“Mum, I’m goin’ down the shed!” my 15-year-old self screeches in a variety of pubescent broken notes. I slide the patio doors shut and strut down the garden path in my Nike Air Max TNs. “D’you want a spoon with that bowl?” she shouts back (she doesn’t).
Down at the bottom of the garden amongst the birds and the bees lived my little music haven. It was a fair-sized shed, with all the usual stuff: lawnmower, spare chairs for Christmas, and the microwave (Mum hates death rays).
But across the back wall sat an old kitchen sideboard unit, the cupboards full of drum and bass vinyl. And across the top, my ropey but trusty turntables, mixer with broken crossfader, and the one piece of fully-functioning kit, the sound system.
Along with the radioactive death chef, it’d been relegated from the house to the shed, where I welcomed it with open arms. It was a meaty-looking Marantz stack system with my poor stepdad’s farewell tearstains, still forming a puddle on top. Heading up the stack was the AM/FM tuner. This was key for locking into Fabio & Grooverider to make notes of potential purchases. Second down was the equaliser. If I’m honest this was untouched unless I had guests in the shed. Giving it a tweak looked super professional. The penultimate component was the amp, a pretty fierce lump that I daren’t take above 6. Perhaps up to 7 if said guests were unimpressed with my knob twiddling. Then last but by no means least, like my very own Atlas holding the musical world upon his shoulders, the dual cassette deck.
For a bedroom/shedroom DJ like myself, this bit of kit was an essential. Every minute spent down there was leading up to me finally plonking in a blank tape, clunking down play/record and dropping the needle. Then I’m off, out of contact, and into the zone.
The presence of that humming cassette tape changed everything. I wasn’t messing about anymore. This was for keeps. For the next 90 minutes, the little buzz of reels turning meant my every movement was being logged. There was no room for mistakes or changing my mind. The tape was boss. The tape was my audience. The tape was a smaller, squarer version of Simon Cowell without the action man hair cut and nipple-high trousers.
As my need to impress the cassette continued, things got more cut-throat. I’d limited myself to just three mix tapes. Each time I stepped up to the wheels of steel, worst of the three would be up for the chop and sent to the Marantz. Eventually, by the time I had to move out and stash the music station in my Granny’s loft, I was left with three mighty mixes. Each one taking the lucky listener on a magical journey of virtually the same records in a slightly different order. They were gold dust.
My chosen three tapes, along with 20 or so other mixes from Innovation Weekenders and the early hours of Radio 1, travelled round with me for the next 8 years in a shoebox. Rarely did they see the light of day, and even less-often did they get their cogs turned. But equally, I never came close to throwing them away. Until now.
About a month ago I begrudgingly turned the whole box out into the bin. Watching the hours of nodding, missing drops and warming my hands on a portable convection heater tumble away was heart-breaking. I just hope the special three are in a better place now. Hopefully they’ve been melted down and turned into a microwave, still spinning, still humming.
Josh Dando AKA DJ Kaos (I genuinely called myself this)