The everyday heroism of music journalism so often goes under-appreciated. I’m not saying we’re exactly the same as doctors, fire-fighters, lifeguards and ambulance crews, but we probably deserve the same level of respect, appreciation and essential worker housing benefits, and maybe an annual televised medal ceremony involving one of the minor royals. You see, when we’re not selflessly going to watch Interpol or listening to the Brits Critics’ Choice shortlist so that you don’t have to, for an un-liveable wage we nurture bands we adore, chopping down the more tawdry competition so that they might grow taller, helping the great undiscovered talents of our age turn their music into riches and adulation beyond their wildest dreams. And what do we ask in return? Just a seat at the first stadium show, to bask in the warm inner glow of having played however small a part. And drugs. Mostly drugs.
At times it feels like being George Ezra’s mum – you do a load of early introductory encouragement, then watch your young protégé balloon into a gargantuan success. Except George Ezra probably remembers his mum’s name, and doesn’t only speak to her when his managers say it’s okay. He likely hasn’t blacklisted her for making a throwaway joke about his album artwork. And she’s probably got a bit of the money. So it’s more like being George Ezra’s BIMM school vocal coach. Except even they probably got a raise.
The most I’ve ever felt like George Ezra’s mum was watching Club NME fly the nest. That thing really was my baby. When a friend of mine called Adrian heard I’d become a zeitgeist-guiding DJ (2003 translation: I’d learnt which buttons on CD mixers played ‘Last Nite’ straight after ‘Mr Brightside’) he immediately offered me a monthly residency in the second room at his Kill All Hippies club night at Fortress Studios in Angel. The room itself had the dimensions of a storage cupboard and the odour of a roadie’s arsecrack, but once I’d filled it with NME staff DJs and their nefarious suppliers, ego-fluffers and hangers on, it became the office’s unofficial clubland HQ and rocked so hard – crowds went wild, after-parties went on for days, and there always seemed to be something fascinating happening under the decks – that the editor spotted an opening. He took Club NME to KOKO, handed it over to promoters with an ounce of a clue of what they were doing and turned it into the biggest indie club in London. Then he did the same in pretty much every major town in the country. By the middle of the ‘00s, NME was one of the biggest club promoters in the UK and I, relegated to the odd guest slot on the decks in KOKO’s upper bar-cum-smoking corridor, once again sat back with that familiar sense of silent achievement and watched someone else make all the money.
High on ‘Bandages’ and Gary Libs sets, the night raged for years, but as the anti-indie backlash kicked in in the ‘10s like some sort of ‘disco sucks’ for Rihanna fans and KOKO’s bar prices rendered each and every staff member destitute in turn, Club NME evolved with more mainstream times and the NME itself lost contact. In recent years I’ve been invited back to play the main room at New Year’s Eve parties and watched rammed dancefloors actually crowd-surf to an hour of Fortress-era classics, but the announcement last week of Club NME returning to its more intimate roots at the Moth Club this Friday (August 16) feels like an errant child coming home after absconding to the Vegas superclubs for the summer in a necklace made of nitrous canisters and getting a tramp stamp.
The mass euphoria of a gigantic room is one thing, but there’s something far more inclusive about those sweaty backroom clubs. Something easier to own and belong to, a reassurance that it’s all for the love of the music and there’s no office somewhere stacked high with unmarked notes and a mafia enforcer tapping his watch. It’s the right time for Club NME to return too, with Idles, Fontaines D.C., Shame and Wolf Alice leading the latest guitar charge and Billie Eilish, The 1975 and Charli XCX fouling up the charts. I’ll be there of course, probably playing ‘Last Nite’ followed by ‘Mr Brightside’. Crowd-surf at your own risk.