Deptford Northern Soul Club On The Survival Of The Underground

Deptford Northern Soul Club On The Survival Of The Underground

Striving to survive in the COVID era...

You read a lot things in the press like; “this has been a really difficult year for music” - but has it?

In our opinion it’s been a really hard year for the audience, that’s what’s been lacking. The closeness, the feeling of being part of something, being in a mass group of others all moving in time together, a place where one might forgo the sense of the individual and embrace the collective. The music never left, sadly it was just everyone else.  

This mass-exodus of the audience has been awful for the DJ and club scene in the UK, we went from playing sold out rooms two or three times a week to nothing, just like that. It’s a bit of an unpopular opinion but as a DJ “you're only as good as your audience”.

If the crowds are flat and not up for it then it impacts the way you mix and select records; live-streams just aren’t the same. If you are able to build a relationship with the dancing mass before you then it gives you the confidence to drop that record you have been nervously carrying around in your record bag with you for the past few weeks trying to figure out how to get it on the decks in a context that might take things to a higher precipice.  

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Our whole ethos as a label and club night is to find and play fast energetic soul music that makes you want to get up on the floor and dance. That in a sense has always been the ethos of Northern Soul; fast, black, American music. Music that you can dance to, music that makes you want to stay up all night and spend the next working week re-living the experience in your head. Northern Soul has never been interested in ballads, to put it bluntly; it’s all about the dancing. It’s proto-dance music. And when you take that away what do you really have left?

2020 has stripped us of dancing and the community surrounding our club nights. But what it has given us is time. This year we have worked to develop our output as a label (Deptford Northern Soul Club Records/DNSC.r). Before the first lockdown we’d only re-issued one double-sided seven-inch record; DNSCR001; Lester Tipton/Edward Hamilton. We have since expanded our catalogue of releases all the way to DNSCR012, boasting names such as Sonya Spence, Marvin Gaye, The Delreys Incorporated, Candi Staton, Lee Dorsey and Garnet Mimms to name a few…

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We were always shocked at the cost and poor quality of some of the records in the scene, not to be rude but it’s not uncommon to go to a night and for the dancefloor to empty when the DJ drops an old scratched seven-inch record, that may be the original but is practically unlistenable. Think of those imperfections amplified through a big sound system and it’s more like listening to Einsturzende Neubauten than Jackie Wilson. The scene needs to keep re-issuing records or it’d become a purely nostalgic gimmick driven entity. Yes, they are old songs, but they still define a movement in the UK that changed everything.  

One upside of the year has been Bandcamp’s rise in popularity. It’s a website that facilitates artists and labels to sell directly to the customer; Bandcamp have just reported that $40m globally went directly to either labels or artists over the nine Bandcamp Fridays in 2020. While we bemoan the lack of audience, it is so reassuring to be constantly reminded they’re still there and able to support us, albeit virtually. Bandcamp has found a way to create a community online. Long may it continue to grow and long may we continue to support it and the artists that use it.  

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Northern Soul was the music of an oppressed generation in America. We think it wouldn't be right to write about this music without acknowledging how this year underlined that we still have a big problem in America and Europe with burying our colonial past and letting overtly racist institutions prevail. We have marginalised and stigmatised swaths of the population for decades and this music is a document of that.  

The fact is, sadly, that in 2020 we are still fighting for equality. This year a big part of society became aware of the Black Lives Matter movement and accepted that there is a fundamental problem that needs to be addressed. This is something that can't be done on an individual level, no matter how woke you may or may not be it’s not going to change anything, collective action is needed.    

We’re excited for this year. Excited to safely return to clubs, excited to welcome back our regulars at Bunker Club in Deptford, Moth Club in Hackney and YES in Manchester and excited to continue digging through soul records to discover amazing songs that are worth releasing to the world.  

Keep The Faith. 

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Deptford Northern Soul Club's limited edition vinyl boxset is out now - order it HERE.

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