The Pride of Manchester: DJ Paulette Interviewed
We speak to DJ Paulette about her residency at The Haçienda and about her return to Manchester ahead of her appearance at Manchester Pride this August
It's a known fact that women's achievements have been consistently written out of history. DJ Paulette’s place in Manchester’s now-meticulously chronicled musical past is a prime example, and no one is more aware of it than Paulette herself. The 50-year-old DJ, whose career spans nearly three decades and features residencies at prestigious clubs such as Paris’ Queen and Mix Clubs, Frankfurt’s Cocoon and Ibiza Rocks, is now back in her hometown to put things right.
Returning from the party island just over a year ago, Paulette has almost picked up where she left off, now playing the equivalents of Gaychester’s Paradise Factory, Manto and The Haçienda’s Flesh night, where she originally cut her teeth. We’re meeting over lunch to discuss Manchester Pride, which Paulette is playing for the second time this August, but first we jump back to those Haçienda days.
“One of the things that I’m trying to do in being back here is actually making sure that people know that I did play there,” Paulette tells us. “I don’t know where the oversight comes from,” she says, citing Peter Hook’s The Haçienda: How Not to Run a Club and Paper Recordings’ Elliot Eastwick’s Haçienda Family Tree as cultural artefacts that have omitted her role in shaping the clubbing landscape at the time.
“Me and Kath McDermott were the only two women who were residents at The Haçienda, ever. It’s a whole big men’s story but there were women there. It was probably one of the first places that ever employed female DJs. So I’m putting that right. I’m not saying they’ve done it out of any kind of maliciousness or spite and for me it’s coming from a very positive place – we did this and we are proud of it and we should be there with everyone else because it’s true. I’ve got the flyers, I don’t need to prove it. If they’d done a tiny bit of research they’d see. So that’s my thing. I’m going to correct it if it’s the last thing I do,” she says, then laughs.
Paulette, dressed brightly in white and yellow, is warm – she kisses you hello and hugs you goodbye and she is philosophical about most things, dishing out advice like it’s second nature. Still, despite her positive outlook, she has no qualms in discussing the hardships she’s faced as a DJ, and especially a female one. Sexual harassment, mental illness and wage inequality are all prevalent downsides still, she confirms. “I’ve travelled three-quarters of the way around the world, very rarely with a tour manager, very rarely with a second person and for want of a better word, that’s put me in some really dangerous positions,” she tells us.
“How I’ve continued to do my job after all that's happened actually makes me feel like I’m a mental case. 'Why are you doing a job that puts you in the frontline of being hurt by people?' But I’m bloody minded, I love music, I love my job and I’m not going to let anything like that stop me from doing it.”
Having spent so many years abroad, we're curious to know how she’s finding Manchester this time around. “It’s put into perspective the last three years of being in Ibiza,” she says. “Since I’ve been back people have really helped me. I’ve been passed to and between people until I’ve started working. When I was in Ibiza that did not happen. I could hang out with them and go to the parties but when it actually came down to helping it was every man for himself.
"I don’t know if it’s a Manchester thing but something in me thinks people here are just like that. I know there’s competition, I’m not stupid, but I feel looked after here. So what I thought could have been quite hard has actually been the making of me and as a DJ. I’ve found my tribe.”
If not the outlook, the geographical landscape of the city’s nightlife has changed since Paulette was last playing here and we appraise the current hotspots. She lists Hidden, Gorilla, The White Hotel, Antwerp Mansion and Refuge as some spaces she’s especially keen on, concluding that in terms of going out as a punter, she’s enjoying herself as much as she was back in her 20s.
“I think I’m playing more music for everyone to enjoy rather than just a very small set of people who want to hear techno. I’ve gone back to doing what I really love – I like voices, I like songs, I like playing music for people who understand what the music is. If I played a disco, funk and rare groove set in Ibiza, they didn’t really get it, they didn’t get me, they just didn’t have that history, whereas in Manchester, people have that funk, soul, Northern soul – that soulfulness is embraced a lot more here than it is overseas.”
Since being back in Manchester, Paulette has taken on a residency at Reform Radio and presents a show on Gaydio, a continuation from Loud'n'Proud – the first gay radio show on BBC Radio 1 – which Paulette presented with Boy George and which was recorded in Manchester. She’s played nights such as Handsome and become good friends with Homoelectric’s Jamie Bull and Will Tramp. Given her past and current association with the LGBTQ+ community, and that she’s played Pride events in London, Brighton, Paris, Marseille and Zurich, it’s surprising Paulette has appeared at Manchester Pride only once before.
“When I left there wasn’t really a big gay pride thing, I don’t think they were making a big deal out of it in the early 90s,” she explains. We ask how she found last year’s proceedings. “I was halfway through my set when Josh Wink walked in,” she recounts. “He’d just been for something to eat and his friend said, ‘we should go in this tent, it’s really banging,’ and then he walked in and said, ‘it’s you!’
"I’ve known him for years as I used to do his press when I was at Mercury Records and then Honey Dijon was on, so I thought, this is really cool, I’ve got Josh Wink and Honey Dijon in the house. I’m hoping for more of the same this time.”
With the devastating attack on Manchester Arena just a few days behind us at the time of writing, we feel compelled to ask Paulette if she thinks there will be a lasting effect on how people approach going to bars, clubs and live music events. “If you think of places like Tel Aviv or South Africa, people still party or party more because they’ve got the mentality that if we’re going to die, we might as well die smiling, connecting with someone rather than hiding in a hole. Get us when we’re enjoying it,” she says. Both in her response to recent events and as evidenced by her resilience within her career, Paulette is a DJ who Manchester should not only remember in the history books, but be proud of right now.