Norman Jay MBE is a British DJ. He first came to prominence for his warehouse parties in the 1980s and later as a presenter on then-pirate radio station Kiss. The sone of Grenadian immigrants, Norman grew up in Notting Hill and now lives in South London.
DISORDER: What do you think of the warehouse party revival?
NORMAN JAY: I’m amazed and impressed. I knew elements of it would happen again. When the natural outlets are blocked or stifled, the Brit kids will find a way. You’ll never stop the party — legally or illegally.
Why are these events under- publicised?
It’s not so much to avoid the attention of the police, but to keep out the undesirables. When we did them, we weren’t thinking health and safety. It was about putting on a party in a fantastic space, not driven by financial motivations. If there was more than one floor I’d get friends to put on an exhibition, to be interactive before technology, or put on bands that were unsigned. It was a space to vent creativity.
What advice do you offer to the guys doing it today?
Never give up. You never know where the party is going to lead. If the state/government/ authorities don’t offer the facilities, then what are people supposed to do?
Was there a moment when you felt king of the zeitgeist?
June 1986. It was already building up a head of steam. Three thousand people turned up to a four-storey warehouse south of Southbank bridge, Londoners in the know. The whole area was derelict; it’s a fancy pizza place now. The South London Press [newspaper] called it an all-night drink and drugs party, and I got to understand how powerful and deceitful the press could be. I wondered if they were reporting the same event. But it turned a whole generation onto us. Even bad press can be a positive thing.
Did the Criminal Justice Bill kill it off?
Our outfit had seen that coming. We decided to retain control by voluntarily stopping the parties. Xmas Eve 1987 was the last one. I told the crowd, “Savour this, it’s the last one I’m going to do.”The next year was the second Summer of Love and the of rave found a way to monetise those events. Our aims had been quite altruistic. People brought their own drink, their own smoke. We never had security; our girlfriends were on the door.
What happened next?
The whole illegal party scene created opportunities to become legal. I was offered a job from Polygram to become an A&R man. And I was at Kiss, the pirate radio station, which three years later got a license. I found myself being a legal broadcaster.
Is it odd having an MBE after a decade of illegal activity?
I’ve no problem with it at all. The royal family has a history of anointing far worse people than me. For me it’s an acknowledgement, it adds an air of legitimacy. But I haven’t made any attempt to exploit it — I don’t go to garden parties.
What has changed since you started out?
Racism at London clubs – no blacks. Ours were the first events to be multicultural: blacks, whites, Asian, straight, gay... For a little while it was utopia. Now it’s less about race, more about the haves and have-nots; the have-nots have less. Without British club culture there wouldn’t be grime, jungle, acid jazz. America wouldn’t give it next generation promoters because it’s not as integrated. Here, everyone has a chance to contribute. Having played all over, London club culture is the envy of the world.
You’re a stylish guy, where do you shop?
Quite a lot of vintage. 60s mod, rude boy. Modfather in Camden is run by friends of mine.
What makes club culture so magical?
You find people that look like you, dress like you, have the same taste as you. People have a real need to be socially familiar, to know who they’re speaking to, who they’re dancing with, away from a screen, off a phone. It’s a rejection of digital socialising.
Anything you want to say to Disorder readers?
Continue being Disorderly! Question everything.