Hull born and raised Sean Johnston has played at some of London’s landmark clubs including The Promised Land, Sabre Sonic, Club UK, Final Frontier, Disco Bloodbath and was one of the founding residents at London Super Club Cable. But it was in Hull, where Sean discovered a muse for music back in the 80’s and embarked on a journey that sees him return to Hull this Friday, serving up ‘A Love From Outer Space’ – a concept club event alongside larger than life UK electronic music, Dj/Producer/Remixer Don, Andrew Weatherall for the Hull 2017 Where are We Now Festival…
Now then Sean, welcome back to the City of Culture. You return to your roots this Friday, can you tell us when are where it began for you in Hull?…
I was living in Park Grove (Princes Ave, Hull) and attending the Welly a lot. My favourite night was Sugar Shack – a night run by Ragna Gift (sister of Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals fame). The Resident Dj’s were Steve Cobby & Porky. When I first started going they were playing a lot of Northern and Mowtown. I had been a record collector since my early teens and had started playing parties and another night at the Welly called Cuckoo Land, but I really wanted to play at Sugar Shack because it was the night at the time so I was pestering her to let me play in the little room upstairs.
How much of an influence do the early years of collecting and playing a number of genres back then, reflect on track selection today?
It was fairly common for a Dj to play a wide range of music when I first started, in fact, it wasn’t really until about 93 when you started to get genre nights. There just wasn’t really enough house or techno to be able to play a whole nights worth. But this idea of playing a variety of music in something of a narrative arc really informed what we do with ‘A Love from Outer Space’.
How would you compare the pigeon holed-genre Dj approach to track selection in today’s Dj culture with how you approached sets back then?
It was a completely different beast, we are talking about before Discogs, it was really hard to get the knowledge in the first place and you could search for records for years. I had a notebook full of records that I was after. A lot of it was word of mouth, I went to Manchester to eastern bloc to buy records, my brother lived in Newcastle so I’d go up there and hear other Dj’s play and just ask folks what they were playing. It was proper detective work. Like I said you didn’t have a back catalogue of house or techno classics to fall back on, it was all much less spoonfed back then. So you pretty much made it up as you went along – which is exactly what we do with A Love from Outer Space’ now!
Tell us more about ‘A Love from Outta Space’, an event you co-pilot with Andrew Weatherall, how did the transition from Welly Club to running an event with one of the UK’s most decorated Dj/Producer and remixers.
I left Hull in the early summer of 88 (good timing), I’d got a job as a junior booking agent, booking tours for bands like The Shamen and Gary Clail. I didn’t think I’d stand much chance as a DJ in London, but gradually I started to pick up warm up gigs. I was really into the Balearic scene, as once again a wide range of music was being played. I’d gotten to know Jeff Barrett of Heavenly Records through work who introduced me to Andrew. We’d DJ’d together a few times but at that meeting, we clicked and kept in touch. By the mid 90’s we were both heavily into techno and I released some tracks on his Sabres of Paradise label. We ‘d just been in contact for years as mates, I’d go to a lot of his gigs and do my own gigs. Fast forward to about 2009, Andrew needed a lift to Brighton and I stepped in. By this point, I was into a much wider range of music again down to being a regular on Bill Brewster’s sadly defunct DJ history forum. I’d learned a lot about the roots of disco, house, techno Balearic and the Italian Cosmic / Afro scenes. I’d been making mix cd’s of slower music to play in the car and this got busted on the night of ou Brighton excursion. Andrew was excited about it as he had been having similar ideas. It harked back to the early days of both of our DJ’ing careers and the timing seemed right. So we started ‘A Love from Outer Space’ in the basement of a pub in North London, really small, like 100 people, and we planned to do it once a month and were quite surprised by how much it blew up. We did it at Electric Elephant in Croatia in the summer of 2011 and then the word really got out! Haven’t looked back since.
On the producing side, what are the stand-out pieces of work from yourself?
You recently posted up a promo mix titled ‘From Hull, Hell and Halifax’, you open with a vocal sample from The HouseMartins and dialogue from a Shipping forecast. Was this a nod to your former stomping ground?
Oh yeah, absolutely, it was a little sonic love letter to Hull, vintage Viking radio jingle, the Shipping Forecast, Philip Larkin, The Spiders from Mars, The House Martins, Filia Brazilia, Psychic TV, The Red Guitars, Everything but the girl, it’s all solid Hull. I used to hear my Grandad say it whenever I was off into Hull – (he was from West Yorkshire). I later learned that it’s from the Thieves Litany – From Hull Hell and Halifax – Good Lord preserve us. The punishments of Hull & Halifax were up there with Hell…Apparently.
Nice one! What do you make of Hull being the City of Culture? Many argue the fact that it’s always been a City of Culture, but the story has never been told in a positive and comprehensive approach, this is where we feel Hull 2017 are doing a good job, agree?
Thoroughly deserved and long overdue, it always has been a city of culture, but just very modest about it!
Finally, if you was to describe the sound ‘A Love from Outer Space’ using Hull slang, what would it be?
Larkin Out Gear!
You can catch Sean Johnston and Andrew Weatherall at Fruit this Friday night, where they take to the decks as part of the Neu Reekie: Where are We Now Festival Weekender. More info, lineups and tickets: https://goo.gl/v7fJ1X