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Joey Negro Interview

Though he's best known for his Jakatta persona and the worldwide hit he enjoyed with his Hollywood soundtrack inspired tune American Dream, Joey Negro is also one of the UK's most prolific and successful dance producers, releasing hundreds of tracks over his 20 year career. Along the way he's also remixed the likes of the Pet Shop Boys, Diana Ross, and Ultra Nate, while working with Seal, Lionel Richie and UK boy band Take That, with startling effects (at least according to the recent disco history book Turn The Beat Around).

"When (Ian) Levine was bumped from the Take That in 1993, producer Dave Lee (aka Joey Negro, one of the world's biggest disco trainspotters and advocates was hired to produce a version of Dan Hartman's 'Relight My Fire' for the group," wrote author Peter Shapiro, "Ever since, disco has dominated the European charts in the shape of covers."

Chatting to Skrufff today about his new compilation album The Trip (a retro-dominated compilation that's pop rather than disco) he's both friendly and down to earth and more than happy to share production secrets he's learned from his career such as one key practise few 'producers' publicly acknowledge: hiring in experts rather than trying to make tracks all by yourself or with mates.

"Nowadays, production and the arrangement is a such a massive part of making a record that if you go round your mate's house who's never properly even finished off a tune himself, it's going to be very difficult for you to ever to get something good out of it at all," he says, "Whereas there are good engineers and programmers out there that you could approach with half an idea or a good sample and they'd come out with a good sounding record if you booked three days in a studio with them."

Stressing that the cost of hiring professional engineers can be modest, he points out that having as good track means you can get signed and raise your DJ fees plus reduce the stress level of going it alone.

"You could find somebody reasonable for two or three hundred pounds a day so if you spend six or seven hundred you should come out with a record that's pretty decent sounding; if your initial idea is good then your end track will be reasonably good too," he continues.

"Whereas doing it yourself, you're most likely to be battling against the odds, banging your head against a mixing desk, thinking 'this sounds shit, that sample is out of time and that's out of time, it's a bit boring. When you're doing it with an experienced engineer, if you don't know what to do, he'll finish it off for you."

'It doesn't have to be a genius idea," he stresses, "If you think a cover version of The Human League's Fascination would be a good idea, for example, then maybe it would be. If it's done well, I'm sure it could be a good idea."

> Interview : Jonty Skrufff


Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff) : You've released literally hundreds on tracks throughout your career, does it get easier with time or harder?

Joey Negro : A bit of both really. On the one hand you're trying not to repeat yourself, whereas when you first start you've got loads of ideas in your head. Then once you've done them you need to try and find new angles. I actually think I'm a lot better at doing it now, just from picking up skills over the years that maybe I lacked when I started. But then you can also become set in your ways so it's important to avoid that and to try and keep on top of new equipment as well as new music coming along rather than just thinking your way is the only way. If I hear something that someone else is doing that sounds exciting I try and incorporate some of that into what I do.

In the past I'd also make mistakes in making tracks such as starting off with a backing track, then not knowing how to take it to the next stage without using samples or whatever. Whereas nowadays I've realized it's best to start with a big hook and maybe some lyrics. So just doing things in a different order means it's easier to get to the end result rather than if you bang out a bass line and drum beat and start from there. I also don't sample other people's acappellas which I did when I started, which was fine back then but not for me now. It's all about learning.

Skrufff : How did the 'American Dream' track come about?

Joey Negro : I've always got my antenna out for a good loop, whether I'm sitting in a restaurant, pub, cinema, wherever and when I first saw the movie [American Beauty] and it came on, I think in the opening credits, I immediately thought 'that's quite a good loop'. I love the movie and its music so I bought the original sound track music, and I used to listen to it quite a lot around the house and every time that bit came on I thought I must take that into the studio and see what I can do with it. Sometimes you put down a loop that sounds good in your head, add a house beat and it ends up sounding shit but that one really worked, even though it took me ages, maybe nine months, to actually getting round to doing it.

Skrufff : Did you know it had hit potential straight away?

Joey Negro :The first version was more of an instrumental, it didn't have the Indian vocal on it and few people really liked it but it didn't really sell that well. But the people that did like it seemed to love it and it seemed that every time I saw them they'd tell me they were playing it every week. That gave me the idea that it was worth playing around with it and maybe re-releasing it so I did the Indian vocal version six months later then I think Pete Tong played it and really raved about it. So many A &R men listen to his show, that his endorsement gave it the kick up the arse that really got it properly of the starting post.

Skrufff : What do you make of the Leo Sayer record that he championed recently?

Joey Negro : It's a dance record, isn't it? I'm not someone that hates commercial dance music, I'd prefer to hear that than Westlife, I wouldn't buy it or listen to it but equally I wouldn't put my fingers in my ears and say 'this is dreadful'. I know the guy who was involved in putting it out - Craig De Mimech he's always been a decent bloke whenever I've met him, so I'm pleased to hear he's having a bit of success.

Joey Negro Interview

Skrufff : You've also recently released the Trip compilation. It's a very unusual selection of tracks, ranging from John Barry to Rosie Vela and the B52s, what's the story behind this compilation?

Joey Negro : A few other people like Tom Middleton, St Etienne and Snow Patrol have already done compilations, but they are generally people from a more of a rocky background than me and I thought I would because most of the compilations I've done have been house or disco I'd do this one differently. I like lots of other music, but when you're doing a disco or house compilation it's very difficult to put more than one or two left field tracks, you have to keep it 90% house. So for this one it was good for me just to choose some tracks like the Tubes 'Prime Time' and Dusty Springfield's 'Nothing Has Been Proved' because they're tracks I've always really liked. I picked tracks that I thought worked together well, without too much concern whether they mixed together very well.

It's always more about 'are they good records?' I think sometimes DJs can get caught up in this idea of 'those two tracks mix really well together but neither of them are actually that great on their own'. The barometer I always use is, would I buy a compilation myself and would I be pleased with it if I had.

Skrufff : What do you make of the whole "Guilty Pleasures" phenomenon?

Joey Negro : Someone turned me on to them recently and I thought there are a lot of good tracks on them that I'd like to have that I wouldn't have gone out and bought as 45s so I think they are very good compilations, especially for people like me who grew up in that era. I don't like all the tracks but I like maybe 50 to 60% of them, they are not really dance music mainly though some have a four on the floor bass drum and you can hear that there is a slight nod towards the disco era.

Skrufff : Specials frontman Terry Hall who DJs at Guilty Pleasures parties said recently that they remind him of 1975, 'the only difference is there aren't glasses being put in people's faces', how rough was the Essex clubbing environment you came up in?

Joey Negro : Essex has always been quite rough and there were often fights in clubs at places like The Tartan House where I used to go. You'd almost expect a fight, but I was never someone who wanted to ever get involved. A fight would start, the bouncers would come in and throw some people out then it would go back to normal, unless it was a really big one and someone got stabbed or something. I remember seeing a jazz funk act called Second Image at the Tartan House once when the lead singer got stabbed. I used to know quite a few people who used to go to those clubs and they weren't violent at all, there was just a violent contingent. They weren't really there for the music. If they couldn't pull, glassing someone was the next best thing. I definitely saw some horrible fights.

Skrufff : Were you a rocker or a mod?

Joey Negro : I used to hang around with rockers, but I was never really a rocker, I was never really anything, particularly. I grew up in a small village and most of the people in that village were rockers, though my brother was more into punk and new wave. I was always into disco music but I didn't really have any friends who were into it. All my friends were more into rock - AC/DC, Iron Maiden and Rush and suchlike. In fact, until I moved to London I didn't really meet many people who were normal people who you could have a chat with about music who were into the same sort of music as me

Skrufff : When you started working in music you were one of first people to tip Coldcut, are you friends with them still?

Joey Negro : I haven't seen them for ages and ages. I used to be quite friendly with them back then I suppose.

Skrufff : Do you see many producers out there today who could be as successful as they've been?

Joey Negro : Yeah, I think there area few. But back then it was such a different era, I should imagine it's much harder to establish yourself as a dance producer these days compared to then. It was probably quite easy then, perhaps easy isn't the right word but there wasn't that much competition, everything was quite fresh, and there was a whole world of samples to plunder. There's definitely no shortage of talented people coming through, people like Switch, for example, who's making some quite weird and modern sounding tracks. I think there's a new generation of people coming through working entirely on computer, I use computers but also still use an outside desk and outside reverbs.

Skrufff : The perceived wisdom of making it big as a DJ these days is to make music, do you think it's quite easy to make a track nowadays to do that?

Joey Negro : No, I don't think it's ever easy to make something really good.

End of the interview

The Trip: Navigated by Joey Negro is out now on Family Recordings.

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