I have known John Digweed a long time. Back in the days when DMC owned Mixmag, every Monday morning without fail I would receive a phone call from a then little known DJ and promoter from a sleepy village on the British south coast of England looking for a weekend catch up. His mix tapes that landed on the Mixmag doormat every week were fought over by the staff in the office, they were that good. His nights too on The Hastings Pier were brilliant, but nobody north of the M25 had heard of him. John’s world changed after he sent one of his tapes to Geoff Oakes at Renaissance who listened to it with someone who had just popped in for a chat. That ‘someone’ was Sasha. The rest is clubland history. John Digweed soon became a household name around the UK and beyond. John has gone onto release dozens of his own productions, compilation albums, brought us his own sterling independent Bedock label showcasing the stars of tomorrow, voted Number 1 in the DJ Top 100 Poll and is still as much in demand as a DJ as ever before. Dan Prince checks in with a clubland legend as his Bedrock label celebrates their 100th release…
Welcome back John to the DMC world. How is clubland around the globe at the moment?
“Hi Dan. I’ve had another really good year, everywhere has been really busy. The scene right now I feel is similar to when we had the recession in the 90s when the whole of clubland suddenly kicked off again. There’s elements of that today with what’s going on economically, people are seeing the news and there doesn’t seem to be anything good happening anytime in the near future and all they’re saying to each other, ‘what are we doing sitting in, let’s go out and forget about it all.’”
Your label Bedorck celebrates a milestone 100th single release this month courtesy of two of the most creative young producers in the electronic dance scene – Guy J and Henry Saiz. Over the years John, which artists do you think Bedrock have really given their first leg up to into the industry thanks to you?
“Well Danny Howells has been there since the beginning and brought us our second release. He has gone on to have a very successful career thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication on his part. I was also lucky enough to sign an early Guy Gerber track ‘Stopage Time’ which did incredibly well and he is now developing into a very successful artist. Guy J has been the latest artist that is really starting to shine now and he has bags of talent. The way I see it, Bedrock remains a stepping stone for talent to further themselves, I’m constantly striving to spot someone with a unique talent.”
You make it sound so easy…
“We’ve had some low points, everybody does. I can remember when we took the Suicide Sports Club album which didn’t do as well as we expected. I can remember trawling round all of the majors looking for a deal – those A&R guys are still as lazy as they ever were. They won’t even look at new material unless it’s already had a million hits on YouTube and by then all the hard work has been done! The strange thing is, I played the album to the film and TV guys and they loved it – it`s been used in CSI and a movie already. Hitting a hundred releases though is a fantastic milestone when you see so many labels falling by the wayside, it’s a very tough market out there especially when you consider that everyone has gone through the whole shift of vinyl to digital, limiting file sharing, how and when to promote. It’s a different beast out there now.”
How many tracks do you still get sent a week?
“That’s impossible to say. Let’s put it this way, today I have loaded up 100 new tracks for consideration for Fabric tomorrow night alone. Add to that stuff from last weekend and the weekend before that I didn’t have chance to play and you’ll get an idea of how much is out there. It’s all about finding that balance, deciding what will work and what won’t, I’m still so hungry to support new talent who are making great records.”
I can remember booking you for various events years ago when the first question you asked was who else was on the line up, if they didn’t fit in musically then you wouldn’t play. It seems today though you are appearing at big events with DJs more varied musically than you would have liked back then…
“Well I am still conscious of who I am playing with, I certainly wouldn’t want to be DJing at a club with some cheesy trance DJ. At festivals however it’s different. With events like Global Gathering we’ve been able to do our own Bedrock arenas so I can pick the artists myself. If I haven’t got control though I am thrown in with everyone else, luckily there have been no shockers to date. The thing about festivals is that they are becoming less and less about the whole night, it as about every DJ’s 90 minute segment. Even the first DJ who goes on to play in front of four people will still bang it out, as will the next and the next. That unfortunately has always been the case. I’ve stood there and watched some DJs play big records they wouldn’t normally play or stick on a mash up and I’m thinking, what are you doing? Why can’t you just stay true to yourself?”
What are your current top 10 floorfillers…
1.Electrc Rescue - Dope
2.Stelios Vassiloudis & Sasse - The Z ( Simon Garcia remix)
3.Funk D`Void - Shadowchaser - Alexander Kowalski Remix
6.Psycatron -Memories of the moment ( John Digweed & Nick Muir Remix)
7.Gabriel Ananda - Hey Blop ( Christian Smith remix)
8.Nick Curly - B Libero
9.Julio Bashmore -Battle For Middle You (Jim Rivers Future Bristol Boogie Re Rub)
10.Guy J & Henry Saiz - Meridian
Where is your all your old vinyl?
“At my mum’s. It’s one of those isn’t it, ‘oh I’ll come down and sort it out tomorrow’, but when I get there and see the mountain of records I quickly change my mind. I can’t get rid of them though, they are part of what has made me who I am today. Who’d want to buy them anyway, it’s not like the old days when all your friends were clamoring for all the promos I got sent.”
So you don’t miss the days of vinyl then?
“Do I miss the worry I used to go through of having my boxes of tunes stolen at airports, people spilling drinks over them in the DJ booths and ruining them, lugging them through airports and getting them to the club to see what set up they’ve given me this time? No. It’s so easy just to turn up with a SD card.”
But people are still playing it out there though…
“Don’t get me wrong, vinyl is fantastic, but technology has made it so much easier for a DJ to do his job to his abiltiy. I saw Sven Vath playing at a Cocoon night a while ago and he played his entire set on vinyl and what people like Ricardo are doing still is fantastic.”
You are playing at Fabric in London this weekend and back in the capital for the Together Winter Music Festival at the end of November at The Alexandra Palace – it seemed the UK turned it’s back on your style of techno and tech house for a few years whilst trance and hard house had it’s day, but it seems the new era of UK clubbers are getting their music heads on again…thoughts?
“I don’t think the UK turned it’s back on our style of music to be honest. Look at Fabric, the place has been sold out every weekend for the last 13 years, they haven’t turned their back on credible music. Nor has Sankeys, Basics or The Warehouse Project which have all been driven by sheer passion for the music they love. Everywhere goes through changes and different periods of style. Scene’s will struggle if promoters can’t get the DJs they want because of the DJs sticking to their favourite clubs. What is a promoter to do? They have to earn a living so they go and book other DJs. The UK has just had fewer places for people to get excited about our sound, that’s all.” But the ones that are running are some of the best in the world.”
So how many gigs have you played in the UK this year and how far ahead are you booked into next year?
“I will have done 8 gigs come the end of the year in the UK which I feel is about the right amount. As for next year, we have pretty much sorted the diary until the summer with penciled in dates for all of the important events in there.”
I spoke to Dave Seaman yesterday, he has just mixed the Renaissance 20th Anniversary CD – the club that gave you your first UK breakthrough. Sasha admits that the first time playing back to back with you at your party on Hastings Pier was the set that paved the way for all future Renaissance CDs. Why do you think Renaissance has stood the test of time?
“Renaissance was one of the first clubs that sprouted up with an anti-rave ethos. People were looking for an alternative to dancing in fields and dodgy warehouses and Renaissance, along with the likes Cream, Venus and Nicky Holloway’s Milk Bar saw there was an alternative to getting all messy with their exclusive door policy getting the right crowd in and right atmosphere. Their nights are varied now with different styles of DJs and I think if you can have a good run of albums sitting alongside good parties you should get the longevity.”
Name your five favorite DJ compilation mixes of all time…
1. Coldcut – Journeys by DJs 2, Michael Mayer – Fabric 3, Danny Howells – Choices 4, Joris Voorn – Balance 5, Nick Warren – Back to Mine
A lot of the big name DJs who were around when you first started are, er, still big name DJs! How does the prospect of DJing into your 50s sound to you?
“To me, it’s all about enjoyment of work. I’ll give up when I wake up in the morning and don’t get excited about going into my record room to do some work, or getting ready to go to the airport for another gig. I’ll give up when I have don’t that fire. At the moment I do. Put it this way, the day I don’t get excited about getting ready for a trip to DJ in Los Angeles, I’ll pack it all in – and also Dan, 50 is a long way off !”
So you are still enjoying yourself out there?
“I love DJing now more than I have ever have. I know I am not the most animated DJ up there but I make up with that with my commitment and consistency. I always turn up with a new box of music and that’s what I feel DJing is all about. There are two types of DJ; there’s the ‘it’s party time!’ DJ and then there are people like me who wants to play new music and give people something extra. I see myself as a filter for the dancefloor – it may take me four or five days to find a record amongst everything I have to go through, but I hope everybody is as excited as I am when they hear it for the first time.”
It’s not all fun though…
“Most of the time it is. Sure we all have the numerous times when your plane is delayed or cancelled and the travelling is the only real downside. But at the end of the day you can never forget that at the other end there are a thousand people waiting for you on a dancefloor who have had a bad week at work and this is their weekend and time to forget all about the stress. It’s not a hard pay to price really.”
Before you got into dance music, what music were you listening to growing up?
“A real mixture really of everything that was on the radio. Anything from Talk Talk, Madness, Joy Division, The Cure mixed in with more dance orientated artists such as Kraftwerk and Donna Summer.”
You have travelled and performed around the world 50 times over. Have you played anywhere new this year that stands out?
“I played at the Fresh Festival in La Coruna in Spain in July for the first time, that was really good, a really nice festival with a great crowd. Another one that stands out, which although not new but great to see back up there is The Mayan Theatre in Los Angeles which is bouncing again. I’ve been doing it for about ten years now and I played there this year on a Wednesday night which is notoriously a bad night in LA. 1500 people turned up and it was rocking. It reminded me of the old Bedrock nights at Heaven in London where because it’s a midweeker, you know that the crowd are there for the music, they don’t care what night of the week it is.”
What has been your summer anthem this year?
“Alan Fitzpatrick – Moon Palace.”
What has been your best set of 2011?
“The Vagabond, downtown Miami at Miami Music Week March 2011.”
It seems that the US is booming again…
“Dance music is getting a lot of attention in the States right now on all fronts, especially the commercial crossover DJs like David Guetta who is all over the radio and MTV which never happened first time round. Back then, it was only artists such as Underworld, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim who had any sort of exposure like David. Fair play to him though, it’s taken him long enough to get where he is and he has been so successful over the last few years he could retire if he wanted to. But you can tell he is loving it and this is his moment so that will be a long way off . The scene over there is like the rest of the world now split into 2 scenes The commercial big hits party DJs and the cooler underground DJs who push the more cutting edge sounds.”
And the Swedes, they have had an incredible year…
“You only have to look at them selling out Madison Square Gardens in New York in something like half a day to see how they are doing.I can’t put my finger on why they have suddenly blown up so quickly though, all I can say is that they have been marketed very cleverly. They have come in on David Guetta’s tail end and seen how to do it, make a hit record and absolutely smash it. Their fans aren’t going to their gigs for the musical journey though are they? Big confetti canons going off every five minutes, hit after hit being played, all very short attention span stuff. It’s not what I do but fair play to them 2012 will be very big for them.”
Have you DJ’d with Sasha this year?
“No I haven’t this year, I haven’t even seen him to be honest as we have been so busy. He’s been off doing his Never Say Never thing and I’ve been doing my Bedrock thing. I’m sure we’ll cross paths soon though.”
What did you do in Ibiza this year, the island seems back on form to say the least?
“I did four gigs and the place was back to it’s best. I did the Opening of Space and some of Carl’s parties. People say there is a recession going on, well they couldn’t have been in Ibiza this summer. Some of the prices for VIP tables was incredible, I heard Ushuaia were charging over 10,000 euros some days.”
How do you chill out, music is your hobby, you must unwind somehow?
“I like getting on my bike, going for a ride getting the blood pumping and keeping myself fit…when I have time!”
On your travels, have you seen any young producers out there we should be looking out for in 2012?
“There’s a young kiddee called Richie G from Montreal in Canada who I feel is going to do very well.”
Ah, I interviewed him on these very pages a few weeks back. He said he had met you.”
“Yeah Id did. Because he isn’t 21 yet he had to go into the club with the resident DJ at 10pm – well I wasn’t on until something like five in the morning so he had a long wait! He is doing some good stuff, Hacienda Records have picked him up for some of his material. He’s definitely one to watch.”
Down at DMCWORLD HQ we hear of some exciting plans for 2012 studio wise…
“Haha. Well Nick Muir and myself have a very big project we have been working on, you’ll be able to read all about it towards the end of the year!”
And finally John, what is the best record you have ever played to a dancefloor?
“It`s hard to pick the best record that I have ever played to a dancefloor. One track that really stands out for me though is New Order ‘Blue Monday’. I was in the record shop on the Monday at 10am on the day of release to buy it – and it still sounds and works as well on the dancefloor to this day.”