Even in lockdown – the beat goes on!

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Even in lockdown – the beat goes on!

Brigit Grant speaks to a trio of star DJs keeping the nation dancing by hitting the decks from home

Steve Altman and Judge Jules
Steve Altman and Judge Jules

Nothing beats thousands of young people dancing on a hot summer night for Judge Jules.

Synonymous with Ibiza club-land since the late 90s, former UCS pupil Julius O’Riordan has flown first class across the globe as the star attraction at clubs and festivals.

But for the past five weeks Jules, 53, has only walked to Hampstead Heath and is headlining in his own lounge.

Sure, it’s a far cry from entertaining 10,000 clubbers in San Antonio, but his live streams on Facebook, YouTube and Twitch are attracting up to 500,000 viewers and raising five-figure donations for the NHS.

As a former Kiss and Radio 1 host, Jules is a club legend, so his stats online are no surprise, but turning his Hampstead Garden Suburb home into a disco-lit booth is interesting for the neighbours.

“Only between 9pm to 10.30pm on Saturdays,” insists Jules. “I am respectful and I also think people in lockdown don’t want to party at 1am.”

Jules was 16 when he started DJing for his Jewish peers in north-west London and now sees their kids in the club crowd.

“Clubbing is a rite of passage, and I’m sad for those who will miss out this summer,” sighs Jules, who is also the world’s only entertainment artist and music lawyer.

Remarkably, he did 100 gigs last summer, while negotiating artist’s contracts, but he does have two law degrees.

“After getting my first at LSE,  I spent 20 years leading a rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle, commuting to Ibiza every weekend, then flying to Australia and America.”

Judge Jules’ lockdown song:  Unfinished Sympathy by Massive Attack

His exit strategy was to return to university and update his degree, a wise move in these current circumstances when his fellow DJs are looking at a long stretch with no bookings.

“It’s tough and I also have huge sympathy with the 10 musicians I’ve been working with on my new venture – Judge Jules Live – which was due to explode this summer. Now everything is cancelled.”

Jules got his “Judge” nickname in the 80s when dealing with police at illegal raves but, for now, law is financially on his side until the clubs and festivals happen.

Judge Jules

“I don’t know what the politicians will do, but it would be disingenuous of me to say that they should let people out for mass gatherings. Equally they can’t keep people inside forever.”

Meanwhile, in the Malaga hillside, Steve Altman is treating his Spanish neighbours to  a playlist of soul classics.

More accustomed to the sound of goat bells than The Ministry (another of his DJ highlights), Steve, 53,  streams a live set every Friday on Facebook, but 1,000 likes is small consolation for the Edgware-born DJ planning to dominate dance floors in Ibiza’s Soul Heaven and Majorca’s Playhouse this summer.

“I host two weekly shows for Ibiza Live Radio (103.1FM), so I can handle not seeing  an audience,” he says.  “But the flip side is seeing a crazy club crowd enjoying my music.  Now there’s no flip side.”

Living under the severity of Spanish lockdown after losing his father last year has also been a challenge, as he is worried about his mother in Bushey.

“Thankfully she is coping, and my wife and I are surrounded by beautiful countryside.

“But it’s so boring with no work and I’ve already rewatched every episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

It’s the vibe Steve misses, as he’s been making people dance since he first DJ’d at parties as a teenager – and even managed to get Bill Clinton, Sir Philip Green and Richard Caring moving at Catherine’s Palace in St Petersburg.

Steven Altman’s lockdown song:  Tears by Frankie Knuckles

Sony Music’s Carwash album and sharing deck and stage space with Sir Elton John and Tina Turner are among his past glories, yet Steve is hopeful about the future.

“Jazz and Blues grew out of the 1930s depression, and from the 1980s recession came raves and acid house. From bad comes good and I’m here when the world is ready to party again.”

So is Brandon Block, the most infamous DJ of the 90s, but for now, he is in Northwood hosting his online mental health support group, Tuned Out.

Brandon Block

Last week, campaigner Jonny Benjamin was his guest and participants bravely revealed their distress in lockdown.

Raised in Wembley, Brandon was one of the first resident DJs at Ibiza’s Space Terrace and the driving force behind the island’s worldwide notoriety as the place to party.

He partied more than most but, having dealt with his addiction problems, trained and qualify in all aspects of health and social care, along with stress and addiction management.

Jibes about his controversial past have been replaced by testimonials from those he has helped with Happy Days For Everyone, his other mental health group and now Tuned Out – Getting Well Together, which he hosts every Friday on Zoom.

“It’s support for people having rubbish weeks,” informs Brandon, a champion of the funkier end of house music.  “Mental health was a big topic before Covid-19 became all-consuming, but people with the same issues are at their wits’ end.”

Brandon Block’s song: Change-Glow of Love-Feat Luther Vandross.

Brandon’s last gig before lockdown was Mambo at The Century Club, but he believes he caught the virus while at a gig in Verbier in February.  “We weren’t as aware of the symptoms then, but the ski resort became a hotbed for the infection and I’ve been self-isolating for six weeks. I’m just looking after my family and myself.”

But the rebel does have a deck, mixer and speakers, and every day at 11am, he streams a few tracks on Facebook to lift the mood, and various DJs drop by.

“I jump on and have a bit of a laugh. I want to give people the right tunes to start the day.”

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