It’s been an eventful time for Manchester’s DJ Paulette. Already a legendary house music DJ and broadcaster – one of only two women to have had a regular residency at the Haçienda, she went on ply her trade everywhere from Ibiza to Paris –  she’s now been nominated for DJ of the Year at the inaugural Northern Music Awards taking place at Manchester’s Albert Hall on April 23.

Earlier this year, Paulette also added author to her wide-ranging CV. Her first book, Welcome to the Club, has already received much acclaim. It’s not some sensationalist behind-the-decks exposé, but rather a keen-eyed personal insight into the world in which she’s worked for more than 30 years. 

“I’ve always wanted to write,” Paulette says. “It’s been the thing that I’ve done since being very small. And it’s an achievement –  this is the first time that a book has been written on the electronic dance music industry by a black female DJ. That’s never been done before.”

There’s also the fact that Paulette’s book offers something different to those published by her contemporaries.

DJ Paulette. Photo by Lee Baxter.

“It doesn’t just tell a story of excess, which I think a lot of these books do – you know, ‘and then I met this person and then I met that person and then I took these drugs’. It does tell a little bit that story in places, but what interested me was to chart the evolution of the culture. Obviously, in DJing for 30 years, I’ve seen it change quite substantially. When I started DJing, it was all vinyl. When I started, there were hardly any women doing it and there were certainly hardly any black women doing it. I wanted to chart that evolution, through vinyl, into CDs, into the digital world, through there not being very many people that could mentor me, to 2024.

“When I look at the VIPs and the big future forces in the final chapter, I’m talking about Sherelle, I’m talking about Nia Archives, I’m talking about Jamz Supernova and Jaguar. There’s a whole new breed of women, and British women as well, that I can cite off the bat who are really kicking ass and taking names. So, the book is bang up to date, it’s a living history.”

Paulette’s aims for the book, and for DJ culture generally, aren’t short of ambition.

“I’m making a move to really validate DJing, electronic music, events, this big culture,” she says. “I’m trying to validate it and put it in a position where it can be taken a lot more seriously in the UK. In Berlin, it’s got UNESCO heritage authorisation [Berlin techno was recently awarded UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage (ICH) status]. Well, how can that happen? That then enables the industry to get grants, enables it to get government support, enables it to be taken a lot more seriously in terms of the economic contribution it makes to society. Why can’t we have that? Well, one of the reasons we can’t have that is because the books that talk about the culture talk about it in terms that aren’t necessarily helpful. I wanted to talk about the culture in the terms of it making an economic contribution – to talk about the actual nuts and bolts of how this thing is made, who makes it, what we put into it and really angle it towards getting some kind of proper validation for the culture.”

Widening the lens

For Paulette, writing Welcome to the Club was an opportunity to redress some deeply embedded imbalances about club culture and how it’s portrayed.

“The way that history is taught in schools, right up to how editorial agendas are set, it’s always viewed through a very, very narrow lens. When people talk about electronic dance music, all they ever talk about is Ibiza, the Summer of Love, like that’s the only story: four people go out to Ibiza and bring back acid house and then you get [seminal house clubs] Shoom and Spectrum. There were so many other things happening around the world in parallel, but we don’t hear about those things. So I wanted to kind of blow that wide open and say ‘look, yes, that happened, it is true – but this also happened at the same time, which has contributed to the culture being so rich and diverse’ – really making a play for giving all these other stories and a lot more people the attention and the flowers that they deserve.”

DJ Paulette. Photo by Lee Baxter.

Part of that act of redressing relates directly to Paulette and her own identity. “I also wanted to write a book that was a bit more accurate about the position of women in the culture, because that’s who I am. I’m a black queer woman working in a very white male-dominated industry and I wanted to really look at what that experience is. So I drew on a lot of other women’s experiences, Cuti, Colleen ‘Cosmo’ Murphy, Marcia Carr, Caroline Prothero – lots of different voices who’d worked at different levels in the industry, finding out how it’s been for them and how it is for them and what we can see as the way we can move forward and improve it. So it is kind of a handbook, it is also a manifesto and it’s very political, but in a nice way.”

Paulette talks fondly of a review of the book that praised the dynamic twists of her writing style. “It said, ‘she has a very nice way of talking to you softly, stroking you with a velvet glove –  and then kicking you in the face with a steel toe-capped boot’. And yeah, that’s my way.”

In fact, this raises an interesting point. On the face of it, working as a DJ would appear to be wildly different from writing a book. But is it, though? Is there a degree to which DJing – structuring a set, creating and shaping an atmosphere – is something like storytelling?

“Yeah, it’s exactly that,” agrees Paulette. “Certainly for me. In terms of the sets that I play, the music that I like, I am driven by vocals and lyrics and songwriting. Every set that I play, even though for some people on the dance floor it might feel like it’s just music, and that’s great, because it works on lots of different levels, but if you actually go away and listen to it, actually look at the track listing and listen to the lyrics, you will start to see that there’s a story. My sets always have a beginning, a middle and an end – always, always – and at those points you will hear a message in it. I think if if there’s not, we might as well all go home. If we’re just doing it for the sake of doing it, what’s the point? The original message of acid house was peace, love, unity and respect, and that is always what I’m trying to communicate. That community aspect of that message is always in there. Yeah, storytelling is key for me. I think that’s what we do. I really do think that’s what any DJ does, when they stand up there in front of a crowd.”

Changing times

In passing, though, Paulette expresses a note of regret that modern DJ sets are getting shorter.

“Old school DJs, like your Danny Tenaglias, your Junior Vasquezes and your François Kervorkians, because they played long sets, they’d say ‘we’re taking you on a journey’. Now, because sets are so short, that journey is like two stops on the Met. You don’t get the luxury of the epic journey. But even then, in your between 45 and 90-minute set, because that’s how much they’re giving people now, which is ridiculous –  in that time, you do try to tell some kind of story. You try to take people out of themselves from one place to another.”

And Paulette, who talks of being brimming with ideas for further books, agrees that the ‘velvet glove followed by steel toe-capped boot’ technique applies equally to her DJing and her writing.

“Totally. That is how I play. There’s that element of being able to twist it. I’ll play something and people will think, ‘oh, that’s really nice, it’s really soft’. And then I’ll just crank it. It’s like ,’right, I’ve got you, now let’s see what’s happening here, because this story can be everything’. Depending on the crowd, it can go any which way you like.

“The book does that too. It’s uplifting, but then it looks at the dark side. It looks at mental health. It looks at the pandemic, it looks at loss and grief, and to all intents and purposes madness, and coming through that into the other side. There is redemption, there is resurrection, there is peace, even.”

By Andy Murray, Music Editor

Photos by Lee Baxter


Welcome to the Club: The Life and Lessons of a Black Woman DJ by DJ Paulette is available now in hardback and ebook editions from Manchester University Press and all good booksellers.

For more information about DJ Paulette, click here. 

Northern Music Awards