It’s madness. “I’ve got five Bugged Out! events this month, and I’ve done more work on this than any other one,” says promoter John Burgess. You can see why. In a world where the line-up is king, there is essentially no line-up for this event. In a culture where documenting the experience is as important as having it, there are no phones allowed. No Instagram. In a culture that elevates DJs to celebrity, the DJ is invisible, and the only person approaching celebrity is DC10 sound engineering legend Andy Kayll. The Secret DJ’s ‘Dark Room’ project goes against every single bit of accepted wisdom about clubbing in 2018. It’s madness. It’s genius.
The idea is to refocus clubbing on its core: dancing to great music on a great soundsystem. It’s a reflection of the Secret DJ’s own philosophy (zealotry?), his impatience with the hype and spectacle that too often gets in the way of what’s important. All the DJs playing tonight are ‘names’, but none of their names are on the flyer or even announced on the night. It’s an attempt to short-circuit the gimmicks that can distract from the true dance music experience. Ironically, the process requires a few gimmicks of its own. A sheet of gauze is stretched tightly across the front of the stage that contains the DJ booth, reducing the person playing to a silhouette, an enigma. Thick curtains each side and an absence of almost any lighting mean the dancefloor is darker than the Higgs boson particle.
Step away from the dancefloor into the wider club and the set-up looks a little ersatz, a bit DIY. This is the first night, a proof of concept, and there are some rough edges. The venue, Hangar, is a fine one, but its wide, sprawling space doesn’t really lend itself to something that needs such focus (hence the curtains), and the labyrinthine walk from the dancefloor to the smoking area breaks up the flow, the suspension of disbelief, that’s vital to a night like this.
But back in the dark space of the dancefloor, immersion is total. The music ranges across the spectrum of classic and cutting-edge, house, techno and ambient and hip hop and beyond; this is what happens when DJs are freed from expectation. The sound is, of course, perfect. In the booth a hand-made Bozak mixer thrums expectantly like a Rolls Royce outside a five star hotel. The soundsystem is bespoke 5:1 surround, and its constructor, Kayll, was front and centre of the promotion of this event, a tousle-haired human kitemark, guaranteeing quality.
And it connects: throughout there are frequent cheers and claps from the crowd of neophiliacs, audio enthusiasts and open-minded adventurers who’ve chosen this night over the dozens of safer bets in London tonight. Let’s hope Bugged Out! and the Secret DJ decide to roll the dice again soon: this is the kind of concept that’s not only a unique experience, but good for club culture as a whole.
Duncan Dick is Mixmag's Editor, follow him on Twitter