Phoole's First Foray to the Old Hit Factory UK - February 2014
On the morning of the 7th day of February in 2014, I was in the middle of what I was affectionately calling 'Phoole's 2014 UK Tour.'
The tour had come about completely whimsically some months before. I'd gotten a notification from TripAdvisor that airfares to London were absurdly low - US $300! - and that jumpstarted my heart. The airfares that had triggered that alert were on Turkish Airways, with a 13-hour layover in Istanbul each way, and trusted friends in the airline industry chorused in response, "DO NOT TAKE THAT FLIGHT." A very dear friend who worked for United said, "I've got buddy passes I'm not using - please use them instead of enduring an Istanbul misadventure," and I thought it a perfect opportunity to meet my colleagues from Ideal Clubworld Radio, with whom I'd only ever associated online.
When I started planning the trip in earnest, I took to heart guidance I read in forums and manuals from US ex-pats living in the UK, who all said, among other things, "British English requires interpretation to be correctly understood Stateside. If your British friends say 'Come and stay at my house,' what they mean is, 'Do book a hotel somewhere in my county, and maybe, if you're very lucky, I'll come out for a pint with you one night while you're in the UK." As I reached out to each member of the team, I kept this in mind. I anticipated being able to maybe actually connect with one or two people in the Ideal resident roster, and then only for a chug, a chat and a chew.
But right away, everyone on the team said, "Come and stay at my house!"
Sacha, the Queen of the Ideal Clubworld, and Mike, the Sarge in Charge (a/k/a WaxWorx), said it first, inviting me down to theirs in Brighton! Pete Howard said "Come up and stay!" Carl (a/k/a Van D) said "Derby had better be on your route!" Anish K insisted I make a stop in Essex. Paul Bates (of Fantom48 at the time, now publishing under Mr.Beatz) said I'd better not miss Sheffield. Everyone on the station wanted to have me over.
One by one, I told each of them what the ex-pats' guides had said about what UK people mean when they say "Come and stay at my house." But 100% of Ideal residents agreed that that was, in their words, "bollocks," and I should absolutely plan to stay over at people's houses.
They still are.
But back then they were aloof supernatural beings of energy.
Of course, I had, quite literally, nothing to lose by asking them if we could meet up. The worst that could happen would be they'd say 'no' or ignore me. And even then I'd still be alive and have birthdays and get to meet the others on the station team. I summoned the courage to send a message to Ali Jamieson (producer), Daryl Bär (A&R, manager of The Penelopes), and Hal Ritson (anchor of The Young Punx, Egoasis, The Tribe of Good, Replay Heaven and hundreds up upon hundreds of other music ventures).
I was shocked to get a fairly immediate reply that I should definitely come to MoFoHiFi and be on Hal's show.
So I booked a room at the space-age Stylotel in Sussex Gardens near Paddington Station, guessing that that would be a good hub for launching operations all over the country, and started building my itinerary, along with, nerves on edge, building my playlist for guest-DJing on the show that caused me to be a DJ in the first place.
In other essays, I'll go into greater detail about the rest of the trip if you like - it was amazing marauding all over London's financial district with Anish and then dining with his family, all Gujarati Indian! I had a fantastic adventure on a series of trains up to Glasgow (the Milwaukee of Scotland) to spend time with Pete, the Urban Love Ulcer. I had a Wilde time taking the Brighton line out of Victoria Station to spend time with Sacha and Mike and all of their cats. Paul Bates had mentioned he'd be on the move during the week and wasn't sure where he'd be but he'd be in touch.
I was in Brighton the Thursday of the trip, and so of course I awoke in Brighton Friday to cataclysmic rail delays on the trip back to London. I had meant to get back to London mid-day, have a leisurely dressing-up and playlist prep time, and then scoot over to the studio and do the show mid-afternoon. But I was still on trains mid-afternoon, barely getting back to London by 4pm, texting updates and chagrinned regrets to Hal the while.
As we rolled out of Gatwick, Paul texted - he was in London! Did I want to meet up? I couldn't, I messaged back sadly - I was on my way to MoFoHiFi.
Paul replied that that was mind-blowing, and he'd always wanted to meet those guys. Could I get him in, did I think?
So on a crowded and late train back to London, I messaged Hal. "Do you know Paul, from Ideal? He's in town and if I could bring him as my plus-one, would that be all right?"
Hal said yes, Paul's a good chap, bring him by.
There I was, in actual England, doing the thing, as Phoole, that I had done for 20+ years as Jane the Phoole. I was introducing amazing people to each other, just through sheer power of, "Oh, hey, hello, you should meet each other and be friends."
I didn't have time to celebrate it just then though.
I raced off the train to my room, did makeup and hair in 15 minutes flat, counted all my USB cables and power adaptors five times, and raced out into a cab into standstill rush-hour traffic. Paul would meet me at a Starbucks near the Borough Market, he messaged! Fantastic. I could find that easily, surely?
Nope. Walked around a block twice before stumbling on it across from the tube station. Never been so happy to see a Starbucks in my entire life.
Paul, whom I'd never met in 'real life' before, hugged me ferociously, and immediately, I felt an old camaraderie with him, like we'd known each other for years. I mean, really, we had known each other for years, but to have someone like Paul as a wing-man for this journey was immensely comforting - no matter that he was almost as terrified of what we were about to do as I was.
He was amazed I was able to get him in. I was too!
I had a few minutes of getting used to his Sheffield lilt as we stumbled around the Borough Market trying to find the studio - it takes me a few minutes to get accustomed to the Northern rising inflection at the end of declaratives as well as interrogatives, but I worked it out quickly enough and began to know which things were questions and which were statements.
We found the studio at last and pressed the doorbell button together. Hal greeted us, we hugged, I introduced Paul as if we weren't all just meeting each other for the first time, and down into MoFoHiFi we went.
At the bottom of the stairs was a very familiar fish-tank.
Once The Young Punx migrated from audio-only pre-recorded podcasts to live audio-visual broadcasts, a regular feature of the show had evolved where someone would take a camera and go roaming about the studio complex, often fixating on this aquarium of exotic fish, hardy little crustaceans, glowing coral and gently-waving anemones.
It was so crazy to be seeing that thing with my face. None of it felt really real until that moment, and I really should have prepared for how much it would freak me out.
I took a deep breath and scooted further into the studio proper.
Hal apologized - he had a project he was working on that was taking a bit longer than expected, so he wouldn't be able to properly receive us until a while later; but he pointed to where I could start setting up, and once I'd deposited my gear, he'd show us around the Borough Market for a quick tour, then leave us to find supper on our own and welcome us back to the studio once we'd dined.
And we were off toward the Borough Market. Paul and Hal are tall, much taller than I am, and they walk fast. I was already out of breath, just from the shock of being there, of seeing the other side of the camera through which I'd been living vicariously for years, so I trailed behind them trying to comprehend anything that was happening. Paul is a great chit-chatter, for which I was incredibly grateful, as I found myself uncharacteristically terrified of speaking just then. Hal pointed out the gleaming curved glass of the 20 Fenchurch building, a/k/a the Walkie Talkie, and mentioned how the glass had accidentally become a lens, focusing sunlight into an automobile-melting laser; Paul, for his dayjob, had worked on building that building and installing that glass. I was amazed and knew not what to say.
As I hurried to try to keep up, actually and metaphorically, I happened to glance up and see the words "TAKE COURAGE" painted on a building.
I was very happy to see that sign. I tried to obey it.
Hal took us on a very brisk run through the Borough Market, bought some extremely fancy chocolate, then abandoned us as he'd said he would. Paul and I exhaled and stumbled off in search of supper.
We happened upon a 16th-century triple-masted schooner docked next to an inn, which to me seemed an excellent indication that we should eat fish and chips there. It was! I can highly recommend the Old Thameside Inn as the perfect place to eat vinegar-soaked fried food and catch one another up on our actual lives while panicking about being on the verge of performing in the physical presence of one's music heroes.
At the appointed hour we made our way back to the studio. Hal met us at the door, announcing we needed to step across to the shop for rave supplies.
He led us across the lane, which felt more like an alley than an actual street, and entered a plain door, unmarked by any kind of signage. We followed him into what turned out to be a tiny grocery store - he shops there so often that they just let him come in through the back service entrance.
I bought a gigantic bottle of Evian - I knew I'd be too hyper for caffeine and too terrified for anything else.
Back in the studio, Hal asked if we'd enjoyed any of the sights on our jaunt.
"Well, now that you mention it, we did see a 16th-century triple-masted schooner docked by the Thames!"
"Of course you did. That's the Golden Hinde, you know," said Hal.
Phooligans who know me from the Jane-the-Phoole side of the Phooliverse know that this news would of course strike me as exciting. "Is it really? THE Golden Hinde?"
"Yes it is. With an 'e' on the end, you know."
"OF COURSE I KNOW." So that's how this is going to be, I said to myself.
"It's a replica. But, yeah. Should be right up your alley, I reckon. By the way, you should do the whole show tonight in your English accent, I think."
I laughed to cover my terror and tried to plug in all my gear in the right order. Paul took over the conversation, for which I was infinitely grateful.
Paul and Hal chit-chatted about studio and who'd recorded there - before it was MoFoHiFi, it was the London version of the Hit Factory, home of Stock, Aitken and Waterman - it was where Rick Astley recorded 'Never Gonna Give You Up.' In the other room was a Hammond organ belonging to Stevie Wonder, on which he records whenever he's in town. Did we want to touch it? Of course we did. We touched it.
Hal then noticed a cardboard parcel in a corner of that room. "Ooh, before I forget, Captain Phoole..." (I don't know why, but most of the rest of the night, Hal called me 'Captain Phoole.') "...I've got some things for you."
Hal gave me this:
Hal also gave me an advance CD copy of the new album, which wasn't due to be released for another week or so yet. I goggled at these gifts and knew not how to express sufficient gratitude.
But Hal went on, pulling out another box. "Oh, Paul, hey, you spin vinyl, don't you? Have a look through this - take anything that strikes your fancy." Then Hal returned to the outer studio to continue setting up.
Paul blinked at me. "Can he be serious?"
Back in the main control room, Paul returned to easy conversation as I tried to avoid shaking while setting up. Good old Paul! "Hal, lots of doors in the lobby - you share this space with other producers?"
"Oh yeah - across there is Wez Clarke's studio."
My heart stopped. "THE Wez Clarke? He's HERE?"
Hal looked at me, smug. "No. He was here. But you were late, so you missed him. But Phonat's studio is just over there..."
And then Phonat WALKED INTO THE ROOM, and everything got a thousand times more intense and amazing.
First of all, Phonat - who is really Michele - is very tall. He's seven feet tall. At least. To me he seemed just so amazingly TALL!
Second of all, when he saw me, before I could think or squeak, he immediately said, "Phoole! You're here! It's good to see you, I mean really see you, here!" and wrapped me up in a very big gangly warm hug.
WHAT EVEN IS MY LIFE.
I managed to say, "It's amazing to meet you in real life" in Italian, at which Michele unleashed a torrent of happy and colloquial Florentine dialect, about a third of which I understood, and once again I tried in vain to keep up with an amazing conversation I'd uncorked through hubris - the 'chiacchierare' bubbled along, and it felt dreamlike and too real all at once.
I introduced Paul to Michele, they hit it off immediately, and then Michele and Hal embarked on other chit-chat.
Paul turned to me. "Did that just happen?"
"I don't know, man, I don't know! Can you HANDLE it?!"
I focused in on the pile of tunes I'd dumped into a playlist for the night - tunes I knew really well, tunes I loved playing that I knew sounded great together, with a handful of spotlights on The Young Punx' forthcoming album.
Hal got my attention again. "Captain Phoole, I think it's best if we do things this way - I'll start off the broadcast, play a few tunes, two or three, and then I'll let you know when to launch in, OK?" That sounded splendid to me.
And then more people arrived.
In my head, the evening was, originally, going to be me and a small handful of the MoFoHiFi crew in the studio, that's all. And now Paul of course. And now Michele.
And then the artists who made the music in most of the rest of my playlist arrived.
Singly or in pairs or in small groups, over the next several hours, they just kept...materializing, in the same room with me. My playlist had somehow, incomprehensibly, become the guestlist, and I hadn't disclosed my playlist ahead of time.
It was probably a coincidence - I couldn't imagine that Hal or any of his colleagues paid attention to what I played on-air! It must have been a coincidence. My library at the time was basically a mirror of that constellation of artists.
Still kind of can't get my head around it all these years later.
All these Italian disco-house and turbo-funk guys just walked in! There were so many people with whom I could clumsily try to speak Italian! So many hugs! Tanti abbraci! Carini amici, immediatamente. "Eh Phoole! Grazie per i giri!" ("Thank you for the spins!")
I tried to remember to breathe, and I listened to the first few tunes Hal played. Four tunes came and went, but I hadn't gotten the "you're next" signal from Hal.
He put on a disco tune; I picked a disco tune one beat per minute faster, same key. He moved to an electro vibe; I switched my first tune to suit.
Paul nudged me, incredulous. "What're you doin'? Don't you have a plan?"
I blinked at him. "I was just going to...wing it, you know, go with what worked...?" Paul's eyes were saucers. My heart didn't work correctly. "Is that not what I should do?"
He shook his head and laughed. "I don't know, Phoole m'dear, I don't know! You'll do great!" He squeezed my shoulders. My terror ratcheted into high gear.
Over the tune he was currently spinning, Hal got on the mic and hummed two bars of 'Girl From Ipanema' over the top, and it harmonized and was perfect with the tune.
I changed my opening tune to Pizzicato Five's 'Girl From Ipanema.'
Paul freaked. "What are you DOING?!"
"I don't KNOW!" I whispered back fiercely. "This! I'll make it work. Isn't this...I've never done this before!"
"Me either! How are we even here?!"
"I don't know, man, I don't know!"
Hal signaled that I'd take over when his tune finished in 45 seconds, then exited the room to let more people in and attend to host duties.
I took a breath and dropped the tune.
From across the tiny-yet-crowded room, Michele looked over and smiled broadly.
I smiled back and exhaled.
Hal came back into the room and squinted at me. I cringed. He left again.
Well, I was committed now. I went from Pizzicato Five to Gabin's lush rework of Peggy Lee's immortal 'Fever.'
People started dancing. Paul nodded along - this was my groove! I always relax into a jazz thing. I started shuffling next choices around for building tempo and moving the key along an energy progression.
Hal came back into the room at an angle, looking at me very seriously. I gritted my teeth. He got back on the mic and signaled to me to be ready to talk on my mic.
He put our mics on air. "Captain Phoole, did you intend to come here and start off with a jazzy set, or - OR - did you start off with 'Girl From Ipanema' and continue with a jazzy vibe because I spontaneously happened to hum two bars of 'Girl From Ipanema' over my last tune?"
I thought I might die. "Well, Admiral Hal," I began, not knowing what these titles were all about, "I played Jobim because you hummed Jobim - "
Hal pointed at me and hollered into the mic, "THIS IS A RESPONSIVE FUCKING DJ. THIS IS WHAT THE FUCK ALL DJS SHOULD BE LIKE, ALL THE FUCKING TIME. Thank you." And he tore off his headphones and hurled them to the desk, then launched from the room again.
I sat there absolutely stunned. Paul was vibrating.
"Was that...did I do well, Paul?" I stammered.
Paul barked with laughter and slapped me on the back. "Yes, Captain Phoole, you did well. I think that's what that meant. Yes yes."
I felt like maybe I had won at life, for all of life and all time.
I dove in and pushed the tempo.
It was crazy to be there with those people, whom I'd never in my life expected to meet, much less entertain with their own music.
Ali Jamieson arrived - he's endlessly musically brilliant, and that brilliance lives in him alongside an extremely sensitive, and simultaneously evil, sensibility. Ali greeted me with a generous hug, then retreated to Hal's station and began quietly and methodically wrecking all of Hal's mixer and effects settings. Daryl Bär arrived, and, like with Paul, I immediately felt that "Oh, here you are" feeling of having hung out with him casually for ages - we hugged warmly, and Daryl looked around at the grooving crowd and smiled broadly. "Looks like you've got it all well in hand, Phoole! Nice!"
I couldn't believe it.
I still kind of can't. But there it was! Happy dancing disco stars.
Here's a pic I managed to snap of Michele and Daryl chilling and chatting by one of the many banks of synths lining the studio walls.
Paul went off and worked the room, chatting away with half of his own record-crate's producers, and it made my heart glow to know I'd been able to get us into this room, somehow, all the while feeling - and actively suppressing - that chest-pressure dread of being discovered at any moment to be mediocre and not worthy of admission. I focused my will on not train-wrecking and building the groove.
There used to be a (completely deranged) Italian turbofunk duo named 'Fanny Games' - it was a terrible name, and nothing anyone could do could convince the guys in the act that the name was horrible. They'd been on Hal's show loads of times, and had instantly become comedic foils like Manuel on FAWLTY TOWERS - while there were plenty of calm, dignified and affable Italian chaps in the studio, these guys were unhinged caricatures of Italians in electronic music. James Brivido came to be known as "the dim one" and LaPo came to be known as "the crazy one" and that's just how they were differentiated from each other when they were both in the studio behaving outrageously.
In came one of the guys from Fanny Games! Hal was back on the mic and so was I. "Captain Phoole!"
I saluted. "Yes Admiral Hal!"
"Which one of the Italians from Fanny Games has just entered the studio?"
I looked over at the newcomer's frantic gesticulating as he greeted everyone in the vestibule. It had to be LaPo. "...The crazy one?" I ventured.
"YES!" Hal bellowed. "It's the crazy one! Please welcome LaPo Frost of Fanny Games!" And he was off again, zooming out of the room to manage whatever chaos LaPo was igniting amongst the throngs.
I breathed and grinned so hard my face hurt. I heard Paul's laugh waft in from another room.
Ali slyly returned to Hal's console and put all of his changes into effect, then slipped away.
Hal came back to try to say something on the mic. Nothing worked. "Was Ali sitting here?" I had to agree that he was. "ALIIIIII WHAT HAVE YOU DONE!" He bellowed something else about having been Ableton-raped. Ali peered into the room and laughed a very small, very evil laugh.
DiscoSocks, another subversive and evil genius, arrived while I was playing one of his tunes, sat on the couch next to me, hugged me, and stayed a while, chatting with everyone nearby while I kept on playing. LaPo burst in like Kramer on Seinfeld and yelled, "POOOOOL!" in an attempt to say "Phoole," which is the pronunciation I get 20% of the time. He hugged me ferociously and clumsily tried to thank me in English for playing his tunes on my show - I replied in Italian, which relieved him greatly, and then more torrents of heavily-colloquial Italian poured onto me and I couldn't believe my life. I messaged frantically with novelist, game designer and interactive entertainer Aly Grauer the while.
(Aly - whose Young Punx chatroom moniker had been AlyOops - and I had, over the years, grown into the act's 'US Nerd Girl' brigade, having distinguished ourselves in chatroom jibber-jabber as being too clever for our own good. After the events of this essay, this distinction earned us opportunities to contribute to and influence several artistic projects to which we never would have had access had we not shone out as Wodehouse-and-Wilde spirit-children in those early days. But details of those projects are secret, as the results have never been released, and while someday we may all get a surprise, we were paid rather splendidly for our work on them and it felt very legitimizing and cool.)
My mobile vibrated - a message was coming in from STEIMAN! The European tour manager for Tom Bailey of the Thompson Twins, Howard Jones, and dozens of other big names from the 1980s, as well as for The Young Punx, Alexander Steiman is a New York Jew living in Frankfurt who has, I am very happy to say, profound affection for me, and the feeling is mutual. He lets us call him Uncle Alex. He is a berserk Zionist, so he reminds me of many of my own berserk Zionist relatives, which is oddly comforting.
Uncle Alex cryptically messaged, "I'm sending you some Austrian girls."
Paul saw me peering at my phone and came over. I showed him the screen. "What can this mean?" We shrugged at each other and grinned, and he was off again to circulate. I kept the tunes going.
The Austrian girls arrived, and they were stunning. One was blonde, the other brunette; both were tall and lithe, with chiseled-cheekbones and dazzling smiles, and fabulous, like models. They were, I quickly learned, sought-after soul vocalists who'd performed on a lot of recordings by a lot of the people in the room.
The blonde made a beeline for me, hands outstretched - "Your HAIR! It's so cute! Can I touch it?"
Of course she could. We were BFFs instantly from that moment.
Her name is Lisa Marie - she was Lisa Marie Firles, but she met and married an equally-symmetrical-and-stunning male-model-apparent counterpart and now she is Lisa Marie Steyrer. Her videos on her FaceBook profile demonstrate her incredible voice - and one from a few years back demonstrates her ability to destroy anyone in a krapfen-eating competition, an alarming skill indeed! I help Lisa Marie with her English translations - she speaks English very well, but when ideological expressions puzzle her I help her out.
While I played NAPT and Peo De Pitte's 'Gonna Be Mine,' Hal put Lisa Marie on the mic and they harmonized live over the tune, and quietly in my heart, I imagined, "I'm basically performing live on the air with these legit and brilliant artists. That is what is happening." And I grinned and grinned and the groove went ON.
Other tunes came in and the room turned over and LaPo was back, and he wanted to play too! Hal and Lisa Marie had abandoned the main console, so LaPo got on a MIDI keyboard, set it up and started jamming along with the tunes, and it was kind of fantastic. He was a bit drunk, so not every chord made absolute sense, but it was a VIBE and it was fun and we were loving it.
But then Hal drove into the room again - and abruptly switched off the keyboard LaPo was playing! Aww! LaPo looked crushed. I shrugged and tried to convey sympathy and confusion, and kept playing. As soon as Hal left the room again, LaPo stealthily found the power button and switched the keyboard back on again and started jamming out righteously and fervently again. But this time, Hal flew into the room and, shockingly, slapped LaPo right across the face, then gave me a look as if to say, "Violence is the only language these people understand!" and then dashed out again! Poor LaPo! He went off to console himself and I kept on playing.
I got into a groove two hours in with some intense tech house and turbo funk and Hal got back on the mic, indicating I should get on too.
"Captain Phoole, this is intense!"
I grinned. "Yes it is."
"You go pretty hard, don't you?"
"Yes, I do - for a girl," I added, jokingly, the way I often do.
The joke didn't land the right way.
Hal looked slightly hurt. "I wasn't going to say that."
I didn't know what to say! He launched off the mic and out of the room. I cringed and kept playing.
People danced, grooves built and time went on, and a while later, Hal plopped down on the couch next to me and dropped his head on my shoulder. This was entirely out of character for any behavior I'd previously observed from Hal.
"You all right, Hal? Not having fun?"
Hal whimpered, "The Austrian girls...they brought rum."
"Lots of people brought their own - is that not OK?"
"No, no..." Hal struggled to express himself. "I brought my own rum!"
"Can't you both have rum?"
"No, listen," he slurred just only a little bit, "I brought my own rum...so I'd know how much I'd had."
"Oh dear." And then he was up off the sofa and out of the room again, lurching along at an angle.
More tunes, more people, and finally I decided it was time to play the tune that was the reason I was in this room - I mixed in the Laurent Konrad remix of 'Young and Beautiful.'
And one chorus in, Hal zoomed back into the room, at a steeper angle, and motioned to me to get on the mic, and he got on his.
"Captain Phoole!" he bellowed.
I saluted again. "Admiral Hal!"
"What the FUCK are you playing this ancient fucking song for?"
I braced and wince-smiled. "This song is the first tune by The Young Punx that I ever heard. It's the reason I'm here today."
The chorus came around again then, and Hal took the bottom line of the harmony. I took the top line, and we sang over the tune at the top of our lungs. He threw reverb and effects on us - he was drunk, but sober enough to manage that, somehow, probably because it's what he does all day every day at work.
So that happened. Live on air. Duet with Hal Motherfucking Ritson.
What, even, is my life?
I do not even know.
I was into the third hour of playing when the room started to clear out - people needed to catch the last tube, people had sessions the next morning, couldn't stay out all night, had a next party to drop in on.
Luminaries of indie dance and disco house came over and gave me goodbye hugs and thanked me - thanked me! - for playing and congratulated me on a great set. (I realized I hadn't wrecked or key-clashed, not even once.) Even Paul drifted off into the night, not wanting to miss his last tube; it was a rainy night up on the streets of London, and no one wanted to be stuck waiting for cabs. I kept playing, not really sure if we were done.
Then Hal was back. "PHOOLE. Stop stop stop. They've all gone home - look." He put on the studio overhead lights - it was true; only Michele and Hal and I were left; the crowd in the other rooms and vestibule had dispersed. "We're off the air. Signal died a while ago actually. Don't know when. You don't have to play any more. It was good, but you can stop."
I breathed a heavy sigh, felt my face ache from smiling, and started to tear down. Michele came over to help. "You did a fantastic job!" he grinned. "We have loads of DJs here - they don't all move a room. You moved the room all night. Nice work!"
I smiled and had tears in my eyes.
How was this actual deity of music - this legitimate maestro whom Skrillex has called the most underrated producer in the music industry - giving me compliments? How was this happening?
I thanked him in English and Italian and said, "I can't even really believe I'm even here. This has been the most unbelievable experience."
We laughed about LaPo's insane improvisation and coiled up endless cables and straightened tables.
From the lobby, Hal hollered my actual name - it was the first time that entire day that he hadn't called me Phoole or Captain Phoole. "ANN-ELIZABETH!" he thundered. "Get in here and watch my coral fluoresce!"
I guffawed. "Did you just verb the adjective 'fluorescent'?"
"I FUCKING WELL DID!" he roared back. "And I'll tell you something else. You're the only fucking DJ in the fucking WORLD who knows what the fuck that means!"
I zipped up my hoodie, hoisted my gear bag, and trundled into the foyer to observe the fluorescing. "Is that OK, Hal?" I laughed, as he tripped up the stairs.
"No! You're TOO FUCKING SMART!" With that he flung open the door and spilled out into the lane, in the rain, singing at full volume.
Michele was three steps behind me on the staircase, but we were eye-to-eye when I turned around to smile sadly at him. He sighed, "Do you see what I have to put up with with this man?"
I grinned. "You are a saint."
Out in the lane, I reached up to take Michele's arm as we followed the stumbling Hal, whose voice echoed off the cobbles and brick walls.
Reaching the Marshalsea Road, Hal launched himself into traffic, in front of a Black Cab, which shrieked to a halt. He then leaned his torso fully into the passenger side window, and, slowly and deliberately, underscored with emphatic gesture, he extolled the driver:
"I charge you to take this bizarrely-coiffed woman - " he indicated me with a careless wave of his hand - "to her lodgings in Sussex Gardens. I charge you," he pointedly insisted, "with her very life."
He then disentangled himself from the cab, threw his arms around me for one more hug, and then was off tottering down the walk, singing in the rain.
Michele gave me one more hug and promised to look after Hal. I shook my head and smiled. Then I climbed in the cab and was off.
A block away, the driver swiveled around to peer at me. "Do you know who that was?"
I said yes, I did, I'd been guest DJing in his studio all night.
"Were you really! Amazing! I pick up the most incredible people here. You're American! Are you famous there?"
I grinned so hard I nearly dislocated my jaw. "I'm a little bit famous there. Not very. I'm just happy to be here."
Back at the hotel, I spread out the Hoogerbrugge print, unwrapped the CD, and dialed up Tiffany (who was Tom in those days) for a FaceTime - it was 1:30 a.m. for me, but it would only be 7:30 p.m. for T and the kitties back home in Milwaukee. I was shaking and couldn't dial and couldn't get the CD case open. T answered, and the story of the night raced out of me in a mad deluge.
T laughed. "I know, baby! I was tuned in. We all were. You rocked it. I knew you would."
It's at this point in the story that I realize I've left out some very important exposition. The following is a necessary flashback.
This all happened in February of 2014, just before The Young Punx' third and final album was to debut.
Throughout the entire year prior to this night, The Young Punx' live interactive webshow, 'Friday Night Is Young Punx Night,' had contained processes and previews of the tunes going into the new album.
On one occasion, Hal played for us devoted listeners a 'dry' recording of the big-band performances in 'Kowloon Kickback,' before effects and synths had been added, before any mastering.
None of this tune is made of samples.
All of it is composed, arranged, performed and recorded by The Young Punx. Same for the rest of the album and the rest of TYP's catalogue.
Hal had told us the story of how the tune came about, told us about the trials and tribulations of composing and arranging for a big band, and contextually prepared us for hearing the tune, but none of us were ready, and we all lost our minds over it in the Ideal Clubworld chatroom, just screaming at each other about how amazing it was.
Hal had asked, "The three-minute-long drum solo - should we cut it down in length?"
We had all thundered back, "FUCK NO!" And the looping of the cadenza right before the drum solo pretty much exploded the universe for me. I could not even handle it at all. Absolutely ridiculously perfect.
For nearly every tune on the album, Hal had sought fan opinion and input. Should this tune have another chorus? Does this tune's tone-image make sense? Does this tune's ambiance convey the correct atmosphere? Tuner-inners' ideas were all over the place and it was a very intense time.
As weeks and months went by we saw what we'd said affect the process.
So we were included. And that elevated us. This is important.
Finally Hal dropped a demo of the title tune of the album on us one day.
The chatroom looked like this:
<I'm crying> <Me too> <This is too intense> <what have you done> <it's beautiful but it's heartbreaking> <are you guys ok> <can't handle this tune, too beautiful>
and so forth and so on.
I think a lot of us who were tuned in that day will always remember the feeling of being in the presence of something so important that we maybe were trespassing. The bass is too intense. The voices are too desperate. The words are too blank and powerful. The images are too clear.
This is too good.
Weeks went by, engineering tweaks went into the tune and made it MORE intense, and more tune demos were played for us, including one ridiculously-happy-sad tune called 'Polaroid.'
'Polaroid' knocked the wind out of us and then threw us into the sky. It is a Muppet-flail-inducing joy-pile with a broken heart inside.
When all the tunes were done, Hal went to the audience and said, "I can't figure out the tune order for the album. What should be the last tune on the record? I'm torn between 'Polaroid' and 'All These Things are Gone.'"
This incited a tiny little online riot.
Almost everyone else said 'ATTAG' should be the last tune - it's too epic, it's too huge; nothing can follow it. Leave the album with that ringing in everyone's hearts. Nothing can possibly follow that tune. Sacha, Mike, most of the fans were all Team ATTAG.
I felt differently.
"You can't end with 'All These Things Are Gone.' Not in the world the way it is today." I was adamant. "The world is too sad. You'll kill people. People will kill themselves. People will die inside. It has to be 'Polaroid' at the end. There has to be something at the end to save everyone, even if the only thing left is memory. There has to be something."
Hal had messaged with Aly and I separately from the rest on this subject, among others. Were we sure about 'Polaroid?'
'Polaroid' had come about as a tune because Hal had a childhood friend with whom he'd planned to be rockstars. The years had gone by, and after growing apart for decades, Hal reconnected with that childhood friend, who was now in his own band called Darktown Jubilee, and they'd said, "Hey, weren't we going to be rockstars together when we grew up?" So they did the tune together.
We were sure. We argued fervently in favor of redemption at the end of the album, not bleak nihilistic abandon.
I left for London not knowing what the lineup would finally be when the album was released.
Back at the hotel, FaceTiming with my true love and my cats, I unwrapped the CD and read the liner notes.
Aly and I got special thanks.
We are in this paragraph with people like Phonat and Bobby Tank and Octoplasher and Wez Clarke and so many amazing alarming people.
And 'Polaroid' ends the album.
All those colours fade to grey - except in Polaroid. [unmistakable Polaroid shutter noise]
This concludes the account of my first visit to MoFoHiFi Studio,
I returned there in October of 2017, and that adventure will be recounted in another essay.