'I have always said the star of my shows is the music I play. Put it this way: I won’t be showing pics of my lunch anytime soon on the socials.' An interview with one of the greatest Dj's on the planet.
I love the feeling of listening to a track for the first time and being blown away by how amazing it is. That feeling has never left me since I was 11 years old.
Interviewing John Digweed is not an easy task. Yes, he gives great answers (to good questions), but as we are friends for more than 2 decades, I know too much about this very private Dj than most nightlife reporters searching for scoops can handle. Prince once told me that I was a lousy journalist. When I asked his Royal Badness why, he said: 'Because you can be trusted'. Maybe that's the reason why John and I can get along so well. Luckily for me I didn't have to hold back for this interview. There was enough to talk about; his new and outstanding album Quattro, his weekly Saturday evening livestreams on social media (check here) and how it is to be John Digweed in the age of Corona. I started with a memory.
When all this happened I thought of another surreal conversation we had. That was in 2001 on September 11. The same day that the planes flew into the Twin Towers, we had each other on the phone. I remember you saying that the world would be another place after this. You were right. The world became another place, but for you as an artist nothing really changed. You continued playing in clubs and on festivals all over the world. I’m afraid that what's happening now is different, has a bigger impact on the life you led before Corona. In the next months anyways. Are you prepared for this? I mean: for the last two decades you traveled the world and you worked extremely hard. Then suddenly…silence. It must feel strange, to say the least.
I think in reality no one was prepared for what has happened and what is happening, so at the moment everyone has to follow government advice, stick to the rules, just try and keep your mind active, keep your body fit. I have no problem working from home for the time being with running my record label, doing my radio show and my weekly Bunker stream sets on the web, as this has kept me pretty busy. I also look at the positive that after probably 25 years of intensive travel and flying, this is probably pretty good for my mind and body, not going anywhere and getting regular sleep and doing so many things that I never normally have the time to do. This has shaken the whole world and will most likely take a long time to recover fully and as for travel restrictions and gatherings we will have to wait and see. These are strange times that – in our lifetime - the world hasn't had to deal with before.
What do you do to protect you and your loved ones from this horrible virus?
I think I'm doing the same as everyone else, cleaning any products that come into the house and making sure everything is clean, keeping the distance from people when we go out for a walk, trying to eat healthy and sleep loads.
Do you miss traveling already? Pete Tong once said on BBC 1, that you have a special medicine for jet lag: going from one plane to another.
I don't think I had anything to cure jet lag, because some nights you were just so tired. But once you got in front of the crowd, you just forgot that you were tired and the energy from the dance-floor just lifted you up. And then you went back to the hotel after the gig and you couldn't sleep, because you had so much adrenaline rushing around, resulting in that I was even more tired for the next trip. So I don’t miss the travelling aspect for a moment for sure, but I do miss the clubs a lot plus the promoters who I have long friendships with that I've built up over so many years on the road. And I surely miss that reaction from the crowd when you're playing out, so for me the hardest thing of been kept in, it's not been able to play the music I love to my fans in some of the great clubs around the world. But I would rather see the world was a safe place to travel, than have a party that could risk lives, so we need to wait this one out.
Let’s talk about positive things. Let’s talk about Quattro. What was the hardest thing to accomplish? You know what I think about this album, but did it turn out the way you wanted it?
When I originally started work on Quattro, it was just going to be a double CD, one CD with completely new tracks and one CD with remixes from the Bedrock label, Nick Muir and myself had been working on a side project that was very similar to the “Traveler" album, that we did a few years ago, that was a more of a focus on our Downtempo cinematic, trippy side so that was kind of bubbling away, but not quiet finished. It's great doing club tracks, but I think Nick's real talent as a musician, shines on the more downtempo tripped out music, as he has such a great range of production skills. As I was getting tracks in for CD's one and two, I could sense that some would be amazing as ambient/downtempo versions, so they could possibly work really well on a standalone ambient CD. I then reached out to other artists for more downtempo tracks and before I knew it, Soundscape had taken shape. I love the fact that de Tempo CD is kind of having that lush ambient breaks vibe to start with, which really sets the mood for a very atmospheric set of tracks. Originally this album was going to be released at the end of 2019, but as I was working over the summer on it, it still wasn't complete and I wasn't going to rush it. I felt it was just missing a few tracks, so I cancelled the release and took the approach that I would release it when it was finished and would sound right. Once I had the final tracks it really was just going to be three CDs, not mixed just compiled by me. With this whole body of work the project with Nick really seemed to make sense to add it to this album and to bring it to a wider audience that might not have listened to it as a standalone project. On one of my flight trips I thought: why don't I see if I can mix these tracks together for the album? They weren't intended to be mixed together, so I thought I'll give it a go and see how they sound. I couldn't believe how well the tracks on Tempo and Redux all worked together. It was almost as if they were chosen to go together. All I needed to do after that was sequence the Soundscape and Juxtaposition projects together and the album was complete. It really did come together very easy in the end, once I took a deadline off it.
Each CD represents the music you love right now. Which to me is more eclectic than ever. Am I right?
The one thing I really enjoy about this album is the wide variety of music that features on it, but also the quality of those tracks and as the album moves along the genres, there's always another great interesting track following the last one. It's not one dimensional at all. In fact I think it's the most diverse album I have put together and something I am very proud of.
There are two artists on Quattro who go back a long, long time with you. If you think of Sasha and Danny Howells, what is the first thing that springs to mind?
Well, I have known Danny for 30 years and Sasha for 28, so both of them for well over half my life and most of my career. Both have had a massive involvement in some of the best parties I have done, so I have many great memories of playing with them.
I have so many demos and promos that I listen to every day, by the time I am done I prefer the sound of silence.
I’ve read a music story on Billboard about the healing and consolation effect of music in harsh times. What does music to you personally? I mean: do you have to feel up to enjoy music? There are people who love to listen to sad ballads when they feel sad.
I am not a fan of sad ballads, so I'm not listening to them at this time. I love the feeling of listening to a track for the first time and being blown away by how amazing it is. That feeling has never left me since I was 11 years old. Music is escapism and at a time like this its been so important to so many people to have that comfort coming from their music player.
I never asked you this: but is there any other music you listen to/enjoy, I mean: other than electronic music?
I have so many demos and promos that I listen to every day, by the time I am done I prefer the sound of silence.
What kind of advice do you give to producers who want to send you music? It’s not an easy task, because your music can’t be easily pinpointed.
Always try being original. I wanted Bedrock to be a label that released great records of different styles, not just one sound and variations of that sound. When I look back over 22 years of the releases, I think we have achieved that and something I want to continue into the future. Its always great when a new artist sends you a track and you can’t wait to contact them about signing it. It',s so hard now as there are so many tracks out there and standing out from the crowd takes a special record. But they should always make a record that they are happy with first. And send it to the label they love first, don’t send it to loads of labels.
Your Bunker Sessions are magical. The music is as versatile as electronic music can be. And then we also have your very successful Transition radio-shows every week in which we can always hear the most up to date releases. How much time per day do you spend listening to and selecting the music? I mean: do you sleep at night?
To be honest I probably spent more time trying to set up the stream feeds than the music, as this was a whole new world for me. As for the shows I wanted to have a nice slow build and bring the energy up during the set. I usually spent a couple of hours going through my folders and pulling out old and new tracks. Then on the night I look at it like it was a fresh painting and try and make sense of the tracks in front of me. I feel like I am playing at a house party, so I try and create moments within the mix and have a good amount of feel good tracks that wrap around you. I have been blown away by all the feedback and comments, so I am glad it has given some people enjoyment while we are in lockdown.
How is it for you to do these live streams? It shows a little bit more of the John Digweed nobody knows, if you know what I mean. To be honest I was surprised to see that. Because I know that you're a very private man. What made you decide to leave the door ajar?
I am still a very private person, so for the fans to see me in a different light is ok, I guess. I am just not into having my life as an open book with everything out there. I have always said the star of my shows is the music I play. Put it this way: I won’t be showing pics of my lunch anytime soon on the socials.
How do you see the dance-business after Corona, in a 2 metres (6 ft) society? And how will it be for you? Are you gonna spend more time in the studio producing music?
I think we are on a long journey before clubs and festivals are back to normal. Finding a vaccine and peoples safety must be the first priority, otherwise we will have to go through constant lockdowns and nobody wants that. This has been terrible for many, many businesses and people around the world and for the nightlife industry it's going to take a while to rebuild and get back on its feet.
Corona virus or not: you are still on top of your game. In fact: to my opinion your Transition-shows are even better than ever in 2020. Is this what you want to do when touring will become too much for you in fifty years time?
Ha ha ha! But serious: I have never really thought about stopping DJ’ing and now I am in a situation where I have to. It's very strange and I really do miss the vibe and energy of smiling faces in front of me having a great time. They say you don’t really appreciate something until it's gone. Well I think a lot of people including myself are missing so many things, that it has made us all realise that we can’t take things for granted anymore. And that we have to really enjoy the simple things in life, that we have to enjoy our friends and family. Everything else is a bonus.