Rocking the stones at Stonehenge
As the sun set behind the ancient stones of Stonehenge and a perfectly orchestrated soundscape filled the ears of 50 hand-picked guests, Alon Shulman looked at the scene and smiled to himself. No one had ever staged a light and music event at Stonehenge before.
It wasn’t an easy task. The event, a fund-raiser for English Heritage, was kept secret and — thanks to silent disco technology — held in near silence. The guestlist comprised everyone from Shulman’s family, to celebrities and the cream of the clubbing world. It took a year to organise, and Shulman was on top of every detail, however mundane.
We meet in a popular North London café. He’s a DJ, so I reckon he’ll be wearing head-to-toe Nike and chains around his neck, covered in tattoos. But the man who introduces himself is smartly dressed. Shulman, who’s in his “early 40s” is charmingly polite and very well spoken, with piercing blue eyes.
He’s that rare person, someone who turned a teenage passion for DJing into a lucrative career that he loves. “My life is a project. I’m always working because I’m always living,” he says.
He is CEO of the World Famous Group, a marketing, investment, sponsorship and event management company which places emphasis on creativity. And he does not allow business to get in the way of his own creativity.
“I enjoy writing books so I write, I’m a DJ — I like music, so I put on music events. I do everything I enjoy and try to do it well, including theatre and film. I’m very hands on. I don’t like to delegate.”
Born into a Jewish family in Chelsea, Alon started DJing while at Westminster School, because he “was a nerd who wanted to meet girls.”
He made friends with Paul Oakenfold and Carl Cox, both now world-famous DJs and while studying history at UCL, became a resident DJ at the Wag Club in Wardour Street, home to the cool kids of the 80s. Oakenfold headlined the Stonehenge event, his playlist contained a lot of electronic trance music, but also everything from the Blade Runner soundtrack to Nessun Dorma.
Shulman is a special adviser to English Heritage. “They asked me if I could do some events with them, which is how Stonehenge came about. The ground there is sacred, it has a lot of significance. I love the site and I studied history I knew what I wanted to achieve and I knew I had to be respectful,” he says. “People have been trying to do events there since the 1970s. The Rolling Stones failed, they couldn’t get it off the ground. There’s a precedence of people trying to do it and it being cancelled at the last minute. No one’s pulled it off before.” The event took over a year to organise, and he says, “it couldn’t have gone better. God Loves the Stranger. It was a financial, an emotional and a creative success.
“We only had 45 minutes to build a six hour show. There was a lot going on, it took hours and hours to do. The plugs weren’t working, we didn’t have the right sockets, and it was dark. I’m an urban guy so we hadn’t factored any of that in, we had some generators but it was difficult.
“I wanted it to be intimate; I wanted everyone to be able to go inside the stone circle and to be able to control it in a nice way. We had to make sure that the DJ didn’t touch the stones, the people didn’t touch the stones, the stones didn’t touch the stones!”
He says that “some people were actually crying. It was a real ‘we did it’ moment” .
Born to an Israeli mother, Shulman is fluent in Hebrew and had his barmitzvah at the Western Wall.
“I have always being conscious of my Jewish background, my roots, my heritage, I’ve connected much more with Judaism as I’ve got older.”
“My drive partly comes from my Judaism, for sure” he adds.
He and his wife keep a kosher home and his children, aged seven and three-and-a-half, “are very aware of their roots”.
“I’m very proud of my ancestry, my Jewishness and it’s a big part of me even though I didn’t always know it was a big part of me.”
He says it’s important to remember that “you’re part of something. People struggled to get to where we are today. They didn’t do it so you’d stop practicing Judaism.”
He met his wife, Samantha, a lawyer, in 2009. “We were engaged three weeks later. We had quite a big fat Jewish wedding — there were 700 people.” Former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks officiated.
The couple are very different. Shulman says that his wife “has never been to a club in her life.”
Maybe she’ll change her ways, if he carries out his latest plans for events at Petra in Jordan, Masada in Israel and — closer to home — “hopefully one next year at Kenwood House.”
DJ Paul Oakenfold at Stonehenge
DJ Paul Oakenfold with Alon Shulman (below right)