(This account is cobbled together from a handful of updates I provided on-the-fly for the Phoole Patreon Platoon, which I welcome you to join at patreon.com/phoole and support the growth of the Phooliverse, and from typed and hand-written journal entries made while and just after the events described had unfolded.)
GREETINGS from Amsterdam!
Today is the third day of the Amsterdam Dance Event, and I am Amster-DONE-IN. I have a little bit of time before Urban Love Ulcer's triumphant return to the airwaves after a long illness, so I thought I would attempt a recap of events so far at ADE!
My adventure began on Tuesday at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where I serendipitously collided with my insane friend Mike, whom I call Miguel, who is quite mad. He and I share a passion for the real lives of actual people in the 16th century, though our specializations are diametrically opposed - I'm on England's side and he's on Spain's. We agree that Cervantes is underrated and languishes in the shadow of Wm. Shaxpur, thanks to the access to and influence on the publishing world of Mr. Shakspr's friends and benefactors. One follows the money. In any case, our battle cry for the truth of history is "CERVANTES!" and we often greet each other in this way. Mike was on the same flight as I was, on his way to Slag om Grolle, the early-17th-century battle reenactment that draws all of the luminaries of the historical-interpretation world, which I had hoped to manage to at least visit - but my itinerary this time forbade me that jaunt. He was UPSTAIRS on the airplane, because we flew KLM and their airplanes have an upstairs, and I told him to tell the attendants that I was his Fool and must be moved out of coach to First Class so that we could associate and gabble like tinkers throughout the entire flight and dismay his posh neighbors - but he fell asleep and slept through the whole flight, so I was squeezed into my economy-section seat, wide-awake, the whole flight. I can't sleep on international flights. Ah well!
I naturally occupy my flights with endless, relentless recombinations of songs into playlists to find perfect mixes. On this flight I built and rebuilt and rebuilt and rebuilt a playlist for my set at Luminaa. By now you will know that this set happened but didn't make it on air, due to technical difficulties on the broadcast side - but the playlist is, in local parlance, BALLER, so imma resurrect it for a future show, for I feel you will like it and be compelled to bust moves and cut rugs upon hearing it.
So eight hours of mixing later, and having gone slightly cross-eyed from staring at the screen for eight hours, we arrived at Schiphol Airport - and Mike was off like a shot to Arnhem and thence to Groenlo, and I made my way to Amsterdam by train.
Previous to this jaunt, the last time I'd been to Amsterdam was in 1997 - twenty years ago. Twenty years ago, I was AMAZING at Amsterdam as a subject. I had been to it yearly since young adulthood. I knew where everything was. I knew what the tram line numbers were and where they went. I knew where to go to do all the things.
In preparing for this trip, I failed to update myself on interim alterations to the city.
This proved immediately daunting!
Having been awake for a very long time altogether, I grew impatient with my navigational errors - and while my mobile phone provider had set me up with an International roaming plan, the data wasn't quite kicking in, so I was flying blind, without even my old trusty Let's Go Guide that had been my ubiquitous companion on previous jaunts. I had forgotten how to get around - and - AND - despite learning a tiny amount of Dutch, I hadn't learned enough to be able to stride cheerfully up to locals and confidently say, in Dutch, "Hello, I am an American idiot, for which I abjectly apologize. Which way do I turn out of the door to get to my hotel, please?"
I finally stumbled upon a free WiFi hotspot and got my bearings, and then dragged myself and my bags to the hotel, at 7:00 a.m. local time. To my great joy, the hotel had a room ready and checked me in instantly! I schlepped up to my futuristic closet-sized space-cruiser-cabin roomlet and took a very modern fancy chrome-and-marble shower that gave me new life. By the time I got done, I had missed the end of breakfast, alas, but I reckoned I'd grab something at the FEBO, an automat near the Leidesplein that had fed me many fast-food treats during my last jaunts to the old city.
I misjudged the weather, dressed for a cool autumn day, and struck out for the conference in the center of town.
Everyone else in Amsterdam ALSO dressed for a cool autumn day, which became unsettling to me very quickly, because it was actually sunny, quite warm, and ridiculously humid. I sweated completely to death lurching around finding the different things - I had to go get checked in for the conference in one location, then go around the block to the headquarters of the conference at the Delamar Theatre. And along the way, I had to catch up with Sacha and Mike (formerly of the Ideal Clubworld, now campaigning hard for Data Transmission and enjoying great-but-hard-won success).
Sacha introduced me to another DT producer/DJ in her roster named Graeme who was exceedingly polite and laughed at all of my jokes.
Actually, everyone here has laughed at all of my jokes. I just realized that, just now. I've been KILLING it here as a comedian. I take that so much for granted most of the time, except when I bomb. But I have made a lot of people laugh here. I should probably enjoy that as a type of victory. I shall!
Because Graeme gave up some laughs, I will listen to his work and probably play it on the show. That is the kind of commerce on which I wish the world traded. It proved to be my modus operandi throughout my time at the conference.
When I arrived at the check-in facility, I was the only girl in the registration queues. I found myself adrift in a sea of rather bro-y dudes in black t-shirts. To be fair, I was also in a black t-shirt; I was dressed pretty much exactly like them. Except I was a girl person. There were a few ladypeople at the perimeter - clearly girlfriends, wives, "managers," "handlers." All young and beautiful: super-size, super-small, super-young, super-tall.
In my jet-lagged and harried state, I thought, "Holy shit, I do not belong in this place." But I dug out a piece of chewing gum (for reasons I cannot explain, chewing gum makes me feel more confident when I am seized with anxiety) and affected sprezzatura.
I joined Mike and Sach and Graeme for a drink on the Leidseplein, which was very very weird to me, because 20 years ago, you didn't do that. There wasn't that to be able to do. The Leidseplein had been smaller and sleepier back then, with a little piazza where street entertainers would take turns amusing individuals or small crowds. Now it is a vast expanse full of outdoor coffeeshop extensions jammed with outdoor-marijuana-smoking clientele.
I think I've mentioned that that is not something I myself go in for. I'm naturally hungry and a bit paranoid most of the time without any help, so I don't really need any of the effects of that indulgence.
I was delighted to learn that it was also something that Mike and Sach no longer go in for! Used to be mad for it, them, but they've both stopped smoking altogether - weed and cigarettes. I am exceedingly proud of them, and I told them so. I am glad for their fortitude. We agreed that the weed-clouded air was a torment to us, albeit for different reasons.
So we caught up a bit, with Sacha running through the long and impressive list of hectic label and promoter meetings she's been shepherding her team through. Mike is working with a lot of really cool and important labels; it's his dream coming true, and I'm proud and happy for him! I feel they are on the verge of great things happening.
As Sacha detailed their intense itinerary, I did think, "Ah. I didn't actually plan any of this sort of thing. I was probably supposed to target specific entities and make plans to insert myself into their paths somehow and obtain meetings. Ah."
Sach and Mike and Graeme had to dash off to play a party at Armada Select (a heavy hitter in what is called underground but is really big enough to be considered in the mainstream of the more-mainstream underground...? It's difficult to explain), and I was now very hungry, very thirsty, and completely exhausted. I looked at the vast army of black-t-shirted dudes clogging the Leidseplein, frantically handing around business cards and USB sticks and stickers, and got the hell out of there, resolving to do better the next day.
Got back to the hotel, tried to order food, failed to receive it, couldn't find an open restaurant near the hotel (on the far south-east side of town), wept slightly, pulled myself together and went back down to the Leidseplein to meet up with the first deployment of the Chewb crew, who had just arrived and tucked into the first of many, many rounds of drinks in Luminaa's outdoor terrace seating. Many. Rounds.
(As I compose this, I'm hurtling through the Netherlands toward Doesburg, and, like Milwaukee, Amsterdam is one of those cities without sprawl. You pass the city limits and instantly you're immersed in green countryside. Sheep and cows graze in impossibly-green fields. Tiny clusters of houses dating from the 1800s gather near the train tracks or dot the horizon. I'm also listening to demos of a music project that, no matter what happens to it, it is going to change my life. It has ALREADY changed my life. I feel like I have no more room for feelings in my heart - it's full. But more feelings are incoming, so I'm going to have to explode.)
It was so good to finally "meet" G-Bace, Weymo, Weymo's awesome wife Marie, Kleen Kutz, and their entourages in real life. It's that thing again - I've spent so much time "with" these people over the past four years, whether hosting them in the chatroom for my show, chatting with them in someone else's show's chatroom, bantering on The Chewb's Slack channel, laughing with them or stressing out with them on myriad Google hangouts...but we had never been in the physical presence of one another. And it was instant comfort and camaraderie: Here I am, on the other side of the world, meeting up with my brothers and sisters. I immediately felt at home. And it was so good to hang out with Van D again - I only got to see him very briefly in 2014 on my UK tour, but we get on so well that, after the first hugs, it's like we know each other from daily life.
Kleen Kutz is Matt in real life, Van D is Carl, G-Bace is Gary, Weymo is Phil. Matt had a few friends in tow, as did Van D - I have forgotten the names of all but one and I feel sad about that. I will need to get reminded of their names. But Carl's friend Andy has the nickname Reggie, and I enjoyed him a great deal. He's quiet, cheerful and always up for a laugh, and as he and Carl have known each other since kindergarten, they've got that effortless chummy happy calm no matter what the circumstance.
I was starving, and they'd all been drinking (!!!), so we grabbed burgers at the Burger King on the Leidseplein that had been part of my childhood trips to Amsterdam, then slouched across to the Bulldog, which was loud, pot-smokey, and loud, and tiny and also loud. We had one round there and then crossed the Leidseplein to an empty gay bar playing 90s hip hop classics, and that kicked the mood into joyful abandon. Van D demanded I join the crew for Jagermeister shots; I obliged. Tastes like cough syrup and appears to have no effect on me whatsoever. Between furious bouts of dancing, G-Bace showed me many pictures of the cats he and his lovely Mandy raise, half of whom are gigantic Maine Coons.
But then my overall travel exhaustion crept up on me and tapped me insistently on the shoulder. I hugged everyone and fumbled through the trams to get 'home,' only going the wrong direction twice. I fell into bed and slept 11 hours.
In the morning, I Phooled up and headed back to the Leidseplein to get ready for the Luminaa party.
- I really, really should have gotten fluent in Dutch prior to this trip.
- I know I didn't have time to do that, and I did the best I could given all the things I have going on, but to secure best outcomes, I could maybe have done 15 more minutes of practice every day since January to become less idiotic about it.
- I really, really should have learned to use Pioneer CDJs instead of relying on the modular Traktor controllers I've used since I graduated from the disposable/indestructible Numark Mixtrack in 2015.
- I know I didn't have time to do that, but to have averted disaster at Luminaa, I should have maybe abandoned some parts of some other hustles to get proficient in the gear that is the standard.
- I'm glad the broadcast of my set failed.
Our liaison on the ground at Luminaa was Rob Boskamp, a DJ who is brilliantly talented, vastly experienced, and a cornerstone of the Amsterdam scene. By the end of the night, he and I were friends - but he's one of the reasons why I wish I were fluent in Dutch at the top of the night. He was fluent in English, but I would have benefitted greatly from being able to ingratiate myself to him right off the bat. He was, in terms of rhesus macaques, the top monkey in the Luminaa scenario.
I grew up as the daughter of a professional jazz bass player, and one of the things you learn from the bass-player perspective is that you cannot rely on anyone else in the band to show up with the sound equipment or cables they will need to perform in a live situation, except for the drummer in most cases. Lead guitarists, lead keyboard players, lead whatevers have a lot on their mind: hair, girls, boys, maybe both, afterparties, and so on. They can't be relied on to remember to bring the right hookups, and they can't always be relied on to actually bring their instruments with them.
As I was packing for ADE, I thought, "Even though I told the guys I will need to come into a mixer that has dual balanced stereo inputs, maybe I should bring extra cables in case they only have RCA ins, or one balanced stereo in." And then I second-guessed that and thought, "Aaah, better to save room and weight in the luggage. I told them what I need. There will be a mixer and most mixers have this input."
Ha. Hahahahaaaa!!! I SHOULD HAVE BROUGHT ALL THE CABLES.
I also should have acted on the instinct I had around 2 hours before we went on and had the Chewb guys launch a test broadcast, just to make sure we could get a signal through to Chew.tv.
But ultimately, everything that could go wrong, did go wrong.
I couldn't connect using any of my controllers, nor could I run my laptop as a sound source using the club's CDJs as controllers, so I had to DJ my set completely off of my laptop, which is incredibly embarrassing and marks one as a total amateur in the business. Ah well.
Despite that, I started my set on time and mixed it as smoothly as I could just using the damn trackpad on my MacBook (which is how I test transitions whenever I'm on the go and I have time to put songs together - it's not remotely ideal and takes a lot of work, and it means plodding and predictable patterns of Take The Bass Out of Track A for one bar and then Bring the Bass In on Track B for one bar. All that being said, the actual humans present in Luminaa (all five of them) remarked on how well I was easing the transitions despite not having controllers with which to work. Yay for small victories.
And while the CDJs and mixer were getting set up, the club staff realized they were one USB cable short of a complete set of connections for the rig. I sacrificed one of my USB cables to the cause. It's still there. I should have trusted my instinct to bring All the Cables.
And of course The Chewb directors could not get a broadcast signal through to Chew.tv until after the end of my set.
Finally, when White-Label Will was due to transition from my last track into his first one, he hit some button that simply caused my audio to cut out. In the middle of a phrase, not even at a good point in the record. We froze and panicked for half a second, Will goggled at me apologetically, and I said, "Dude, just up your gain and go. It's all good. I'm done anyway. Go go go!"
I tore down as quickly as I could and got out of the crowded booth, avoiding the glances of disdain from the club staff. As I tore down, I reviewed my track record for performances overseas quietly in my head:
- First I bombed at Muncaster, but then also sort of succeeded wildly, and got an open invitation to return at my pleasure.
- I *owned* at MoFoHiFi in London and didn't trainwreck or redline even once.
I decided it's fine that I completely failed at this set. I had done everything I reasonably could have done in the time that I had to try to succeed. And only like 10 people heard it, and 7 of those people love me unconditionally because I basically started their radio station for them.
Then Matt a/k/a KleenKutz was having a hell of a time getting a signal through to FaceBook Live, so I offered my laptop and external laptop battery (I didn't lug my massive voltage converter out to the club; I just brought a backup external battery in the odd off-chance that I would need it, but since my set had been only 22 minutes long to begin with, I wouldn't have even needed that), and on my laptop Matt was eventually able to get all of the simulcasts going.
One thing no one appears to have ever done, though, was check the audio volume going into the encoder for the broadcast - because absolutely everyone else redlined their entire set with tons of distortion. So the entire night's recordings are fuzzed out and clipped and awful.
All of the best parts of the ADE experience for me began once my ordeal was done and I was back outside in Luminaa's terrace seating, in the little enclave of sofas and tables we'd staked out as the Chewb Crew's hangout for the duration. I briefly entertained the thought of just leaving, going back to the hotel and having a good cry over months of wasted effort; I'm glad I got over that quickly.
As soon as I came out and started jawing with Chewb people, Italian funky-house producer Gary Caos quietly came over and introduced himself to me - how great it was to finally meet him in real life! Gary was responsible for introducing me to the regrettably-named DJ Fanny, who lives with ALS, is paraplegic, and makes music via eye-controlled software. Gary was sweet and I look forward to playing more of his work!
The Squidlettes did all my networking for me the rest of the evening - producers I've played on the show saw me a mile away and came over to thank me for supporting their work, then introduced me to other producers whose work they think would sound great with what I play.
Other producers just came up saying, "I so don't want to bother you, but your hair is completely awesome." And conversation would proceed naturally from there, invariably arriving at them saying, "Hey, what genres do you play? I have this EP I just finished, and it doesn't really fit into a definable genre..." and as they tried to explain what their special sound was in terms of rigid industry boxes, my heart broke for them over and over again; I could tell that each of them had bounced off of one or more of the Big Labels or Big Brands when they couldn't pitch their tunes as being strictly "future house" or "deep house" or "minimal techno."
Once each producer began over-explaining their sounds, I just pulled out my headphones and said, "Let me hear!" and I joined the thousands of DJs standing around various pleins in Amsterdam with headphones on, nodding along to new tunes, and for brief moments, I felt like I was at ADE to do the ADE thing, and I was doing it, and it was good. With each one, I heard promise for future Phoole & the Gang shows, and we exchanged cards and made plans for file handoffs online.
I made some new music friends, and I may have recruited some teams of DJs from interesting parts of the world to join the Chewb crew. It was fun and nice!
It was also so comforting to "meet" the handful of Ideal and Chewb supporters who came along to Luminaa for the party - Mark "Boo" Adams surprised me by being an incredibly calm and funny native guide. He grew up in Newcastle but has lived in the Netherlands for 17 years or so, so when the Brits-who-didn't-travel-well grew irritated with Dutch customer service, Mark was a cool-headed intermediary who could empathize with both cultures. Danielle a/k/a D-Tention and Axel Doorman (who used to be a romantic couple and an artist team) were both there as well, and it was great to spend time with all of them. Mark and D-Tention are quite the firebrands on social media - Mark often posts stuff that is intensely reactionary, and Danielle can just be very out-there and crazy, but in person, everyone was really just lovely, and as I chatted away for hours with Mark, I wondered if perhaps part of his military past feeds into his hateful online persona, and I experienced various ethical quandaries about how our virtual lives diverge from our meat-selves.
I also returned to FEBO, with Axel - he came with me and explained what the local foods contained, and I got a rundvleeskroket and a kaassoufflé. Both were totally delicious, and I'm glad I gave FEBO a second chance after being shocked by how much FEBO has changed in 20 years.
Through all of it, I made a lot of people laugh, I made a lot of people smile, I helped a lot of producers feel like their music has value even though it can't be conveniently pigeonholed in massive industry categories, I had fascinating conversations about language and culture, and I learned an important lesson, which is ALWAYS WEAR RIDICULOUS STUFF ON YOUR HEAD, because it will just make your day better.
When Sonny Wharton finally hit the decks at the end of our party, he was electric - he's hyperkinetic and megawatt-powered, and it was powerfully energizing to watch him play. His entourage was huge, young, male and hostile, so there would be no approaching Mr. Wharton to express admiration or gratitude or get a photo - and even that was fascinating, to see how someone in the Underground, where social hierarchy is not supposed to matter, is utterly consumed and surrounded by social dominance games, whether he endorses those games or not. It's pervasive. If you're big, you're SHOW-BIZ BIG, regardless of at what level of actual economic reward you're operating. It seems very stressful to me, to have to sort of be responsible for fulfilling the social-status-jockeying dreams of so many if you enjoy any ounce of success.
Finally, as the Chewb crew resolved to slouch off across to another venue for curries, I thought it the right time to excuse myself to catch the last trams back to the hotel and crash out. I knew the parties would go on all night - and I knew I was at my limit for socializing for the night and needed to recharge.
And that was Thursday!
On Friday I Phooled up again, thinking I'd head back to the conference and network some more. But most of the Chewb people had already headed to the airport that morning to go back home, and the weather was dreadfully cold and windy and rainy. I tried to get into some of the programmed events - but they were all jammed full with lines down the street outside. I went back to the hotel, took a hot shower, got warm and dry, and finally explored the neighborhood around my hotel. Found a fantastic sushi place one block away, and a great supermarket next door, and laid in provisions for a cozy night in to regroup for the weekend's travels.
On Saturday I went to historic Doesburg to visit a dog named Django!
Django de Bruijn has a human assistant named Erik Kiel, a/k/a 'PinkBass,' with whom I've been friends since 2010. From Erik, during our visit on Saturday, I learned that we both discovered The Young Punx back in 2006 because Fatboy Slim included Laurent Konrad's remix of 'Young and Beautiful' from TYP's first album YOUR MUSIC IS KILLING ME in his BONDI BEACH NEW YEARS EVE 2006 live set album. We both followed the same path down the same rabbit hole: we got intrigued by the song, we looked for the original version, we flipped completely out over not just the original version but the entire album, we wanted to know more about these Young Punx, and we eventually stumbled on The Young Punx FM Podcast in 2010 (first mention of Phoole in a TYP podcast: Episode 30, at about 30 minutes in), instantly becoming huge fans and interacting with the podcast - and eventually one another - regularly on Twitter. When Ideal Clubworld came into existence in 2011, The Young Punx were a part of their first lineup, and Erik and I were part of one of the first chatrooms on Ideal.
Those were heady times.
I was trapped in a freaky culture conundrum: house music originated where I originated, just 90 miles south of Milwaukee, but hardly anyone I knew listened to it. I had no one to freak out with about it. I dragooned people near me as best I could, but I hadn't learned effective dragoonery yet. Some near me came along quite willingly and are part of the Phoole Patreon Platoon today.
Now I was sparking synapses across continents. I suddenly developed friendship after friendship across oceans and around the world, all called together by music and a fascination with these raucous, violently-talented, genre-disregarding hooligans in London Bridge, England who reacted to tune elements with whoops and cheers and sudden explosions of improvised comedy.
Erik shone amongst my new European music pals, because he himself is a musician and artist, so we would have bonus-level freakouts over certain things happening in certain songs that blew our minds, and we found in each other joyful music nerd comfort in great degrees. The fact that Erik logged into the chatroom as the anthropomorphization of his dog Django made it all sillier and more wonderful.
So I was delighted to finally be able to meet up with Erik in person and finally, finally give scritches to the wonder that is Django de Bruijn.
To get to Doesburg, you have to take a series of trains from Amsterdam Centraal Station, and I was quite proud of myself for taking the right trains in the correct directions. You change at Arnhem to go to a town called Dieren. In Dutch, the noun 'dieren' means 'animals' in English, so if you use the Dutch national train travel mobile application and have it set to English, and your friend is telling you to go to Dieren, your app will tell you that there's no stop called that, but there is one called Animals. It is a fun puzzle that you feel clever for working out.
At Dieren there is a funny little shuttle, operated by the public transit system, just a little tiny bus, that takes you to downtown Doesburg.
I didn't take a lot of photos on this trip - time was extremely compressed, and I didn't want to miss seeing things or having good conversation. But a Google image search gets you what you need to know about this adorable, silent little hamlet nestled in the eastern Netherlands.
Django is the cutest, most muscular little puppers! He is very serious when he's on duty, which is whenever he is out for a walk. Erik calls it 'patrol.' Django very seriously and dutifully patrols Doesburg, and he knows every house that has a cat in it, because a cat once gave him quite a scratch on his nose, and now he is not all that fond of cats. So when we pass a house that houses a cat, Django goes on high alert, ears up, ready for action. Erik calls himself Django's human assistant.
Erik told me about his former wife, Annemiek, with whom he is still very good friends, and about Django's adoption - Annemiek had just been diagnosed with very serious cancer, and her prognosis had not been bright. She and Erik found Django at a shelter - and Django's prognosis did not seem bright either. He had been starved and seemed not at all healthy. But they fell in love with each other right away, Django came to live with them - and Erik says that Django and Annemiek saved each other's lives. Every day they both found more strength and more health, until they both surprised their respective doctors. Annemiek has finished chemo and radiation and is in full remission; Django is a little powerhouse on patrol. Erik and Annemiek share in taking care of Django, so Django enjoys two very loving households and two devoted human assistants.
Angus Young of AC/DC lives in Doesburg! He and his wife have a house there - his wife is from Doesburg originally. There are many 80s cover bands in the area, and all of them have a lot of AC/DC tunes in their playlists, because one never knows when Angus will turn up...and sit in! Erik told me many amusing tales of local people meeting Angus and not realizing who he was until it was too late.
We enjoyed fast-paced walks through every street in little Doesburg, because Django was on patrol and it was our job to keep up with him. Running through Doesburg is a wide dike, in many places covered in park land, and Erik pointed out the places where, throughout the different seasons, flocks of sheep are brought into the town to both eat the grass on the dike and, through the weight of their grazing bodies, compact the earth of the dike to make it more structurally solid. I would like to see the sheep in Doesburg one day.
We had long conversations about music, art and Dutch culture - in most places in the Netherlands, it goes hard for you if you are an artist or musician, because these aren't really things that are considered to contribute to the common good; they're not real work, says the traditional cultural mindset. With so many great artists coming out of the Netherlands, it is hard to imagine how one fosters one's own creativity in the face of a cultural monolith that dictates that resources spent on art are a waste. Yet Erik performs in bands, builds his own basses, and paints incredible paintings. I'm glad people I know, love, and respect aren't beaten down by the vast forces opposing the making of things and the sharing of ideas everywhere in the world.
We dined at the Stadbiershuys de Waag in Doesburg, which began business in 1478 and has operated continuously as a pub ever since. A waag is a weighing-house, and as many occupations in the 15th century earned their pay in beer, here is where that payment was weighed and dispensed - the original scales of the weigh-house are still on display, suspended from the rafters inside the Waag. We enjoyed mustard-and-pepper soup and local traditional beer, and ordered too much food, and had conversations we wished we could continue on and on all night, about music and where it had led us in the world - Erik's had music adventures throughout the Southeastern US visiting the cradles of rock and roll and early country music, chasing guitars and meeting intense characters.
And like everything on this trip, it was all over too soon; I had to catch the last shuttle to the last array of trains to make it back to Amsterdam, so we had to part. I genuinely love Erik and Django and I eagerly await our next meeting. They are some of the good ones.
They are in the Tribe of Good.
I dream of making Phooletopia real - of getting all of us, even Django, all in the same place at the same time. My heart can't handle all the goodbyes happening so soon after all the I-can't-believe-I'm-finally-meeting-yous.
On Sunday I was due to finally meet the great and nefarious art-villain Han Hoogerbrugge (link NOT SAFE FOR WORK OR DELICATE SENSIBILITIES: http://hoogerbrugge.com/) - but he had to cancel at the last moment, unfortunately! The timing on all of it was difficult - he and his collaborators have just launched a new alcoholic beverage called Stookolie 010, and the product launch has been a great success, triggering meetings with potential new important backers and collaborative entities - and he kind of had to prioritize a meeting resulting from the product launch over our visit, which I completely and totally get. I'm definitely planning to return to the Netherlands, so we will have other opportunities to meet!
I tried to be a tourist in Rotterdam on Sunday, but the rain and wind and bracing cold had seemingly followed me from Amsterdam...so I made a circuit of the downtown, taking in some very cool architecture, and then made my way back to Amsterdam, to prepare for what shall henceforth in the Mythology of the Phooliverse be known as...MoFoHiFi Monday.
After the mental gymnastics of Figuring Out the Netherlands Again for four days, it was such a relief to land at Heathrow and make a beeline for the Express train to Paddington and then to Borough Market. Everything's in English! Yaaaaaaaaaaay! I know where everything is! I'm good at London! No bikes - but LOOK RIGHT. I can London well. I was off the plane and at my hotel in under 2 hours, no cabs, just tube and on foot. I was too early to check in, so I had lunch at the George Inn.
Then hotel check-in, and then Hal Ritson finished his daytime recording session and was ready to meet up with me. First I was to go to MoFoHiFi to meet him - then, when I was halfway there, he said nevermind, he'd meet me at my hotel, as he wanted to have coffee at the end of my street, so 2 minutes later I met him outside mine and we were off.
The following is excerpted from my journal, which I frantically typed on the plane home from the Netherlands on Wednesday, anxious to not let a detail slip into oblivion.
Done In in London: Recording Voiceover for The Tribe of Good
You must raise your hands to the other side
Salvation only lies in the eyes of a stranger
[lyric from 'Raise Your Head,' a song on the new album]
Hal Ritson is the best at what he does, and in some unexpected ways, he is better at what I do than I am.
Our afternoon started with me trying to keep up with him.
He’s a bit taller than I am and walks very fast. And I wasn’t going to ask him to slow down. So I walk-ran along beside him as best I could, and that would become a metaphor for the entire experience.
I ran-walked after him to the Borough Market for coffee, simultaneously exploding with unasked questions and fearing to speak lest I confirm my idiocy. I was extremely tense. My demons arrived front and center, full-force: need for approval, hero-worship, terror of failing to deserve time or attention.
“What do I even call you?” asked Hal.
“I go by A-E most often, actually.” He narrowed his eyes and gave it a try. It didn’t go well. Glottal stops in the middle of initials are troublesome. “Or Phoole,” I encouraged. "Either one. It’s fine; I respond to a lot of names.” To me, it was kind of amazing to even be asked.
I seized opportunity to commence interrogating Hal on blanks in his history, between university and his initial work, then between that work and his music career. I knew he’d been at the forefront of the dot-com boom, but for me there were mysteries between the end of that era and his recording industry supremacy.
At university he didn’t study music. He’d been interested in studying the application of technology to environmental conservation efforts, but he was decades ahead of his time - there wasn’t curriculum on that yet. He studied geography instead, at King’s College.
At the height of the dot-com boom, the firm he worked for - who helped create what we know as the internet today - got bought out over and over. For them, Hal had been the human who understood technology but also could communicate with other humans, a skill most of the industry utterly lacked and didn’t miss, much like today in many ways. One company bought them out, then another company bought that one, and so on and so on, until, predictably, everything collapsed. At the end, he and conscientious colleagues uncovered goings-on that felt substantially less than ethical. They reported the firm; it went under; they all lost their jobs, and after that came the dot-com bust.
Unemployed a while, he goofed around with electronic music - which, he explained, is the easiest music genre to push to fame. None of the rigors that face actual bands face electronic music producers - no one has to tour relentlessly to build an audience just to get their demo heard by a label, no one needs to have a van to justify being involved in the act, no one has to jump through very many hoops at all. Digital distribution means getting your music in front of a lot of the right kinds of people very quickly.
Some DJ played his tunes out; someone from Ministry of Sound happened to be there; Ministry of Sound offered him a thousand pounds to remix a tune. The rest is history.
Hal talked about his earliest collaboration, with the other original member of The Young Punx, Cameron Saunders (who appears to now be Paramount Pictures's Exec VP of Europe, the Middle East and Africa, of all things. His Twitter bio is amusingly modest). Hal’s instinct is to constantly vary elements in a tune - switch up the rhythm, modulate, vary tune sections, include a bridge, change something up at least every 8 bars. Cameron is a more minimal musician, preferring long sections of intense repetition. Hal talked about the neurological payoff of each different approach and admitted the value of a repetitive beat and structure for inducing ecstatic trance in listeners, and this made me think about more of his more recent offerings that have definitely tended toward deep house.
Then another sprint of me running to keep up with his long strides as we changed venues and moved from caffeine to alcohol - rum and coke for him, pinot grigio for me. As we waited for the pours, several things dawned on me at the same time:
Hal is gregarious when necessary but essentially an introvert. I get that - I can engage in high energy conversation, but it really takes it out of me unless the person I’m talking with is sparking my energy to go higher.
I wondered if my being anxious was making him more anxious. Probably. I couldn’t stop being anxious though. I could feel my heartbeat in my jaw.
We took a table and it was no longer my turn to ask questions. Suddenly I found myself answering pointed questions about important things in my life - mainly my wife.
Hal asked, “How are you doing with Tom being Tiffany, with suddenly having a wife?”
Knocked off guard for a second, I blinked and rambled a bit about how she’s doing well, some of her family’s not on board and a handful of acquaintances haven’t adapted, but there’s a lot of support and everyone’s being great about it, all the usual things.
“Not quite what I asked,” Hal interjected. “You constantly post supportive stuff about this huge change in your life - but you don’t express how it’s impacting you. How are you?”
I stared at him open-mouthed for a second.
He was quite right. I don’t talk about it. I stoke up endless momentum on an infinite number of hare-brained schemes so I don’t have to look directly at this situation, hoping no one will ask exactly this question.
And until this moment I’d gotten away with it.
I explained my own femaleness - I’m not a girly girl and I never have been. Femaleness has never been an asset in my life; it has always been a liability, and the coded requirements for being a girl have always been vast hurdles. I’ve never been pretty - and when faced with situations where it’s dictated that I need to conform with culturally-approved female beauty standards, I’d much rather create something entirely new to be - hence Jane the Phoole, and now just Phoole, who is clearly from a funky planet from outer space.
don’t just think I’m a pretty girl
walking around in this big bad world
[lyric from new album]
And then there are the politico-socio-economic disadvantages of being born with two X chromosomes, and on and on - dealing with working ten times as hard as dudes while earning just two-thirds of the money, dealing with aggression, dominance, harassment. I have always fucking hated it all, and you know I have - if there’s any one theme that goes back through all of my handwritten journals, it’s resenting having to concede battle after pointless, stupid battle without even fighting, simply because the genetic lottery awarded me a rack.
There ensued an intense discussion about gender identity, gender-binary labeling, and whether surgery is really a means to feeling more beautiful.
As the conversation crescendoed, I became increasingly aware that this was incredibly important and that I needed to pay very, very close attention. And I realized Hal was holding up a mirror for me. Hal was rendering the office of Fool to me, as a friend.
I swallowed tears back hard. We continued and I tried to avoid squirming visibly as the interrogation proceeded on the subject of beauty and whether it can truly be acquired.
Being female has never once been a positive for me - with everything I do, I would be able to do all of it more if I were a dude. I would be taken far more seriously in every one of my schemes if only I weren’t a girl. Add to this the fact that I’ve spent a lifetime feeling hideous and having this impression confirmed by a majority of other humans, apart from the ones who love me with such devotion that their desire for me to be happy and productive exceeds their honesty.
(Yes, there have been some people who have thought of me as actually beautiful. In a majority of those instances, I’m going to plead circumstance - a romantic place, a costume, a social feeling, something apart from me that made everything in that environment heightened and more attractive.)
So a lifetime of feeling hideous led me to overcome the beauty conundrum by building a series of absurd, laughable exoskeletons for which no beauty standards exist.
And beyond this, I’m endlessly expected to embrace contrived platitudes like “you’re beautiful inside and that’s what counts” and so forth ad nauseam.
I admitted to Hal that I encounter vast cognitive dissonance when one of the people who spends the most time telling me, “You’re beautiful just the way you are” now wants to surgically alter her appearance in order to appear more “feminine” and “beautiful.”
[lyric from The Young Punx 'Young & Beautiful']
I quoted ‘Young and Beautiful’ back to Hal, who instantly replied that the whole point of that song is that the idea of committing to alteration of one’s physical form just to chase the perfect fuck is absurd.
“What I want to know is this,” said Hal. “What is so dreadfully wrong with the idea of each person being the person they are, regardless of bodies? Why can’t a dude have a vagina? Why can’t a woman have a penis? Why do these labels constrict us so violently, when it’s the words that are the easiest things to change?”
I felt the ground leave my feet.
I told Hal a lot more than I ever expected to.
“This is important stuff. Have you said any of this to Tiffany?”
I sighed. I started in on the reasons I’ve stockpiled for not expressing any of this to the most important person in my life. For one thing, being raised Jewish means intellectual pursuit equals not the answering of questions, but the discovery of new questions - answering every question with more questions. It’s culturally ingrained. I’m much less comfortable with what appears to be a certainty than I am with loads of unanswered questions.
And also: I just second-guess myself constantly. I may not have enough data. I have all of my own data, and objective demographic data on femaleness in the modern world. But maybe I don’t have enough data to say to Tiffany, with certainty, that this is a terrible idea. Maybe I truly cannot understand how it feels to know one’s secondary sex characteristics assignments are faulty and incorrect on a binary level.
Hal rejoined, “But aren’t you the only person in all the world whose job it is to say these things if they concern you or worry you? Isn’t that what the Fool does? If not you, then who?”
He’s right, you know. He out-me’d me. He did the thing I’m supposed to do, to me. He reflected back to me truth that I had been deliberately avoiding.
I didn't know what I would do. As Hal said this to me, I realized how I’d just stayed in perpetual motion to avoid having to engage on the subject. Everyone else is happy and supportive and trying to understand. I fear extremely slow healing, scarring, and surgery that doesn’t yield an expected outcome, leading to worsening problems. These are all things Tiffany has confronted and has decided to risk in the hope that if it all works, she’ll feel like a real woman.
I don’t know what I will do. Maybe I will not do anything apart from continue to support. Maybe it is fine that I don't understand.
Hal offered, “It sounds like Milwaukee may not be the most progressive of environments possibly.” I concurred - I mentioned Milwaukee’s ranking as the number one most racially-segregated city in the country. I talked about the many little changes that have had to occur to protect us - we don’t hold hands in public; we don’t kiss in public. We could probably get away with it, but it would probably also make Tiffany very self-conscious that perhaps she is not “passing” as “cis-female,” which is a key priority for her. I realized that those little changes - no public affection, always being ready to prevent or end a physical attack - have been wearing on me much more than I allowed myself to realize.
We used to be a very cute couple. Maybe we still are - but when we are out socializing, at best, strangers read us as two female friends. I realized I used to feel a certain rush from walking into a public place on the arm of the cutest guy. I realized I derived pleasure from the questioning looks from more-slender, more-beautiful, more-symmetrical women: “How did SHE end up with HIM?”
So, yeah, that’s petty and very terrible of me. No one deserves to be objectified. And social-status-mongering is abhorrent to my nature, or so I thought.
Hal resumed. “Perhaps you should relocate to a coast, where cultures are more diverse and acceptant. Or even to another country. To a culture that celebrates people self-actualizing instead of conforming. Or out to the country, where no one is around and you needn’t give a fuck what anyone thinks.”
These are all things we’ve already considered and discussed, of course. The simple truth is that our home culture should catch the fuck up with the rest of the civilized world - but ‘should’ is meaningless hypothetical torment.
But Hal persisted. “This isn’t all about Tiffany. You need to emerge too. Your brand is coming together - but I think you know that you are more you when you're Phoole. Phoole is more you than you. What you need possibly is a life reboot, in a new place, where instead of the hair being something you put on on occasion, it’s a part of you.”
This isn’t the first time Hal’s said this to me. In previous correspondence, I’d been grilling him on his Japan jaunts, and he’d said Japan would be heaven to me - a place where I could assimilate fully as Phoole, all the time, and that would be me, and I could be real all the time. That was a moment in our chat history that had made me sit back suddenly, unable to comprehend why he had even spared any cognitive energy on the Phoole Identity.
Meanwhile, in the moment, we hadn’t even touched on the album or the evening’s recording. We hustled back to the studio, Hal striding along and me scurrying alongside like an eager Pekinese.
I recognized when we turned off the road into Sanctuary Street and then Vine Street. Arriving at MoFoHiFi is electrifying for me. It is a threshold that, once crossed, always means I am about to experience something terrifying and extraordinary.
The fish tank is gone from the studio - it’s empty and steered into a corner, rather than being the first thing that greets you. Hal accidentally killed the tank when leaving for a holiday weekend - he shut all power off, forgetting to leave power on to keep the tank’s pumps and mechanisms working. When he returned, the tank’s inhabitants had all perished - or so he thought. Two weeks later he discovered a hardy little crab scuttling about the tank in search of sustenance. He rescued the crab (named Colobus after the children’s show in the universe of The Mighty Boosh original radio show) and took it home to live in Hastings. No longer does coral fluoresce at MoFoHiFi Studios.
Hal took me across the studio lobby to meet the legend that is Wez Clarke, who was in his own studio, lit only by the recording desk. Wez reclined on the sofa, just thinking. “He does this a lot, just sits around,” said Hal. Wez agreed that this was true.
“Are you sure we’ve not met before?” Wez asked me with a kind smile as we shook hands. “I feel we’ve met.”
“Phoole here is very famous. Internet celebrity,” smiled Hal. Wez said yes, we were web-friends, that must be where he’d seen me. I demurred, maintaining I’m a micro-celebrity, nowhere near as famous as Wez Clarke of the Grammy Awards and Multi-Platinum Records.
Wez has an easy, goofy energy, extremely calm. He and Hal bantered about some mix Wez had been working on; then Wez glanced at me and smiled. “Sorry for this - we’re nerds.” Before I could protest, Hal laughed and exclaimed, “A-E here knows more about music than you and I put together. This conversation is just getting her warmed up.” I laughed with them - while internally crystallizing that casual compliment, wrapping it in linen canvas and excelsior, and storing it carefully away against the dark times.
I admit I had expected Wez to be a demigod, gracious, elevated, exuding control. I realized I’d only ever seen him on awards programs, where everyone is wearing uniforms that transmit that effect. He’s a very easygoing and quiet goofball in reality. Hal told me later that Wez doesn’t understand the physics or science of music - he mixes purely by intuition. He messes with variables until he gets a result that he loves, which in turn is a result that the world loves, and then the world presents him with multi-platinum records and Grammy Awards and a reputation as a maker of hits.
Hal took me back across the hall to his studio and started setting up the vocal booth, which used to be Michele Balduzzi’s (Phonat’s - who is now based in Los Angeles). The window in this room that admits a view to the lobby has a shattered pane - but the shattered pane is between two solid and unbroken layers of glass. How did it happen?
Hal related that when they’d first occupied that studio a decade ago, there had been a small spiderweb cracking of the inner pane of the three panes of glass, probably due to the weight of the building above settling. With Phonat using the studio, his intense bass frequencies had resonated through every surface, causing the cracking to expand bit by bit and piece by piece, with the shards gathering between the panes at the bottom of the window in great blue heaps. At one time, there had been a CD-case-sized hole in the center pane, so they’d glued an AC/DC CD case to the window inside the hole’s perimeter, as if the mere metal-ness of AC/DC had smashed a hole through. Now most of the center pane is grinding away into sand as it continues to degrade.
Hal busied himself with moving mic stands. “Now, you know what microphone you want to use?”
I looked around for the familiar EV RE-20, but Hal pointed to a pendulum mic hanging in the ready position.
“This mic is the one you want to use, because it was procured from the Abbey Road studios, and used to belong to a certain John Lennon.”
I went wide-eyed and stopped breathing for just a moment.
“That’s right. It cost me twelve thousand pounds, but I’ve more than made that back on it as clients are charged at least two thousand pounds just to have it used in their tune. Nope, you’re not using that one.”
And he produced the EV RE-20, and I sighed, relieved. Hal said, “You’re using this one, so it’s like you’re in the PhooleOut Shelter like always. Let’s set you up as much as possible like you’re at home.”
It dimly registered with me at that moment that I should have put on the full Phoole look - not for anyone else, just for me, so I felt more like Phoole and felt less afraid. Dimly. In hindsight I regret choosing to leave the hair in the hotel room.
It struck me that Hal was being considerate, and that I should record these moments indelibly and store them away against desperate hours.
I struggled with a folded music stand briefly - then Hal called me out to the control room to listen to a mix he’d just gotten back from Wez of one of the most joyful tunes off the new album, ‘Broken Toys.’ As he began playback, Hal said, “What you’ll notice is the drums are very loud. That’s mostly what Wez does. He makes the drums really loud.” I felt in this an easy haranguing camaraderie between the men, and wondered if Wez said similar things about Hal in Hal’s absence: “Hal just fucks with filters. That’s what Hal does mostly,” or something like that.
The mix was chest-thuddingly electrifying, of course. We flailed around the studio briefly.
The finished album is going to explode the universe. When the universe coagulates afterward, it will be a much better universe.
At the tune's end I turned to go back to continue getting set up. Hal asked, “A-E, do you play any instruments?” I confessed to having played piano for ten years but having given it up, that lapse being one of the biggest regrets of my entire life. Hal laughed. “It’s just that the way you were wrestling with that music stand, I was fairly certain you had never played a violin.” This was true. The instruments I grew up playing all had music stands built in.
We went over the song order, chatting about front-loading what the collaborators feel are the strongest tunes at the beginning of the collection; I wondered if the days of vinyl still impacted song order, since I have a fondness for most third and fourth tunes on albums from the era of vinyl albums. Not so much anymore, said Hal; balance is key, but front loading hits is vital too, as the age of Spotify is upon us and must be acknowledged. Listeners have to be captivated and kept by a diverse flow but not a jarring one. An avid compiler of songs, I found this discussion riveting, recalling that, in my little show, I have a good reputation for keeping people tuned in for my entire runtime with a song order that challenges but doesn’t run away.
Hal asked what I’d scripted - I’d created a list of catchphrases to access in extemporaneous flow, but not specific intros for each tune.
This was a problem.
I didn’t fully understand the assignment, and in hindsight, I wish I had created unique intros ahead of time for each tune.
I forgave myself, since I’d only had the tunes for a few days, didn’t necessarily have the most solid handle on the actual meaning of every single lyric (one of the demos did not yet have lyrics at all), and had been in a panic to accomplish both this task and not make an ass of myself at ADE.
As it turned out, my DJ set at ADE was a total and abject failure. If I now fucked this up, I would never forgive myself.
Hal quickly parsed out and looped a bed from parts of the first tune on the album, ‘Raise Your Head,’ and ordered a test. While he adjusted levels, I launched into a high-energy reading of everything I had written, all mushed into one onslaught.
At the end of that, Hal laughed, “Well, that seems to have covered every salient possible point.” At this point I realized I thought he’d be Frankensteining together very random things from me - but that that assumption had been entirely inaccurate, and here he was waiting for me to deliver more content, although he had enjoyed the energy and tone of the first barrage - he’d wanted a more laid-back easy flow, not a hyper Robin Williams fusilliade.
I tried to get out of my head and into the moment, and I failed to do so more spectacularly than I have ever failed to be spontaneous in my entire career.
Hal started guiding me through the addition of a phrase here and there and imagery to suggest the shaping of the sound - and I found myself giving performances that were just stilted, not at all real, not at all live.
Impostor syndrome engaged fully at this point, as I sensed Hal’s growing exhaustion (he’d had a full studio day before we met up) and what felt to me like disappointment in my delivery.
Hal played back some of what we’d done.
I heard myself breathing in the playback. The mic was so hot that it picked up the tiniest vibration. I unconsciously started breathing more shallowly, not realizing I was doing so until I got dizzy.
We went through every song and laid down intros for each one.
None of the performances I had delivered were ones I would not have immediately deleted myself if it had been up to me.
I felt terror settling in.
I had to remind myself to breathe.
Hal stopped playback, sighed, and slumped his shoulders. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes.
Then he turned to me. “Take off your glasses. Put your phone away. No scripts. You can do this. I know you can do this. Just be you, talking to the Phooligans. See them and talk to them. Hold them in your heart and go.”
I shook frustration out of my head, put everything away, breathed out fear, breathed in love, and followed directions.
Of course it fucking worked.
I flailed around the way I do on air. I let my voice zoom with its ridiculous dynamics and tone scale that often make people suspect I’m secretly a homeless crazy person. It was working. I was entering creative flow.
I pretended the PhooleOut Shelter camera was front, center and up, and played to the imaginary camera. I felt good. It sounded good. Hal approved takes and moved us along from tune to tune.
Hal kept encouraging me and we kept rolling. We went back to the first tune and I stumbled through recreating the words of the first takes with the feeling of the new ones.
We repeated and repeated and did take after take. I grinned when he said, “That was perfect. Let’s fix it. One more.”
He cajoled me to replay the material I play in my corporate shows - “You must know that shit by heart now, surely? Let’s do include. Next elevate. Come on, motivational speaker girl. Give me Machiavelli.”
Here I should mention that I’ve been an entertainer for close to 30 years - but I have not really had a director ever at any point in my career as a professional entertainer. My first director on a pro gig said, “Go be funny,” and then later said, “Be more like this other performer, but in your own way.” That director was a very busy director and didn’t have time to hold my hand.
The point is this: In that moment at the mic, I realized I was being functionally and helpfully directed by someone who excels at directing.
Hal was doing the thing - the thing that I had done for others for decades, the thing I had forgotten I so very badly wanted someone to do for me someday.
The album’s theme concept at the time was the Rise of the Tribe of Good - all of the intros were inciting the listener to have faith, have courage, believe in themselves, believe in one another, seek out one another, join together for hope, fight against fear and division and greed.
With Hal’s direction, these words got real, and I became aware that this is a very important album.
Even if the intros didn't make it into the final record, which it was possible they wouldn't, the message is important and vital and will change more than one life.
It was an honor just to be in that room, saying nothing of potentially adding my little voice to the movement.
Finally, after six hours, we had multiple solid takes for each introduction. He took some of the audio I’d laid down and started fucking with it, using effects that resonate in my heart as sounds that mean The Young Punx.
Hearing those effects on my voice made me straight-up cry.
(A tear rolls down my face as I recall the feeling, frantically typing all of this on the airplane home before my laptop battery dies.)
I will never experience that feeling again.
I am a different person now.
I cannot step in that river again.
I recalled a phrase from their first album and parroted it back to Hal - “You’re tuned into the heavy heavy sound of The Young Punx FM, where the mashed up beat just doesn’t stop.” Hal turned around and just looked at me.
“What the fuck was that?” he said, sincerely.
I goggled. “It’s from YOUR MUSIC IS KILLING ME. It’s the intro to ‘It Doesn’t Stop.’ You were the person saying it. It’s basically the phrase I associate with you on the most fundamental level.”
He shrugged. “Oh. I’ve never listened to the album. I don’t listen to my own music, you know,” as if that were something I would anticipate and expect.
I pointedly avoided telling him I rabidly re-watch all of my own shows, combing them for Things I Should Never Do Again or Moments Where I Am Actually Adorable.
I said, “You should listen to it. It’s a fucking good record.”
He pulled up the tune and played a little of it back. “Do me a favor, Phoole - give me that phrase again.”
I delivered it into the mic. He immediately played it back over a tune bed and annihilated the audio with Punx effects.
I couldn’t breathe.
I felt like actual magic was happening and disproving all science and I now had to reorganize my comprehension of the cosmos, all in one fraction of an instant. I put my hand over my open mouth. I wanted time to stop.
Hal looked over his shoulder at me as I wiped away a tear.
He grinned and twisted more dials.
I crept into the control room. Hal tried to explain effects processors - some hardware, some software plugins. I felt very slow and stupid as he nimbly explained what torments the wavelengths endured from each device. I wanted to take notes, or lie down, or start recording everything. (This YouTube simulates the experience: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BttX6MsZFqg)
I focused in as he said, “These are the next steps for you, you know. You have good microphones, and while many listeners may not know the difference, you know in your heart - you can FEEL that you’re getting a sound that is closer to what you want. You now need a good preamp and then you need a good hardware compressor. These are best you can get.” He pointed to components embedded in the console that to me may as well have been spaceship navigational implements. I tried to keep up.
Finally, he stopped and yawned hugely, slumping his shoulders. “We are stopping now. Tell me if you are hungry. I don’t think I’ve eaten…any meals today at all,” he trailed off, gazing into the middle distance. I admitted I could eat. It was already half past nine.
He began tear-down and shutdown. I reassembled my gear and caught my breath. “We’ll go to Shoreditch House. Does that sound fun? I’ve been a member there for ages, but I haven’t used my membership in quite some time, as I am so often out of town.” I agreed that it sounded fun, even though I had no idea what Shoreditch House was.
We fought with our coats exhaustedly and struggled up the stairs - and halfway up the staircase I replayed in my mind the last time I’d been going up those stairs, with the gentle giant Michele leading the way, shaking his head kindly as Hal roared drunkenly at me, “You’re too fucking smart!” I wondered if Hal remembered any of that ridiculous rum-soaked night. I remember every second of it.
We went out to the Borough High Street to hail a cab. More memories of my last MoFoHiFi jaunt resurfaced and I savored them. This time we both got in the cab, instead of just me.
Shoreditch House is a very exclusive club for luminary creatives across every medium - architects, interior designers, sculptors, painters, digital artists, musicians, journalists, writers, fashion designers.
Hal flashed his membership card at the slender desk attendants, both male, one wearing a soft angled cheetah-texture beret, neither of them afflicted with any measure of masculinity apart from a generic hipster vibe. They lazily waved us toward the elevator, which took us to the rooftop restaurant and pool.
I felt Hal’s tiredness. He’d been up much too early and had worked straight through - and despite my best efforts to not suck, I had taken a lot more of his energy than I would have ever wanted to, and I felt shame. Then I felt my own tiredness, stepped back from it, and settled in to the immediate.
Most of the staff were Italian, which I noted with glee. “Yes, well,” retorted Hal, “This is - or was until this year - a European capitol, so it’s not exceptional to find Europeans working here, though that may be a novelty to someone from the States.”
I smiled at this and accepted it as low-blood-sugar conversation, then chatted away to the waitress in Italian, which she either liked very much or was exceedingly good at pretending to like very much. She cheerfully complimented my Florentine dialect and asked when I’d been to Italy, and did I love it there, and where in Italy had I been, and we carried on a bit of conversation in Italian, which made me feel smart again.
Food arrived and the conversation turned. Hal’s seen BLADE RUNNER 2048 but won’t tell me his opinion of it until after I’ve seen it. The view from the roof of Shoreditch House is breathtaking - all of the London metropolis sparkles serenely below, and its neon accents makes it a bit Blade Runner itself.
My brain shutting down from overload, I struggled to recall questions I’d stockpiled over the years that I meant to ask Hal if I ever had the opportunity, and I recalled very few of them. I will write them down when I remember them.
Themes revolved back around to a life reboot for me, which Hal decided is needed. A new place, a different community, one where I can be Phoole full-time, because she’s more me than me. “I think you know,” he said, “that that is what is called for. The things you do best, you will be able to do more fully - and realize more economic benefit from them - if you are doing just those things, and not putting up with the time-and-energy drain of a day job, no matter how lucrative the non-cash compensation seems.”
I let myself imagine what that looks like - Tiffany being her truest self, whatever that is, whether it’s something we have already imagined or something yet to be fathomed, and me, Phooling it up on the regular, stomping around town in Squidlettes and shitkickers and having good times.
Hal expressed his concern that his reflections on my life may cause rows and rifts. I replied that Tiffany and I have never had a row. He said, “That’s not necessarily an indication that effective communication is occurring. You’ve said there’s a lot you haven’t confided in her.”
I felt the weight of that truth with shame - then took a breath and resolved to work out later how I would say what I need to say, or if it really needed to be said.
I thanked Hal profusely for a day of amazement beyond imagination. He reiterated that none of the audio may make it onto the record - and I said that’s fine; the process alone, seeing the real work, was immensely gratifying.
We talked about our cats - Hal knows about Tony and Angelo because I hardly cease prattling about them on the show; but I needed an update on Blondie and Roxy. Blondie is an affectionate, needy, family cat, demanding attention and cuddles at all times; Roxy has become a loner, patrolling her vast outdoor territory every day, traveling miles and miles, only reluctantly coming home at night. Recently Roxy came home displaying evidence of having gotten in some dreadful scrape - she was coated in several inches of thick mud, with a chunk missing from her tail. Hal is afraid she may have fallen into a quicksand, or fallen victim to human mischief possibly. She’s currently imprisoned at home in a cone collar while her tail mends.
We talked about faraway friends, and fantasy worlds, and the dawn of multiplayer video games, and nightclubbing and our individual aversions to club culture despite loving the music, and religion, and nihilism, and whether it is possible to be both fatalistic and cheerful (I contend that it is), and the implications of trans-humanism for the transgender surgery conundrum.
And then it was time to put me in a cab and send me back to my lodgings in the Borough High Street. I had so many more questions, but we were both empty of all energy except survival-mode home-navigational reserves.
Hal listed a few of the things that would happen when next I crossed the Atlantic - a tour of Young Punx photo shoot locations, a crash course in next-level hardware processors, interrogations on how Hal met everyone in the Punx universe. Hal asked when I’d be meeting Han Hoogerbrugge and Alex Steiman - and gave me small but discreet insights into meeting and interacting with each of the fascinating characters.
A cab rolled up, we hugged, we parted, and despite the day having been jammed with terror and joy, I hardly slept at all before having to drag myself back to Heathrow, Schiphol and Amsterdam for one more night.
The next morning I enjoyed breakfast with the one and only Paul Bates! What a chap he is.
Our meeting was all too brief but full of good cheer - he's endured a rough time of late, still mourning the loss of his sister and enduring a bad breakup. But his spirit is not deterred. He had an incredible experience at Glastonbury Festival this year, playing in fantastic lineups with brilliant favorite artists and making surprising connections with people who can make things happen - and at the next fest in 2018, he is developing an entire stage for Glasto, designing and building it and coordinating its lineups! Might need to look at a Glasto trip myself in 2019.
I miss the places, and the people, and what is to me the hugely-gratifying feeling of constant problem-solving that is travel itself. I loved making sense of the Netherlands all over again, after being away for two decades. I enjoyed sorting out all the different rail systems operating on the same tracks, navigating cultural changes and brands I'd never heard of before for all the necessities of daily life - and then dropping directly into London at maximum speed, as if I'd never left, knowing instantly how to London like a pro.
But of course it is always the people I miss the most. I feel most keenly the lack of everyone I hugged on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean.
Shortly after the events depicted above, Hal wrote and said The Tribe had been advised against doing the album as a radio-show format, but maybe they'd use the audio for something, someday. I knew this was a possible and likely outcome - I was disappointed, but I was grateful it all happened, even if there'd never really be proof of it happening. Meanwhile the Tribe would continue to look for the best label partnership.
Months passed. I heard whispers and rumors that a deal had been signed; I didn't want to bother Hal, but I saw mixes of tunes I didn't have popping up in Wax Worx's sets and my curiosity drove me to ask Sacha if she knew, She KNEW. But she thought it would be better for me to hear it from Hal. I summoned courage and patience and waited, hurtling along in daily momentum of always-too-many-projects, every-day.
Months passed - and Hal wrote again. Some of the audio would be used in an album-preview radio show on Data Transmission! I leapt into action, the way I do, checking out DT's "live" broadcast format (it's not; it broadcasts pre-recorded shows, but they debut on their stream in a programmed fashion, and then they're posted in their show archives after they initially broadcast), making a chatroom happen, publicizing the initial broadcast far and wide. I managed to rope a nice handful of initial listeners, all delightful people, and the featured players invited some people too, making for a chat filled with Phooligans and Phoole Music Heroes - exhilarating and just what one wants. The legendary Thomas Gandey a/k/a Cagedbaby, and Hal made the show, and Hal dipped into the chat and dropped terrifying hints but confirmed nothing - just let us know that very big labels were courting the project. More courage. More patience. Meanwhile, my voice is peppered all throughout that first preview mixshow, and that is hugely gratifying!
More months; more patience.
The first week of July is frequently a very depressed week for me.
[For a quarter of a century I worked in a show that opened that week, and the cosmology of my year orbited around that week - the following four months would be the show and its tear-down, then a brief month of recovery, then seven months would be the run-up to the following season, filled with performance development, research, clothing building, teaching, clothing commissions, audience development, community growth, relentless promotion, and myriad other complex projects all in support of launching the show again in the first week of July. When that show and its community shut me out (I noticed boys made 5 times what I made for no more than half of the work I did, and my subsequent price increase apparently made it impossible for the company to ever return my calls or messages), my year was thrown into chaos and disarray, and I had to unlearn a yearly cycle of anticipation and communal joy. Rejection is painful.]
But in 2018, the sadness of that week was obliterated when a message came through from Hal.
The Tribe of Good has been signed to Ultra Music / Sony Records. The album will be promoted and supported the way other Sony acts are promoted and supported. No longer will promo be DIY, mainly by me. There will be videos and wide distribution and Spotify heavy rotation and terrestrial airplay.
I am credited on the album because my voice is in one of the tunes. Specifically, my voice is in the first tune on the album, a joyful soul-vocals orchestral soaring funk overture, the first single released by Ultra for the act.
Hal asked me how I wanted to be credited. I said, "Phoole." Let's keep that brand streamlined.
I still haven't fully processed that this is happening - that I'm a credited member of the Tribe, on a record, being put out by Ultra. I called my Dad and told him. "Wow, honey! That's great! I've never been on a Sony record. Wow!"
If you're reading this, you've helped make this happen in some way.
This story has a moral, and it's very very true:
Only love matters.
I've written books on the subject, and my book MAKE IT WORTH IT goes into this subject in vast detail. You can buy it if you want to, but books don't generate wealth, and it's more important to me that you read the content than for me to make a dollar, so please read it here for free if you like.
But the point is - if I'd never Tweeted about The Young Punx, I'd have missed the thousands of friends I've made since in the electronic music world. Befriending Erik, and then all the Punx crew and fans, led to Ideal, which led me to a DJ residency I never dreamed I'd ever have anything to do with. I'd never have met many of you, or the amazing people you've introduced me to. And connecting with those people connected me to people I still cannot believe I have social access to, people who feel completely out of my league, out of my world - but here they are, in the Phooliverse.
It has to be done earnestly. It can't be done with calculation - the numbers do not matter; social status does not matter; coolness and power do not matter.
Only people matter.
Only connection to people matters. Only friendship matters.
Only love matters.