(The Next Thing Isn’t Always Big)

(DJs: Freelance Hellraiser, Osymyso, Tom Middleton)

The saying goes ‘All good things come in small packages’. I am not sure if the coiner of said phrase really meant quite this small. The flyer for ‘King Of The Boots’ mentions Asylum, mentions Charlotte Street, but most tellingly it uses the phrase ‘Under The Newsagent’. Now it is possible that a newsagent could have a cavernous basement taking up half the street. This however is not the case. The other key phrase was the word Free – so we got there early to avoid disappointment.

If there was one thing we did not get, it was disappointment. Crushed maybe, rammed into crooked angles, but we had come to see London’s premiere (and to be fair only as far as I know) bootleg night and it pretty much did all this could entail. Bootlegs, some inspired, some hackneyed, from eight thirty through til one. All in the smallest club in central London, the smallest club anywhere outside one-joke portaloo Glastonbury regular the Miniscule Of Sound. The size of the venue might suggest the standing of bootlegs at the moment. Quite how packed it was may suggest where they are going.

We grabbed a corner of the bar. In total the venue had about ten seats which were already inhabited by slackjawed boys of a certain age – all waiting to see the new sonic masterpieces the evening would throw up. This was a touch worrying as we were there for pretty much the same reason. A bootleg, a new bootleg, is like watching a car crash. Often messy, often fascinating – what sucks you back in is the black humour of it all: stitching two or more records together into some sort of Frankenstein’s monster of a tune. Rarely making it more danceable, rarely improving on the dynamics of the original tunes – but replacing the slick production values we are all used to with often uncomfortable but somehow correct pairings. Music designed not so much to make you dance (though dance people did) as to make you smile.

Much discussion ensued about what exactly made a bootleg. Our dance purist , a man squarely in the Tom Middleton corner, called it an unofficial remix. Those of us in the Osymyso camp were a bit more exacting in our definitions. To us a bootleg was the gluing together of two or more well known pop artifacts to create a distinct and coherent new record. Freelance Hellraiser’s ‘Stroke Of Genius’ – laying Christina Aguiliera’s “Genie In A Bottle” vocals over “Last Night” by The Strokes – is possibly the most celebrated example. The importance of all the elements being identifiable raises it above the level of a mere remix. It also makes the whole affair ripe for the pop trainspotter.

Asylum for the first hour was full of trainspotters. Not there to dance, but to listen. Nothing wrong with that, I was not there especially to dance – and whilst people tried later on the very size of the joint rendered it nigh on impossible. Nevertheless Bootleg trainspotting is the Duplo version of hip-hop trainspotting. Discovering or identifying the breaks in hip-hop has been a pretty tricky act ever since Grandmaster Flash put away the Blondie records and started thumbing through the Blue Note back catalogue. And there is a lot in common between “Adventures On The Wheels Of Steel” and Osymyso’s “Intro-Introspection”, his mash-up of tens of pop song intros. Both understand hooks perfectly, both use those hooks shamelessly to create new ones for their own record. Osymyso’s is perhaps more adventurous – but then he has technology on his side. It does however show more than just technical deftness, technological deftness. It shows a complete understanding of these hooks and the pop songs they come from. How less than a second of Relax nested in two other tracks can still summon up that song for us.

Osymyso was the star of the night. Tom Middleton may have been headlining, but Osymyso was who the boys who bagged the seats were here to see – and the room filled for his set. The full version of “Intro-Introspection” is dazzling, and set against it the rest of the night seemed terribly slow. Except that you can’t dance to “Intro-Introspection” – it changes tempo and swops hooks so quickly that you never have time to settle into a groove. Say what you like about “Country Grammar” backed up with the Grange Hill theme tune (and whilst it is fun it is too long) but you could dance to it while you marvel at how well it fits. If you had the space.

In comparison Tom Middleton was a let down, at least to me. There were a few new-style bootlegs played, but mainly his set was good but uninspiring unofficial remixes – the old definition of bootleg. And whilst they may be perfectly fine to dance to, they do not fire the imagination. Or is it fire the nostalgia? One thing about recycling pop nuggets of old is that it presents old material, tried and tested pop hits, in a new modern context. The variety of punters, from the pop trainspotters, to the people hitting upon the new trend, to the girls spending nothing to go out and have a good time, all shared one thing: anticipation.

Standing at the bar one of us – in his usual cynical manner – mumbled ‘This must be what Robert Elms felt like’. Why does the next thing always have to be big? Bootlegging is a genuine scene, and is genuinely interesting and exciting. Yet, like the New Romantics, there is not enough substance to make it stand astride the world and become a big thing proper. Copyright laws will put paid to that as much as anything else.

In more ways than it is perhaps initially obvious, bootlegging finally closes the dance/hip-hop circle. Due to lack of equipment and skill the early turntablists were all about dropping wholesale chunks of other records into their own. The bootleggers are doing the opposite, starting with those chunks and splicing them in with new chunks. The best bootlegs are not the most technically proficient. They are the ones which best understand the nature of the pop beast. Bootlegging is about showing that the components can work out of their original context, and create new contexts, and still be pop. The fact that this is by its very nature and the nature of copyright an underground music just adds to its allure.

I walked away from the Asylum drunk and fizzing like I have not done for a long time after a gig or a club. I am tempted to say because it was the best night of music I had been to for a long while, but I am not sure if that would be completely honest. How much was admiration for the skills on display? How much was the smug feeling of being in on the ground floor of a scene which I feel will grow to at least mean something – however small? And how much was in finding a way to embrace and appreciate pop music which did not seem mired in artifice and nostalgia? Ask me on March 7th, at the next King Of The Boots – after which I’ll have been able to discuss it with my companions and come up with some kind of colaborative – bootlegged? – opinion.