DJ Healer Selecta: Interview

Time Out talks to Raison D'Etre's open-minded DJ Healer Selecta

  • One of the most popular DJs on MySpace rarely plays records released after 1975. DJ Healer Selecta doesn’t need to. It’s not that he dislikes house or hip hop, he just finds original rock ’n’ roll, dirty funk and Latin jazz boogaloo so much more inspiring. His ‘international vintage retro dance party’ has more than enough rockabilly stompers, surf guitars, country swing, Afrobeat, mambo, jive and rocksteady reggae (there’s a lot more, but I’ll stop there) to get any crowd going.

    On Friday they’ll be heading to Cargo where Raison d’Etre, the club he runs with his partner, Crystal, celebrates its fifth birthday with a whole lot of soulful dance rhythms, a bundle of live bands and a special burlesque treat from Amber Topaz. Live music has always been an essential element of Raison d’Etre and is what inspired Healer Selecta, then known as Yvan Serrano, to start buying records as a kid. He's been DJing since the age of 11 (his local radio station in Tulle, south-west France gave him a slot) and it was clear watching him dancing at the decks at the Pigalle Club last week that the same passion still drives him on.

    ‘I love this record,’ he said, as he dropped the needle on the ’60s classic ‘Green Onions’ by Booker T & The MGs, ‘I learned to play guitar from this record. I bought so many records when I was a kid to learn how to play guitar. That’s how I built up my record collection.’

    Serrano first came to London as a guitarist with rock ’n’ roll and surf bands like Showman & The Thunderous Staccatos, but he soon got involved in playing records as well as performing, painting and helping with the production at the legendary Frat Shack night, the inspiration for so many of the vintage, retro, burlesque and cabaret clubs featured in Time Out’s Social Club listings now.

    ‘It was one of the best and craziest clubs in the world,’ chuckles Serrano, ‘but many of the regulars only wanted to hear rare records from particular genres. When I mixed garage rock back to back with Afrobeat, samba and surf, the purists didn’t like it, but the music lovers went wild.’

    So Serrano started his own night, Funk-I-Tus in the bijou El Paso bar in Shoreditch and it was there that the regular, mostly Afro-Caribbean crowd, dubbed him Healer Selecta because they loved his broad musical mix ‘and the vibe was always really good and friendly’ [hence the Healer tag]. ‘There have never been any fights at our nights.’

    Raison d’Etre grew out of Funk-I-Tus. ‘It wasn’t planned. One week a few friends brought instruments along and it just mushroomed from there. There was a massive need for creative people to express themselves; some people just came in and started pinning their artwork to the walls! Live music was suffering with all the raves and clubs at the time and all kinds of people came: black, Asian, white, everybody.’

    Raison ‘d’Etre soon moved to regular, packed monthly Sundays at The Spitz and started open-mic sessions soon afterwards. The club now runs a regular open-mic session for singer-songwriters at The Pelican in Westbourne Grove every second Wednesday, with band sessions called at 93 Feet East.

    Raison d’Etre embraces music that was written yesterday alongside the retro tunes, so at the fifth birthday bash there’ll be authentic ’50s-style R&B and bluebeat from the 9 Ton Peanut Smugglers, upfront soul by Harambe and ‘friendly D&B and funky soul’ performed by Something Simple. DJs La Mia Bo and Adrian Gibson add bags of rockin’ soul and freestyle tunes to Healer Selecta’s mix too.

    ‘Any musician will love these records,’ he says, looking at his box of seven-inches which is divided into categories like ‘Pounding Dance Ravers’, ‘Buttshakers’ and ‘Pussycat Wiggle’, ‘because they are all well performed and well produced.’ That’s one good reason why he’s just been booked to play in the VIP Bar and the Pussy Parlour tent at this summer’s Glastonbury festival.

    ‘I play what I like, it can be really obscure or an absolute classic. It’s a classic because it’s a great song and everybody loves it. Each time I play “Sex Machine” I feel good because for me it’s the best funk song ever.

    ‘Raison d’Etre is successful because we’re playing the music to young people not just veteran aficionadosand we don’t have a dress code even though we love it if people do choose to dress up. It’s cooler that way, if people just come for the music.’

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