As one of only two women to hold a residency at Manchester’s Haçienda, a venue, which at its peak was one of the most famous venues in the world, Paulette Constable, or DJ Paulette as she is better known, definitely knows a fair bit about club culture and the evolution of the 1990s rave scene and growth of acid house. From her residency at Flesh, Haçienda’s legendary queer night in 1992 to residencies across London, Paris and Ibiza, the DJ turned broadcaster and now youth mentor and activist, has never forgotten her roots in the north. In these lockdown times we had the pleasure of catching up with her to discuss her impressive career, women in the music business and her most memorable sets.
Can I start by asking you to briefly tell us a little bit about yourself, who you are and what you do?
My name is Paulette – known in the industry as DJ Paulette (I am THE ORIGINAL AND REAL DJ PAULETTE – not the shady Italian namesake). I have been DJ’ing since 1992 and working in the music industry on and off since I was 18. DJ’ing is my main occupation, but I also work as a consultant, a radio and TV presenter, I do voice overs, modelling and I also work as a public speaking coach and workshop facilitator.
What are some of your earliest memories from growing up in the north?
I was born in North Manchester General Hospital – and am one of a pair of identical twins. My mum says we were the best Christmas present she was given that year, but I think that’s largely because she is only 4 foot 11 and we both weighed over 7lbs. It’s a lot of extra weight to carry around at Christmas. I was brought up in Prestwich, North Manchester where I have strong memories of Bowker Vale train station, of losing the tickets at the cinema on Cheetham Hill Road, of playing in the children’s playground, in the paddling pool, on the boating lake and always loved the masses of cherry blossom and rhododendrons in Heaton Park. I used to love sitting on the lions outside Heaton Hall and getting ice creams in the café.
How important a role did music play in your life growing up?
Music is the lifeblood in my family. My mum was a well-known Jazz and Cabaret singer in the UK and she came from a well-known musical family in Jamaica. My grandfather played double bass in his own band, my mum, my aunts and uncles all sang – sometimes on the radio. All my family sing, dance, were taught to play musical instruments and are avid record buyers and music collectors.
We are all passionate about music and remain actively enthusiastic about everything from bar sets to club nights, live gigs to festivals and radio, documentaries and live streams. My brother Robert was a DJ and I remember him having a sick carrying box for his 7” singles. I have always loved music and find that I lose track of time when I am listening to or working with music. It’s a good sign.
How did you first get involved in music?
When I was little I was always doing shows, dreaming that I was a famous singer and doing ridiculous dance routines. It was always something I gravitated towards, but the path evaded me. Then I got a job working for Piccadilly Radio as a Junior Reporter on a music / lifestyle kids’ show called Saturday Express for two years – I did all the listings, gig reviews and some pop star interviews. Then I sang in bands for years after I left college, wrote songs, did backing vocals and session singing in studios – Spirit in Stockport, SARM and SARM West in London. When dj’ing came into the picture it became more of a reality. Then I moved to London and it became my life.
How have your own music tastes evolved and changed over time?
I remember the first single I ever played on repeat was a Frankie Lymon tune called ‘Up Jumps A Rabbit’ – me and my twin Paula created a dance routine to it, jumping up and down on the furniture so I think it’s pretty safe to say that my music tastes have become broader and more refined.
As the youngest of eight siblings, I pestered my brothers and sisters to sit with them whilst they listened to their music and I absorbed everything then bought bits I liked with my pocket money and paper round pay. I bought everything from disco to pop to glam rock and inherited albums like T Rex, Roxy Music, David Bowie.
Then when I was 13 I dived into electronic music and punk and bought Kraftwerk, Sparks, Yello, Gary Numan, John Foxx, ABC, Haircut 100, the original Human League, PiL, Dead Kennedys, Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Lou Reed, Velvet Underground, DAF, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Echo & The Bunneymen, The Associates, Visage, Depeche Mode, Thomas Dolby, Southern Death Cult, The Cramps, Psychedelic Furs, Soft Cell, Sisters of Mercy – I also bought the The Face, New Sounds New Styles, the NME, Melody Maker and Smash Hits.
I listened to the radio a lot and watched programmes like The Tube, The Oxford Roadshow and The Old Grey Whistle Test and went to lots of gigs so found myself loving Gil Scott Heron, Trouble Funk, The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, U2, Prince, The Smiths and Madonna equally.
When I started work I went through an acoustic/ folk phase and I bought up tons of Joni Mitchell, Suzanne Vega, Kate Bush, Leonard Cohen, Everything But The Girl, Fairground Attraction, Prefab Sprout, Tears For Fears, Deacon Blue. I also loved listening to the Jazz Show on Radio Two on a Sunday (after clubs) so I got into Peggy Lee, Nina Simone, Dinah Washington, Rosemary Clooney, Barbra Streisand, Liza Minelli. At the same time my sisters were going to All Dayers, All Nighters, Southport Weekenders and I got into funk, jazz, jazz funk, soul and electro through them and Mike Shaft and Greg Wilson’s radio shows which my twin religiously taped and I secretly listened to.
I was trained to play the piano and violin (can’t play now) but still love a bit of classical – Chopin, Bach, Beethoven. I discovered Prince, Earth Wind and Fire, Teena Marie and Michael Jackson from my sister Elizabeth. I got mad into Donna Summer, Aretha Franklin, Ashford and Simpson and Diana Ross. I bought Q Magazine and Mojo. Then the 90s brought Acid Jazz and house music – I loved Me’Shell Ndegeocello and Mariah Carey and became a mad Frankie Knuckles and David Morales fiend.
DJ’ing certainly expanded my tastes further – bringing in the works of Mood II Swing, Pepe Braddock, Daft Punk, Larry Heard, Cassius, Leftfield, Orbital, 808 State, Robert Owens, Junior Vasquez, Mood II Swing, Basement Boys, Roy Davis Jnr, Masters At Work, Underground Resistance, Danny Tenaglia all have their place and it just keeps going, I listen to and buy everything from Yazmin Lacey and Kamasi Washington to Green Velvet, Blake Baxter and Abe Duque. I don’t just buy the music I need to work, I still buy music for the pleasure of listening to and learning new things and I sometimes work random bits into a set if the spirit takes me.
The last albums I bought online were Lonnie Liston Smith Expansions, Paul McCartney, Wings Greatest Hits, Yazmin Lacey, Billie Eilish, some August Darnell and old Earth Wind and Fire early releases and a lot of Donny Hathaway. I fell out of love with vinyl for a while after a lot of my collection got stolen as I left France.
Then I lost 2,500 pieces of my prime personal collection to flood damage in Ibiza but happily this lockdown has given what is left of my vinyl collection a new lease of life. I’m not sure if my tastes have matured (as in slowed down a bit) . I still love a good rave up or a silly sing along into my invisible mic. I’m not a snob over vinyl and digital – either will do for me (even though I do get why people are snobs and there ARE some records I want that are only available on vinyl). To me it’s either ‘great music’ or ‘not-for-me music’. It’s all just a matter of personal taste.
You’ll be familiar with the narrative that surrounds The Hacienda years and how the role of women in this era has been typically underplayed, why do you think this is the case?
We live in a patriarchal society. Women’s roles are criminally underplayed in practically every discipline from teaching to training, from politics to psychiatry, from rocket science to domestic science, from acting to art, from maths to music production, sound engineering, events organisation – all creative industries art, music and media. It’s sadly the norm and not specific or unusual to nightclubs. As the grand tenet of second wave feminism cites: ‘The personal is political’.
Which women do you think were fundamental to this period and more generally the music scene in Manchester?
Lucy Scher (RIP) – A Bit Ginger Productions (together with Paul Cons – the team who created and produced ‘Flesh’); Ange Matthews – Haçienda Sue Langford – Boardwalk; Carol Ainscough (RIP) – Manto’s / Paradise Factory; and Kath Mc Dermott (Flesh, Homoelectric).
I think what strikes me about you, is that you completely own your success, you are aware of how much you have contributed to the 90s rave scene and that confidence and acknowledgement of your own contribution is very inspiring, if you could say one thing to women about having pride in what you do, what would it be?
I say the same thing to women as I say to everybody. One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. No one is born knowing how to do whatever they choose to do as a career – no career or job is gendered – if you want to do something, go ahead and learn how to do it. Then make it your own. Be prepared to and keep learning for the rest of your career, be confident in doing your own thing, don’t take no for an answer and be ready to bang your own drum if no one else will bang it for you. And when people do say no (because 99% of working in the creative industry is taking the blow of ‘no’ and carrying on regardless) remember Anthony H Pike’s advice, ‘you can’t be everybody’s cup of tea’. It reminds me not to take things too personally and always keeps me going.
United We Stream has just launched, how did you get involved and what do you hope people will get from it?
When the service was launched, Sacha Lord (Manchester’s Night time Tsar) posted a tweet asking which artists people would like to hear on the UNITED WE STREAM platform. One of my followers, Stephanie Fox sent Sacha a beautiful tweet saying they should book me because I was ‘the Queen and the best female DJ in Manchester’. I will never know whether it was coincidental or if Steph’s tweet was the catalyst but Sacha DM’ed me himself, explained the project and asked if I would like to take part within seconds of her tweet landing. Thanks Stephanie – that was serendipity indeed.
I hope that people will adopt United We Stream as their ‘go-to’ isolation party streaming platform for as long as the lockdown lasts and for as long as it runs. If it continues past the lockdown then I hope people will work it into their social calendar as an addition and an alternative to live gigs and clubs. More importantly, I hope that people will donate as much as they can afford and continue to give once the lockdown is lifted, since the platform has been created as a fundraising vehicle to support the people in the night time whose livelihoods were incinerated when the night time economy ground to a halt. It also benefits the cultural venues that have been closed and will require aid to get up and running again and the local charities that desperately need our help in order to continue supporting the vulnerable in our community.
Outside of music, you are also busy with youth work, activism and mentoring, why is it important for you to give back and what do you get from these experiences?
I do it because I care and because it comes from personal experience. Even though I was academic and always did well at school and college, I was also one of those teenagers that could have achieved much more with a sharp mentor who cared enough, gave me the right encouragement and who asked about and understood my situation. This lack of support I received through school has had a huge impact on my work personality and working life. I’ve travelled and learned a lot and if I can help someone to realise their potential through a project or by creating something unique and if they can somehow benefit from and be inspired by that experience then that’s a beautiful result. It’s a wonderful shared moment when the lightbulb switches on in someone’s head and the ideas start to flow.
I suspect you may have been asked this a fair few times, but for you, what makes Manchester so great?
My roots. Love. My family. The history. The people. The possibilities. The music. The sport. The accent. The politics. The humour. The water. The past. The present. The future. The weather…Oh, and we don’t take any shit from anybody.
This question may be slightly trickier under lockdown, but how do you like to spend your free time?
I have always enjoyed gardening and the lockdown has me enjoying every aspect – weeding included – as a source of ultimate zen. Even the grotty jobs are a blessing now. I have a selection of plants in pots at my front door and am blessed with a tiny jewel of a garden at the back both of which I am enjoying giving my full attention to. I also have a lot of houseplants that are enjoying being fully nurtured again. I cook every day, I listen to lots of music, watch bits of TV (I have to be really gripped by something to watch TV, films and documentaries – TV’s not my favourite pastime). I meditate, do a little yoga and make sure I get around 2 hours exercise (inside – yoga, light workouts or outside – skipping (ten minutes is enough), walking, dog walking) per day. I also write poetry, lyrics, songs and occasional columns – look out for something from me in the relaunched Faith Fanzine. I talk to family and friends – A LOT.
We talk a lot about how location or stereotype should not hinder women’s potential, what is your advice for Northern women who are currently pursuing careers in music?
Embrace who you are, how you are and always take pride in where you come from. Love how you look, sound, feel – your accent, sexuality and all. Never make excuses for it or play small to the disappointing stereotypes or low expectations you will encounter. Be you, do you, make yourself a beautiful and brave focal point and be your own unique selling point.
Finally, what is your favourite thing about the north?
Blood. Water. Fire. Earth. Air. Spirit. It has all the best elements.
Paulette’s most memorable club nights, residencies and festivals over the years:
London 1995 – I drove back from my residency at The Zap Club in Brighton for my debut at the Ministry of Sound. I was playing in the bar area when the dj booth was upstairs where the VIP is now. The decks were suspended on chains that swung backwards and forwards as you played and you had a view from the front to the back of the bar area. I still have a very blurred picture of that in a photo album somewhere. Great night.
Solidays Paris 2005 – it was the first outdoor party I had ever played in Paris and I was on the bill sandwiched in between Etienne De Crecy and Bob Sinclar. I was given a police escort through the streets of Paris to the start of the street parade and the attendance was around 30,000 people. I will never forget the moment when I played the white label of Mason’s ‘Exceeder’ just as we turned up the Pont Neuf and there was just a sea of people jumping and screaming to my set. Unforgettable.
One Night With Paulette – every Friday at Mix Club, Paris 2005 – 2009. Four of the most important years in my dj career were spent as a resident at the biggest club in Paris. I played weekly on Fridays, once a month on Saturdays and special events throughout the year with guests. My party unleashed underground bubblers and superstars like Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso on the Parisian public (they played at my 40th birthday party), Laidback Luke, John Dahlback, Noir, Afrojack. There was always a queue around Montparnasse Station which had to have steel barricades and people were crazy – I topped and tailed the party and had to take pictures and sign autographs with people for an hour each night. Once a month I played the whole session from 10pm till 5am – that was always a lock in.
Technoparade – every September in Paris there was a street party called Technoparade where the best djs in city (and then around 2009/10 the best djs in the world including David Guetta, Afrojack, Laidback Luke, Benny Benassi joined the roster) played in an all day street parade that rolled through the key streets of Paris. I played every year from 2007 to 2012. The route took in the key landmarks of Paris. There are still a few clips of my performances online on Youtube and DailyMotion I believe.
Cocoon, Frankfurt – 2009/2010 – this was concept clubbing par excellence. Conceived, designed and run by Sven Vath, Cocoon had two restaurants (Silk – which was Michelin-starred and Micro exceptional comfort food and both beautifully designed), multiple rooms, a main room built in the round with a DJ booth like a pulpit in the middle. Pods built into the walls surrounding the main room where small groups could sit privately and adjust the volume of the music. DJ booth with a tech spec of dreams, plus a private toilet and a vip seating area of its own. I really miss this club.
Pacha & Space Ibiza – playing for the Ministry of Sound 2000, 2001. In the days when Pacha had a Global and a Funky Room and Space terrace was on the ground floor. So many memories. Just about …
Miami – Nervous Records Denny’s Diner and Armani Exchange street parties – 2000 / 2001. Legendary sessions playing with people like Terry Hunter, Kenny Dope, Louie Vega …
Montreal – Black and Blue Festival – headlining this pivotal event in the LGBT calendar two consecutive years 2009/2010 – in the Stade Olympique in front of 28,000 people and both times nearly getting thrown out by security for dancing on the stage in front of my decks because they thought I was a randomer without authorisation to be there. The last year I was body painted by Zilon Laser (the Canadian equivalent to Keith Haring) which was surreal. I couldn’t get the paint off because the lights had baked it on. I bought out Pharmaprix in order to clean it off.
Homebird Exhibition, The Lowry Art Gallery 2018 – creating and curating an exhibition of my roots, life and career in Gallery B (the permanent LS Lowry collection occupies Gallery A) was an amazing pinnacle. It has been captured for posterity online in a section of my DJ Paulette website www.djpaulette.co.uk/homebird – where you can browse all 15 walls at your leisure and for free.
Janelle Monae – Castlefield Bowl, MIF 2019 – opening for Janelle Monae in front of a capacity, sold out crowd of 8000 people was a mega buzz. House of Ghetto tore it up with the vogueing on stage, I kept the crowd dancing and meeting Janelle at the end was a rare treat. It’s a gig that I still keep getting stopped in the street about.
Bluedot Festival, Jodrell bank 2019 – opening for Derrick Carter in the La Discotheque tent and smashing it. I was worried that I would have an empty tent as my slot coincided with New Order headlining on the main stage. I had no one to start with but I just kept my head down and played- after 20 minutes I looked up and the tent was rocking. Derrick gave me the biggest hug when he arrived. Good times.
United We Stream, which broadcasts Greater Manchester’s unique, world-leading culture to homes around the region and the world continues this weekend.
On Saturday, Manchester’s legendary Haçienda nightclub will come alive again, albeit digitally, for a second instalment of its virtual party initiative. The event follows the club’s stay at home rave that took place on April 11. DJ Paulette will join an A-star line-up of former Haçienda residents including Graeme Park, Jon Dasilva, Allister Whitehead, Peter Hook.
Words: Jenna Campbell
Imagery: Glitterbox shots – Printworks – London 07/03/2020: Kris Humphrys