changed half way through the essay. I couldn’t go back to writing in spaced letters and have enjoyed writing ever since.
Long hand or laptop, once I get over the blank page question mark, I enjoy watching a flurry of words settle on the page like mind putty that I then fashion into shapes that I can move around like pieces on a board until I get a check-mate feeling at the end of a sentence, a paragraph, a page and then a chapter. I love solving the lexical puzzle of an accurately described person, place or scene, recounting a sneakily overheard conversation or making a well argued point.
The biggest challenge was fitting writing in with my personal life, my touring and radio schedule 😱 When I set the deadline date I had assumed we would be in lockdown for another six months to a year so a year’s writing time seemed perfectly feasible. However, at the end of November 21 lockdown was lifted and the ‘will we or won’t we’ cloud that hung over Christmas and New Year lifted. I went straight back into work and found I was in demand and having not earned any money through lockdown had to take as much as I could to get back on my feet again.
It was May when I realised how ambitious the project was. My friend Kamila asked if I’d started writing it yet and I realised that I was still booking people in to interview and transcribing. I wrote one particularly anxious email to the publisher at the end of August when I was super busy DJ’ing yet was drowning in transcripts. I had not factored in the time it takes to make all of that then fit with the words I planned to write. I hadn’t calculated for life getting in the way.
Motivating myself through the exhaustion after a weekend’s travelling and dj’ing, the writer’s block (which I got at various stages), illness – COVID twice, crippling tennis elbow and some weird stress / nervous paralysis that made it impossible to walk properly for three weeks was hard. There are only 24 hours in a day, the 7 of which I needed for sleep were under siege and the rest? Jokes.
I was spread like margarine, at first in blissful denial, then in deep despair feeling that everything I had written was Jack Torrance (The Shining) level repetitive. I hit deadlines by invoking a TV ban, by loudly tippy tapping on a laptop that line jumped and had to be returned for repair and rebuilt leaving me without a laptop for three weeks – I thanked Apple. NOT.
I found focus in Quiet Cars and hogged power points in cramped departure lounges. I wrote before and after every trip, on planes, in hotel rooms, glued to my office desk or dining room table and spent the entire month of November and the beginning of December 2022 still DJing but not speaking to anyone or socialising outside of that. I pushed myself to the absolute limit to submit that final manuscript on time. True to form and to the wire, I never missed a radio or a publishing deadline. Miraculously after submission and an extreme acupuncture session, my legs worked like nothing had been wrong with me.
I thought that that was it. How wrong I was. I learned that that is just the beginning, and that edits keep coming, clearances have to be negotiated, endorsements have to be pitched and secured and a book is never ever written. Even when you think it is. Incidentally, I wrote the challenges of the writing process into the end of the introduction but it was edited out.
Top 5 (6) overlooked DJ’s people should educate themselves about?
As someone playing out in the UK in the late 80s and early 90s, is there anything about dance music in this period you think is often forgotten about (or deliberately mis-remembered) by people?
That it was the start of something beautiful that started in the gay/black clubs in New York, Detroit, Chicago and the UK that laid the foundation for the global billion dollar industry that we have today. The media all too often forgets where the real roots are.
Any dance music culture myths you’re keen to debunk?
Controversial I know, and people will @ me for saying so, but I’d like to take a flamethrower to the myth that DJs make great producers and producers make great DJs. Not all of them do. So it shouldn’t be a prerequisite that you have to do both in order to get bookings and if you don’t you disappear. I think this is one of the reasons why it’s harder to find records that endure longer than a week in the charts or at best a season.
Singles don’t have the shelf life that they used to, now that every DJ and his dog has their own record label. The quality control suffers, A&R goes out of the window and busy djs aren’t always as picky as they should be. It’s great that we can DIY, but I wish people were a bit more selective and didn’t throw out any old productions just to keep their names on the line ups.
You’ve experimented with storytelling before on your Worldwide FM shows, is it something that comes naturally?
I have long been obsessed with language. I love storytelling and can do it at will in conversation or in writing using record titles, lyrics, soft toys, wildlife – you name it. I can make up a story inspired by the strangest things. Ask my DJ agent – he occasionally joins in with my waffle. I used to be able to do it in bad French too but I’m very rusty now.
You tour extensively across the UK internationally and in Manchester, any events you’ve played at that you want to shout out here in particular?
So many. My Glastonbury debut at NYC Downlow in 2022 was mind blowing – a real out of body experience that people still talk about. Just the same as San Remo (closing with Wooly’s remix of Layo and Bushwacka vs KOT ‘Finally’ was a true moment. Then Stonebridge and Greenpeace at Glastonbury were beautifully memorable last year. Glasto seems to be a special place for me – I love it as a festival anyway and getting to play there is a massive honour.
Beams for Hacienda was pure craziness, Moovin Festival is an institution – come through Mini Moo crew! Drumsheds for Bugged Out was a moment too. Wilderness was amazing – chatting with Vernon Kay backstage was a touch. Playing The Disco Disco stage at Boogietown on the hottest day in the summer after I’d had dental surgery was bonkers. Getting ice for my swollen jaw in 32 degrees heat then bouncing about to disco in a scorching hot tent was peak Paulette behaviour.
Closing Homobloc in November with a B2B with The Blessed Madonna will be etched into my DNA forever. There was so much love in that booth and in the room that it took hours to decompress when I got home. I felt the ripples from that set for days. She was so generous, warm, supportive and open and it was a joy from beginning to end. I always enjoy playing Horsemeat Disco at Prince Charles in Berlin: it’s a decadent, full on session that never disappoints.
Photo credit: Lee Baxter