Kath McDermott Q&A

Hello and welcome to Magazine Sixty, Kath. Let’s start by asking about your current involvement with BBC 6 Music. How you got there and why?

I’ve enjoyed being involved in radio over the years first on community radio and then Dave Kendrick and I had a show on Kiss 102 called the Galaxy of Love which I absolutely loved doing, we had a scream. I started working on BBC radio about 5 years ago and always really wanted to work for 6 Music as I’m a listener myself and think it is a fantastic network for music lovers. When I started working on 6 Music I felt at home immediately and I love being a part of the production team there.

*Photo by Mat Norman

And back to the beginning. Can you tell us who inspired you to start DJ’ing and something about the first clubs you played in?
Tim Lennox at the Number One club was a huge inspiration in the late Eighties, he was playing to an absolutely rammed sweatbox of deranged deviants every Saturday. It was incredible to be a part of that dancefloor. I was also going to Nude at the Hacienda and Mike Pickering would play hip-hop alongside disco and acid house, I loved the eclecticism of his sets. Around that time, my partner was organising an Aids Day benefit in Liverpool, but couldn’t get a DJ to play for free, so we decided to do it ourselves. We had a riot, so we started our own monthly night called Loose and there was a real gap in the market in Liverpool for young queer clubbers – they were a brilliantly friendly crowd to play for.

How would you describe Flesh to somebody who has never been?

The Hacienda was created in the image of American gay clubs like Paradise Garage so it was always going to be a buzz to see it full of queers with Tim Lennox at the helm. Each one was a real event with a different theme or happening taking place, so the punters would go to great efforts to be dressed for the occasion, and the space would be dressed to impress too. It was a massive crowd, always well over a thousand and mixed, you’d see drag queens, dykes, rent boys and even naked people wandering around and it was incredibly friendly. Anything went and I seemed to spend a lot of time laughing at the insanity and debauchery of the scenes there. My Flesh sightings include Leigh Bowery ‘giving birth’ to a woman on stage, the Fire Brigade pushing an ice cream van away from the dancefloor in case the petrol tank blew, a collapsed swimming pool which flooded the place, members of Kraftwerk and the Pet Shop Boys partying and people having sex. Not bad for a Wednesday night.

Which night or club was the most important for you in terms of Manchester’s history that you have DJ’ed at?

I feel tremendously honoured to have played at the Hacienda over the course of 5 years and Flesh is obviously very important to me, but I have a very special place in my heart for Homoelectric. We were getting really tired of the increasingly tired mono-culture around Gaychester in the late nineties and I was lucky enough to be involved right from the start as we tried to create a new club where all misfits were welcome and the music was very eclectic. Notoriously old-school lesbian club Follies outside the Gay Village was our well-matched home and Ryan Minchin’s fanzine The Homoelectric Chronicle was our manifesto. I was the first resident and played there for about 8 glorious years. The crowd were a dream come true, very open to whatever we played: disco, house, pop, jungle, hip-hop, funk. Philippa Jarman and I were running the 2 main record shops in town (Piccadilly and Vinyl Exchange) so we had all the music well stitched-up. I like to think we paved the way for the alt-queer clubbing scene in Manchester and Homoelectric is still going strong 20 years later with an ace team behind it.

What is it about radio and the way it connects with people which has seen the medium endure for so long?

As a lifelong radio consumer I feel it leaves my imagination to run free whilst I’m listening. There is something very passive about watching television but radio is a different kind of experience, it is the perfect companion to our days and nights. The buzz of hearing an old favourite or a brand new track is just as strong for me as it was when I was a kid. I listen to a lot of speech radio too and worked on Radio 4 for several years where the output is very different but equally inspiring at times. I just co-produced Marc Riley’s A-Z of Punk which was a big success and podcasts are going to become increasingly important over time as there is a huge appetite for them and we now love on-demand content.

Which artists, writers and musicians have inspired you most, both within and outside of electronic/ dance music?

When I was a kid I was very into Adam and the Ants, I loved the double drumming and thought he was the ultimate performer. In terms of dance music, when house music caught fire I was hugely inspired by Frankie Knuckles and that led me to seek out soulful house and garage by the likes of Masters at Work, Murk and Mood To Swing. In relation to dance music, I think Norma Jean Bell is an under-rated talent. Away from the decks the artists that have been mainstays over time for me tend to be female singers that plough their own furrow like Bobbie Gentry, Millie Jackson, Nina Simone, Betty Davis and Dusty Springfield.

Has too much nostalgia destroyed the creation of new music and culture?

I think it is disappointing that the emphasis is still on Madchester as so much of what is being portrayed is such a straight, white, male story. The reality was very different, Manchester District Music Archive are doing a lot to redress that balance. Also the City Council trade off the back of the heritage of clubs like the Hacienda whilst closing down most of the independent venues in town to build faceless budget hotels. However I think the club scene in Manchester and increasingly Salford is as vibrant as ever. Bollox is an incredible community space – very inclusive, but hedonistic and subversive. I’m thrilled that I’ll be playing there and the much-loved underground club Kiss Me Again over the next few months.

How did it feel to be included in the Suffragette City MCR exhibition at Refuge? What do you think the benefits will be moving forward?

The exhibition which reflects women from all aspects of the Manchester music scene has been a major success, bringing much-needed profile to some unsung heroines and celebrating the considerable talent in the city, it has been wonderful to meet some of the other women involved too. We had a big closing party with 16 hours of an all-female DJ line-up, it was an extraordinary event, the technical quality of the DJing was very high and we really rocked a great party. We got a mixed, very up-for-it crowd in, it was wonderful to be in such a warm supportive environment and we were all having a great dance to each other sets, there were no egos at all, a proper buzz.

And finally. Which programme have you most enjoyed working on at BBC 6 Music?

I really enjoyed working on Jarvis Cocker’s last live Sunday Service programme on Christmas Eve, we had the lights down low and twiglets on the go, it was very festive. I also produced a documentary about the queer roots of punk with Jon Savage presenting called ‘Queer as Punk’ which was a labour of love that I’m very proud of.

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