When WANARB met: John Digweed
On a typical British afternoon when the weather couldn’t decide if it wanted to be sunny and warm, or wet and miserable, Knockturnal and I went to SW4 on Clapham Common to make the most of the sold out saturday and interview dance music legend John Digweed. Mr Digweed was one of the headliners on the main stage, so we had some time to kill but after trudging through yet more mud and seeing far to many grown men wearing nappies, it was refreshing to finally catch up with Mr Digweed who took time out of his busy schedule to chat to us about his label bedrock, playing mammoth 13 hour sets and to reminisce about his early days of playing acid house parties.
WANARB : Afternoon John, thanks for having us.
John Digweed : Pleasure
WB: We thought we would kick off the interview with a question about how you got into DJing, we checked your biography and it said that you started DJing at 15 but Wikipedia said aged 4, could you clear that up for us?
JD : (Laughs) Well there’s this thing called Hacking.
WB : Ha, yeah well that’s why we checked the Biography.
JD : Yeah it’s all bollocks, there’s some classic stuff that been hacked on there, I was known as Kevin Digweed for a while…
WB : Yeah we couldn’t quite believe Wikipedia’s claims, I doubt you could even reach a set of decks at that age, so just to confirm. Wikipedia is Nonsense. You’re far to busy to be bothering with Wikipedia anyway, what’s been the highlight of the year so far?
JD : I’ve done a lot this summer, but one of the highlights so far has been a show I played the Mayan Theatre last month in the heat of L.A. The show was on a Wednesday night which is a tough night anywhere in the world but it was completely sold out, it was mental! It’s something i have been doing for the last 10-11 years so it feels like a family homecoming every time I play there. There was also the usual summer stuff like Carl Cox’s night at Space and this excellent festival in hungary called Balaton Sound.
WB : We’re still only two thirds of the way through the year and you’re not showing any sign’s of slowing down, is the last half of the year going to be busy as the first half for you?
JD : Oh most definitely, but thankfully I’m not as busy as some of the guys. But if you’re doing something that you love then you don’t notice how busy you are. I was talking to Richie Hawtin in Ibiza recently and he’s got 19 gigs in one month.
WB : Really? Jesus, i hope they’re all close by.
JD : Nope, they’re spread all over Europe, it would be nice if you could do all your gigs at your local.
WB : He’s (Richie Hawtin) is trying to squeeze in a world tour, have you ever done as many gigs as that in one go?
JD : It’s one of those things really, as i said before if you’re enjoying it then it doesn’t matter but i have done 37 gigs in 6 weeks for the Delta Heavy Tour with Sasha and Jimmy Van M. It’s only when you stop that you realise how tired you actually are and start to slow down.
WB : Have you got any plans to stop?
JD : No and the reason why is that there are so many new markets in the world for Dance Music, it used to be that in Winter you would just head to Australia but now you have places like Brazil, Argentina, actually most of South America and parts of Asia so the Summer never really seems to stop, therefore you don’t ever have to stop.
WB : Well the summer is definitely coming to an end in the UK, what little we had of it, SW4 is not a bad way to finish with its alternating sun and rain, do you miss the big clubs over the summer or do you prefer the festivals?
JD : I like doing both, the big festival crowds are huge fun and its amazing to play in front of so many people which you wouldn’t be able to do in a club but then I do enjoy the intimacy of 500 capacity clubs. It all depends on your mindset really and you wouldn’t find me playing a festival set in a club so the two are very different.
WB : So you tailor each set to the event or do you turn up on the day and gauge the crowd?
JD : The last few days I’ve been going through my music for this set thinking this is too underground or this track isn’t right. You have to be careful with your style of music because there are people in the crowd who love your music and are there to see you but there are also the people who have turned up for something completely different. They might even be waiting for the next act so you don’t want to alienate those people, I’m not trying to please everyone but I still want to play a good set.
WB : Talking of playing good sets, you’ve DJ’ed for some marathon sessions before, 10 hours + in some cases. We heard one horror story about Carl Cox who played for 8 hours with diarrhea, anything that bad?
JD : (Laughs) Sometimes they are the best sets, I’ve played for 13 hours before at Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos.
WB : (Astonished) 13 hours? I don’t think I’ve done a day job for that long! That sounds incredibly brutal, do you do that often?
JD : Well it wasnt supposed to be that long but the party just kept on going, there wasn’t any licensing laws out there and no one wanted to leave, so we just kept on going. I knew I was playing a long set that evening but didn’t predict that it would go on for so long, it’s not like I was going to play all my best records in the first hour.
WB : But what about toilet breaks? Piss into a bottle, spare DJ perhaps?
JD : Well I have some really long records or make sure there is a toilet close by.
WB : Very crafty, we’ve seen a lot of production coming out of your label, Bedrock this year, has this been one of your best years?
JD : Bedrock is having one of its best years ever, I released Structures 2 in July after the success of the first structures compilation and we put out two albums from Guy J and Marco Bailey. There’s also singles from Oliver Lieb and Robert Babbage. We sit on that nice area between Techno and House, I think people are starting to realise that the record label is putting out some really solid stuff.
WB : We saw that Alan Fitzpatrick also recently released on Bedrock?
JD : Well Alan released reflections with Bedrock a while back, he wanted to follow that up and release something else on the label. When he sent over Moon Palace I was really impressed. Its good, because Alan is well-known for his hard style of techno especially when he’s releasing under Drumcode but with this single he made it more punchy, bouncy Techno.
WB : It’s not the usual head down, chin-stroking techno. He’s appealing a bit more to the masses but not to the point where it sounds over commercialised.
JD : Yea exactly, I played this track second to last and it went down really well with the crowd. I dont think you want all your tunes to be head down, chin-stroking records, I find that the best way to test drive the new records from the label is at big festivals like this, the crowd will usually have a broad range of musical taste so if the record goes down well all across the crowd then you know you’ve got a winner.
WB : Do you get involved with the production of any of the music on the label?
JD : I’m not in the studio but I get sent all the new production and I will listen back to all of it. I might make a few suggestions, then send it back but the majority of finished production that I get is of very high quality and well polished, so there’s never many times that I have to send it back.
WB : We wanted to ask you about how you got started in the business, we recently co-promoted an Acid house night with Raindance Jenkins Lane. Raindance was instrumental in building the scene we have now and you were part of that. What do you remember about that era?
JD : Ah, Jenkins Lane and Raindance. It was an amazing period, at the time I was involved with a company called Storm. I remember when I was doing those parties with Storm and going to the Raindance parties, I was thinking at the time this is going to end soon. The kids are going to get bored with this. But it never happened, it just kept getting bigger and bigger.
I remember going to one Jenkins Lane party and seeing the Prodigy just after they released ‘Charlie’, I thought this is mind-blowing. Then a year later there was a massive Storm party at the Brighton Centre and Adamski was there, then Seal comes on stage and sung ‘Killer’ which went on to be No 1 a few weeks later. It was an incredible period of Dance music.
Those times were so different, people back then went to raves as they did not want to conform to the with the standard club goers, they were looking for something different, something more exciting. Now it’s the other way round, people go to the raves to fit in with everyone else, raving in a carpark or warehouse is the norm. Back then it was a rebellion against the club scene, now IT IS the club scene. In those days people would travel to dance in a circus tent just off the A13 or the M25.
WB : You’re making us very depressed about not being old enough to enjoy that era, was the music of that scene a major factor in the development of your sound?
JD : I was DJing in ’87 with Carl Cox and I remember going to Heaven to see Frankie Knuckles for the first time when he came to London, the gig was incredible and I became really excited about the Chicago House sound. Then there was the Sun Rise parties and the Raindance parties, they all had a profound effect on me. If you told me back then that I would still be DJing around the world in 20 years time, I wouldn’t think it was possible but it just goes to show that this scene has amazing legs and keeps evolving with new producers and sounds. I don’t think I will ever get bored with this.
WB : This sounds like a perfect sum up to an interview, John, thank you for your time.
JD : No problem, Thank you.
4th Level Zombie
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