If you’re wondering if you’d fit in at How Does It Feel To Be Loved? ask yourself a question: do you like Belle and Sebastian? This, says Ian Watson, is the band that lies at heart of HDIF.
There are other ways you might classify the archetypal HDIF punter though: “My favourite ever description,” says Watson, “was from the head of security at The Phoenix in central London, where we ran the club for nine years. One evening he said: ‘I’ve finally worked your night out – it’s a disco for the computer club’.”
Belle and Sebastian aside, at any given HDIF you’re likely to be plied with juggernaut indiepop hits like ‘This Charming Man’ to lesser-known-but-nonetheless-worshipped anthems such as the Magnetic Fields’ twee romp ‘The Luckiest Guy On The Lower East Side’.
“If you’ve ever wanted to go to a club where those songs are joyously received as the classics that they are”, says Watson, “then here we are”.
A music journalist from the late eighties to 2005, Watson wrote for the likes of Melody Maker and NME, simultaneously forging a club called Smashed along with Steve Lamacq, and Simon Williams of Fierce Panda.
Watson’s credentials also helped him secure a roster of indie ‘celeb’ DJs for HDIF when it was born in 2002, at The Buffalo Bar in Highbury. “I wrote a lot about the bands we play at HDIF,” he says, “and was one of the first people to champion Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, Hefner, and so on, which made it easy when I started the club because I just asked the bands I used to write about if they’d like to DJ, and they all said yes.”
Indeed, the first night at The Shacklewell – in January this year – was graced by David Gedge from The Wedding Present. Watson’s favourite HDIF guest slot though was the first time Kevin Rowland of Dexys Midnight Runners DJed in Brixton: “He didn’t just ask what kind of music was popular at the night,” says Ian, “he wanted to know what people wore, who they were, what the atmosphere was like at the night, everything. And he sang! We set up a mic for him, and he sang over certain songs.
“As you’d imagine, the response was huge – everyone clapping along and cheering.”
But it’s not all been a picnic. HDIF, it would appear, is cursed by the gentrification of its venues; The Buffalo along with two of the club’s Brixton venues – The Canterbury Arms and The Grosvenor – have recently been closed down to become luxury flats. Something, says Watson, has got to be done.
“This club is the kind of stuff we need in this city, it’s what’s made London famous the world over – our adventurous, groundbreaking cultural life. If you don’t have small venues supporting new clubs and bands, there soon won’t be anything interesting or fun to do in London.”
The Shacklewell is – you’d hope – under less immediate threat from drooling developers. But isn’t the venue a bit hip for a club that’s used having elderly punters round one side of the pub, supping lager whilst flicking through the sports section?
Not so, says Ian. The Shacklewell nights, he claims, are for Dalston people who want something different. “In fact,” he says, “we’ve had people say how delighted they are we’ve come to Dalston as they’re sick of the regular indie nights and wanted something a bit more hardcore.
“If me playing The Field Mice and Jens Lekman counts as hardcore, then I’m happy to help out!”
The unassuming nature of the club – no fancy lighting, no dress code, no likely lads prowling around the dance floor – is second only to the music, whether spun off vinyl or CDs excitedly pulled from plastics sleeves.
Old school himself, when asked if the concept of rare vinyl is dying out, Watson is taken aback: “What? You’re joking! Songs may have been released on repros or bootlegs, but they hardly compare to the originals, some of which are like the Holy Grail.
“A copy of ‘Love Finds A Way’ by Margaret Little surfaced a few years ago which had a chip in it, so you couldn’t play the first few seconds of the song, and that still went for thousands. Insanity!
“The most I’ve spent on a seven inch single was £130 for ‘Do It’ by Pat Powdrill. My favourite northern soul single of all time and worth every penny!”
You can see Ian and guest DJs spin ‘Do It’ and other hits for far less than £130, at regular nights at The Shacklewell Arms, and other venues across London. Visit howdoesitfeel.co.uk for more information.