Posted by Michael on July 21, 2011 at 02:38 PM
Ahull DJ Harvey shakedown cruise rides us out to storm with no sails and helm held to leeward. Starting from his early days as the graffiti bomber DJ of the Tonka Hi Fi crew, organiser of the famed “New Hard Left” and “Moist” parties where nonstop weekend sets of disco, house, garage and dance floor moving rock records bathed in each other’s fluids rather swimmingly, onto a solid streak as high chief resident of the Ministry of Sound on both Friday and Saturday nights - Harvey ventures deep, down, far and wide. He plunges headlong into gloriously murky waters, fishes out glistening treasures, wraps them up in sultry disco house coatings, maybe even drenches their basslines and undergrooves in luscious, oozy, thick as hell oil-tar from the bottom reaches of the ocean floor. All be them legendary and heart-rate surging, never mind his Black Cock Edits, Sarcastic Mixes, and Map of Africa foray for now. The Pirate Disco-percolator reminds us that “the past is history and the future’s a mystery”. So he speaks with decided ingenuity, along with matter-of-fact-stated outlandishness, button-pushing grit, and sometimes over the top self-deprecating joviality. In coincidence with his full length Locussolus LP coming out mid-June on International Feel Recordings, Lodown talks with the electrifying troubadour of sleazy synth purveying, promiscuous record marauding, and allaround good-time making Harvey Bassett on June 2nd at 9pm Lodown, Berlin time / 12pm Locussolus, Los Angeles.
QQ: A helter-skelter Japanese tour of yours just finished… can it be that you’re under the weather?
AA: Ah, no. I lived through Chernobyl so you know, it’s just another nuclear disaster in the life of DJ Harvey. It doesn’t bother me in the slightest. I think I’ll die of liver failure long before I get leukemia. In fact, I’ve even considered retiring to somewhere like “Leukemiattle”, where they used to test the bomb. Cos no one wants to live there and it’s absolutely gorgeous out there. My organs are pretty worn and torn so, long before I’d grow another leg, or arm I’d die of natural causes and could live my life out in deserted paradise, eating nuclear fish….
QQ: These various states of mind that you travelto and from due to sleep deprivation or real geography, they thread into your material in various ways?
AA: Umm, I’ll agree with that! [laughing] Just living. Just walking down the street is an inspiration. No matter where you are. I can have a good or a bad time absolutely anywhere. It’s a state of mind. I’ve had awful times in Hawaii and fantastic times in stinking bedsits in London. It’s not necessarily where your body’s at—it’s where your brain’s at.
QQ: How’s it being on International Feel?
AA: I’ve actually never met Mark, we’ve only ever spoken on the phone or via the computer but he’s an Englishman like myself and somehow he got his act together to go and live his dream down in Uruguay and he contacted me and asked if I’d like to make some music for his label. He seemed to have his game up to point and gave me carte blanche as it were, as to the music I wanted to make and the production and the style and everything. So I said okay and I made some records for him. I think he runs International Feel pretty well; it’s a tight ship with release dates and press and stuff like that. So, I made some records for him and we put together remix projects and now it’s an LP.
QQ: You’ve always had and continue to have ample space to pursue your creative vision?
AA: Well, you know, Mark lives in Uruguay and I live in Los Angeles so it’s not like we can just sort of pop down to the pub for a beer and chat it out. I suppose it’s just a sign of the modern age really, that you can be on other ends of the planet and still be in pretty close communication … as we are doing right now. I think this would have had to be done via letter or courier pigeon or something many years ago. So, I suppose
it’s just a sign of the modern times that that kind of thing is possible.
QQ: Have any of your collaborative projects in music also been done solely via internet connections?
AA: Not really … no [laughing]. As far as remixes are concerned, you know people send you the parts as they’ve always done, you work on the parts and send back the product, or the result rather, I don’t like the word product. The results of one’s labours. These days I suppose it’s just much easier to be able to send it down the internet. I really like to work face to face with people if possible, especially artists if there’s a player coming in to do a guitar solo on something or whatever. I’d actually like to have them in the room rather than in another country … but anything goes these days, I suppose.
QQ: The story goes that you were pretty influential in bringing the sounds of disco/garage/house from the States to UK several moons ago. How did that transpire in terms of where and when you first started making music and DJing?
AA: Born in London, grew up in Cambridge. I lived there until I was about 18 and then I moved to London for another 20 years before I moved to America, about 12 years ago. I visited America from time to time when I was younger but at that point, as far as DJing in America, I thought I had nothing to offer … because they had enough great DJs; they didn’t need me. But times changed and when I got out here I found I actually did have something to offer but for the longest time, especially in a city like New York with a legacy of Larry Levan, Nicky Siano, and David Mancuso … everyone from Tony Humphries, and Frankie Knuckles … the list is endless. Many, many legendary DJs so I didn’t really feel that I had anything to say here, at that point. I was actually very interested in the sound so I wouldn’t say I introduced the garage sound to England. Yes, I had Levan playing in my club and a few other DJs but I think this kind of Harvey thing is so overblown. It’s like saying, “Yes, in 1988 Danny Rampling invented nightclubs and shortly thereafter he synthesised
ecstasy!” I was just another DJ on the scene in London at the time. And with my personality, you know, I was doing it, not watching it so maybe people that were watching it saw something that I was doing that I didn’t realise I was doing. But I was definitely into that kind of music and maybe championing it … I’ve always played disco and I’ve always played garage and I’ve always played techno and always played rock. I wouldn’t say I was the first to do that - that’s what DJs are supposed to do. It’s just that maybe everyone else had missed the point rather than me finding the point. There were so many incredible fantastic English DJs at that time and to this day. Whoever it may be everyone from Keb Darge to Danny Rampling, Mark Moore, the list is endless. I contributed, that’s what I’d like to say. I didn’t invent it, I wasn’t the first, and I won’t be the last. I could revel in the legend of DJ Harvey, like “Ohhhh yes, in 1987 I invented disco music!” I was just riding the wave like everyone else and perhaps my character maybe shone a little brighter because I was passionate about what I was doing. And that’s it, really.
QQ: Perhaps it’s those who are being given energy through the music, who find themselves immersed in a so-called scene are the ones that end up ascribing something above and beyond what the artist intends.
AA: I think that you find that the victors write the history. So maybe the first person to bring the garage sound to London died from smoking crack shortly thereafter so he wasn’t there to have a legend written about him. The people who are really cutting edge are often left by the wayside. It’s a tough call. I just find that these days I’m getting a lot of attention and being sort of credited with stuff that I mean … maybe I did, maybe I didn’t. I don’t know; I wasn’t paying attention. I was too busy … being hungover, I suppose [laughing].
QQ: You do have an interesting repertoire, a musical background that started at a young age which, from thereon, flourished.
AA: I suppose now, 35 years later I put quite a bit of time in the disco trenches. I first danced for 24 hours straight in 1978. I made my first record in 1976, ’77. I was very young at that time but I have had maybe quite a lot of experience. You know, that’s a lifetime. So there is a lifetime of stories and influences and me influencing. So, wait, yeah let’s big me up for a minute! Let’s just reverse… let’s just wipe everything I’ve just said clear and be like, “Yes. I am… The Man.” I re-invented the disco reedit, I was the only guy to have Larry Levan play outside of The Ministry of Sound, I championed the garage sound, really, really forced disco music to be played alongside set technomusic, I have 30,000 discorecords to choose from, I play 12 hour sets with incredible music with amazing eclecticism, and style, and taste.
QQ: You do!
AA: [laughing] I open a bottle of Jack Daniels and walk away.
AA: [laughing] I’m one of the only DJs who will play using a reel to reel tape recorder, three turntables, with rotary controlled mixers, and five band EQs specially customised components for my mixers and turntables….
QQ: Yeah, yeah I know you’re trying to downplay it all and take the piss but….
AA: No, I’m not. That’s all the truth. The last ten minutes was actually how it was. I was trying to downplay myself before but now I’m overdoing that so I might as well… “Get with the program kids. The sun shines out of my disco arsehole!”
QQ: There have been some pretty epic sets. Was there a moment in your life that you remember feeling as though you’d really come into your own, a moment where you were just shining?
AA: Probably the last time I played, well the first time I played which is also the last time I played at Santos Party House in New York City. And that’s… that’s real DJing. Being in a big club in Manhattan, New York City. With a big sound system built by James Toth, like the proper thing. In a DJ booth which isn’t on the stage, where people can’t see you, they’re only listening to the music, they’re not trying to just kind of stare at a boring old DJ. You know, I think DJs are awful to watch. I don’t know why people stare at DJs. Anyway, that’s real DJing. You know, and I thought, “I’ve arrived.” 30 years later, here I am. The reverence and the heritage… to be allowed to be in that position was an honour. I thought, okay this is what it’s all about. This is where DJs like Larry Levan or Junior Vasquez or Ken Carpenter or Jellybean Benitez or those kind of guys who would actually play in a real nightclub, with a real sound system, to a real crowd of people who love to dance and understand music. That’s what it’s all about and I’m honoured to be allowed to do that. DJs like François K, Timmy Regisford, and Danny Krivit and people like that who understand. You know, you move into a very different realm. People speak of the religious experience but at that point you become… a high priest. And not very many people are allowed to step into that pulpit. You know, people have tried and if you can’t do it, you’re very quickly found out. “Those children don’t tolerate fakers, darling!”
QQ: You worked hard to get to that point. Then and now, you’re passionate and dedicated to your craft. How fondly do you recall the times spent in the DJ trenches, so to say? As if they were yesterday?
AA: I probably don’t remember AD them as if they were yesterday, if you know what I mean. Of course I enjoy a sweaty warehouse party as much as anyone and it’s fantastic. Take something like Sarcastic Disco, for instance, which is a very traditional underground warehouse party with 1,000 people in Downtown L.A. dancing all night long - a real, sort of illegal, underground dance party in the traditional sense. And that’s just as special and amazing. A slightly different dynamic, obviously the DJ booth is held reverence but it’s a little more street level. In New York City, there aren’t actually many clubs left in Manhattan that are still able to cater to such an event. I enjoy 99.9% of the parties I play. I can see the good side to anything… a good time will transcend a good sound system.
QQ: You often seem to have a good time. A lot of the vocals on your new album have a delightfully brazen, humorous edge to them. I find myself giggling and asking what in the world?!
AA: Well, its a serious, good time. I don’t put out any music unless it makes me fall on the floor laughing. That’s basically it, you know. Stuff like the Andrew Weatherall mix with my kind of drunken rap on there, that’s exactly what it is. Down a bottle of bourbon, get on the mic, and have some fun with it. Having fun is the main thing. Because I very rarely make any money so what else is there to get out of it? If it’s a pain in the arse and you don’t get any money then it’s not worth doing at all [laughing]. So one of the main things is having a good time. With all of my production I suppose, it’s serious good time. The rhythms and the melodies make you dance and the lyrics will put a smile on your face… and hopefully evoke some sort of sexual comedy. [laughing] It’s not contrived in any way. It’s just what comes out of my head at that time. It’s not like, oh we’re gonna make some embarrassing records right now. It’s just what comes of those sessions and sometimes I do feel a little embarrassed and I’m like, “Well, if I’m embarrassed and it makes me sort of blush and giggle then hopefully it makes other people blush and giggle - and that’s a good thing.”
QQ: That raw sincerity is definitely felt; laughing yourself into stitches.
AA: Totally. The rap on the Andy Weatherall was just a one-time… freestyle hiphop. That was one take straight down the mic, drunk as a lord. It was hilarious so we went with the program and that’s how most of the things are. A lot of the stuff starts with a rhythm or a melody and I’ll find a little oneline chant and then kind of build around that - for the stuff that has more structure. Usually start with a bright idea and then try to build on that. Do what I call poetry acts. Have a little chorus, then write some verses… and next thing you’ve got a song!
QQ: And who’s collaborating with you, for example, the female vocals?
AA: That’s a combination of my 3 degrees, as I like to call them. Which is Samantha Fox, Heidi Lusardi, and Tara Selleck.
QQ: Harvey’s angels?
AA: Harvey’s Hell’s Angels.
QQ: Nice play on words, kind of like the song titles on the new album which are quite cool: Gunship, Bloodbath, Tan Sedan.
AA: Most of those started off as what I would just call working titles. It was like, what are we gonna call this? And then it was just something that rolls off the tongue that may evoke a thought. Bloodbath, I think there was probably something on TV about war or whatever and I was like there’s a bloodbath. Gunship, I like pirates and in Los Angeles quite often if you see a blue ‘64 Chevrolet, that might be considered a crip gunship. Also, a helicopter flying over Baghdad is a gunship. I like double entendres and hidden meanings and poetic meanings and it’s not that I set out seeking those but if it rolls off my tongue and it sounds good then I go, yeah let’s have that.
QQ: Are you preparing and looking forward to the European tour that coincides with the album release?
AA: I’m only just looking forward to it because I’ve only just gotten off the road from a major Japanese tour and I became, actually, quite ill afterwards [laughing]. I did 16 cities in a row which is a very, very heavy schedule. I was one of the few artists who was brave enough, or I wouldn’t call it brave… but to go back to places like Sendai after the tsunami and nuclear disaster. So I might actually have some kind of live radiation poisoning, I don’t know. I was supposed to be playing at DEMF but I couldn’t. Reason being, well several reasons, is that I have all these different infections going on and one of my symptoms is projectile diarrhoea. I decided that I would’ve been there to DJ - not to do a Leigh Bowery tribute show. I didn’t make that so I’m convalescing this weekend cos I’ve got to make it to Santos for my next instalment in the DJ Harvey/Santos music saga. And then I’ve got a couple weeks to recover before the European tour starts. I don’t really prepare as such. [sarcastic tone] A few t-shirts, some clean underwear, some clean socks, a bag of records and off we go, you know?
QQ: That about does it. Thanks so much and we’ll see you at the Panorama instalment on June 25th.
AA: Yeah, I’m really looking forward to that one. Thank you and see you at PBar on gay pride!
Locussolus / album / International Feel
words: Yasmin Martinelli
pics: Mike Selsky