Domenic Cappello is a rare breed these days. He’s a proper resident DJ. Not resident in the in the once-a-month way or resident in the fitting it with his touring schedule way. Resident in the old sense, the truest sense, playing to a musically savvy crowd of up for it dancers at Glasgow’s Sub Club , who not only know their stuff as much as any crowd in the country, but expect to party. Every week. For almost 20 years.
There aren’t many weekly house nights in country anymore and certainly not many that have been running as long as Sub Culture, the Sub Club’s flagship Saturday night party. In fact the Subby, as it is affectionately known amongst its regulars, probably only has one real peer in the whole of the United Kingdom, Back to Basics in Leeds – a club that has a long standing and close relationship with the Sub Club, as Domenic does with its resident and brother in arms, Ralph Lawson.
Domenic’s discerning taste and uncompromising approach to music and DJing can probably be traced back to his DJ roots. Like many DJs of his era, he was introduced to electronic dance music via the mid-80s electro boom. But unlike many others, he became weary of it and rather than progressing to late 80s hip hop or turning to rare groove, he developed a keen interest in the blues. This led to his first DJ residency in the city, playing blues records on a Friday and Saturday night in a jazz club.
However, it was the late 80s, the golden years of acid house and sure enough Domenic was bitten by the house bug. So, after an abortive attempt to introduce acid house to the old blues heads that frequented his weekly jazz club residency, it was time on to pastures new. Or more accurately, pastures house.
Guest slots at the Sub Club followed, along with a residency at a night run by Mike Grieve and Paul Crawford who would go on to own and run the Sub Club. Then in 1994, the Sub Club’s new flagship Saturday night house party, Sub Culture was born, and Domenic was asked to come on board and take the helm as resident. It has a position he has relished and alongside co-resident, Harri, has used to develop Sub Culture into Scottish house institution and one of the UK’s premier house nights for most of the last two decades.
And as Domenic explains, it’s a special place for him too, “Becoming Sub Club resident was scary and exciting, it’s where I partied, met my wife and most of my mates. The pressure was immense at the start but I loved every minute of it and still do. Glaswegians can be an unforgiving bunch and if your shit they will be quick in telling you. To last 18 years playing every week is a fucking miracle to be honest and I’m honoured to have been a part of so many people’s good times.”
Subculture is club that has played host to almost every single legendary DJ one can think of, from Chicago to Detroit to London to Berlin, from Lil Louis to Derrick May to Andrew Weatherall to Dixon with many of them proclaiming it to be one of their favourite places in the world to DJ. However, the paradox is that it's one of the few clubs where the regulars yearn for the occasional residents night just as strongly as they do for any of the glamorous guests, because no matter who that may be, no one can quite rock the Sub Club like Domenic and Harri can. They've had almost 20 years of playing together, at the same venue, and they know their crowd inside out. And with that level of familiarity and understanding, comes a willingness and freedom express themselves musically, and push the boundaries in a way that guest DJs might find hard to match.
“Harri and I have a love, love relationship with the Sub Club crowd, there is no place in the world like it”, Domenic tells me, “On a good night it is better than most clubs, on a great night its like nowhere else, when that big track drops it’s as if the whole club lifts 3 feet in the air. Proper Goosebumps. Where else can you play Marvin Gaye into Underground Resistance ‘Acid Rain’ and the energy doesn’t change?”
UR – Acid Rain (Lightening)
Ralph Lawson has spoken about what it was like the first time he played with Domenic at the Sub Club, “The first memory that comes into my head listening to [Neil Howard] 'Indulge' is an image of Domenic Cappello DJing with me at the Sub Club in Glasgow for the very first time in late 1992. Dom was brought up on house music at the Sub Club. I'd never been before. There were 500 Glaswegian nutters going ballistic in the club and they really knew their music. Dom was so nervous he had to take a tranquilizer before he could play… He is another DJ I owe many records and good times to and I'm sure I am way down on reciprocating. Domenic first played at Basics in September 1992. He was staggeringly good back then and even better now. I have found over the years that being well known as a DJ is not directly dependent on ability. There are many DJs far worse than you that are far more famous and there are many that no one knows who are better. A lot to do with it is the character of the DJ and their ambition. To get really big you have to guest all around the world but why travel when you have the best club on your doorstep? I think both Dom and myself shared this experience over the years, but he's a far better DJ of course.”
Neil Howard – Indulge
This may go some towards explaining why Domenic tread the well-worn guest DJ trail as much as some other DJs. Yes, he’s played all round the country at some of the finest underground clubs and parties, including Back2Basics, Fabric and The End, and further afield, guesting at slots around the world at such prestigious and credible clubs as The Rex (Paris), The Moog (Barcelona), Deep (Madrid), Food Club (Brussels) and Propaganda (Moscow), but ultimately, Domenic is known and respected for what he does at the Sub Club in Glasgow.
So, London based house music fans are in for a treat on Friday, when Domenic makes a rare guest appearance in The Smoke, at the small but perfectly formed East London underground house night, Thunder.
Thunder resident and promoter, Joseph Apted explained why Thunder were keen to bring him to London town, “When we started the Thunder parties, Dom was pretty much top of the list of people I wanted to get to play for us. He's epitomises what the night is about and is an extremely talented DJ who plays exciting new underground house music, combined with many lost treasures from through the years. The last time I heard him play at the Sub Club he dropped lots of amazing modern house, that I didn't have a clue about, mixed up with the odd classic like Ron Trent ‘Altered States’ – it was an unbelievable set, not just in terms of content but structure. In fact I think I might have annoyed him that night by rushing up to the booth and repeatedly asking him what on earth that record was that he was playing… I've never been there and not had an absolutely fantastic night – and Domenic is largely the reason for that.”
Ron Trent – Altered States
Domenic's also a talented producer releasing some fantastic records under his Hutton Drive nom de plume on labels like Soma and Seventh Sign Recordings, a label he set up in 2001 with Graham Wilson, which has gone on to release some timeless tracks by artists such as Terrence Parker, Marcellus Pittman, G Strings and Santiago Salazar.
G Strings – Land of Dreams
It was one of these records that brought Domenic into contact with Rick Hopkins, the second third of the Thunder crew and another avowed Cappello fan. Rick explains, “'I was very much aware of Mr Cappello through his residency at the Subby in Glasgow but our paths crossed when I happened to play Hutton Drive ‘OSB’, his and the labels first release on Seventh Sign records at The Rhythm Factory in London. Word got back to Graham Wilson who runs Seventh Sign with Dom, that I played this track to a rapturous response and I that led to me getting booked to play at a party in Glasgow, where I met Dom there. Since then we've remained in touch helping each other with tips on everything from parenting to drinking skills and of course, our sharing passion for records from Detroit and Chicago. Dom’s a very fine DJ, who digs deep and doesn’t play obvious tracks, and I can’t wait to welcome him down to Thunder, he simply doesn’t play down here enough.”
Hutton Drive – It’s Dark
So, there you have it, a DJ who has held down one of the longest weekly residency in the country, who is revered by his peers and dancers alike, and is able to use is vast knowledge of underground house music and unmatched technical ability to not just take crowds deep and open their ears to new music but really rock a party. Domenic is the DJ’s DJ, the dancer's DJ and the ultimate club resident.
He is a rare breed indeed.
Domenic Cappello plays at Thunder, on Friday 20th July, at The Waiting Room, 175 Stoke Newington High Street, London, N16 0LH. More information here.