Book Club: Ed Gillett, Journalist

Welcome to our Book Club series. Reading has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had a curiosity into what other people were reading, often questioning my family members about the books they had on their shelves or at the pool. Over the last few years, I’ve reconnected with that joy and it has become a constant with my friends, sharing our recent favourite reads, what we’ve taken away from them and what we are excited about exploring next. Bringing those conversations to 909, our Book Club series will delve deeper into other creative’s reading history from what they enjoyed when they were growing up, their most impactful read, quotes and more. In order to extend this community of readers, there is a bonus question for those who answer where they recommend a book(s) to next person who contributes to the club.

For this month’s edition of Book Club we welcome South London journalist and film-maker Ed Gillett who recently released his debut book, ‘Party Lines’, with rave reviews. Party Lines documents a new perspective on the history of UK dance music, exploring its pivotal role in the social, political and economic shifts on which modern Britain has been built. Alongside the book, Ed has written for The Guardian, Frieze, DJ Mag, The Quietus, and Novara Media, all of which focus on the themes that are prevalent in Party Lines. His film and TV credits include Jeremy Deller’s acclaimed rave documentary Everybody in the Place: An Incomplete History of Britain 1984-1992 for BBC Four, and Four To The Floor, Channel 4’s award-winning music and factual strand.

In his Book Club feature, Ed shares comforting childhood reads, books that have most influenced his music writing, and a book that you perhaps should hold off lending to someone on a second date.


Your favourite childhood book? 

There are two which stand out in particular, from different parts of my childhood.

The first is the Paddington series by Michael Bond, which I can vividly remember reading – or having read to me – as a young child, tucked up in bed and feeling really cosy, laughing like mad at the scene where Paddington inadvertently wins a cricket match despite having no idea what he’s doing.

They’re such comforting, good-natured books, but also quietly subversive in their own way – Paddington’s an immigrant, after all. The reactions he prompts from the people he comes across feel like a cross-section of the best and worst aspects of British society, so maybe they were an education on some level. But mainly I remember finding them hilarious and silly and heart-warming, and reading them in a place where I felt very safe and loved.

The other books which I associate strongly with being a slightly older child are the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett: perhaps not the coolest thing to admit to, but hey. They were the first cultural thing that I became a proper fan of, where I felt excited to work my way through a series, collect the different books, develop some kind of niche understanding or expertise: the same template I’d follow when I got into music, raving and the rest of it.

I haven’t re-read any of them in 20 years, so maybe everything Discworld-related has aged terribly, but I remember loving their dry humour, their extremely cynical take on the real world, the wildly inventive fantasy settings used to convey all of that sarcasm and satire, and the empathetic, humanistic personality which would cut through all of that by the end of each book. They were hilarious, but also very human – a way for me to both indulge my nerdy interests and develop some kind of emotional language too. For a deeply awkward and insecure 11-year-old they were incredibly precious, even if admitting that sounds a bit cringey now.


Most impactful/influential book you’ve read? 

This is a tough one! The obvious choices here, at least in terms of my own writing, are books like Energy Flash by Simon Reynolds or Altered State by Matthew Collin, both of which unquestionably set the template for book-length histories of UK dance music. Writing anything on the subject now without being influenced by them would be impossible.

But if I think about style rather than subject, then the book that really shaped how I wanted to write, rather than just what I wanted to write about, is How Music Got Free by Stephen Witt.

It’s the story of how filesharing upended the music industry, but it’s written with the energy and pace of a political thriller – there’s so much personality and drama threaded through it, even when it’s talking about deeply unsexy stuff like scientists refining the compression algorithm used to create the first .mp3s

It made me realise that you can write at length about the less immediately evocative or exciting aspects of the music industry – its economics, technologies, power structures and legalities, rather than the artists or the music itself – and still make that story feel vibrant and alive.

My style of writing is definitely less breathless and full-on than Witt’s, but the fact he was able to pull off something so ambitious was hugely inspiring. It broadened my understanding of how these topics could be written about, and it’s remained a huge inspiration for my writing ever since.


A quote that has stuck with you?

It’s odd, this isn’t something I’ve ever been asked before, and now that I’m struggling to answer it I realise I’m not very good at remembering quotes! I have no idea why, but it feels like it says something about what does and doesn’t clutter up my brain: loads of useless bits of trivia, far fewer inspirational quips.

There’s a beautiful poem called “Mild Peril” by Molly Brodak, which came to mind when I was trying to find something, and which ends with a line that feels somehow important, even if I can’t quite explain why.

“I asked what is going to happen and he said it’s happening.”


Favourite writer? 

I wouldn’t necessarily say I have an outright favourite author, particularly with fiction: it depends so much on what mood I’m in. If I think about the writers whose work has affected me the most, then that list would probably include Dave Eggers, Thomas Pynchon, Jennifer Egan, Haruki Murakami and Harold Pinter, but that feels simultaneously like a deeply incomplete list, and like I’m dodging the question by being too broad.

In terms of the writers I most admire or look up to, or whose careers I’d most hope to emulate, then these tend to come from journalistic backgrounds rather than literary ones. I’m thinking particularly of people like Anwen Crawford, Ciaran Thapar, Philip Sherburne or Dan Hancox, whose bodies of work are all very distinct but similarly ambitious, perceptive and beautifully-written.


Favourite genre? 

Again, trying to limit myself to one here feels dishonest: it shifts all the time.

Books which take music as the starting point to explore wider social and political shifts are an obvious favourite, whether that’s huge tomes like like The Rest Is Noise by Alex Ross or more niche stuff. I’ve also really enjoyed novels by Eliza Clark, Sophie Mackintosh and Rachel Connolly recently, which don’t really fit into the same genre but which I think have a certain shared sensibility, or maybe a shared interest in grappling with some of the weirder and less comfortable corners of modern life.


A book that you recommend everyone should read in their lifetime? 

At the risk of sounding horribly cheesy, my honest answer would probably be All About Love and The Will To Change by bell hooks.

They’re not perfect books, by any means, but they’ve both had a really profound effect on me: something less sappy than self-help literature, but with the ability to capture and reframe really profound aspects of how I’ve related to people, the sort of man I’d want to be, and where I see myself within the world. Anyone, but particularly men I think, should give them at least a cursory read.


Your favourite setting to read in?  

We’re back to Paddington again – in bed, two hours before I need to fall asleep, a massive rainstorm outside and my goddamn phone in another room. I manage this setup (rainstorm excluded) far less regularly than I should.


Are you someone who shares books with friends? If so, which book have you shared recently? 

I am, although it’s come back to haunt me on occasion. I lent my copy of “Boy Parts” by Eliza Clark to someone on a second date a few years ago, and then promptly never heard from them ever again.


What are you currently reading?

So I try and have one fiction thing and one non-fiction on the go at all times, even though I’m often pretty terrible at keeping up with reading them regularly. Currently it’s Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead by Olga Tokarczuk and Dust by Jay Owens, both absolutely exceptional so far.


You can buy Party Lines here.