John Digweed is a man who needs little introduction. He has been an icon in electronic music for the past 25 years as a producer, DJ and label owner. He hasn’t just been a successful DJ on his own, but also collaborating with Sasha for their infamous Sasha & Digweed project that has found new life in the past few years and Bedrock with Nick Muir – also the name of his label.
In his frequent travels around the world, he records his sets and sometimes releases them as part of the Live In…. series that puts out official recordings of his DJ sets. This past New Year’s Eve, he played the final set ever at revered Brooklyn nightclub Output, playing for 10 hours well into the morning. He is releasing the set as part of his Live In…. series tomorrow, May 3. Though all 10 hours aren’t in the version being released, most of it is packed into a 6 CD compilation with records new and old from Eagles & Butterflies, Super Flu, Anja Schnieder, Pig&Dan, Agoria and more.
With the mix coming tomorrow, we chatted with Digweed about that final gig at Output, why he decided to put this out on vinyl and how clubland can do better with its important institutions. Pre-order the mix here.
Why did you decide to release this set on vinyl?
John Digweed: As a record label I think it's always important to try and release vinyl when you can. On a big album like this with so many incredible tracks I was actually spoiled with choices but with the cost of manufacturing I had to whittle it down to just four discs. I think I've managed to include a good balance of tracks that have never been on vinyl and some rare tracks that would be in demand that people still wanted.
Which songs didn’t make it into the compilation? How difficult was it to license all of these songs?
John Digweed: The second track that was originally on this album was going to be “Be Yourself” by Danny Tenaglia but due to the fact that it's on a major label, the process of trying to get it licensed was one of the reasons it came out later than normal. We tried everything we could, including reaching out to Danny, but working with major labels is incredibly slow and we had to make the decision to take the track out and move on. I'm really gutted this track didn't make it but we would still be emailing the major label now asking them if they have an answer for us. Apart from this, the album was fairly straightforward to put together and I'm thankful for the labels that we were able to work with and continue to work with that are very supportive of what we do.
Do you know ahead of time that you will record a set to be released? How do you prepare for those sets differently? Does it change song selection?
John Digweed: I've always recorded my sets. It's just something I've always done, so when the “Live In . . .” concept started it was only then that I ever first listened back to a recording. I never plan any of the clubs or the cities that these albums have come from. I think psychologically if you know you're going to record an album to be released it would make you play differently and you would be conscious that this recording was going to be on a live album. These albums always catch me in my natural environment, relaxed and playing the music I love. I think that is why they've been so successful. Nobody is really releasing these types of albums nowadays. We just have to make sure the standard is higher than the last album.
What was the mood like when you played your final song during the Output set?
John Digweed: The mood in the club was incredible! By that time I was originally going to finish around 8 AM, but when I went past this I still had so many records I wanted to play. It's a weird feeling knowing you're never going to play another record in such an amazing club ever again, so it was very important to me to give everyone there that stayed the distance a truly memorable ending. When we got to the last record there was such unity on the dance floor — it was an incredible moment and something I won't forget. New York has always been a very special place to me ever since I first started playing there in the 90’s, so I was really honored to be the very last DJ in such a legendary club.
Where would you rank Output in the overall pantheon of New York clubbing lore?
John Digweed: Since Twilo shut in 2001 there have been many clubs that have come and gone, but few have made the impression that Output did. Their music policy was incredible and a door policy with no VIP made everyone the same. With the camera ban, this allowed people to just focus on the music and the friends they were with and friends they have not yet met. The owners had a great vision of how a club should be run and what people they wanted to come to it.
How do you survive marathon 6 to 10 hour sets? Bathroom?
John Digweed: When I first started to DJ you played the whole night regardless. There were no other DJs, you played from start to finish, so I've always been used to long sets. When you're playing on such an incredible sound system like they had at Output, ten hours never seems long enough and on the other hand it also just seems to fly by.
Do you ever see a point where you may not have the energy for a set that lasts until sunrise?
John Digweed: It's all about picking the right parties to play those long sets with the best sound systems and the right crowd who are there to hear and enjoy what you do. I love to DJ now more than ever before so I have no plans to hang up my headphones at the moment.
What can fans, DJs and others in the business do to help keep great clubs open?
John Digweed: The most important thing is for people to support the clubs. People used to go to clubs because they were great clubs, they trusted the music policy, and they had faith in the music that would be played there. Lately it has become talent-driven, where people will only go to hear certain DJs when they play there, leaving the club looking like more of a venue than an actual traditional club.
Clubbing in New York has shifted from Manhattan to Brooklyn. How have you seen the scene shift during your time playing as it has moved over the river at the pace of an MTA project?
John Digweed: The club scene in Manhattan was kind of forced to move to Brooklyn really after Twilo shuttered. Nothing seemed to really work in Manhattan and seeing it first-hand, it kind of fizzled out. People who invested millions of dollars into these clubs saw them close down. It's really healthy to have more clubs than just a few because this keeps promoters and club owners on their toes as well as gives clubbers plenty of choice. When the warehouse parties started happening in Brooklyn it energized the scene with new clubs and parties that were getting thrown every weekend. Nothing ever stays the same in clubland so that's why it's always important to support these clubs week in week out.
You have been coming to New York for a long time. What are a few of your favorite places to eat or go out?
John Digweed: I've got some great friends in New York that take me to some amazing places every time I travel there. With so much variety you can find somewhere great to eat. Sushi is always a favorite of mine in New York - Sushi Zo, Ushiwakamaru and Omakase room by Tatsu.
As a label owner and DJ, how do you battle through the countless demos of functional electronic music?
John Digweed: I try to work my way through as many as I can, but we can only really release around 20 to 25 releases a year so the tracks have to be very special to make it onto the Bedrock release schedule. I spend a lot of time listening to new music demos and promos to try and find the most exciting tracks for the label.
How have your sets with Sasha changed over the years? Who goes first?
John Digweed: We just get out there and do our thing. Nothing has changed since the first time we started playing together, we don’t practice and we don't rehearse, we just try and read the crowd as we see them on that particular night. We have enough years of experience between us to know how to rock a crowd. We always take it turns with who goes first.