HigherFrequency  DJ Interview


John Digweed

If John Digweed isn't already one of your favourite DJs, it's time you thought about some of the following:

- Considered by many to be the best in the world (voted no.1 in DJ Magazine in 2001, consistently appearing in the top ten since).

- Now legendary partnership with Sasha gave birth to the first DJ mix compilation (Renaissance). Has gone on to release some of dance musicís finest on Global Underground, Communicate, Northern Exposure, MMII and Bedrock.

- Production partnership with Nick Muir has changed the landscape of dancefloor cool. Their remixing accolades include artists as diverse as Underworld, New Order, Quincy Jones and The Music.

- A continual innovator, pursuing some of the most original and eminently cool underground music out there. If you donít believe us, listen to any of his Kiss FM mixes.

- Digweed live sets are a journey. Mesmeric and positively hypnotic. Anybody who says otherwise was probably asleep all night on the cloakroom floor.

- Manages and directs the prestigious Bedrock label, which has become a bona fide seal of approval for anybody on it. Jimmy Van M, Danny Howells and Chris Fortier are among those who have Mr. D to thank for helping launch their careers.

And get ready for Fabric 20, on UK general release from 17th Jan. We were lucky to get some time to talk with him during his recent trip to Japan.

> interview : Matt Cotterill (HigherFrequency) _ photo : Mark Oxley (HigherFrequency)


HigherFrequency (HRFQ) : First of all John, we know you're very busy, so thanks for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate it.

John Digweed : That's alright, no problem.

HRFQ : The mixing that you do on Kiss Fm and your radio station Transitions is quite prolific. What elements do you bring to your mixing to keep it fresh, to maintain a level of originality?

John : Basically the radio show forces me every week to go through all the new records, so as I put the show together, it's very much a case of "right, let's get an hour mix together", and sometimes I'm doing two or three shows a week touring, so, it's a really good way of going through the mail list; I've got packages sent from Massive Records, 3B, Plastic Fantastic. And out of that I pick out the best tunes that week, and then compile the mix for them and for Transitions. It's just what takes my fancy that day, you know, this sounds really good, let's get it on the radio. And it doesn't have to be a dancefloor filler, it doesn't always have to be, right, this is the big peak time record. I think there're so many radio stations out there that just cater for, "here's all the big tunes", whereas if I can find an obscure record that's sent to me from Houston Texas that there might only be ten copies of, I think if we can get that on the air and it gives that producer a bit of a profile and then people start searching out more of his work; that's what I'd like the show to be known for, rather than playing all the records that everyone else is playing.

HRFQ : So you want it to be quite eclectic?

John : Yea, definitely. And I think also there's so much good music out there now that you could almost do a show for three or four hours a week, and still have room.

John Digweed Interview

HRFQ : About the remixing you've done this year, the one that caught our attention was The Music's "Freedom Fighters", because we're quite into our rock! What was it about that track that made you and Nick Muir want to work on it; it's been quite a long time, hasn't it?

John : Yeah, I mean we haven't really done any mixes for about two years. We worked on the Spiderman project, we did the Stark Raving Mad soundtrack, and we kind of felt that we hadn't been in the studio actually working on a remix for any artists, and I'd been speaking to the A&R at Virgin, and he said this band's just released a new album, and they've got their first track off it, and we think it'd be really suitable to do the mix. It kind of just worked that they sent it down, and the original was very guitar, very heavy, and I was listening to it and just thinking it had a kind of Happy Mondays feel. So I just listened to some Stone Roses stuff, Happy Mondays stuff and some Chemical Brothers, and thought maybe we could kind of- not use their influences- but just listen to how those records sound, and then turn that record into something that's got our edge on it. The mix came together really quickly, it was literally two days and we'd nailed the core of it, and then it was just a couple of days of tidying up. But I think that was the most fun thing about it, we just kind of jammed with it and it was done; that's always nice. And we did a Quincy Jones thing, which was more down tempo, very laid back vibes. I think next year we're gonna be more prolific in the studio. When you do the soundtrack stuff, it does take six months out of your life, and when you've spent that amount of time in the studio, you kind of don't want to go back!

HRFQ : It isn't really in any dispute that when it comes to "progressive house", you're at the forefront of that genre. Where do you see it going?

John : I hate the words "progressive house", because what does it mean? For journalists it probably means long, twelve minute tracks that define... not very much to them now! Whereas I'd like to think if you listen to my radio show and hear me play out, there's elements of electro, there's elements of deep house, there's elements of straight up house, there's chunky stuff, I mean, I play right across the board. But I think once you get labelled something it's very hard.

HRFQ : It's very hard to pull out of it.

John : Yeah. I think when people hear the Fabric CD that I've just done it'll kind of open their minds up to thinking that this is a step away from what they'd consider "progressive". However some journalists will probably still go, "oh, it's a progressive mix".

HRFQ : Not us!

John : [laughs] So, it is one of those things where I think, in terms of what's going out in club land at the moment, there's some amazing music being made, I think Germany's probably leading the way with labels like Kompakt and TRIBESDORF???. There are literally loads of labels out there just making good music, they're not worried about following any trends or following any kind of paths, they just like making great tracks. And that's how I like to DJ, I just like to play the good stuff, whether it's a techno record, a deep house record, breaks or whatever, I like to think I can fit it in my set. So I think for the word "progressive", for me it always meant forward thinking, and music that was moving forward, so it's kind of an umbrella for many sounds. The strange thing is, Danny Tenaglia could play a record and it would be considered a house track; if I play it it's considered progressive, so, you know, where do you draw the line for what the categories of music are?

John Digweed Interview

HRFQ : It's not meant to be pigeonholed.

John : No, and I think the problem is journalists like to pigeonhole stuff, because it makes it easier for them. I remember once there was one of the tracks on the [Bedrock] label, it was Brancaccio & Aisher. It was clearly a house record, and they reviewed it in the progressive section, then went, "This is the most unprogressive record that Bedrock have ever released" [laughter], and it's like, yea, because it's not progressive [laughs], it shouldn't even be in the section! We even sent it to the house guy to review, and he didn't review it, he sent it to the progressive guy, so that's the kind of problem you end up with, it's just like, "you don't understand, do you; just because it's on Bedrock doesn't mean to say that it is a progressive track".

HRFQ : I can understand that kind of journalism must be the scourge of a lot of DJs.

John : Well it's very frustrating for us as a label, because I like to think we put out diverse music, and when you get pigeonholed it's hard to break away from that as well. I mean, you want your record to be heard by other people, and if it's got a stigma about it, then it'll be like, "ur, well, I'm not sure I'm gonna play that", and then DJs finally pick up on it they're like, "Wow, I didn't realise that was on your label!", and you're just like, "Well, I listen to music from all labels, maybe you should try it yourself".

HRFQ : Keeping on the journalistic theme, I don't know if you saw the article in the Guardian at the beginning of the month by Alexis Petridis called "Bored of the Dance". [http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/features/story/0,11710,1341919,00.html]

John : Oh yeah, I did.

HRFQ : In a very lamentable tone he's saying, oh, it's all over! Weren't we lucky; kids today just aren't into clubbing! Your response to that?

John : I think he had some valid points. But I think also, like anything, when something becomes popular, it grows outside of the core of the cool people, and suddenly you've got club nights in every little town across the U.K. They've all got house nights on, all the booking agencies are busy, everyone's got work. And then, those mainstream people who went for it because it was the in thing have all moved on, they're all into urban, or r&b, or whatever's the next big thing. So the house nights cease to be busy. A lot of the DJs that had loads of work haven't got so much work. But the main DJs who have built up reputations over the years are still very busy. The clubs that have stuck to their guns, if you look at Fabric, you look at Sankeys, you look at Colours, you look at Lush; all those clubs that have been around for years, that were there before the explosion, are all still busy and all got great DJs playing there. And they never got involved in the kind of gold rush for dance music. And the same with a lot of labels; a lot of labels jumped on the bandwagon and said, "Right, let's have a label to make this kind of music, that's where the money is", and as soon as the money dried up, they moved out.

John Digweed Interview

HRFQ : It was kind of hijacked by commercialism.

John : Yea, definitely there was an element of that. And I think also, what are your reasons for being in the dance scene? Mine have always been music first, I spent many years DJing for nothing, because I enjoyed it, and I still enjoy DJing. I think there were a lot of people who just did it because there was money involved, and as soon as the money stopped they were like, "Well, I'm not interested in this now".

HRFQ : So the Brit Awards drop it.

John : The Brit Awards drop it, but, to be honest, if you ever saw the nominations that were in there [loads of laughs], it's like, well that's a real kind of, "Err.." [laughs]. If we can find the cheesiest dance act and say this is the definition of dance music for the Brit Awards, it's best left out to be honest!

HRFQ : It's actually quite a compliment that they've dropped it!

John : It's quite a compliment, and I think also, the fact that dance music isn't under the spotlight has given the chance for smaller clubs to grow now without having the pressure of feeling they need to be a superclub. I think it's definitely helped a lot of young up and coming DJs, because, whereas before their main goals were, "Oh, I've gotta play at Cream, gotta play at Gatecrasher, gotta play at Ministry of Sound" to get a name, now, they can start their own nights, or be involved in smaller club nights, and they're getting cooler reputations from playing at cooler clubs, whereas I think before, they couldn't get in the door at Cream, Gatecrasher or Ministry of Sound. So I think if anything, over the next few years it's gonna help those DJs' careers more by being part of something that's cool, rather than being part of something that's deemed as being past its sell-by date. And I think the same with record labels as well; people now are bringing records out because they like the music, they're not interested in whether they sell 10,000 or 500 copies, they just want to make their music and put it out. So I think in some respects dance music is going through changes, but I think in a good way, because it's cleared out all the people who were in it just for the money, and now it's down to the people who are in it because they love it, and whether they make any money or not is by the by.

HRFQ : We're pressed for time, so the last question. It's a bit of a cheeky question, but you did mention you'd mixed Fabric 20. Any sneak previews?

John : It's got Superpitcher on there, it's got... god, it's always hard when you're trying to remember what you just put on the album! It's got an Infusion mix by Josh Wink... a Pete Moss track, also, erm... I can't remember and I just had it in my hand about half an hour ago! [loads of laughs]

HRFQ : So we'll have to wait for it anyway!

John : Yea, but I think the details are gonna be up on the website soon. It is one of those things where I didn't go out and think, right, I need to get 15 tracks that haven't been released, or have just been made by producers; I just played tracks that I'm playing now in the clubs, so it's not a mix that's full of stuff you can't get, it's just a mix I really like, tracks that I would play when I'm at Fabric. It's very reflective of a set I'd do at Fabric, which is what I wanted to accomplish, and they're really happy with the way it's turned out, and so am I. I think it's very more kind of electronic house, so it's got these German tinges to it.

HRFQ : We'll look forward to it. John, we'd like to thank you once again, and wish you all the best for the future.

John : Thank you.

End of the interview


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