How Does It Feel To Be Loved, a club night described by Laura Barton of the Guardian as “Absolutely the best night in the whole of the world!”, is ten years old this weekend.
With a tag-line of ‘From the Smiths to the Supremes’ it’s the music policy that shapes the club; indie-pop and soul draw a quietly hip bunch of revelers. Best of all they are just so friendly; no aggro or posturing here – it’s all crooked smiles and handclaps.
As well as the fortnightly events in Soho and Brixton, founder Ian Watson runs the How Does It Feel record label, which has released albums by Cats on Fire, Pocketbooks and Butcher Boy. And the HDIF website is a treasure trove of indie fun with a highly-recommended podcast, a London Gig Guide and a even a Twee Test.
We’re in awe of Ian’s incredible knowledge of music (and embarrassed at the names we didn’t know) so we asked Brian to put together a playlist of the artists he’s mentioned in the interview below. So settle down, fire up Spotify, and it’s over to Ian to tell us how he became an indie institution.
Listen: HDIF by Lord Brian Wilson II
FFS: So 10 years of HDIF. Congratulations! Tell us how you got started…
Ian: Thank you! About 11 years ago, a friend asked me to DJ at her leaving do at the Barfly and I decided to play just indie pop and northern soul. I remember playing the longest song I had – “Move On Up” by Curtis Mayfield – next to the shortest song – “Velocity Girl” by Primal Scream.
The set went really well – I don’t think anyone danced but I was just excited by the combination of the music and that set off the spark in my head of maybe doing a club night.
Then I was traveling from Glasgow to Edinburgh in the back seat of a friend’s car, listening to a mixtape made by her boyfriend, when “Beginning To See The Light” by the Velvet Underground came on. When it got to the line “How does it feel to be loved?”, I thought “That’s the name of the club!”
We started off doing a Thursday night on every second month at the Buffalo Bar and slowly but surely the word spread. It’s amazing to think that was ten years ago!
You’ve had lots of brilliant guest DJs, can you pick any favourites?
The first time Kevin Rowland DJ-ed for us at the Canterbury Arms in Brixton was an incredible, very emotional night, like the best private party ever. Kevin’s preparation for the night was impeccable – he not only asked me very detailed questions about the music we usually play at the club, but also about the kind of clothes people wore – and he played a brilliant set, just spot on, and then stayed to dance and chat and hang out with everyone, until the very end. A real gentleman and a total hero.
I’m also in constant awe of Jon Slade from Comet Gain (and Brighton’s Born Bad and Da Do Ron Ron club nights), just because he has the most spectacular collection of soul and 50s r&b, and always gets the club going wild. Jon plays solely off vinyl and there was one night at The Phoenix where one of the decks broke down – a disaster, I thought, but Jon and a couple of his friends turned it into a triumph, playing one record, then whipping it off as soon as it was over and slamming on the next record and pressing play. I can’t think of any other DJ that could get away with a gap of 10 or 20 seconds between each song. Watching Jon and his friends at work, laughing their heads off in the middle of a packed club, is one of my happiest HDIF memories.
What are 3 of your favouite floor-fillers?
It’ll have to be 4 floor-fillers, otherwise I’ll be unfairly favouring indiepop or soul, and that definitely wouldn’t do! Let’s see. Right now, it would be:
(1) ‘Karate Monkey’ by Chubby Checker. I’m slightly obsessed with Chubby Checker, because he’s only really ever known for the semi-novelty dance numbers like ‘The Twist’, but he’s actually had quite a varied career, and tried his hand at lots of different styles. He did a folk album, a psychedelic album, stuff that sounded a bit like Jimi Hendrix, he recorded an amazing cover of ‘Back In The USSR’, he did a fantastic folk rock song called ’20 Miles’ (which presumably inspired Edwin Starr to go five miles further…), and he recorded this storming dancer. On the face of it, the song’s simply combining two dance crazes of the day, but the result – a karate chopping monkey set to irresistible northern soul – is wonderful.
(2) ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ by Belle And Sebastian. We play a lot of indiepop stuff at HDIF and The Smiths are a very big part of what the club’s all about, but the band beating at the club’s heart is Belle And Sebastian. They obviously have a deep and genuine love for soul and the way they combine it with indiepop goes far beyond the immediate – they’re not just grafting a Motown beat onto a pop tune.
The atmosphere they create with ‘Lazy Line Painter Jane’ is spine-tingling – it’s rich and dense and evocative and it sounds like what you hoped Wigan Casino or the Twisted Wheel sounded like at 5am. And I love the fact that Stuart duets with a country singer – the brilliant Monica Queen from Thrum – as it gives the song that extra resonance: the feeling that you’re in a faded dancehall or a crumbling function room, dancing to the songs that will save your life, be it northern soul or country or indiepop or the most famous Motown tunes in the world. Somewhere in amongst all of that is what we’re aiming for at HDIF.
(3) ‘Do It’ by Pat Powdrill. My favourite ever northern soul song, and one of the most thrilling songs ever recorded. What makes it even more amazing, to my mind, is that it’s a cover, and in the tradition of all the best covers, one that totally reinvents its source material.
The original, by the Marvelows, is a fun, perky, fairly lightweight dance number that skips through its two and a half minutes without making much of an impression. Pat Powdrill’s version – masterminded by producer Nick Risi – kicks off the song with a bassline that sounds like approaching thunder or a gathering wave (the closest comparison I can think of is the music Leftfield wrote for that award-winning Guinness ad), then introduces a piano line that’s urgent and alive and bristling with pace and vitality, before throwing in some handclaps and unleashing this seemingly unstoppable rush of music that’s just impossible not to dance to – not bad for 10 seconds work!
Pat’s vocal pours soul and anguish (and I guess defiance) into those perky Marvelows lyrics (“If you wanna break my heart, then do it, come on and do it!”), while managing to create what feels like an inspirational anthem. Negativity turned into positivity somehow, empowerment forged out of heartbreak. It’s almost embarrassing how much this song means to me – or it would be if being self-conscious about music lurked in HDIF’s DNA (which, of course, it doesn’t). “Come on and do it, do it, do it!”
(4) ‘Sensitive’ by The Field Mice. I was thinking I’d choose ‘Down But Not Yet Out’ by Felt for my fourth choice, just because it was one of the highlights of the last HDIF, but ‘Sensitive’ is one of those songs that’s written through the core of HDIF as a whole. Whenever I play it, someone usually rushes up to say “What the hell is this??” and then they’re amazed that this sound, this raging, towering, shoegazing monster of a sound, can be created by a band called The Field Mice. It’s a song that builds and builds – from the relatively innocent start with Bobby sighing “We all need to feel safe/Then that’s taken away” – to the second half of the song which layers the sweetest noise upon the relentless thwack of the drum machine, almost as if the entire point of the song was always those final, gloriously cathartic, two and a half minutes.
Can you name your 3 favourite songs – are they different?
Pretty much impossible, mostly because three favourite songs just feels too restrictive – I’d always feel I was leaving something out. I guess I’m just too greedy! But apart from the indiepop and soul songs that I play at HDIF, I’m a big fan of Sigur Ros, Mum, The Avalanches, Manu Chao, New York Dolls, loads more. I grew up listening to metal and punk before I discovered indie, and I still have a real soft spot for a big anti-social racket.
You have quite an esoteric music policy, can you tell us how you arrived there?
I’m surprised that you say it’s esoteric as it feels quite natural to me, like we’re just joining the dots. Indiepop has been informed by soul and 60s girl groups all the way through its history, be it Orange Juice doing ‘L-O-V-E’ by Al Green, The Shop Assistants covering the Shangri-Las or Talulah Gosh drawing a line between punk rock and girl groups, right up to Belle And Sebastian taking inspiration from northern soul and The Aislers Set understanding the girl group asthetic so comprehensively they were able to write a song – the jaw-dropping ‘Hey Lover’ – which sounds like it came out on Red Bird in 1965.
And if you skip back to indiepop’s prehistory, there’s Jonathan Richman paying homage to the Velvet Underground, and the likes of The Byrds and The Beatles inventing janglepop in the first place. So it’s all connected, and it all shares a spirit, from the Left Banke and the Beach Boys up to Jens Lekman and The Wave Pictures.
You’ve had amazing press over the years, what’s your favourite thing anyone’s ever said about HDIF?
By far the best thing that was ever said about HDIF wasn’t courtesy of a journalist or a broadcaster, but Phil, the head of security at The Phoenix. He was talking to Emma, who was working in the cloakroom at the time and he apparently said “I’ve finally worked out this night – it’s a disco for the computer club.” And that phrase is just so fantastically appropriate it makes me want to cheer.
Over the ten years of HDIF, we’ve seen musical fads come and go and cool club nights come and go with them, and one of the things I’ve always been proud of is that people don’t come to HDIF to be cool and to be seen, they come because they really love the music that we play.
You’re not going to score any cool points with your fashionable new friends at university by suddenly declaring a love for The June Brides or Razorcuts, more’s the pity, but we love them and I’m very proud to provide a little bubble, hidden away from the notion of hip, where the kids from the computer club can dance to the songs that really mean something to them.
Tell us about the record label side of things…
After a few years of doing HDIF, I started putting on gigs by the kind of bands we were playing at the club, and after that it was a short hop and skip to becoming a proper record label.
Our first release, a compilation called “The Kids At The Club”, featured bands that had either played at our gigs or had DJ-ed at the club, and after that we put out albums by Butcher Boy, Antarctica Takes It!, Saturday Looks Good To Me, Cats On Fire and Pocketbooks, all of which I’m inordinately proud of.
The second Butcher Boy album, “React Or Die”, was named one of the Top 100 albums of the 2000s by The Times, which was quite amazing. It was really nice seeing a tiny, independent label nestling next to the big indies and the majors on the list.
I had to put the label on hold a few years ago while we sorted out some personal stuff – nothing dramatic, we just needed to move house and it took two years! – but plans are afoot to start the label back up again this year.
Do you have other projects/work apart from the club night and the label?
When I started HDIF, I worked as music journalist, writing for the music press and the papers, and I was London Correspondent for Rolling Stone in Australia.
Most of our guest DJs in the early days were either people I’d interviewed or reviewed when I worked at Melody Maker – Stuart Murdoch, Norman Blake, David Callahan – or fellow writers like Jim Irvin, Everett True and Andy Strickland who also had musical credentials (Furniture, The Legend!, and The Loft, respectively).
When I became a father in 2006, I went on paternity leave for a few months and I just never went back. Our second son was born in 2008, and now I’m a stay-at-home Dad during the week and I do HDIF two weekends a month and our new club, Great Big Kiss, where we play just the soul and girl groups side of HDIF, once a month. That’s more than enough to be going on with!
How big is your record collection? Do you usually listen to singles or albums when you’re listening for pleasure?
Not as big as it should be, thanks to two ill-advised purges in 1993 and 1998, where I stupidly thought I’d mark a relationship breakup by selling most of my records. Once you can kind of understand – what better way to move onto a new chapter than to sell the records that soundtracked the previous chapter, right? – but the second time was just needless and idiotic, especially as I also sold the records that I’d saved in the first purge. If I could go back in time and give my former self one piece of advice about anything at all, it would be: “DON’T SELL YOUR RECORDS!”
So I’ve been playing catch up ever since. As for what I listen to for pleasure, it’s usually an album. There’s no greater joy than making a cup of tea and sticking on the My Two Toms album – lovingly released on vinyl by the wonderful stitch-stich records from Bristol – or having a late night drink to “Histoire De Melody Nelson”.
Who are your 5 favourite artists of all time?
Oh God, see above. Totally impossible to answer. Maybe I’ll let HDIF answer for me. Every so often, we do an album special, where we play an entire album over the course of an evening. They’re always very emotional affairs, as you get to hear a lot of one particular artist and you play songs that you wouldn’t necessarily hear in a club.
So let’s see who we’ve done specials on. OK: Belle And Sebastian, The Smiths (we had a night at the 100 Club where we played all of “The Queen Is Dead” in order, which was just incredible… playing the songs one after another was a real journey, especially as the album starts strongly, has two maudlin songs for tracks three and four and then builds and builds and builds. I think that night changed the way I think about “The Queen Is Dead” actually), The Beach Boys, Love, Jonathan Richman, The Monkees, Orange Juice, The Wedding Present, Hefner, and The Sonics. I think that’s everything. So there’s your answer. Wow, so many specials still to do…
And a few choice questions from the How Does It Feel Twee Test…
1. Do you stare at your shoes while dancing?
Not usually no. I tend to dance at either HDIF or Great Big Kiss, so I have to combine dancing with taking requests and checking that the song isn’t about to come to an abrupt end. So I’m usually looking over my shoulder rather than down at my shoes.
2. What’s your favourite Belle & Sebastian song?
The segment on “Tigermilk” that runs from “I Could Be Dreaming” to “I Don’t Love Anyone” is pretty unbeatable.
3. Morrissey or Marr?
Morrissey has been responsible for some remarkable moment of poetry, but the first time I heard “This Charming Man”, it felt like listening to someone play the guitar in an entirely new way. I just couldn’t understand how Johnny Marr was doing it – how in the world was he making that sound, to paraphrase Jonathan Richman. I still don’t really quite understand how it’s possible for just one human being to play all of those notes all at once. So it has to be Marr, because he made me feel like I was venturing into an exciting new world.
4. What’s your favourite animal?
I really like pandas.
5. Which song always makes you cry?
Don’t ask me that. I don’t know. I can’t tell you that. I can get ridiculously emotional about music, and can cry to many songs if the moment is right, which it often is. I think I might have got something in my eye the last time I saw The Wave Pictures do “Now You Are Pregnant” live.
And finally… Brian’s PA Ashleigh Arnott asks, “If I get ‘LOVED’ tattooed on my wrist*, will you let me in free forever?”
Hahaha! I want to say yes of course, but then Ashleigh might actually do it and then I’ll feel bad that they have LOVED stamped on their hand for ever. I’m quite fascinated by tattoos actually. I wanted to do a book with a photographer friend about people who have tattoos on their faces – just talking to them about why they did it, and how it’s affected their lives since. But we never got round to it. I wanted to call the book Outside. I still think it’s a great name.
*Everyone that comes into HDIF clubnights gets a ‘LOVED’ stamp on their wrist for re-entry. Aw.