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DJ Disciple: “The UK Changed My Musical DNA”

The NYC legend on his musical love affair with the UK

DJ Disciple’s musical journey saw him climb up the ranks of New York’s underground house party scene with a hugely successful radio show, ‘New York’s Best kept Secret’, and playing incredible parties such as Wild Pitch, Zanzibar, Palladium and Tunnel.

When the city’s house scene dipped, Disciple travelled to Europe to spread the message and touched down in London in the 90s, clocking up miles around the country playing the biggest house clubs and festivals in every city including the Southport Weekender, Back To Basics and Cream and helping to shape the sound of UK garage with a handful of key releases. A respected radio DJ, he featured on the BBC Radio 1’s Essential Mix and on Kiss FM and went on to host a long running show in the UK, the Transatlantic Mix with DJ Tony Walker.

Disciple has captured his life and times as a musical ambassador for the NYC house scene in The Beat, the Scene, the Sound: A DJ’s Journey through the Rise, Fall, and Rebirth of House Music in New York City, a new book. After several successful book events in New York, he holds a book talk and DJ session at Hoxton record store Love Vinyl on Saturday July 22 from 2pm onwards. While he’s in the UK, he also plays two exclusive blub dates including the Dance For Stevie Summer Cruise Fundraiser on Sunday July 16 aboard the Dutch Master and Saturday 22 playing at Roasted at The Love Inn in Bristol with Deli G & Ben Daley.

In an article written especially for Juno Daily, DJ Disciple tells the story of his musical love affair with the UK, its DJs. clubs and its music, from his first visit 30 years ago onwards.

It was March 26, 1993. The place was a house jam called Spring Gardens on Tinworth Street under the railway arches around Vauxhall and it was the first time I DJ-ed with Phil Asher, Alan ‘Jinx’ Chamberlain, and Mark Ravenhill. Phil was the first person to talk about DJing on the green light pitch control MK II Turntables. He loved Kerri Chandler and Kenny Dope’s beats. Phil and Marc Ravenhill would go on about the Ladbroke Grove New Jersey Appreciation Society and Phil’s passion for house music was transformative. We’d have comical debating exchanges because Phil never sugar-coated anything and his love and knowledge of music was hugely broad. When I came back home to New York from London that winter, I was never the same person or DJ again. 

As someone from the social housing setting of the Farragut Houses in Brooklyn, I lacked cleanliness and ethics and could muck up my host’s guest room way too quickly for Yusuf Pickstock or anyone else to be fair. My room was all discombobulated with wires, sleeveless white-label vinyl on the radiator, and posters of old parties that lay on the floor for a little too long. I was tolerated because I had music no one else had and plenty of people wanted to get it. Plus I never did drugs. I was loved, but constantly kicked out of my friend’s flats, so if the UK taught me one thing it was tidiness. Actually, maybe I’m still working on that – lols 🙂 I stayed in London a lot for long periods of time because of the country’s amazing hospitality ethic and the great musical connections I made.

Grant Nelson (l) and DJ Disciple

My musical DNA had changed and in 1994 my UK booking agent JP Firmin gave me a copy of ‘Good Inside” by Unit 46, produced by Noel Watson. Watson, who made strong contributions to the house scene with his residency at Delirium was one of the first to play house music with his brother Maurice Watson (RIP) and part of the West London scene he also hung out with Phil Asher and Mark Ravenhill. Noel’s “Just As Long As I Got You” mash-up of Loleatta Holloway’s “Hit And Run” vocals over a bumping feel-good house beat was everything. Firmin’s label Interstate Records and Tracks like Unit 46’s “Good Inside” and Gems For Jem’ “Lifting Me Higher” Peak Energy Mix worked really well in the UK clubs. The northern clubs were so influential too and there were some amazing nights at Hard Times in Leeds, The Empire in Middlesbrough, and Cream in Liverpool. These were places where women would wear’ short skirts in the chilling cold of winter, whilst guys wore their dress shirts & jean combos. 

Hard Times set at The Empire here:

I loved playing house music in the UK and it’s an evolving musical mix. Sooooo many times I was billed as the ‘New York DJ’ under blah, blah, blah club and the expectation was for me to play music exclusively from the Big Apple, not realising how much the music the UK DJ’s& producers played actually influenced me. I always showed up an hour early for a show and mostly stayed on after my set because I respected the music that the DJs were playing. There were lots of really cool residents, Rude Boy Rupert, Chrissy T and Funki P at Garage City in London; Scott & Scooby at Shindig in Newcastle and Deli G from Bristol. These were DJs I could listen to, study, and learn from.

Digesting musical taste and language was so important to me that I incorporated it into my radio show on my “NYC’s Best Kept Secret” show on WNYE, 91.FM show in New York.

Some people figured me to be a New York DJ with a UK twist, but residencies at places like L’America in Cardiff with Craig Bartlett or Terry Dejavu who did DeJaVu in Hull were “teachable moments” for their importance they held. Many of the DJs that lived in London never had the opportunity to play up north even though they played great tunes. The Northern resident DJs cultivated their own club anthems and music and their followers couldn’t get enough. This was also the start of the “super club” era. At that time in New York, Mayor Giuliani demonised nightlife and closed many venues down, which stiffened my desire to return to British shores. Sharing line ups with Danny Rampling, Allister Whitehead, and Tom Wainwright taught me invaluable lessons musically. And some DJs like Nancy Noise at The Leadmill in Leeds were hard acts to follow. I just understood the language of UK clubbing and I always love breaking new music. One Bank Holiday night I played after Jeremy Healy and it was refreshing to see the crowd’s reaction when I dropped M.A.W.’s “What A Sensation”.  

These were seismic times like playing at a castle up north with Graeme Park where people were partying hard in the pouring rain during my set. I never liked to be pigeon-holed in one style or sound…that was never my thing. Playing in the UK solidified that. It opened my eyes and taste buds to things I never would have seen if I’d stayed in New York. I came over to the UK so much that Zoo party creator Bobby & Steve said, “You were always ours, you were never theirs,” because he saw how eager I was about playing in the UK. 

Every time I came to the UK from New York I’d hit the ground running making my round of going to see various record labels and hanging around the record stores when the latest releases came out. I was also doing my homework by listening to the various radio shows by DJs in London. It all made me a better artist. 

In the summer of 1996, I got a chance to take to the airwaves in the UK. This time it was Leed’s based station, Kiss 105 and from 7pm– 9pm on Thursdays you could get a taste of the soulful New York House with ‘The DJ Disciple Show’. DJ Tony Walker and I were doing successful live sets in the clubs around Sheffield, Leeds, and Manchester and Kiss 105 came up with the idea of having us do a show together. We co-hosted the Transatlantic Mix show – me recording at WNYE in Brooklyn, while Tony would broadcast from Leeds. It went on air officially February 1997 and was such a success from the start that Tony and I toured ‘The Transatlantic Mix’ constantly in 1998 and 1999. 

Disciple at The Empire

Rewind to my ’96 tour, which was another first, as I got to play with the KCC Sound System at Notting Hill Carnival and it felt so good to rock the block with them and guests like DJ Spoony. In South London, I connected with Basement Jaxx going on to record vocals on their track “Slide Slide” for their third EP, which also featured their Top 20 hit “Fly Life.”

Being in the UK in the 90s was my piece of heaven, but after 9/11, things changed for my DJ career. Vinyl was on its slow descent out. By 2002, UK clubs were turning away from the soulful house and garage sounds to new genres. The first sign of this transition came with Galaxy Radio canceling the Transatlantic Mix and Tony explained it to me in one word: techno. 

He said “The techno scene took off in the UK and like most soulful house-inspired DJs I couldn’t go down that path. In fact, the techno scene became so big throughout the world,  it gave the underground back to the real house DJs and music lovers. The days of the house music super club were over”.

The march toward playlist shows on UK radio came into force, as more broadcasting freedom was taken away and more shows became generic. That’s one thing the Transatlantic Mix was not. We broke new ground before national stations such as Radio 1, but that unfortunately wasn’t enough for commercial radio at that time. Shortly after our show was decommissioned many other clubland-based shows fell by the wayside. The music and clubbing scene suffered because of this.

I responded to this shakeup by rebranding. I started spending more time in Birmingham at Jeremy Sylvester’s Urban Dubz studio. We developed a process whereby I wrote and recorded while Jeremy took the helm behind the boards. Harder, driving, uptempo beats came out and even though the loss of The Transatlantic Mix radio show was a massive blow to my profile, I had hundreds of UK connections and there were always venues happy to book me. 

DJ Disciple with Jeremy Sylvester, Notting Hill Carnival

Launched in 1995, Milk & 2 Sugars was one of them and like many house events, it began as a party by house heads for house heads. The three ringleaders like myself had wide-ranging tastes in house music, and while the rest of London was tumbling down the techno rabbit hole, they put on DJs who played various house music styles. They launched their own MN2S label around the same time, and I remixed David Elkabas track, “Things We Used to Do,” at Gerald Elms’ G Club studio. It was one of 1999’s hot tracks and appeared on Mark Farina’s San Francisco Sessions album too. Known for rockin the party, one legendary night celebrating MN2S’ 8th anniversary I was headlining at The End in London and halfway through the night, Robert Owens performed “I’ll Be Your Friend.” Kerri Chandler was playing in the room next door and M8 described the party: ‘With his eclectic blends of carnival, calypso, funk, and house, Disciple knocked out a floor-jamming experience that bought the already ecstatic crowd to tumultuous applause with each smiling tune.” 

By the mid-00s I was spinning with Jim ‘Shaft’ Ryan at Miss Moneypennys, Craig Bartlett at L’America, Queer Nation, Turnmills with Femi B, House Party in Reading, and Thompsons Garage in Belfast, whilst international gigs and more gigs in New York kept me busy every weekend.  

As the years went on the New York/UK dynamic began to flip as clubs and DJ gigs came back to New York in a big way. When the Cabaret Law was finally abolished in 2017, conversations around nightlife became an important issue for the new Mayor before the pandemic hit. That same year I collaborated with E-Man and Becky Nuñez drawing inspiration from the musical contributions of London’s original Feel Real crew of Femi B, Rhythm Doctor, and Evil Olive, and where I cut my teeth as a UK newbie arrival. Our new club Feel Real (NYC) took place at the Rumpus Room with DJ Nubian, and Dat Gurl Curly hired by Becky, with E-Man bringing in Jeannie Hopper. I bought in Nicole Otereo, DJ Suki, DJ Luna, and Foxy Cleopatra as more women were breaking down doors and barriers in NYC. For some women, ‘Feel Real’ was the first place they were able to play and have a platform. The UK’s Phil Hooton also came over to play at ‘Feel Real’.

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