When I picked up Last Night A DJ Saved My Life: The History of the Disc Jockey, I expected it to be a history of popular music on the radio. After all, when one encounters the term “disc jockey” the mind generally doesn’t jump to an image of a man behind a set of turntables, pulsing lights and thudding bass abound – but this is in fact the type of DJ authors Bill Brewster and Frank Broughton are referencing in their 1999 release.
The radio DJ does get a fair shake in the book, providing context for the history of bringing music to the masses.The focus, however, is a thorough history of dance music and its accompanying culture in the US and UK.
Northern soul is the first trend to be covered, revealing a culture of obsessive collecting of obscure tracks partying until the break of dawn. A celebrated example of northern soul is R. Dean Taylor’s “There’s A Ghost In My House” – a surprisingly gritty Motown track from 1967.
Next to be covered is raggae, with its early remixes and soundclashes. Elements from both the raggae and northern soul scenes paved the way for the two most expansive genres of DJ-led phenomena, disco and hip hop. Brewster and Broughton set the record straight on the origins of these genres and shine a light on their far-reaching impact on both culture and music.
Later forms such as house and techno are also covered, with the final portion of the book tying everything together and offering commentary on the then-current state and future of dance music. At the book’s press time, late-90s dance music was cracking into the American mainstream with acts like Fatboy Slim, Moby, and the Chemical Brothers, but the authors did not comment on the trend, instead focusing on the more established UK/European success of acts like Sasha and Paul Oakenfold.
Though I’d consider myself a dabbler at best in the field of dance music, Last Night A DJ Saved My Life was a a great read. Brewster and Broughton make even the most foreign of experiences seem accessible while seamlessly providing snapshot after snapshot of cultural history.