Moving towards the exit

 

When a veteran DJ like Francois Pittion hangs up his slipmats, it means theclub scene in Dublin is very unhealthy indeed, writes Shane Hegarty.

It's that moment. The lights come on in the DJ's mind and he realises that the party's over. That, like it or not, it's time to walk swiftly towards the exits. Into the daylight of reality.

And so here he is; the latest to step up to the exit door. Only this time, the DJ is Francois Pittion. And if Pittion is quitting DJing, it can only mean that one of them is in very bad health. Francois, it has to be said, is looking hale and hearty.

"The reasons I got into DJing in the first place - I loved the music, I loved the atmosphere - that's disappeared," he says.

"Age is also a bit of a factor as well. I'm 37 next January and I don't want to be known as the Peter Pan of Techno. I've had the most amazing journey over the past 16 years. It was really good fun, I thoroughly enjoyed myself and, hey, I'll miss it.

"But I'll still buy music. I'll still listen to music. It's not the end of the world."

It is, in a way, the end of an era. Francois, had seemed to come as standard when we bought into club culture in the first place. He started in the place where everybody claims they did: Sides.

He brought techno to the students through his early days in UCD. He was behind UFO and Alien; two of 1990s Dublin clubland's seminal venues. He carried techno through fashion's peaks and troughs. His name has been appearing on flyers since 1986. In the chronology of clubland, this is several lifetimes ago.

"Part of the problem, these days, is with the whole DJ hero-worship thing. It used to be about faceless geezers playing tracks, 90 per cent of which you wouldn't have heard before, but that's all gone.

"You have big names coming in for big fees and basically playing each other's records. I was actually toying with the idea of doing "tribute DJs". You could have the Clonmel Carl Cox. A guy who looks like Carl Cox, playing the latest Carl Cox-mix CD and you can guarantee that no one would know the difference."

Before this begins to sound like another 30-something bemoaning a scene that he has lost touch with, between dropping the kids off to swimming practice and clocking in at a normal job, Pittion is nowhere as bitter as the tirade suggests. He is quite sanguine about his retirement, because he has always felt "privileged" by being allowed to get away with it for so long.

"There are times when you are treated like a rock star, when all you are actually doing is playing other people's records. I mean, it's not rocket science," he admits.

Meanwhile, he still finds pockets around the country - he name-checks Cork and Waterford - where you can rediscover the atmosphere lost in Dublin.

It's just that he was proud to be one of those faceless geezers, even if in a small city like Dublin - and with a face that sometimes spoke of a few late nights - it was difficult to be anonymous.

He was not immune to being worshipped himself - anyone who watched him spend half an hour after a show signing autographs will attest to that. It used to be mix tapes that were thrust in his hands, though, and Alien was known for giving breaks to DJs.

"Gone are the days when you could just go up and give someone a demo, and find yourself with a gig from it. None of the major clubs gives DJs a chance to really do it any more. There are no open-deck slots. That's why the pubs are doing it now, because the DJs are saying, well, if the clubs won't give us a chance, then sod them, we'll do it in the pubs."

He's happy that - as the mantra goes - pubs are the new clubs. With the lack of medium-sized clubs, of choice and of opportunity for wannabe DJs, the pubs provide an outlet for an underground scene he says will always need one.

"It's probably the most exciting thing I've seen in a long time. There are open-deck nights in a few of them now, and they're playing different music. The problem is that the pubs close at 1.30 a.m., and what do you do then?"

Clubs are not the option they used to be, or as he puts it: "Paying €15-20 to get bad attitude, by bad bouncers, pay for expensive beer in a place where the toilets are a mess. And then get thrown out at three."

Besides, the DJ's lot is no longer a rhythmic one. "It's become rarer and rarer that you go out and buy a record and the instant you put it on you know it's going to be a hit. You'd be lucky to buy a record like that once every three months. There's no real innovation or inspiration."

Ubiquity has bored people. Ironically, it is increased accessibility to the equipment that has made it so bland.

"The music has become really formulaic. It used to be fresh, although it would be churlish for me to say that the drugs didn't help, because they did. Now, though, anybody can just bang out a track. I've seen guys do it in 15 or 20 minutes. It's got so generic, and it's just not developing any more."

And before the finger can be pointed at him, yes, he did try making music himself, but "I had far more fun playing drums extremely badly in a band called The Slime Hags than I did making records".

If money was the issue, Pittion would have given up a long time ago. He has not been a full-time DJ for several years, turning to computer network administration by day. If you're getting paid €250 to play support to a guy who's commanding €25,000 for his couple of hour's work, you learn to shake the chip off your shoulder.

"There are few DJs who can be full time in this country. It's just too small. Johnny Moy, Mark Kavanagh and Mr Spring, I suppose, and some of them wouldn't even make that much money. As well as that, Ireland's very small, very parochial and the amount of bitching that goes on is immense. Everybody trying to stab each other in the back. Ridiculous nonsense."

As someone who actually lived in Dublin, he never fell for the old chestnut of the city as Club Capital of Europe, but there were moments when the possibilities opened up.

For him, the recent Dublin Electronic Arts Festival hinted at how the city could have embraced a more European and ambitious club culture, if only the will had been in place. But, he says, the media have always been too interested in the more salacious aspects of the dance scene.

"DEAF was great. It showed that we can do this in Dublin, like they do in Berlin or wherever. But there was very little coverage in the media. I though that was a sad indictment."

He plays the Tivoli on New Year's Eve, and has a couple of other "contractual obligations" to fulfil. He hopes for an Alien reunion night as one last blow out, because, he says, "it's like The Beatles last concert. There are more people who say they were at the last Alien than were".

And then it's all over. He's hanging up the slipmats. "There's no point in going on the old revivalist tour forever."

The party's over, folks. Move towards the exits please.