A long time ago (well, a couple of weeks anyway) in a nightclub far far away... Episode 1998. A New Hope. It is a period of civil war. DJ Sonique, striking from a hidden base (in Crouch End, North London), has won her first victory against the complacent London Empire. During the battle, the rebel Sonique managed to steal secret plans for the Empire's ultimate weapon, The Superstar DJ, a tired concept with enough power to destroy an entire club culture. Accompanied by Simon, her Serious agent, Sonique races North aboard her starship, custodian of the white labels that can save her people and restore freedom to the dancefloor.
Friday. Midnight. On the M1. There's a bottle of champagne being passed around the Millenium Falcon (or is it a Renault people carrier?). Sonique and her mate Simon (from her agency, Serious) are celebrating. Sonique has been in the studio most of the week putting together a tune or two and now she's pressed an acetate to test on the crowd at Cream. The record in question is safely stowed in the boot, the tune in question - brooding, dark house; now thumping bass; now moody electric guitar - is booming from the tape deck and Sonique is nervous. She doesn't want any champagne, preferring the odd nip from a micro-sized bottle of brandy. Maybe it's the butterflies, maybe it's the prospect of such a hectic weekend (Cream's Full On, Horny, The Canal Club, Gatecrasher, Sundissential) or maybe it's the rapt concentration with which she attends each bar of the music, but Sonique is, for once, silent. This is not so much out of character as against nature for a woman who is so bubbly she can make the Moët seem flat. But it means that Simon does the talking. "Don't worry, babe. It's wicked. I have faith. You see, the thing about you Son, is you're a performer. With you it's like cabaret. All singing, all dancing, all the bells and whistles." "But I'm DJ Sonique," she says. "Not singing Sonique." "You, babe? You're a star."
A LONG time ago, when clubbing was still a 'cult' rather than a 'culture' and house music was still a Wendy house rather than a suburban semi, there was no DJ Star Wars. DJs simply weren't stars and it is worth remembering. Dance music was a revolution. Of course it was. But it wasn't led by Dave Double Decks. No. It was a democratic movement from the pub to the club; it was driven by the music and driven from the dancefloor. Fuck the 1960s with their free love and their singalong superstrummers. Fuck the 1970s with its arch anarchy and post-punk pin-ups, this was the late 1980s/early 90s and it was a popular revolution from the ground up. When the infamous 'repetitive beats' pulsed through the dancefloor and moved your feet, when the euphoric vocals lifted your arms, not waving but drowning, and, sure, when you were riding that first little ecstasy cloud, you didn't need any idiot to tell you what was what. Because that was the great thing about house music: the dancefloor was the stage and it made stars of us all. But then, like all good revolutions (just ask the Russians) this one changed tack. Perhaps it was the media hype, or the 'needs must' attitude of the music industry, or perhaps it was just an intrinsic need in us to focus our energies on other people, but within months the DJ star was born: Danny, Andy, Carl, Paul, Sasha and so on and so forth. Clubland, the democratic nation, suddenly had its heroes. Weirder still, a decade later and it's mostly the same old suspects that eat up the headlines. Even soft rock, with its fortysomething guitar bands, would be embarrassed by such longetivity. And now? Now, finally, in the last 18 months, a new talent has emerged from nowhere (via Crouch End, S-Express and Judge Jules). This talent is DJ Sonique. She's beautiful, she sings, she dances and she mixes it up with the best of them. Yet there's so much more to it than that.
Saturday. 2.15am. Cream. Liverpool. As Sonique's new tune dissolves into a swirl of synths and atmosphere, she takes up the mic. The dancefloor is rammed forward towards the DJ booth with every set of eyes raised to Sonique. Her voice cuts through the pregnant atmosphere like a light sabre, deep and throaty enough to make Mahalia Jackson turn in her grave, preaching a simple freestyle gospel to the masses. "Right here. Right now. Are you with me? Right here. Right now." This is no dry PA, more like the booming vibe of a reggae sound system. Some punter standing next to me grabs me by the shoulder, intent on some E-male bonding. "When I'm 60," he says, "I'm gonna have house music at me birthday party and Sonique's going to DJ." I don't know what he's going on about but I grin like a chimp and nod, happily lost in the depths of her voice. Then a frantic breakbeat kicks in and the crowd sets off once again.
Saturday. 5.30am. The Watford Gap. Pete, Sonique's driver and right-Han Solo has pulled us into the services so that we can take a leak. But Sonique is more interested in playing with her new toy, a digital video camera. She stalks around the shops filming bleary-eyed assistants. "I'm doing so much travelling and there's so much going on right now and for ages I didn't have a camera. And when I'm playing, I just get lost in what I'm doing. But sometimes I'm just desperate to catch the moment."
Saturday. 10pm. On the M1. Sonique doesn't mince her words: she doesn't like playing in London. With a couple of exceptions, Sonique reckons London clubland has "lost the plot" and that Londoners often "don't know how to have a good time". She doesn't say this as a criticism. It's more like a forlorn reflection of a woman who knows a good party when she sees one. That's why she has developed such an intimate relationship with the motorway.
Sunday. 3.10am. The Canal Club. Wolverhampton. The Canal is well-dressed (in a Ben Sherman sort of way) and well up for it. Sonique is fast approaching the end of her set and this time the groove for the dancefloor is deep and funky. Every set she plays is radically different. It's not a planned kind of thing - as the records strewn across around the DJ booth testify - just a manic desire to walk that tightrope between leading the groove and following where the dancefloor takes her. And nobody appreciates the music more than Sonique. Now, as searing bassline kicks in once again, she really is going for it. She spins in the DJ box, she gyrates, she jacks her body for all she's worth, the rhythm flows through her like an electric current. Suddenly, she realises that the mix is overdue, she has to extricate herself from her dancing in a brief moment of panic. The next tune is cued, she drops it in just in time, the crowd step to the next level and Sonique smiles and mops her brow in mock relief. This is an object lesson in how to DJ by the seat of your pants. A story about Sonique. Before Sonique was encouraged to DJ (by Judge Jules, an old mate from school), before she joined Mark Moore to write S-Express's second album, before she was signed as a solo artist to Cooltempo, even before she was fronting a reggae band in her late teens, Sonique had no intention of getting into music. No. As a kid, she always wanted to be an athlete. She used to train down at Haringay in North London and watch Daley Thompson get mobbed by adoring women. Then, when she was 15, she ran in an important meet at Crystal Palace. The hurdles. She had taken a fall the day before and she wasn't fully fit. She came second. "After that day," she says, "I never trained again. I couldn't believe I came second. What's the point of all that training if you're only going to come second? I was only used to winning. I suppose, in the end, that's why I got into music."
Sunday. 4am. On the... erm... M1. "One thing I don't get is how you can be a DJ and not dance. That just makes no sense to me. I just don't get it." We are on our way to Gatecrasher for the "graveyard shift" and Sonique is excited. She loves Gatecrasher and she talks about the club as if it was an old friend. "They trust me at Gatecrasher. That's what it's about. The crowd let me play whatever I want because they trust me with their emotions. They know that I'm going to give them a good time. And you get a buzz off that and then you can trust the dancefloor. Because I would never betray that trust. Never."
Sunday. 4.30am. Gatecrasher. Sheffield. Sonique battles through the club, stopping to shake hands, sign autographs and have her picture taken with a Cheshire-grinning fan. She is unfailingly friendly and talkative. We make it to the dancefloor and it is already rocking as Scott Bond celebrates his birthday with a thousand cheering clubbers. Then, in the DJ booth, Sonique struggles to get started as some hairy Wookie presses a white label in her hand, clings to her shoulder and shouts rhapsodies in her ear. For a moment I think she might punch him (I would have done), but she smiles and nods and promises to call. Later she reflects: "There's no point in saying to me it's got this vocal or whatever, or that Pete Tong loves it. I don't give a fuck. I never know names anyway. Don't tell me how great a record is because I'll know that myself. If it's got that groove then fine, if not then goodbye." At last Sonique takes to the mic and that voice soars out over a bassline that's hard and deep enough to make you shit your pants. For a moment the club grinds to a halt as the whole dancefloor simply stops and applauds. But as the ever-speeding pulse of Mr Spring's 'Voyager One' (the only record Sonique plays in every set) vibrates through the gut of the crowd and the red lights on every channel show the mixer begging for mercy, there's nothing for it but to be blown into hard house heaven. And it's only now that you begin to see what it is that sets Sonique apart. She looks good. Sure. She dances. So what? She sings. But even that doesn't get to the heart of it. The truth is that Sonique belongs to the dancefloor. However many gigs she's played that night, however tired she may be, when she gets behind the turntables she's just another clubber who's out for a good time. Watching her play, you never get the sense of a DJ providing some kind of service - you can't help but feel that she's one of your own, desperate to catch the moment. And, of course, that's how it was and it's how it should be. Sonique may be the new Female Superstar DJ, but, back in the day, house music made stars of us all.
Monday. 12.05am. Birmingham city centre. Five clubs and 1,200 miles later, Sonique is knackered. She's looking forward to flying to Ibiza later today to spend the week with her boyfriend, Ariel, who runs the K-5 bar, before returning on Friday to do it all again. We've just left Sundissential and Sonique pronounces herself "disappointed" with the crowd and "unconvinced" by the new Sundissential venue. Stopping at a set of traffic lights, some guy approaches the Millennium Falcon with a typical hard luck story of losing his wallet. He hasn't, he says, got enough petrol to drive his wife and kids back to London. Without a second thought, Sonique opens her pay packet and hands the guy a tenner. DJ Sonique? Superstar DJ. Nice lady. The force is most definitely with her.