No napping with Napper

Isobel Cockerell meets Cambridge DJ legend, Napper Tandy, founder of Turf.

Cambridge Cambridge Folk Festival Dance folk hero Music napper tandy Turf

A few years ago, before Tandy exploded onto the scene, the zenith of Cambridge nightlife was one Indian restaurant, and then that closed down. He single-handedly changed everything, bringing some ‘slinky rhythms’ to the spires of Cambridge.

Napper’s nights created a sea change — while the shrill monotony of chart music and Cindies continues to reign, the music scene in Cambridge is far more interesting and varied than it was when he first arrived.

I had brunch with Napper at the Anchor on a fine October morning, recovering after the towering success of his first Turf night of the term on Thursday, and finally encountered ‘the man behind the mask.’

Revolutionising Cambridge nightlife, one beat at a time

IC: So, Napper…why are you called Napper, incidentally?

NT: It’s Irish. My great, great, great, grandfather was an Irish revolutionary called Napper Tandy, who fought against the English to free Ireland from colonial oppression. He’s a sort of folk hero. Everyone knows his name, but no one’s called Napper, ever. So it’s sort of an excuse to get bought loads of Guinness in Ireland.

IC: Do you feel like you’re a folk hero of your own kind in Cambridge?

NT: No, I don’t feel like I’m a folk hero of my own kind in Cambridge.

IC: It’s quite a useful name, though, for a DJ.

NT. It is. It’s probably useful having a name people don’t forget. But the flipside is you have a stupid name.

IC. I like it.

NT: Mmm.

IC: So what was the Cambridge nightlife like before you got here?

NT: I don’t really know what it was like before I got here, because I wasn’t here.

They’re clearly enjoying it

IC: When you got here, then.

NT: The thing is, Cambridge historically has an awesome lineage of electronic music talent. Loads of awesome people come from Cambridge. Lots of big Berlin techno guys are actually Cambridge based. There was a resident creative community but no platform for them to perform. Although there has always been Warning at the Junction, which is a big, mashy rave. Old school drum n’ bass.

IC. So do you feel you’ve changed the face of Cambridge nightlife?

NT: [Laughs] Great question…It’s different when I left than when I arrived. We started as a result of a convergence of different things at the same time: people wanting to listen to new, more interesting music, the fact that no one else was doing it when we started doing it. There was also Clubnacht at the same time as us. Our musical policies have converged a bit more recently, but then they were specializing in deep, warm house – deep, warm, German house. That was good fun as well.

IC: So it’s not just a case of you being a big fish in a small pond.

NT: I don’t think it’s being a fish in any pond. It was just about coming to Cambridge, not finding any music that we wanted to listen to,  and getting a space to play music we liked on a sound system. It turned out that other people wanted to listen to it too.

IC: How did you manage to get a first and win an award for your dissertation on top of everything else?

NT: Beats me. Very unexpected. I’ve got no idea. I was much more surprised than everyone else. You’ve got to learn to work when it matters. I suppose that’s the trick.

IC: Have you paid off your student loan?

NT: [Long pause]. Er…not completely. Some of it. Not completely.

IC: Is Turf going global?

I suppose it’s gone European. We do three cities in the UK, festivals all round the UK, Croatia and Bulgaria. We’ll do anything that’s asked of us. We’re not rolling it out as some big promotions thing. What’s nice about it is it’s always been very informal. It’s a pretty badly organized mishmash. It’s not an aggressively expanding promotions organization. That’s not who we are.

IC: What is a Boiler Room?

NT: A boiler room…a boiler room is where you keep a boiler. The Boiler Room is an online video and audio stream series of mixes from DJs all over the world. I’ve got nothing to do with Boiler Room.

IC: Do you have a Boiler Room?

NT: I mean, I think I’ve got a Boiler Cupboard. I don’t think I’ve got a Boiler Room.

IC: Are you single?

NT: No, I’m not single.

IC: Shame. The Tab readers will be very disappointed. But thank you, its been enlightening.

NT:Now you know the man behind the mask.

IC: …Yes.

You can next catch Napper in Cambridge on 16th October at Fez, where he is running Fever with the Menendez Brothers, spinning disco, funk, soul and hip hop.