Attending a Wax On party comes highly recommended. In fact, attending just about any vinyl party comes highly recommended. At first glance, I wouldn’t blame you for giving me the “I get it, vinyl’s cool” side-eye; but the physical element of DJs spinning records on a turntable is only a fraction of the reasoning behind the whole-hearted recommendation. Do I like dancing to this? Do I feel safe here? Can I smile at someone without them assuming that I’m hitting on them? These might not be things that we always process consciously, but they certainly contribute to whether or not we see our friends the next day and say: “There was just something so great about that party!”
I’ve often tried my best to articulate this ‘something’, and in light of one of the inaugural Muse Festival’s first full night lineup announcements, I had a chat with Paul Waxon – who’s been throwing his brand of vinyl parties in Johannesburg and Cape Town for three years now – to see if he could help identify some of the finer details at play.
In the wake of the digital wave, unable to find a suitable amount of gigs providing turntables, Paul made the mandatory digital jump, but just wasn’t enjoying himself as much. “Yeah, I was working long and hard and figured I’d rather start my own party where I could play records again. I knew there were still plenty of people like me who wanted to play records – even people who weren’t DJs, but collected records and were keen to play them out.” The decision formed from a want to start a different party – not different just because of the vinyl-only aspect, but due to the many virtually tangible emotional extensions that stem from that focal point.
When I asked him what he enjoys most about playing records I subtly led him with one of the stereotypical elements one might have picked up from listening to records or even just conversations about them – the warm and rich texture of the wax. His response was a lot more in line with what I was hoping for: “Yeah, for sure, the quality of the sound is definitely a factor, but for me it’s more about the fact that when people play records they tend to play different stuff, you know? Like with a CDJ or playing digital it’s so much easier to play the latest track that you just downloaded the other day, but with records, most people have paid good money for the music they’re spinning; and in many cases they also spent a long time looking for that record. And so, the party was always more about gathering people who were a bit more open-minded about music, as opposed to it just being about throwing a vinyl party.”
This resonated with me tremendously as someone who has attended Wax On parties, and vinyl-party-kin Private Life, as well as someone who enjoys being actively perceptive of all the elements that a certain event/party/space may provide. The sense of light-heartedness, kindness, fun and a transcendence of any particular pretence is so tangible at these parties – particularly in Cape Town where it’s not uncommon for a certain space to come with a certain crowd or attitude. “Ah, I’m really glad you feel that way man”, was his initial response to my voicing these thoughts, “but I guess it’s just that a lot of music in clubs these days is underpinned by quite an aggressive and male-orientated energy. Like a lot of EDM and a lot of the hip hop coming out now are delivering these male-dominant emotions. I think it’s just natural that more soulful music puts people in a better, friendlier emotional space. And I’d picked up on that feeling you were talking about at other parties before, so I was really keen to try and facilitate that with my parties.”
Hosting his parties in both Johannesburg and Cape Town poses both a challenge and unique advantage for Paul in that he has to have the knowledge to curate for both cities appropriately, but also gets to contribute to and facilitate in their social growth. “Yeah, regardless of the city, I always try to book someone new or someone that hasn’t played for a while and then I try and pair up DJs that will complement each other. So if I know someone likes to play slower, deeper stuff then I’ll get someone to follow them with more upbeat, party stuff. I like to strike the balance of people discovering new music and people having a good time.”
At this point he elaborates on the balance factor, but also links me back to our previous conversation: “I’m also trying, probably not hard enough yet, to book womxn DJs as much as possible. Because of the social setting that we as curators and promoters operate in, I think it’s really important to contribute towards combatting the complacence of having such male-dominated line-ups throughout the industry.” We can only hope that this attitude finds its rightful place as a precedent in the very near future.
The legacy that Paul’s attitude towards his parties and the parties themselves have created in the past three years is no doubt why he’s part of the power-house collaboration organising the exciting Muse Festival taking place in Cape Town in December. He has curated the Friday night and boasts a legendary line-up of himself, Pierre-Estienne, Lady Venom and headliner for the night, Joburg’s DJ Kenzhero. In the meantime, Wax On happens once a month at Waiting Room in Long Street, Cape Town, so keep your eyes peeled for the next one.