Alice Meets… Spin Doctor
Prescribing aural remedies for the revellers of London’s nightlife is Spin Doctor’s speciality. Born and bred in London, Rod Gilmore, the self-described “staunch Londoner”, has been promoting parties in the capital since 2000 and running the hip-hop empire The Doctor’s Orders since launching in 2005.
From big-scale shows to intimate DJ sets, The Doctor’s Orders have put on events with music legends such as EPMD, ?uestlove, Erykah Badu, Jazzy Jeff, Fatlip, and many others, rightly deserving their tag as the “kings of the capital’s hip-hop scene.” Hosting several regular nights, including On The Real at East Village, Soul Brew at The Queen of Hoxton, and Sub Soul at The Social, Spin Doctor along with residents Chris P Cuts, Mr Thing, Jazzie B, and MC Prankster never leave Londoners without an option. With an emphasis on having fun, The Doctor’s Orders encourage and enable party-goers to “let loose” and get down at their signature hip-hop jams.
As well as enjoying and helping others to appreciate the culture in true style, the crew also give back and have supported hip-hop in any way they can through the success of their parties. Working closely with the J Dilla Foundation on the consistently sold-out ‘J Dilla Changed My Life’ events, as well as on fundraisers for King Robbo and in wake of the London Riots last summer, all of this places them in the greater scheme. Hip-hop is more than beats and good times and, as The Doctors Orders shows, consciousness and partying need not be at complete odds from one another.
This weekend sees not only an epic party on Friday at East Village to mark The Doctor’s Orders 7th year, but, for Spin’s very own birthday there will once again be a glorious all-day BBQ knees-up this Sunday at Cargo in East London.
So, we chat to the man in question about what he knows and does best: London, hip-hop, and parties…
How would you describe the London party scene?
The London party scene is The Doctors Orders as far as I’m concerned [laughs]. So, we put on different club nights and concerts with the onus being on partying rather than ‘styling and profiling’. We encourage people to let their hair down and let loose.
What would you say the best and worst parts of London are in that sense?
The good thing is that there are a load of genuine, real music fans that want to go out, party and have a good time. They are out for the right reasons in my mind, not that there are the wrong reasons to go out, but are out to have a good time and not to be seen in the right places, wearing the right things. There is a crossover of course: hipster kids who still go out and get wild. But, there are too many places in London that are too hipster, chi-chi, or too showy, where people are not genuinely letting loose. They worry what people are going to think about them, and in my mind, you should just go out and have a good time and not worry about it. If it’s clear that you are having a really good time, then the only thing people can feel about you is jealousy – like: ‘I wish I was having that much fun!’
How do you think London compares with other cities that you have played in?
London’s really spoilt for good music. There are so many parties, so many nightclubs, and so many good DJs. I think DJs in London are all generally quite educated, there are a lot of DJs playing really good music as oppose to a couple of DJs playing good music and lots playing cheesy house. So it can be harder to win over London crowds to an extent, as it takes more for them to be impressed and shook out. Whereas you go to other cities and often they’re so grateful that someone is there playing decent music that they really go for it. And that can be wherever – from big cities to small towns. I think that is one of the main differences. At the same time, London crowds are really educated and very open-minded compared to some places I’ve played where they just want to hear hip-hop. I get billed as a hip-hop DJ playing hip-hop, and if I veer off that path and start playing funk breaks or a bit of disco in clubs then people will be like ‘what’s going on? Where’s the Wu Tang??’ Whereas in London you have more license to veer off of that straight hip hop path.
How have you seen the scene change since you’ve been on it? Or has been quite consistent?
I’ve seen it change loads. When I first started going out to hip-hop clubs it was moody and aggy, not always but there was that element to it, very few women were out clubbing at hip hop jams. Scratch came about and changed that for me though, and Funkin Pussy was a real influence on me too – I used to go there all the time. Funkin Pussy was more of a straight party and Scratch had the guests that I wanted to see.
Where was that?
Scratch was originally at the Cross Bar, which is now Big Chill House, and then they moved into The Scala. There was no-one bringing over the US DJs that I wanted to see for a while. Hip-hop became part of other clubs, so there were loads of RnB and hip-hop clubs, and Ninja Tune has always been big so you could go to Solid Steel and they would play hip-hop, but it wasn’t an actual hip hop party.
Then I started playing tunes and getting bookings and decided that I wanted to try and make real hip-hop parties with the types of guests that they had at Scratch, combined with the straight party atmosphere there was at Funkin Pussy. At the time there wasn’t really anyone putting on those acts per se, and I think there’s been a slight blossoming in the hip hop party scene – there’s certainly more of them, but we’re obviously still the best. [laughs]
How did the name The Doctors Orders come about?
I was already playing under the name Spin Doctor and promoting parties as part of SoulBrew. I started throwing another party that was originally called Indelible, which then became Indelible Marker. I got the opportunity to move to Herbal, which was one of the clubs I had really wanted to do events at, and the first date they gave me was in July seven years ago. It was around my birthday so I decided to rebrand it and start something new. Playing off of already being under the name Spin Doctor I decided to call it The Doctors Orders and everything just grew from there really.
In your career have you ever had a particular moment where you have stood back and thought ‘I love what I do’?
Loads, loads, loads of them. Pretty much every morning I wake up and think: ‘great – I get to work for myself and do something that I love’.
The first J Dilla tribute that we did at Cargo absolutely blew me away. There hadn’t been one in London before, but I was aware of the popularity of Dilla, and obviously I’m a huge fan myself, but I didn’t think it was going to go that crazy. It was one in one out after an hour, the place was full to capacity and people were queuing down the street…
The BBE parties always stand out to me too – having Jazzy Jeff open one of them, and Premo and Marley Marl played at one of them together on the same stage.
It can be the really big things of filling venues, having huge parties, to the really little things of having someone say ‘I met my girlfriend, who’s now my wife, at one of your parties and we’re going to have a kid’. Knowing that we played a part in peoples’ greater life, and hopefully the future of the scene, is really important to me. That is very heart-warming, and there have been a lot of things like that. Then just making great friends, whether it’s other artists that I’ve had the pleasure of working with, or people I’ve met through the parties. There are a lot of real benefits that I’m very grateful for.
You mentioned earlier a blossoming of the party scene – and it seems to me that hip-hop and rap are in the media more and more than it ever seemed they used to be…
Hip-hop is mainstream culture nowadays.
Do you think that has a good effect? Or can it water things down for the nightlife and music scene?
I think it can only be a good thing really. I used to very much not want the groups I was listening to get into the charts because I thought that it was all about being underground and keeping it real. All this idea of people selling out. Now I figure if somebody can make it into the charts then that’s great – it means that they are getting paid and I’m all for it. Whether it is UK acts like Dizzee or Foreign Beggars, or indie hip-hop artists from the States, you see them getting some real success and it’s a great thing.
There are problems with it becoming more main-stream though, because I think that there are people who do not really understand the culture and do use it solely for financial gain. Hip-hop is so influential now, just look at the logos of big businesses and you see that they have graffiti elements. The other flipside of it being more in mainstream consciousness as well is that there is a lot of finger pointing.
Some try to say that if people were not listening to rap music then there would not be violence, but there has always been violence. Maybe watching violent films and listening to gangster rap does not help, but then maybe listening to classical music would not make any difference either. It’s not like there are root causes to these things. You cannot just point at what music people listen to, that makes no sense whatsoever.
But, if it means that Dilla’s family are getting paid because his beats are being used in adverts on T.V. and all that then great – I’m all for it. I think the pros outweigh the cons in those situations.
Do you have a favourite hip-hop artist or group?
I’m a huge Tribe Called Quest fan; they’re my favourite group of all time. ATCQ are up there with artists like The Beatles and Led Zeppelin for me; one of the genuine greats of the game. Midnight Marauders is my favourite album of all time.
Which song on the album is your favourite?
All of it is slamming. But, if I did have to choose…probably “Electric Relaxation”.
When you DJ do you have a particular favourite song that you love to play? Your ultimate party jam?
Wow. Not really, as different crowds react to different tunes. Certain jams you are likely to hear me play, like “The Light” by Common and “Electric Relaxation”. I go through stages: I rediscover certain tunes, I get really into a particular sound, or a new jam comes out that’s killing it. Whatever it might be I don’t think that I have a signature tune per se. Although some people might argue that I do enjoy seeing peoples’ reactions when you play what you’re not necessarily expected to be playing. The joy of hip-hop is that it samples from everywhere so I’m quite happy to throw other stuff into the mix again. I quite like it when you have thugged out kids in the club dancing and suddenly they’re like: “shit, I’m dancing to a Paul Simon record and it’s too late to stop!” I’m like: “aha – I got you!” [laughs]
Do you feel like you can sort of educate crowds in that way?
Yeah. Especially as London has a really educated crowd who are quite open-minded. I think that’s becoming more and more the case with what I call the ‘iPod shuffle generation’, who are used to having an iPod with all different genres of music on. They are quite happy to skip from one to the other – one minute listening to Tupac, the next minute to the Kaiser Chiefs, or one minute The Chemical Brothers then to Led Zeppelin.
People go crazy for mash up these days.
When I was a kid I left my house with my Walkman and one, maybe two tapes, and that was all I could listen to all day. I would listen to that same tape all day and that was me done. Now you walk around with an iPod and however many albums or mix-tapes on it. People are more open-minded, and I think that’s partly why, because you’re exposed to more different types of music than you were before.
It used to be very much that your identity was your genre of music. You were a metal head, you were a hip-hopper, you were a Goth, or you were a raver. You very much identified yourself with and through the music that you listened to. Whereas now, and this is part of hip-hop culture becoming mainstream culture, you see kids wearing baggies and baseball caps and baggy t-shirts – and they might be listening to metal, hip-hop, dubstep, or drum and bass. You just don’t know because the look is very similar, and they might listen to all of it.
I think that things have become more homogenous in a way, less ‘this is me and this is what I do’, which I think is great. I’m a hip-hop DJ and run hip-hop parties, but as you well know in the office I’m listening to the Beach Boys to Joni Mitchell – funk, jazz, reggae, rock – you name it. If you pigeonhole yourself to one genre of music and only listen to that all day every day then you’re going to go mad.
You miss out on the best of genres…
You either are mad or you’re going to go mad. What was the starting point of this rant?
No one definitive thing, but the beauty of that is that you can play more because people are more open…
Oh do I have one signature tune? So, no. That’s the short version of that answer.[laughs] I don’t think I do anyway. The other thing is you never know what other DJs are going to play, so you might turn up like…
Has that ever happened where you’ve had an idea of what you are going to play, but then somebody beats you to it?
Oh all the time. Especially as there are some of us that play together who play some of the same tunes – and so you have to be on point and be there on time to hear what the others play, otherwise you are going to end up playing a bunch of the same records.
Is it a big faux pas to repeat records?
It’s funny because it really used to be that if a record was big, you would just play it and play it and play it. If it was the big tune of the minute, you could hear it five, even ten, times a night. Sometimes back to back! They would play it and then just play it again straight from the beginning, but that’s quite rare now. It really used to be the case that people would bug out.
I remember when I used the watch music video channels all day it always used to be the same stuff.
It still is!
Oh – maybe that’s just me not watching them anymore…
Exactly. A pal of mine constantly had MTV playing in the background and he invented this drinking game where every time Busta Rhymes or Sean Paul came on or spat a verse you had to start drinking. I can’t remember the year but there was one point just after Sean Paul really blew up that he was the guest on every f**king record and Busta was a guest on loads of Neptunes beats and RnB records. It suddenly made you realise how much these guys were around – an hour in and you were annihilated because of Sean Paul and Busta Rhymes.
I’d like to think that I have more of a signature sound than a signature tune perhaps. I think a lot of the music I play is quite soulful – good time, party music. We’re not about making it too aggy. When I started going to hip-hop clubs they were very male dominated, dudes stood around with hoods up looking quite angry and intimidating. So, we wanted to make hip-hop parties that are welcoming to everyone, boys and girls included.
I know a lot of guys who are big hip-hop heads, but wouldn’t go to a lot of the hip-hop gigs that I wouldn’t think twice about going to, because I think they have this image of the vibe not being relaxed.
It’s quite a difficult message to get across sometimes. I always refer to the events as being parties to try to plant that seed in people’s minds. Then with the branding and the cartoons, we always try to make the look and feel of it fun and bright and inviting. Rather than those glossy flyers you see with semi-naked women and Ferraris and all that – I can’t imagine anything worse.
It would be funny to do a Doctor’s Orders flyer in that style.
I don’t think you’re ever going to see it…[laughs]
For a joke!
People might not get it! So that’s the starting point: party, party, party – start and finish – accessible party music for the people.
Do you have a message for the people?
Erm…have a good time, all the time!