To celebrate the launch of Volume 3 of the acclaimed Disco Love series, veteran DJ and producer Al Kent will be playing all night long at Manchester's 2022NQ - taking clubbers on a journey through the wonderful twists, turns and twirls of his beloved genre at Manchester's coolest basement disco den.
We caught up with him to find out more...
You'll be celebrating the release of Volume 3 of Disco Love this weekend. Tell us a little about the compilation. What will we find on it?
It's just a collection of music I particularly like really. I'm very conscious of other releases that are packed full of £500 records that aren't necessarily very good, so I've tried to avoid falling into that trap. Everything on here is nice to listen to even if it's only worth a fiver. But they're also tracks that haven't really gained attention elsewhere so should be new to a lot of ears.
You were born and raised in Glasgow. Was there anyone from your childhood that was instrumental in helping develop your love for music?
A guy who was a bit older than me in school was into good music and took me under his wing a bit when he spotted a tamla Motown album I'd bought one lunchtime. So he kind of helped. But really it was just the friends I chose... it's probably no coincidence that they were all into the same music as me and were happy to spend their days at markets and in record shops.
Who/what were your musical influences growing up?
It's hard to say now because we never had any good radio stations or anything to get information from. Everything we found out was by chance really. There was a book called "Mods" by Richard Barnes that had a few pages about music so we found out about Motown and Chess and stuff from there maybe. Then we'd hear bits of Northern Soul at clubs we went to once we looked old enough. But it was all quite obvious stompy stuff. Once I got really into Northern Soul though the biggest thing in my life was a monthly all-nighter out in a place called Alanton where the UK's best DJs always played. So people like Mark Linton, Colin Law, Alan and Steve Walls, Jock O'Connor, Andy Dennison and the guests they booked, mainly Guy Hennigan and Kitch, were massively influential. They introduced me to so much amazing music month after month.
How did you discover Disco, and what is it about the genre that first gripped you?
That was just an extension of Northern Soul for me. You'd always hear a bit of 1970s (modern) soul at events. Alanton had a guy called Tom Jackson who'd play an hour of that stuff for example. And slowly those tracks started to grow on me. So records like Prince Philip Mitchell "One On One" or Rare Pleasure "Let Me Down Easy" were some of the first Disco records I had without actually associating them with Disco. Later I started focusing more and more on that kind of stuff and started to notice names like Tom Moulton or Walter Gibbons, and slowly started to piece together a scene that really intrigued me.
Was there much of a scene for Disco in Glasgow when you first started out?
No. I genuinely don't think there was ever a scene for Disco over here in the way that there was in America. Ian Levine championed it a bit at Blackpool Mecca and there was a Jazz Funk scene that ran alongside the Northern scene that had quite a leaning towards Disco. Then there were the big London clubs that appeared once Disco became really commercial. But I don't think Disco was really understood over here until books like last Night a DJ Saved My Life and Love Saves The Day were published.
Al Kent isn't your real name, is it? Where did the name come from?
Al Kent was a singer from Detroit who had a few records that were big on the Northern Scene. Basically, I made a record that used a really famous sample that could've got me into a lot of trouble so I had to choose a fictitious name. My label manager was on the phone asking me to choose something and "The Way You've Been Acting Lately" by Al Kent happened to be on the turntable at the time. I kind of regret using it as I'm sure I could've thought of something a bit better if I'd had time to think!
You've had a long and colourful career so far. What have been some highlights?
Oh, lots! Having Theo Parish play a disco set in a dark room when the lights broke down at a Million Dollar Disco party was nice, playing for six and a half hours in a Sydney warehouse is something I always mention when I'm asked this question, recording the Million Dollar Orchestra, playing the main room at Southport, playing with Dimitri From Paris in Glasgow then France... it's mostly been good fun!
What would you do with a Million dollars?
Build a recording studio. Or open a club. Or both.
What are your opinions on Disco's recent revival in popularity, and so called 'Nu-Disco'?
You don't want to ask me that question! Obviously disco's popularity is a good thing for me. But I just get a bit Grumpy Old Men about it when I'm asked this. There just seems to be a lot of people "into Disco" for all the wrong reasons, making awful edits of crap records because they think it's cool or whatever, using the word 'disco' as some sort of badge of honour when they really don't have a clue about it. And don't get me started about Nu Disco!
Are there any young producers/DJs working in the genre at the moment who you admire?
See answer above - I find it hard to sort the wheat from the chaff when there's just so much garbage to wade through, so I probably miss a lot of what's good. I'm going to say Julian Love though - he's an amazing DJ and great editor who doesn't ever seem to get the recognition he deserves.
Away from Disco, what do you enjoy listening to?
I still love Soul music in all its forms - particularly Northern. That's probably what I enjoy listening to more than anything. I'm lucky that my family are all into music too, so I get to hear a lot of Ska, Rhythm 'N' Blues and stuff like that too.
Have you heard any brand new tracks lately that have got you excited?
None that I can think of!
You're playing all night long on Saturday. Do you prefer this kind of extended set?
I much prefer playing long sets. It doesn't happen enough but it really makes the most sense to me. Playing one or two hour sets is extremely limiting and means you can only play a small percentage of the music you're keen to play. I always find it takes a bit of time to get a feeling for what's working, so if it's a short set you could just be getting into a groove when it's over. You can also open up a bit more when you've got room to breathe rather than having to cram in big tune after big tune.
What should we be listening to to get in the mood as we get ready on Saturday night?
Listen to Disco Love Vol 3 - available at all good record shops.
And what shall we buy you if we see you at the bar?
Hendricks and Tonic if they have it!
Thanks Al, see you on Saturday!
Catch Al Kent at 2022nq this Saturday for the launch of Million Dollar Disco's Disco Love 3.
Tickets are available through Skiddle below.
Tickets are no longer available for this event