A Tribute to Ajax
Adrian Thomas died last night in a truck accident and I’m pretty sure he never knew me by name. But that didn’t stop him having a serious impact on my career, nor did it preclude him from being warm and friendly towards me every time I walked through the door of one of his club nights.
I graduated high school in 2005, and there wasn’t much there out there for us. Hip-hop had eaten itself and produced carbon copies of the original legends from the nineties, while the garage rock revolution had come and gone too quickly for anyone to truly latch onto. Music is a massive part of a post-adolescent's formative identity, and for many of us, it seemed like we were a flock short of a shepherd, that we had somehow been cheated out of our own proper movement.
Then, we discovered Bang Gang, Club 77, electro and Ajax.
I went to two of Bang Gang’s flagship parties at Club 77 (it had moved from Moulin Rouge in Kings Cross a while earlier) in pyjamas. Seriously. I met new people who are still some of my best friends, including the editor of this website. We were united by a strange feeling that we were standing at the top of the wave of something very new and mysterious. In 2005, The Presets had just released ‘Beams’, and not a lot of people had really paid attention. But Ajax had.
At a time when most DJs were still dropping 50 Cent, he was seeking out, promoting and playing Bag Raiders, Valentinos, K.I.M, Cut Copy and so many more, not to mention the original incarnations of Miami Horror and Flight Facilities. It’s not a stretch to say that many of these acts owe their careers in part to his tireless crate-digging. Without Ajax, there really would be no platform for someone like Flume to become successful today.
There is a reason that you’ll still hear guys and girls in their late ‘20s talking about Bang Gang like it was a religion. A ragtag group of DJs, Thomas at their helm but also including Jamie Wirth (now in charge of every decent pub in Sydney, including The Foresters and The Norfolk), Angus Gruzman (The Flinders, Motorik) and the brothers Single, Bang Gang discriminated against nobody. When they threw a party, there was no door policy, or genre standard for that matter. They wanted everyone to love everyone, and dance while they were doing it, ushering in a much needed shift in the spectrum by filtering through electro-clash elements from France, Belgium and The UK. Their mix CDs remain the stuff of legends; mostly unlistenable, utterly indispensable. They put strobe lights in the toilets, turning a disgusting venue on William St into their own mini-Berghain. It really was a once-in-a-lifetime movement.
Bang Gang nights were the most democratic events on the planet, and Ajax, as one of the founding fathers, was responsible for pushing the gospel out to all those who would listen. Adrian was relentless in his mission to expand ears and push the boundaries of good taste, but he was never malicious about it. I still remember asking him on MySpace about a song he’d debuted at 4am on a Saturday morning, and him sending me a lengthy reply about what it was, and where to find it. The song was ‘Ice Cream’, by Muscles. The reply came at 8am the same day.
Australian kids needed rockstars in the mid-00s, and all we had was Craig Nicholls and the guys from Jet. Bang Gang became our new idols, turning a club night into a touring entity and, eventually, a record label. ‘Shooting Stars’ - the eternal landmark of the genre - came straight from Bang Gang’s 12 Inches imprint. So did many other defining songs, opening up Australia to a new, sexier and rawer version of dance music well ahead of America and other parts of the world.
But the best part about being in the same room as Ajax was seeing him play. Countless DJs have said that he was their inspiration to start their own careers, and it isn’t hard to see why. The man was a magnetic force of positivity, proof that good music knew no boundaries and waited for no man. He was informed by overseas trends, but his style, and the label that he founded in his wake (Sweat It Out!) remained purely his. It was electrifying. Like a local Mixmaster Mike, he made the turntable his canvas and splattered paint everywhere. We were just lucky enough to see the Van Goghs that emerged.
So no, I didn’t know Adrian on a first name basis. I was too young, too green, too scared of my shadow. But it was his influence that helped me and so many other lost kids step out and become who we were. And he always smiled at me, even when I was dressed like a lunatic, just trying to figure out what life was about while he was playing that MSTRKRFT remix of ‘Woman’. This, I feel, is the saddest part of all. I never even got to tell him how much he meant to me.