A new venue I’m particularly excited about

At least a couple of times a month I get to go to a new venue, and there’s always a level of added excitement, but last Friday I was particularly excited to be going to Ceroc Passion’s Kettering freestyle.  The reason was because of who would be spinning the tracks.

Readers of my DJ reviews will know that I’m a great fan of Hayley Epps.  In fact I’m not alone, and it’s the reason that explains why she gets so many top slots in The Thunderball Room at Ceroc’s Southport Weekender.  It also explains why Hayley also has a gig at Ceroc Passion’s highly acclaimed themed dance fests at Daventry.

Hayley’s Southport set had a very contemporary flavour

The Thunderball Room at Southport attracts some of the best Ceroc DJs in the country, and I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing many of their outstanding playlists and the subsequent vibe they create out on the floor.

When I reviewed Hayley’s set in February last year at Southport, I was struck by just how contemporary her music was.  Here was a playlist seemingly put together for the younger dancers, and why not.  I remember being a little out of my comfort zone, but understood that there was a need to ensure that everybody got a taste of their favourite music, and that’s what Hayley was on the stage for.

Hayley gets it just right for Daventry

Later that year I got to dance to Hayley’s music at Daventry, where she shared the DJ duties with Rob Ambridge in the main hall.  At that gig Hayley played a more inclusive set, but she still stamped her mark on proceedings with some belting contemporary tracks.  I couldn’t help wonder how she would play Kettering, which I suspected would have a more mainstream Ceroc demographic out on the floor.

This is a wonderful modern venue

The Corn Market Hall was originally built as a place for the storage and trading of locally grown corn, but now functions as a modern high quality community facility and wedding venue.  The beautiful dance floor in the main hall, which can accommodate up to 200 people,  makes it a wonderful place to dance in.

Though the building is in the heart of Kettering, it is positioned next to a large free (after 6) open car park, that made arriving there a breeze.  Once inside the large rectangular dance hall I could see that this venue had everything – plenty of perimeter seating and a bar, and DJ Hayley up on the stage.

The room fills up nicely

It had been one of the hottest days of the year so far, and I did wonder whether that would effect the numbers.  I arrived not long after the doors opened, and I did wonder about the turnout.  But I needn’t have worried as by  by 8:45 the dance floor was full.  I quickly got a sense that this is a well loved venue and come rain or shine I suspect it is always as busy as it was on my visit.

So how did Hayley play it?

Not surprisingly this wasn’t a Thunderball Room Weekender set.  This was more a regular Ceroc playlist, but with elements of Hayley’s musical choices stamped all over it, that made this dance mix for me at least, one of the standout playlists of the year so far.

Of course I’m just one amongst many, but the fact that the dance floor, once packed stayed that way until almost the very end says it all.  Here was a playlist filled with tracks we love, but I sensed that Hayley chose them very carefully to give the whole night, if not a contemporary feel, then certainly a modern one.  Let me explain.

A handful of older track doesn’t distract from the modern vibe

This playlist was made up mainly of Post Millennium tracks with a few Club tracks from the ’90s that gave it a very modern vibe.  Mixed in to this were a handful of well loved tracks from the previous decades – Bobby Darin’s Beyond the sea (’50s), Frank Sinatra’s version of The way you look tonight (’60s), Earth Wind & Fire’s September (’70s) and Nina Simone’s My baby just cares for me (’80s), but there weren’t enough of these to stop the night’s music having a modern feel.

Modern reworking of a Motown Classic

Of course one way of mixing in old tracks, while keeping the vibe up to date, is to play modern reworkings.  One of the best around at the moment is Freischwimmer’s version of the Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell Motown classic Ain’t no mountain high enough, featuring the voice of Dionne Bromfield.

Hayley, being Hayley plumped for the techno infused latest Calvo edit. This new edit is going to get a lot of plays and I suspect Hayley and a few others will be playing it in the Thunderball Room at Southport come June.

Hayley uses a modern mash up to great effect

Mash-ups also turn give old hits a modern feel.  Miami Sound Machine’s Doctor Beat with the voice of Gloria Estefan is very ’80s, but when mashed up with Post Millennial Pylo’s Drop the pressure you forget just how old Doctor Beat is.

It’s the first time I’ve heard this particular mash-up and I loved it.  Finding a track like Drop the pressure shows to what lengths Hayley goes to keep her playlist fresh and vibrant.

Hayley creates a Thunderball Room vibe

Look, I know that no DJ can transport the Southport Weekender Thunderball Room to a middle England town like Kettering, but if I’d closed my eyes and you’d told me I was at Southport I could easily have believed you during tracks like Drop The Pressure Vs Doctor Beat.

Another reason that I thought Hayley brought a little bit of Southport in to the night was the sound system.  It was full on, with every button seemingly turned up to the max.  I was chatting with Sam Whitfield, the venue manager on the front desk, when I suddenly heard a thumping track that drew me back to the dance floor.

Brand new speakers explain the great sound

As I walked in to the main hall I suddenly realised what the track was – DNCE’s Cake by the ocean.  To be honest, I’ve become a little bored of this track, but the sound system seemed to give it new life.  Sam later told me that the venue has just invested in to some new speakers.  Well they worked on Friday night, that’s for sure – Cake by the ocean‘s never sounded so good!

Hayley conducts the dancers on the floor

One other Very-Hayley-Thing that Hayley does is her habit of standing up behind the decks, and seemingly conducting the dancers below her on the floor.  It’s something that Hayley is known for as she commands the decks at Southport.  Here she was doing it in Kettering.

On Friday night, just as at Southport, it showed Hayley’s enthusiasm for her music and love of dancing.  This enthusiasmt must rub off on the dancers.  This goes some way to explaining why, on one of the warmest days and nights of the year so far, this place was packed.

Let’s not forget this is Hayley’s venue

I sense that the good numbers at this venue reflect the local following Hayley has in the area.  This is of course where Hayley teaches with her husband Tony, and it’s little wonder that they have built up a strong following.

Not only is Hayley a top draw as a DJ for Southport, but she and Tony are a highly acclaimed part of the Weekender teaching team.  Here’s their bio pic from February’s brochure:

Another Ceroc match made in heaven.  These funky freestylers are adrenaline junkies with a passion for high flying aerials and death defying drops. Their sellout Masterclasses are the firm favourite at every event.

It must be wonderful to have such enthusiastic teachers on the stage every week.  But there is another reason that this venue is lucky to have Hayley and Tony – they must inspire everyone, no matter what level, who comes to their class.

Inspiration is vital for our motivation

From my very first visit to Southport I have been amazed at the standard of dancing on show.  No matter how much my own standard of dancing improves, every time I go to Southport I see something that motivates me to keep trying to get better.

I had such a moment on Friday night.  It was great to see Hayley spending a lot of time  dancing with the people from her class night, but she also found time to dance with Tony.  To Be mine by Offenbach Hayley and Tony put on a show of fast paced dancing that I found myself transfixed by.  I wasn’t the only one – someone was even videoing their amazing floor show.

This track is so full on, with a thumping beat that makes it the type of track I can picture Hayley rockin’ the floor at Southport with.  It was the perfect accompaniment to their amazing dancing.  It was quite humbling to watch, but at the same time it must be quite an inspiration to anyone who finds themselves watching.  Class nights must be quite something here.

Other contemporary tracks rock the floor

Hayley’s playlist was filled with contemporary tracks that rocked the packed dance floor.  The extended mix of Breathe by Jax Jones,  On my mind by Disciple, the fabulous reworking of Gabrielle’s Dreams by Alex Ross, and Ofenbach and Nick Waterhouse’s Katchi all generated a wonderful modern vibe out on the floor.

An ’80’s double sets the floor on fire

For all the modern tracks, I have to say that, one of the best tracks of the night was one from the ’80s.  Hayley got the vibe going out on the floor with another track that rocked the dance floors around the same time – Michael Jackson’s Off the wall. 

I can’t help thinking that there must have been a lot of people in that room, who had danced to Off the wall at their school discos and the first time they ventured in to the disco’s and clubs of their youth. It’s so wonderful to get a chance to dance to tracks like this, that bookmark your earliest dance experiences.

A track that’s having something of a renaissance

Having set the floor up Hayley then lit the fuse with one of the best dance music tracks from The ’80s – Lionel Ritchie’s Dancing on the ceiling.  Of course this track has been been a Ceroc favourite for a while, but it appears to have had a bit of a renaissance lately.

DJ Tony Riccardi had used it as the climax of his Thunderball set at Southport in February, and only four weeks ago DJ Ashley Davis had used it to the same great effect at Kelham Hall.

Like with the Michael Jackson track it’s great to relive dance floor memories from your youth with tracks like this, and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had a fabulous dance to it.  I’ve embedded the long version for those of you who want to connect to your Wi-Fi speakers and relive your youth dancing round the kitchen.

This is a very friendly venue

When ever I visit a new venue, like this one, there’s always a danger I’ll know no one.  Apart from Hayley I knew only two other faces in the room.  While I feel confident to ask for a dance, there is still a little anxiety as you invite someone on to the dance floor.  It’s the same for anyone going to a new venue.

I must say that I quickly sensed that this was a very friendly venue, but what impressed was the number of times I was asked to dance.  While women are always encouraged to ask the men to dance, many still feel uneasy about this.

While I was in conversation with Hayley about my positive thoughts about the venue, she made a comment that make an impression on me:

We really try to to get over the message that dancing is fun, and we try to encourage everyone to ask everyone else to dance.

It’s not easy for men sometimes to do the asking, and I know it’s a lot harder for many women, but Hayley and Tony seem to have succeeded in creating a confidence amongst their dancers, that helped make my night very enjoyable and I suspect a lot of other people’s too.

You can’t beat dancing to a favourite track

I’d come to Kettering with high expectations for the music.  Hayley did not disappoint, and she created the correct balance between giving people like me a mini Southport vibe and catering for her local dancers.

Tracks like Can’t stop the feeling, Let’s Marvin Gaye and get it on, and Blurred lines are all favourite floor fillers that everyone it seemed loved dancing to.

However I’ll finish with a track that gave me one of my mini-Southport moments.  We all have our favourites, and you can’t beat it when one gets played, and you have a fabulous dance to it.

A few weeks back my daughter sent me a link to a track, she’d heard while out at a club:

Heard this and thought of you Dad.  Bet you love it.

She was right.  So excited by this track was I, that I soon started searching round YouTube for different mixes of it, and duly found an even better version.

I then did what a lot of people do when they come across a favourite track – I played it over and over again, and all the time hoping that a DJ would play it while I was out dancing, and yes Hayley played it.  But Hayley being Hayley again, had found her own cracking remix, one that I suspect may find it’s way in to one of her Southport Thunderball Room sets.

The track is DJ Cassidy’s Kill the lights.  This track is driven along by the guitar work of one of my dance music heroes – Nile Rodgers of Chic fame.  The original track had vocals from Glee’s Alex Newell, but the version I love and also the one Hayley played has added vocals from Jess Glynne.

My favourite is The Dimitri from Paris remix.  Hayley went for the Audien remix.  Here’s Hayley’s choice.  It is just a fabulous full on Hayley style track, and it more than satisfied my need to actually dance to it.

Thank you Hayley, and thank you to the ladies for some wonderful dancing to what was a night of fabulous music.