An Extraordinary Journey Through The Dancefloor With Emma Warren

The author, DJ and radio host shares the inspiration behind her new book, Dance Your Way Home.

Author, radio host and DJ, Emma Warren, is an authority on all things dance music. Alongside her stint at Worldwide FM, she’s dedicated her literary career to social histories of past and present musical movements. To celebrate the release of her new book Dance Your Way Home via Faber Books, Warren dives into a selection of mixes that inspired her new memoir in various ways, shapes and forms.

My new book Dance Your Way Home uses the dancefloors I’ve been on – or have some connection to – to look at what ordinary dancing does for us individually and collectively. It doesn’t include all the clubs I’ve ever been to, but it does pick a route through some of the UK’s most influential musical moments. Instead of focusing on the DJs or producers, I’ve written from the dancefloor itself, taking a position close to the speakers and trying to convey what was going on.

As part of that, I’ve selected ten mixes that relate to the world of the book. On another day I could’ve selected a completely different set of recordings. In fact, I probably could’ve done this for hundreds of days, given the wealth of archive recordings that exist on Mixcloud. But here are just a few; enjoy the ride.

Frankie Valentine at Brilliant Corners, October 2020

You’re always going to get an unbelievable selection – and multiple un-Shazamables – from a man who has been influential in UK music for decades. Frankie Valentine contributed a really important phrase to Dance Your Way Home: ‘dance your story’. In the book, he explains how everyone on the dancefloor is doing this, whether they’ve only got five minutes of story to dance out or if they’ve got heavy loads. This mix is a real joy.

Dennis Bovell on Worldwide FM, 2017

I’ve included a few of my own shows and documentaries in this list, because they formed part of the research for my book; sometimes quoted, sometimes just under the lines. This chat with Dennis back in 2017 on Worldwide FM was a real joy to host.

Saxon Sound, London, 1984

Dance Your Way Home traces a history of dancing, using dancefloors I’ve been on or those I have a connection to. I wasn’t out on London’s Reggae dancefloors, for a range of reasons including age and the fact that there are zero soundsystem dances in my family background. However, I wanted to show respect to the foundational influence of the thousands of systems that were built across the UK because they are the mother and father of so much that followed.

I tried to square this circle by focusing on Lewisham sounds, including Saxon. One of their sets, from their Thursday night residency at St Mary’s Centre in 1982, features Lezlee Lyrix who is now also known as Professor William Henry and appears in my book, taking a group on a reggae walk around New Cross.

Shoom, Shoom, Shoom, 1988

The audio is of a certain quality. Let’s say ‘of its time’ or perhaps recorded off a tape that was recorded off a tape that was then submerged in some water. But it’s a fascinating journey back into a cultural moment. I attended this famous club in its final iteration in West London and was either the last person who got into the last Shoom or the last but one person. I can’t be too proud of this because doing so involved ditching my friends.

Downham Tavern, Bromley, 1989

The DJ Tony Wilson was locally famous when I was growing up in the edges of London, on the Kent borders, during Acid House times. When I heard about Manchester and Factory Records I was confused; there was another Tony Wilson?! Our Tony Wilson ran Fascinations at Downham Tavern (a place with a mad history which is a story for another time) and a sub-event at a smaller local nightclub called Bonnies, which I attended. These two mixes, by Fascinations regulars, aim to reconstruct the dancefloor, and they do a pretty good job of recreating the energy, at least if you believe the comments.

Phenomenon One, The Haçienda, 1996

Mid-1990s Manchester had a lot of energy and this was extremely evident at the intermittent Phenomenon One events that happened at the city’s most famous nightclub, The Haçienda. There were people turning cans of WD40 into portable flamethrowers in order to show appreciation of a big tune. I remembered a lot from the night – because it was so memorable – but I was able to pull more of the memories up through my feet by listening to the mixes that exist online.

I can’t advise listening to this whilst driving. This is high energy music, broadcast on Kool FM featuring Phenomenon One co-promoter and resident DJ Devious Devon b2b with Nicky Blackmarket.

Mix 497 / The Bridge – Part One, Test Pressing: Apiento & Phil Mison, 1998

Test Pressing is family and this mix from 1998 comes from a short-lived club night that Paul Byrne and Phil Mison ran underneath the arches at Loughborough Junction in Brixton. Test Pressing does a brilliant job of archiving, generating and sharing video and mixes – and this was some party too. It was especially memorable for me because it was the first time I’d gone out dancing after becoming a parent. This one is a family thing.

Classic UK Clubs, 2011

I made this two-part documentary detailing the clubs that created whole new genres of music for BBC Radio 1Xtra back in 2011. At the time, I thought of it as a kind of swan song – my love letter to something I’d loved my whole life but was stepping away from. Turns out I was wrong, because I’m still doing it and loving it more than ten years later.

For part one I went to Jazzie B’s house to ask him about his Soul II Soul Sunday nights at the Africa Centre in London, spoke to folk who went dancing to the Wild Bunch at The Dug Out in Bristol and caught some time with Goldie backstage somewhere to talk about Metalheadz.

For part two I took a train up to Milton Keynes to meet the guys behind Sidewinder to talk about Grime. They took me into their warehouse which still had shelves full of tape packs and VHS packs of their influential night and told me stories. Shaun ‘Banger’ Scott and Toddla T chatted about Niche in Sheffield and its contribution to Bassline House and I got some dancefloor compadres in front of the mic to talk about FWD>>’s role in developing dubstep.

DMZ goes Leeds, 2006

I’m fast-forwarding through a lot of UK nightlife now, but we’ll pause for a minute inside the West Indian Centre in Leeds, where DMZ – usually based at Mass in Brixton – took a coach trip. This is a recording of a CD that was given out to the first 100 people attending DMZ on 2nd September 2006, recorded live at Transmission Leeds in February of that year. It really gives you a sense of the vibration as it played out in both cities.

Assemble Sundayz, 2023

This recording from new night Assemble Sundayz gives a sense of 2023’s iteration of London’s ongoing soundsystem histories. MCs Glamzino and Shotime, with DJs Mr Taffa and Scotti Dee. Scotti’s dad ran a soundsystem, according to this excellent Mixmag piece on the Londonised Afrohouse and Amapiano powering through young London at the moment. This mix – and events like HouSupa – remind me that no music scene ever dies, it just evolves. It also reminds me that there is a lot to thank the diasporic originators for.

Words by Emma Warren.

Dance Your Way Home: A Journey Through The Dancefloor is out now via Faber.