INTO THE LIGHT – A CONVERSATION WITH DJ SHADE
FROM spinning vinyl at a Newcastle nightclub in the late 1980s to playing some of Sydney’s biggest raves, Phil Theodoridis, aka DJ Shade, has racked up a musical career spanning more than 25 years. Here, the Novocastrian provides some insight into what led him into the scene, what it was like to be playing to a pulsating crowd, and why he’s still at the decks in 2014. Interview by Neil Keene
What kind of music did you listen to growing up and did they influence your move towards electronic music?
Until about 10 years of age I was listening to all things pop/rock like most in the late 70s, such as Angels, Aussie Crawl, Radiators, Midnight Oil, INXS. And I was a massive KISS fan when I was young.
About 1982 I was consumed by the breakdancing and hip-hop craze and was also into what was then Hi-NRG music. Hip-hop was probably the real influence to electronic music and then the acid-house/hip-house era of the late 80s.
How did you get into DJing and raves?
I got into DJing about 1989 when I was rapping and was really then wanting to DJ and scratch with hip-hop. I had my sights on DMC DJ competitions - that was the big influence for me. At the same time the acid-house and hip-house era took off and I went into beat-mixing and working in clubs at acid-house parties in 1989 alongside Sydney guest DJs Steve K, A.K.M & Pee Wee.
I earned myself a residency in one of the main clubs at that time – (Newcastle venue) The Castle Tavern – before I was even 18 years old. Raves came sometime after, around 1991 when I think the first rave I attended was Madchester at The Phonecian Club. It was a launch for a new single: Human Nature by Gary Clail.
Why the “DJ Shade” name?
Hip hop is in my roots and from memory around 1987-8, when we had a breakdancing crew, a few of us got together to write some rhymes and rap songs. Now there was MC Breeze, MC Cool and DJ Frost and I was also an MC. Looking at the names of the others they all were cool/cold-related so I came up with Shade, being cool in the shade! So I was MC Shade and when I started DJing I just continued using it as my DJ name.
What was your first significant event and how did you feel before hitting the decks?
It would probably be one of the first DJ comps which was either a competition at Narrabeen or the NSW DMC, both early-mid 1990. They took place before I was working at the acid-house parties in Newcastle so had not played before a crowd as yet. Getting to the finals of the 1990 NSW DMC Competition was somewhat of an achievement for me with less than 1 year on the decks so even though my set was pretty bad I was still happy with what I had achieved in such a short time!
As far as the rave scene goes the most significant plays/sets would have been my residency at the club night, Humphrey’s on Thursday nights at The Roundabout in Hurstville, and Friday nights at the Seabreeze Hotel in Blakehurst in the early 90s.
As for actual raves, probably Narnia, an underground rave in ’92, and the midnight set at Global NYE ‘95/’96 leading up to Dyewitness.
One of the most memorable moments would have to be the Commander Tom’s Are Am Eye crossfade trick I pulled off at Utopia 5 (I think it was there!). The place went mental when I brought it to a complete stop and had the thousands in attendance go completely nuts when I stopped and looked up and after a massive cheer and roar from the crowd I sped it up again to drop it back in!
Still gives me goose-bumps thinking about it and the feeling I got back then at the time!
You were known for your seamless mixing and technical scratching - how much time did you put into practicing?
I didn’t practice so much as I was working as a resident at the club in Newcastle 2-3 nights a week, so most of the “practice” as you’d call it was on the job. I might have mixed a few tapes or what-not back then to listen to but never really practiced at home.
What was it like to be up there in the thick of things during a good party?
To me it was all about the music and still is to the present day. Putting it together in such a way that both entertains the crowd and keeps them on the floor. Nothing’s better than seeing a large crowd with smiles from ear to ear going off, cheering when a song comes on and really absorbing the atmosphere being created by the music being played and how it’s put together!
How much of your sets were premeditated and how much was decided on the spot?
Everyone that knows me knows I don’t premeditate or “work out” a set. At worst I might have a special start or first song I’d like to start with or a particular trick I might plan to do during a set with two songs or scratching.
But the songs played and order all really depend on the crowd reaction and response, as well as what the previous DJs might have already played before me while I was there.
I usually pack a box of a particular style or styles based on the time I’m playing and who is before and after me knowing roughly what style they’ll be playing so as to keep the energy and rhythm flowing and not drastically changing the tempo, style or energy level.
The only time a set was premeditated was if it was a DJ comp.
What kind of money did you typically make from playing at raves during the 1990s and what else did you do to make ends meet?
I didn’t play so much in clubs through the mid-late 90’s when I moved to Sydney so I worked a day job in various roles to make a living. The raves were only once or twice a month back then and weren’t really an income to live on unless I had regular work or residency in a club in Sydney.
What were some of the things you liked least about the scene?
I never really had anything I didn’t like back then. The music was awesome, the people were awesome, the events were awesome and there really wasn’t anything to complain about except the cops shutting down parties whenever that happened.
That was probably the only downside back then. In the rave scene it was pretty rare to have anyone come ask for requests and even if they did there weren’t really many crap tunes coming out back then that anyone would ask for. Someone asking for a crap tune would really only occur in the clubs!
How much infuence did promoters have on what you played, and what was your take on them generally?
Most promoters never really influenced what was played because they usually knew what style you played or would put you on at a certain time where the DJ would know what the appropriate style was to be played or like I said play the style based on who was before and/or after them knowing what style those DJ’s would be playing before or after you.
You still spin classic tunes on a regular basis. What keeps the passion alive?
Music is my life. The music is the drug! Be it the old-skool classics or even the present stuff I play…. It’s all a drug that stimulates and satisfies the senses.
Being from Newcastle, was it harder to break into the Sydney scene?
It was but I guess with perseverance, persistence and determination there comes success in anything you set out to achieve.
Which other DJs were you closest to?
I have always been pretty good friends with most of the DJs I’ve come into contact with over the 25-odd years on the decks, but working full-time in a day-job over the years I never really hung out with or spent a lot of time with DJs. I’d probably say the only DJ I was somewhat regularly in touch with would be KC who I first met back in the DMC comp days.
What kind of music do you listen to most now?
I listen to and play a wide range of styles even now, just like I always have, so I’m not really into one particular style. At present I’m into electro-house, progressive house, trance, Eurodance, hard-style and of course all the 90s old-skool rave and hi-energy stuff too.