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People's Republic Of Disco
Independent On Sunday (March 2003)

“We believe that the people of this country are being oppressed,” announces a man calling himself Comrade Dubversion, “by capitalism, the sorry state of democracy and long DJ sets for the ‘shirts-off-up-for-it’ crowd. We want to see the end of the superclub, the end of the DJ workout, the end of bongo-laden nonsense. I believe with a Molotov cocktail in one hand and a Kylie single in the other, we can bring discocracy to this green and pleasant land.”

Saturday night in SW2 and revolution is in the air. Sitting outside The Windmill pub, a squat concrete shack a home-made incendiary device’s throw from the local prison and the house-music loving dance pubs on Brixton Hill, a modern day Citizen Smith is outlining his vision of a brave new dawn for London clubbing. Down with the tyranny of the guest list! Death to those who elevate themselves to the status of deities for knowing how to use a crossfader! Power, as it were, to the – what’s the word again? – people!

Like the plucky malcontents in “Passport To Pimlico” (another fine example of South-ish London’s glorious history of rebellion), Comrade Dubversion and a small band of like-minded compadres have decided to break away from the capital and form The People’s Republic Of Disco. Once a month (or thereabouts, you know, depending on other commitments), these musical freedom fighters gather at The Windmill to put discocracy into action.

Dubversion, with characteristic gung-ho bluster, says that they’re “snatching back the means of production from the bourgeois superstar DJ and his helipad and his swimming pool.” What he means by that is that The People’s Republic Of Disco is a regular club night where the set list is determined by the clientele. Each budding revolutionary brings along two records, which are handed into the Vinyl Cloakroom (run with military precision by Kylie-alike Comrade Fervour and Comrade Magenta Le Pan, who looks like she makes a nice cup of tea), and assigned a raffle ticket. The tickets are then drawn at random and the playlist writes itself.

The result is genial chaos. “’Jesus Christ Superstar’ followed by the Aphex Twin is something I swear that no other club in the country has ever done or will ever do again. And I’m not sure we’d ever risk it again either,” laughs Dubversion, also known as Lee Fisher, a former music biz PR who dropped out to take a philosophy degree. “Herp Alpert’s version of ‘Zorba The Greek’ has probably got the most people dancing. But I want to stress it’s not just a kitsch disco. We play quality too. The Clash. Elvis. Kylie ruled People’s Republic Of Disco with an iron fist, an iron arse possibly, for quite some time.”

Strange as it may seem, the People’s Republic Of Disco is part of a growing trend for DIY clubs in London. On Kingsland Road, an occasional night called All Records 99p features eight DJs playing music picked up that day in a charity shop for a budget of ten pounds. The emphasis in both cases is on turning away from the polished tedium of the superclubs and embracing slightly more freeform and ramshackle entertainment. “Our incompetence is our strength,” nods Dubversion. “As soon as we start knowing what we’re doing, we become one of them and the game’s off.”

Inside The Windmill, under a banner of Cher remodelled as Che Guevara, the flotsam and jetsam of Brixton appear to be enjoying the unpredictability of the evening without any visible archness. A jazz version of “Smells Like Teen Spirit” segues into a jump up ragga tune followed by rockabilly classic “Baby Please Don’t Go” and then The Black Crowes’ version of “Too Hot To Handle”. Bill from Borough – a first time seditionary drawn to the People’s Republic to celebrate a friend’s birthday – is impressed. “It’s the surprise factor,” he explains. “You never know what’s going to come next.”

The same could be said for the clientele. The crowd takes in a guy who appears to have modelled himself on Donald Sutherland in the “M*A*S*H” movie, a girl pioneering arm warmers, a bloke who’s clearly come straight from ushering at a wedding, and a woman paying tribute to the 25 year old Dolly Parton. There’s even a green mohawked postcard punk, who’s later introduced onstage as “the Noel Coward of punk rock piano” and proceeds to play self penned ditties such as “I’m In Love With Your Mum” with all the panache of Kevin Turvey.

The real litmus test for discocracy, though, are my own contributions, selected for these troubled times. “Ask” by The Smiths, with its “if it’s not love then it’s the bomb that will bring us together” line, fills the floor, but “Highway To Hell” by AC/DC (topical, no?) results in fists and pints aloft. “We won’t rest until the last Mixmag journalist is hung by the headphone cables of the last superstar DJ,” promises Dubversion. Vive le revolution!

Ian Watson
Music, film, comedy and travel journalist based in London

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