“The reason I quit DJing was partly just because I was tiring of the whole thing but I’d also be lying if I didn’t say that a few people pissed me off, over the years too. It’s almost as if betrayal is a part of the landscape.”
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not bitter about my overall experience as I had an amazing time, met lots of great people, and played some fantastic clubs, but, after a while, these things add up and life’s too short for bullshit isn’t it.”
Contacting IHOUSEU this week about his new job working for the Bhopal Medical Appeal, Colin Toogood is as refreshingly frank about his previous life as one of Shoreditch’s key fashionista DJs as he’s serious about campaigning for victims of the infamous Indian chemical plant accident.
“Would your readers be interested? I'm sure they would, it's a major issue and it has implications on all of our lives. And you can always get into the story with a look what happened next to an 'old Hoxton DJ’,” he laughs.
“I'm sure that you're aware of the disaster but it's amazing how many people are not. Not only that but, like myself before I joined the appeal, even people who know what happened in Bhopal often don't know what is still going on there,” he continues.
“I'm referring particularly to the fact that the disaster site was never cleaned up and the toxic chemicals have now even poisoned the groundwater aquifer in the area. There's something like 30,000 people that have no other reliable source of drinking water than this contaminated supply. It's Bhopal's second disaster.”
“So, why am I telling you this?” he pauses, “It's because this December 3rd sees the 25th anniversary of the original disaster, the world's worst-ever industrial disaster, and we need to get as many people as possible aware of what is really happening in Bhopal.”
What happened in 1984 followed when poison gas leaked from a Union Carbide plant in Bhopal shortly after midnight December 3, with no warning to the residents living nearby.
“In the city people were sleeping. They woke in darkness to the sound of screams with the gases burning their eyes, noses and mouths. They began retching and coughing up froth streaked with blood,” Outlook India wrote in a feature article published in 2002.
“Whole neighbourhoods fled in panic, some were trampled, others convulsed and fell dead. People lost control of their bowels and bladders as they ran. Within hours thousands of dead bodies lay in the street,” Outlook India added.
25 years on, the story remains highly controversial and one Colin’s embraced wholeheartedly since hanging up his headphones, he insists happily.
“Boring as it sounds, the reason I’m doing my charity job is that I’m transferring many of the skills I learned over my clubbing years into a new context,” he says, “No, that doesn’t mean that I’m mixing for Bhopal, but it does mean that all of the promotional skills are coming into their own. After all, like it or not, there’s not too many DJs get very far without good promotion.”
Described by his last DJ agency as ‘one of the key DJs of the late 90s-early 00s Hoxton/Shoreditch scene’, Toogood made his name a little later helping launch the second wave of electroclash via his 333 centred party Fesh. With Nag Nag Nag fertilizing the first, two regulars from the club, Richard and Dan, were key to bringing it to Hoxton, launching Sunday night weekly Golf Sale at the then terminally unhip Hoxton Bar & Grill in 2004.
Picking up Nag’s regular’s and the area’s fashion elite, the club then popularized T Bar (changing Golf Sale to Boombox) before doing the same thing for Bar Music Hall (as Family), returning to Hoxton Bar & Grill in 2008. And constant throughout was Toogood on the decks, spinning cheesy disco pop of the likes of Kylie and Madonna alongside Whitey, Cut Copy and Blackstrobe,
“I loved playing Boombox and Family, and Golf Sale before that, and am quite proud to say that I was the only DJ to have been resident at all three,” Colin smiles. “Though I can’t say I’ve been to the Hoxton Bar recently, though that’s not for any particular reason, beyond the fact I just can’t be arsed.’
“I see Richard (Mortimer) from time to time but he’s so busy it’s untrue. But, he’ll always be a friend and I sincerely wish him all the best with PonyStep (the latest incarnation of the club) and whatever else he gets his fingers into.”
Shoreditch club politics aside, he’s keen to talk about Bhopal, and the escalating crisis thay remains to be resolved.
IHOUSEU: You’re marking the 25 year anniversary in two weeks: why is this date important?
Colin Toogood: “The 25th anniversary is important because it marks a milestone and should make people take notice. But, if I’m honest it’s no different to any other day in that it only marks the beginning of the worst industrial disaster the world had ever seen. It’s important to remember that Bhopal is in the grip of its second disaster, whereby thousands of people are now being poisoned by the toxic waste, that was never cleared up, and is now contaminating their drinking water. So, for the people in Bhopal the situation remains the same tomorrow, and the day after.”
IHOUSEU: Why is this tragedy more significant/ important than say charities fighting AIDS in Africa? Or charities closer to own?
Colin Toogood: “I wouldn’t necessarily say it is but the reason this issue is important in its own right, is partly because of the above points I mentioned but also because it has set up an unwholesome precedent seeming to allow multinational companies to getaway with heinous crimes in other, usually poorer, countries. Make no mistake, I’ve not turned into a hair-shirt wearing fool, but Union Carbide, who are now owned by Dow Chemicals, are wanted on criminal charges of ‘culpable homicide’, in India, with regard to the Bhopal disaster.”
IHOUSEU: Writing about the report in 2002, Outlook India said ‘’Bhopal isn't only about charred lungs, poisoned kidneys and deformed foetuses. It's also about corporate crime, multinational skullduggery, injustice, dirty deals’: how much do you fear these organizations can harm you personally by you taking them on?
Colin Toogood: “I haven’t had too much personal experience of this just yet or not that I know of at least. But I am aware of a huge amount of disinformation, floating around this case and have seen it in action many times.
One, fairly funny story, of snooping and skullduggery around my work involved a PR stunt that we pulled in conjunction with the Yes Men earlier this year. We decided to launch a new ‘bottled water’ product called B’eauPal. It was a well-designed and fancy looking bottled water with a bit of a twist on the label (see: www.bhopalwater.com). We filled some of the bottles with the genuine toxic water, from Bhopal, and arranged to take it down to Dow’s HQ in Staines to see if the execs fancied drinking some of their own wares.
Somewhere along the line Dow got wind of what we were up to, despite the fact that we were on a sort of ‘Escape from Colditz’ level of security, and when we got to Staines we found that they had vacated their entire HQ for the day. It was a bit bizarre, and wasn’t exactly what we were expecting, but I can’t say it exactly did our story much harm- ‘Activists shut down Dow for the day’ indeed. Unbelievably, this PR stunt has now been cited, in court, as an example of harassment by Dow. My Mum’s very proud.”
IHOUSEU: How much were charity issues and civil rights something you considered during your days running round Hoxton as a DJ/ promoter?
Colin Toogood: “Well, I wouldn’t exactly say we used to sit around discussing these issues. I’ve never exactly been a typical ‘right on’ sort but I like to think I’ve always been reasonably politically and socially aware. On the other hand, maybe I was kidding myself all along.”
IHOUSEU: Now that you’ve pretty much quit clubbing how you perceive the DJing years?
Colin Toogood: “I can’t say I have any complaints about my DJng ‘career’ and in fact I think I was incredibly lucky to have had such a great time and such a good run of it. Actually it really was a hell of a good time and, yes, I guess we played out most of the best ‘disco clichés’. You can take the piss out of the Hoxton scene as much as you like, as I certainly do, but I can tell you that it was a great time back then- I’m sure it still is for some people too.”
IHOUSEU: What similarities do you see between the worlds of Hoxton nightlife and charities: how does the competition factor between charities compare between DJs?
Colin Toogood: “I’m afraid that I found the petty competition between DJs pointless, facile and boring. I wasn’t too competitive but, on many counts, did lots better than a lot of my contemporaries; so there (laughing). Our charity is tiny, so there are no real issues of politics and competition within it. Our ‘cause’ is so good that I find, with a little knowledge, almost everybody genuinely wants to get involved and help us. This is really refreshing.”
IHOUSEU: What was your greatest DJing moment? And your biggest disaster?
Colin Toogood: “Greatest DJing moments are too numerous to mention but they definitely include BoomBox, and the 333 back in the day, and there has to be a special mention for Hotel Shanghai in Essen (Germany). My biggest disaster was at a New Year’s Eve party many years back at the 333 when I was so pissed (drunk) that I was trying to mix by putting records onto the turntable that was already playing one. It was New Year’s Eve, and in those days, it was all part of the 333’s allure, honest. When I looked at my records the next day I was furious because they were all covered in footprints. Then I realized they were my own.”
To find out more about the Bhopal disaster, or the Medical Appeal, or to make a donation click below:
http://www.dowethics.com(‘As a publicly owned corporation, Dow is unable, due to share-price concerns, to accept any responsibility for the Bhopal catastrophe caused by our fully owned subsidiary, Union Carbide. As an individual, however, you can help as your conscience dictates, . . .’)
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bhopal_disaster (‘Now owned by Dow Chemical Company, Union Carbide denies allegations against it on its website dedicated to the tragedy. The corporation believes that the accident was the result of sabotage, stating that safety systems were in place and operative. It also stresses that it did all it could to alleviate human suffering following the disaster . . .’)