What do you do, dear reader, when you are told that you’re going to be interviewing John Digweed? You ask the simplest question possible: “Where do you want to meet, kind sir?” In this case, the reply was, “Wiltshire, two miles (3.2 km) west of Amesbury and eight miles (13 km) north of Salisbury,” he replied. I knew immediately what he was getting at and I blushed, ruby red. “ Stonehenge.” I sang. It was obvious. Stonehenge. Bedrock. Damnably clever. I clapped twice and nodded vigorously. I rang off as even though it was a week off I needed to prepare and Mr. Digweed was in the middle of what I imagined to be a spirited tennis match with His Highness the Maharaja of Jodhpur on the roof of the Holiday Inn, Dubai. “I’ll be rolling with you at the rocks,” I sounded cool. Kept it cas, as in casual.
…it was a special time in clubland—before camera phones. When people got their heads down and danced their arses off from start to finish, without worry about telling people what they were doing while they were doing it.
A week later I stepped 0ut from behind a monolith, where I had been standing motionless for over an hour and a half. Becoming one with the energy vortex of times long past.
“Hello John,” I whispered throatily.
“Good lord,” he replied. “Oh, oh!” again.
“It is I.” Frankly I was quite please that my disguise had taken him so.
At this point a low moan issued from his lips which sounded very much like profound fulfillment or mind-boggled fear, the latter seemed more probable.
I followed his glance and looking towards the ground, yes, I was wearing a heavy, brown burlap robe—the every-day-wear of Franciscan monks and druids everywhere. Which was I playing at? No mystery there, it was Stonehenge. But why was it sending my subject into a jitterbugging palsy? I looked further down to my sandaled foot. Beneath it was the cracked-like-an-ostrich-egg cranium of a white hare, or rabbit—its gray matter a jellied red protein spread which would enrich the already well-watered British soil. So, we were both staring at my foot. Me, slightly embarrassed… fumbling. He, aghast and speechless.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” I asked.
I felt like such a fool. Stepping on a rodent when one of the busiest musicians in the world had taken time out of his day to meet me at one the oldest pagan-ritual sites in the known universe. If busy is the word we agreeing to use, then John has been “busy” for nearly two decades. He has very recently dropped the sequel to Structures, the excellent mix (2010) which garnered him top honors at the Beatport Music Awards. The second of the three discs here is the gem as it’s John live at Avalon, Los Angeles; I find that it’s not easy for live electronic performances to hit the mark and capture nuances, but they’ve obviously taken time mastering this, and it wins.
But. This is not meant as a Digweed primer, I’m not a historian. Shirt form: His ascendancy began at Renaissance—both the club and the label, early ’90s. In late ’99, along with chum Alexander Cole [Sasha] he launched label Bedrock. It did well. It does well. A listing of his accolades would exhaust both of us, you and me reader. Charts have been topped, awards won, stadiums filled—during the Delta Heavy tour his music brought nearly 1 million people to the same place at the same time. On the estate of trance and progressive house he ranks alongside Oakenfold, van Dyk, Tiësto and Lawrence as a respected authority. One would not be at all melodramatic in calling him iconic.
My perceptive and loyal manservant Adolfo had set up my writing table as a serving area and we sat to tea, crumpets and conversation.
It’s been about a decade since Spin Magazine announced that electronic music was the second coming, the new rock ’n roll. For it’s lack of humility, it has paid the ultimate price… and exists no longer, except for in feeble special editions, in realm of men; additionally, the guy “upstairs” brought great suffering down upon electronic in America. But. The Time of Despair has passed. Social scientists at the great universities: MiT, Harvard, Stanford, Arizona State University agree. Fans are ebullient. Electronic, resurrected, is enjoying an unprecedented level of popularity in the US. Even the most guitar-loving of four-piece bands seems to have at least one corner of their stage dedicated to midi, et cetera. What, in your opinion as a long-time participant and observer, is different this time around?
Well. The first time around the electronic scene did not get much support from MTV and radio. This time ‘round David Guetta turned things on its head collaborating with massive R&B and hip-hop acts gaining massive amounts of airplay. Other DJs have been following similar paths, making very commercial club music. This has given the US a massive shot in the arm with electronic festivals and clubs doing fantastically well in what is a very bad economic climate at the moment. The good thing is that kids that get into the more commercial sound of Guetta and company at the start will also search out more underground styles of music—which is good for everybody in the long run.
The next night my boss went mad and sacked me…I never looked back, and put everything into my career instead of working for somebody who couldn’t see my potential.
Change. Many say Los Angeles is immutable. I say no. What strikes you as having shifted here over the last decade?
I’ve played New Year’s Eve for about eight of the last 10 years—obviously I enjoy this city from sell-out midweek nights at the Mayan Theatre to Avalon on the weekend and New Year’s Eve and the massive festivals that seem to dwarf other cities around the world. LA likes to party, and no other city seems to have the scale of events on that they do now.
Bedrock was one of the first, successful, DJ-run labels. Can you speak a little about the prevailing philosophy which sparked it?
I was on the road at gigs and producers who were influenced by me would give me tracks then ask me if I knew any labels that might put it out. I thought it would make more sense for me to release the tracks. I’m not normally into signing artists for long periods, if we do a good job and they like working with us I hope that the relationship is built on trust from our side and quality-of-release from the artist. If artists go onto bigger and better thing I couldn’t be happier for them.
Bedrock has had some significant live shows and happenings over the years, often with memorable spectacle. Would you speak about one that perhaps went over-the-top.
Well we sold out The Brixton Academy for our 12-year anniversary in 2010. Over 4500 people and all the proceeds had already been spent on production to make it a special night. We’ve also hosted many parties at clubs and festival arenas around the world.
What’s next fo’ Bedrock, yo?
We have releases planned every month with a few more artist albums in the pipeline; also, we are hosting some festival Arenas and club shows around the world so pretty much business as normal.
Of that I have no doubt Mr. Digweed. May I call you John?*
Traveling for work, John: Love it or loathe it?
The romance of travel stopped after 9/11 I don’t get fazed by delays or cancelled flights anymore as I know the gig I’m going to is all that matters and it’s out of my hands anyway. Why get stressed?
What’s the last month looked like for Mr. Digweed? Pretty rough? A lot of manual labor?
I’ve been to a lot of the summer festivals. Turkey, Amsterdam, Spain, Macedonia and the UK, and not getting much sleep.
What are some labels you have your eye on, that are producing some interesting or novel stuff consistently?
Porker Flat, Bpitch Control, Drumcode, Supplement Facts, Cocoon, Natura Sonoris and Mobilee.
So secretive. You probably know that Magnetic is being handled by the folks who brought you BPM. What was your lasting impression of that magazine? How does “pixel” compare to a medium versus “print,” as the new standard?
BPM always delivered quality and well-written articles on the music scene. As for digital mags, I never thought reading from an iPad would catch on—then I got one and realized how great it was. I can see how this transition will work well over the next few years; the potential for magazines to reinvent themselves is there for the taking.
Got it. I don’t know how spiritual you are, but how will you feel six months after your heart stops beating?*
Probably the same as 6 minutes after it stops beating. Dead.
*Adolfo signaled me discreetly, as an objective observer, that this was a proper time to break. And so, I did. Walking to my car I exchanged my brown robe for an ermine cape and platinum pour-molded platinum walking stick. I find that while interviewing a change of costume can offer it’s own unique perspectives. And so otherly clothed I returned to the table for: part two of John Digweed at Stonehenge.
Part Two Digweed Does Stonehenge
And so, as if participating in some weird and astounding two-person play we resumed our places at my writing table at an area that was used for orgies and blood sport circa 3000-2000bc.
If your skill ain’t all “nature,” let’s talk about where a bit of your “nurture” come from?
I have a good ear for music and timing although I can’t dance to save my life I know a good rhythm when I hear it. There was who was a DJ when I was about 17 I would go and watch named Barry Page. He’d be him mixing records for 5 hours straight. The way he programmed and mixed was amazing and I learnt so much from him.
I like where you’re going with this. Let’s explore this more.
The early 'Planet rock' sound, when that came out of New York alongside breakdancing it just seemed like something really fresh and new was happening. Arthur Baker was really on top of his game and I remember searching out all the street sounds electro albums, then picking up the 12" import copies. The next time I felt like this was when the early Chicago house tracks started coming over from DJ International—you could feel the power in the tracks and you knew that things were about to really change.
It’s been quite a ride, eh? When did you know something special was happening to you? That your life would be a bit different that most mortal’s?
I was a resident DJ in a Club in Hasting on a Tuesday and Saturday nights. It was my main income, and I started putting on some small raves in clubs in other clubs in the town. When I organized three coaches to Brighton on a Friday night to a huge rave, I emptied the club I was resident at. The next night my boss went mad and sacked me—and then I realized that he had actually freed me up to organize parties and DJ at different places on a Saturday night. I never looked back, and put everything into my career instead of working for somebody who couldn’t see my potential.
You’ve worked with Nick Muir a whole heck of a lot. What are some of the things that brings you two together again and again?
Firstly we are great friends and Nick is a pleasure to work with. He’s a fantastic musician; a producer who gets it and you’ll always find him on the dancefloor at 5 am taking it all in and getting ideas for future sessions.
I’m a big fan of album artwork and BR always has cool stuff. What are some of your favorite album covers?
Peter Saville, who did all the New Order, Factory sleeves is a master designer and really set the bar for how album designs should be.
One sentence: Describe the music you are currently making for yourself and/or others.
Good, solid electronic house music that works on the dancefloor. Pure and simple.
That’s all there is to it. I like your moves. Write a fortune cookie for me.
If you never learn from things in life. They’ll be there the next time. I’ve always tried to figure things out that will make things better and easier for me.
*I raise and eyebrow here and point with my walking stick to the stilted and akimbo slabs of Stonehenge, intimating that surely someone had left their blueprints at home.
I don’t do Jesus poses or showboating as I prefer to let the music do the talking, but today I think you need to put a lot more of a show on to impress the crowds for some reason, if you are not jumping around like a lunatic they think you are not into it. So maybe I would get some dance lessons—then learn how to DJ.
If you were to write a novel, whose name would be on the dedication page?
Martin Wong and DJ Terry Johns, for certain. Martin worked at my parent’s business and he was flat-mates with the towns biggest club DJ, Terry Johns. Martin was always giving me mixes from Terry’s sets, and also tapes from Kiss FM in New York City with Shep Pettibone’s continuous mixes. One day, when I was 12, they took me to the club during the day to show me around; as soon as I stood in the DJ booth I knew what I wanted to do with my life. By the time I was 15, I was warming up for Terry and gaining the experience it takes to build a night—and read the crowd. By 18 I was the resident in the biggest club in the town.
Clubs, clubs, clubs. It’s where it all happens, isn’t it? Ah. Yes. Any favorites? I suppose that’s like asking Hemmingway what his favorite alcohol is but…
My favorite club ever was Twilo in New York. Nothing comes close to the sound system. Also, it was a special time in clubland—before Camera phones. When people got there heads down and danced there arse off from start to finish, with out worry about telling people what there were doing while they were doing it. City to play? It has to be Buenos Aires. The energy that comes off the dancefloor is electric, and if could bottle it you could solve the energy problems around the world; I have never had a bad gig there and love every visit. Great fans.
Fans. Yeah. They make it all happen, don’t they?
There was a girl in Manchester who was telling people she was my sister and was booking club nights and DJ’s for me. I only found out when a nervous promoter in Greece who had booked me asked about an event that my “sister” had booked him. I looked at him very puzzled as I don’t have a sister involved in that stuff.
I hope you didn’t lose any body parts over it. Stepping out of a time machine ten years in the future, what would not surprise you to see happening in the music world.
The music industry has changed so much in the last 8 years or so, it’s hard to call Downloading has taken over and for most young people it is something they feel should be free; I don’t think you can change that mindset. Sites like Beatport and iTunes are great as they deliver what people want and music is now cheaper than ever before. We have to try and make up money with club shows and merchandise while maintaining the quality of every release.
Ah. Downloading. That’s where it all happens, isn’t it? So. I’ve heard you’re a cat person.
I have two British shorthair cats I was never a cat person as I always had dogs when I was a child and could not work out what use they were, My wife wanted cats when we got married and I must say I am smitten with them now they do everything on their terms but when they show you affection they have you running round for them.
What’s your end goal? What keeps you making music. What keeps you happy making music? Will there ever be a moment when you put down the mouse or the drum machine or the record and say: “OK. That’s it. I got it,” and walk away?
I have the best job in the world. I’ve lived that dream. I am still living the dream. Why… why would I ever want to stop at the moment? Music 24-7-365 for me.