Q&A with Graeme P & Soul Diva

Q&A with Graeme P & Soul Diva

Where did you both grow up, and how has the music you listened to when you were younger influenced you today?

 SoulDiva: I grew up in London in a house I lived in with my extended family and was introduced at a very early age to music by artists like Curtis Mayfield, Bob Marley, The Commodores, Earth, Wind & Fire, and of course, the Jackson 5. In the early 1980's, I fully embraced the pirate radio scene and was a huge follower of stations like Horizon, LWR and KissFM. GraemeP grew up in Norfolk and was a big fan of John Peel and his eclectic taste in music; he is credited as introducing GraemeP to new musical genres like African, indie, electro and hip=hop.. 

When you met each other at university, did your listening choices change?

GraemeP: When I got together with SoulDiva in 1990, she was into acid jazz, rare groove, funk and soul. She loved listening to hip hop and had vinyl she'd bought in New York from artists like Erik B and Rakim, Public Enemy and EPMD. She also introduced me to music by James Brown, the JBs, Lynn Collins and Donald Byrd. One of her favourite cassette tapes (which we rinsed) included the tracks Nights Over Egypt (The Jones Girls); Risin' To The Top (Kenny Burke); Superstar, and We Live In Brooklyn, Baby (Roy Ayers); Portuguese Love (Teena Marie); Music Is My Sanctuary (Gary Bartz); Little Ghetto Boy and Prince of Peace (Galliano); and Never Stop (Brand New Heavies). I hadn't heard some of this music before but instantly fell in love with all of it. From there, we both discovered a love of Trip Hop with music by artists like Nightmares on Wax, DJ Shadow and DJ Takemura; then flirted briefly with RnB and Hip Hop before finding the music that would change our lives.

You’ve said that you can pinpoint your love of house music back to ‘96, to an event at Bagley’s Warehouse. For those here who’ve not heard of Bagley’s, can you give it a brief introduction?

SoulDiva: Bagleys Studios was a massive multi-room warehouse venue that was situated behind Kings Cross Station in the storage yard there. It was in a pretty seedy part of town which added to the club's charm and popularity; it was a perfect spot for all-night raving in every way! It was one of those clubs anyone who was into dance music in the 1990s would've been to at least once. Me and G had been there a few times before for the infamous Starsky and Hutch parties, but it was at a night called the United Colours Club Tour that introduced us to house music.

Do you recall who was DJing at the time?

SoulDiva: We would've had no idea who was djing that night; at that moment in time, neither of us had any interest in house music (although I didn't realise until many years later that I'd bought some house music on 12" vinyl import in the late 1980s including the seminal tracks Let's Get Brutal, released in 1986 by Nitro Deluxe and Can You Feel It by Mr Fingers, released in 1988). We'd gone to Bagleys that night mainly for the RnB room, but that fateful Friday night, G and our mate Nicky insisted on going into the House room for a change of music; I said I wasn't going in because I didn't like house music. After telling me to 'go home, then', I reluctantly followed them into the House room...and ended up staying in there all night!

What was it about that night that made you fall in love with house?

GraemeP: We'll never forget that night! We walked into the house room and the track that was playing was Disco's Revenge by Gusto and for someone who didn't like house music, SoulDiva instantly started dancing; she got on a podium and didn't get off for the whole night!

SoulDiva: That night, I became addicted to house music from the very first beat. As somene who loves to dance, house music for me was the ultimate dance floor music. I loved it immediately and was definitely hooked on the 4:4 beat, and being able to dance to beautiful, uplifing vocal tracks, and bass-heavy dubs and instrumentals at a much faster tempo than the RnB we were used to. What I noticed was everyone in the room loving the music; everyone was dancing without exception; and there was a unity and togetherness of everyone in the room. The atmosphere was absolutely wicked; and the rawness of the warehouse combined with the cystal-clear sound system made it an incredible, unforgettable night. Everything came together to help create a special night that neither of us will ever forget. Disco's Revenge is the only track I remembered and was able to identify that night, but we stayed dancing in the House Room until the bitter end - the music was infectious..

GraemeP: What  I remember is the energy and vibe in the room; everyone was happy and smiling, and the atmosphere in the room was friendly and welcoming; not like a lot of the RnB clubs we went to. It's special that not only did SoulDiva and I both fall in love with House music, but that we fell in love with it together that night.

From that point, you picked up your own mixer and taught yourselves how to DJ. How difficult was it back then, without things like YouTube tutorials and ‘how to’ guides taking you step by step through the process?

SoulDiva: After Bagleys, we soon started shopping regularly for house and US garage in Uptown Records and Black Market in Soho. Hearing the bare beats at the start and end of the tracks made us frustrated: we wanted to learn how to join tracks together, or 'mix'. GraemeP was particularly desperate to learn but I didn't think he'd understand or grasp the concept of mixing; I really thought he would struggle but I didn't want to dampen his spirit - he was so eager! So I humoured him: I encouraged him to buy some turntables but honestly thought he'd flop. About two weeks after the Bagleys night, he drove to Guildford and came home with a Gemini PS-626 mixer, 2 x Soundlab belt-drive turntables and a pair of Seinheisser headphones. I couldn't believe it when, within an hour or two, he was mixing tracks with ease; he 'got it' instantly. Hearing him mix and blend tracks so seamlessly made me desperate to match his skills so I just jumped on and taught myself. It's amazing that we both have a skill and talent for mixing although GraemeP is one of the best mixers I have heard in all the years I've been listening to house music.

Can you tell us how you got from there to putting on your own parties?

GraemeP: We got our first booking for a friend's 30th birthday party in June 1997 and got a real taste for djing there. Me and SoulDiva rocked the party and we both remember the crowd applauding at the end of the party begging for more; it was an amazing night; we were both so high afterwards. We were desperate to dj again and decided to put on an event for SoulDiva's birthday a couple of months later.

What was the first event that you put on?

SoulDiva: So the first event we held was my birthday party for me in August 1997 in the basement of Cafe Koha in Leicester Square; we had to say it was a 21st birthday party in order to get the late licence! We had quite a few dj friends who played that night, including Lee Bright of BBE Records; Rap Saunders was there as a guest - I've known him since the early 1980s. GraemeP played the closing set of the night and tore the roof off - some of the tunes I remember him droppin' that night were Dreams by Smoking Beats, Professional Widow (Armand Van Helden mix) and Anytime by Nu Birth. It was a wicked night!

In 2015 you launched We Came To Dance, a night inspired by the principles of the legendary Paradise Garage parties. Can you explain these principles for us and why they are important to you?

SoulDiva: GraemeP and I love house music, not just because of the amazing musical productions we've experienced in the last three decades, but also because of what house music embodies: love, togetherness, peace, spirituality and respect for one another no matter who you are, what you look like or where you come from. To really enjoy and appreciate house music at its euphoric best, you need the right venue, an amazing sound system and an environment where everyone and anyone will feel welcome as soon as they walk through the door. That's what Larry Levan created at the Paradise Garage and is something we wanted to emulate with We Came To Dance. Five of our very good friends become 'The We Came To Dance Girls', our beautiful, sassy hostesses on the night of our parties: they welcome the guests on the door, take their coats, bring round sweets and lollipops during the night, and get people onto the dancefloor. Everyone who comes to our We Came To Dance parties loves them; and our resident photographer Foto Genix perfectly captures what our parties are all about - check out our photo gallery to see a sea of happy, smiling faces in every shot.

GraemeP: Ultimately, our parties are about the music and we play house across all genres: Afro, soulful, deep, jackin, tech, tribal, broken beat, UK Garage. Larry Levan was known for experimenting with tracks on the dancefloor; sometimes playing it so many times he would force the crowd to love it! Me and SoulDiva love mixing and get so much joy from seeing the reaction of the crowd when you drop a tune. We often play a 3 hour set at our parties; it gives us the opportunity to express ourselves on the decks, and experiment with tracks on the dancefloor that you wouldn't normally hear out. And our sets always includes house music from all genres and wouldn't be complete without a sprinkling of Classic house.

SoulDiva: Larry Levan had a passion for the music he played; as a couple, GraemeP and I are blessed that we share a passion for house music with each other. But djing together makes our love and appreciation of the music even more special; people often comment on the vibe between us on the decks. DJing with my other half is definitely one of the best things in life :-)

You name one of your key influencers as Kenny Dope, one half of the legendary Masters At Work. How has he inspired you?

GraemeP: The discography of Masters at Work is incredible and it was a joy discovering their music together with SoulDiva; we have the boxed set of the seminal Nuyorican Soul album that was released in 1997. What we love about Kenny is his longevity and versatility: we met people at ADE this year who'd seen him play a wicked hip hop set; then we saw him at the Strictly Rhythm party dropping a bad boy house set. His quality productions span three decades and one of his tracks from last year, the dancefloor heavyweight When I Luv featuring Faith Evans, absolutely tore up the Loft at the Groove Odyssey 8th Birthday when we opened our set with it - wicked tune.

And what does it feel like to be sharing the bill with him on 3 November for Groove Odyssey’s 9th birthday?

SoulDiva: GraemeP and I are proud of the progress we've made as djs since picking up the headphones again in 2012 after a ten year break; and we're thankful for the opportunities we've had since joining HouseFM.net in November 2016. Playing at Groove Odyssey at the Ministry of Sound is always special for us; so to see our names alongside legends like Kenny Dope is actually beyond a dream come true: it's something we didn't think would ever happen. Our family and friends know how special nights like these are for the two of us, and me and GraemeP intend to keep the Loft rocking like we did last year when we closed it out: it was wicked to see it rammed until the bitter end.

And finally what does the end of 2018 have in store for you?

GraemeP: This year has already been an incredible year for me and SoulDiva: as djs, we played for the first time in Ibiza and had the privilege of opening the GO Ibiza Weekender in May 2018. We're keeping our fingers crossed we'll be on the line-up for 2019; it's a fantastic event to be a part of. And in October, SoulDiva and I become Managing Partners at HouseFM.net; working alongside Mikee Hughes, together we have a vision for the station and want it to achieve its potential as a positive force in dance music. Exciting times are ahead!

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