“Last night a DJ saved my life!” So goes that perennial fave of sampling, shrieking away in several tracks tonight. Seems the once humble decknician can have a profound effect on your fashion sense, too. Shield your eyes, because people here are demonstrating their love for [a]Fatboy Slim[/a] by wearing the garment that once only he and Frank Skinner dared to flaunt: yeah, Hawaiian shirts are swirling kaleidoscopically in our midst.
This is too much. But then, both brilliantly and ridiculously, everything about this garishly inflated shindig is too much. On the huge screens there is acid house’s past: a herd of smiley faces innocently whizzing by. On the floor there is the future: the unadulterated vaudeville of a rotating boxing ring, a dickie bow-wearing compere hollering, “Are you ready, music faaaans?!” and two disc jockeys dressed as fighters, their respective national flags flying high.
As Armand Van Helden, aka the Manhattan Mauler, and Fatboy Slim, the Brighton Butcher, square up and prepare to spin, the former looks fetching, while the latter, inevitably, looks comical. Delayed because of the Brixton bombing, their Big Beat Boutique-promoted ‘Date With Destiny’ – their Blur Vs Oasis – has arrived. And, pausing to note this is no place for lightweights, we sincerely promise the pugilism-related punning stops now.
Later, both spinners will go head-to-head, but first they get an hour each to show what they’re made of. Van Helden goes first, eventually settling into the kind of house groove which suggests, large pay cheque aside, he’d rather be playing at a trendy little basement club. Enter [a]Fatboy Slim[/a], armed only with a bottle of wine and an endless supply of cigarettes, he offers a huge smorgasbord of unabashed populism, including The Kinks‘ ‘All Day And All Of The Night’ and a mischievous white label incorporating the Stones‘ ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’ and ‘The Rockafeller Skank’. You wonder if Don King is lurking in the wings, such is the advantage these tunes give Slim.
Cometh 1.30am, cometh the lightning-fast wrist action, hammy gesticulating and nonchalant brinkmanship of the head-to-head battle. With the video footage capturing every rifle through the record box and cross-fader move, it’s the DJ-as-superstar maxim driven just about as far as it will go – and to a place it quite possibly shouldn’t make a habit of going very often. One minute it’s Plastikman, Underworld and Mike Dunn‘s resplendent deep house wriggler, ‘God Made Me Phunky’; the next it’s Bob Marley, the Beastie Boys and Janet Jackson, who, whether she likes it or not, gets pitched up into the chipmunk zone. Squealing with excitement the crowd are in that zone, too. Fatboy is their winner and we’ll go with them on that one.
But what next for dance music? DJing on trampolines? In bobsleighs? As astronauts? Whether fun or farcical, novel or novelty schlock, there’ll be no stopping the showmanship now. Hawaiian shirts’ll be the least of it.