Please welcome DJ Harvey: cult leader, DJ extraordinaire, the missing link between Wang Chung and Danny Wang, and one of the last true party adventurers. Please welcomeGerd Janson: a brother-from-another of Harvey’s when it comes to touching the MK1200, a record label-owning music journalist (Groove, Spex), and a team member for this year’s Red Bull Music Academy.
This is a conversation between Janson and the big boy of all things Balearic, originally published in the ultra-obscure 8inch magazine a couple of years ago and now dug outta our archives as a little taster of what will be going on in Barcelona (and on this very website) from September 21 to October 24.
Known for his perfect timing and butter smooth mixing, when it comes to selecting odd Balearic tunes, contemporary house, disco classics or obscure beauties of any kind, Harvey has always been on the forefront. Be it together with Gerry Rooney and the infamous Black Cock joint venture for rearrangements or his remixes and re-edits for the likes of Super_Collider, The Brand New Heavies, Disco Dub Band and Ramsey Lewis, this British-born Hawaii expat never ceases to amaze and is constantly at the mercy of nerds from all over the world. His Moist parties and the almost everlasting residency at the Ministry of Sound saw more shindigs than the Roman empire and were summarized in the Late Night Sessions mix for MoS. This is still as much in demand as stories about the legendary New Hard Left jams, he ran afterwards, and records by his new project Map Of Africa.
Gerd: Harvey, if someone does an internet search with your name, he opens a whole can of worms. On internet forums like www.djhistory.com, you achieved a god-like status as cult leader numero uno for all the odd ones out there. How do you feel about that reputation and the need of your fans to have every single song and track on your numerous mixes identified that are floating around?
Harvey: Yeah, it’s definitely crazy and flattering. I don’t really check any of them out. I’m not that computer friendly though I do like to cruise eBay. I think it’s great that people are interested enough to want to find out what the tracks I play are – I play some pretty crazy shit. Get ready for the next. I always thought, once someone finally got all the tracks it’d be time to do another – I’m not sure anyone has yet though.
Gerd: You moved – when exactly by the way? – from London to Los Angeles. What were your main reasons, apart from the better weather?
Harvey: I’ve been out of the UK for quite a few years now though I spend my time between upstate NY where Thomas (of Rub’n’Tug fame, ed.) and I record, LA and Hawaii. I try to spend two weeks a month there at my gallery/club. It was time for a change more than anything. I was doing really well in Europe and some people thought it was suicide but it’s been a creative rebirth – it’s always good to change it up.
Gerd: How is the scene in LA at the moment? Speaking from hearsay there seem to be some nice things going on, especially if one looks to San Diego and the Lounge Candela’s thing. What is the story about that one?
My mom used to play great records to me as a kid. I’m lucky, I am surrounded by friends and experiences that constantly inspire me.
Harvey: LA is a strange beast, I get my jollies, but as far as regular goes it’s almost best to not play there too often. It’s crazy, there are literally millions of people in LA but the scene can be really small. There’s a bit of a driftwood mentality there too. If someone is successful, they kick anyone off their bit of wood that shows interest or is perceived as a threat. The positives of LA far outweigh any negatives. Our annual beach party at Zuma is pretty hard to beat. I’m pretty sure there is nothing like it anywhere in the world. San Francisco has some great parties, Candela’s is small and oh so good, LA is great for the one-offs and the crazy Hollywood scene. There’s great radio in America too – I see myself organising so many more things out here – Hawaii will turn into a destination and I’d like to get some kind of once a year happening together there.”
Gerd: Hawaii seems to be the perfect place for having a party in this world.
Harvey: A space in Hawaii is a dream come true. Other people made it possible for me, just turn up and lord over really. Right now, we are trying to get some sound system sponsorship to beef it up and we are finally in a position to invite guests to come and play. We are a gallery space and showcase great cutting edge art, often overlooked in Hawaii. Christmas and NYE is a big time for us and we plan to have a great exhibition up for that period as well as some great nights planned. I would advise anyone thinking of taking a break at that time to come to Oahu. You can check it out at www.thirtyninehotel.com. We’ve been getting some nice press we have been featured in the Hawaiian Airlines in-flight magazine for a few months.
Gerd: Could you please describe a little bit of your musical background? For instance, what were your first steps as a DJ or musician, what were your favourite artists or DJ’s and how did the whole dance music thing start for you?
Harvey: My mom used to play great records to me as a kid. I’m lucky, I am surrounded by friends and experiences that constantly inspire me. I was a drummer in punk bands from a really young age, John Peel played our stuff on the radio when I was 13. Then I took the same route most people my age did getting a pair of decks and cutting up breaks – I was a crew’s DJ which is really how the whole Tonka thing came about: I was a better DJ than a breaker or graffiti artist.
Gerd: What was the Tonka Sound System?
Harvey: We were a collective of alternative-type DJs and musicians, set designers, sound people, and we put things together purely for the love of playing. It was almost like a cult (laughs) with lots of cute small girls running around, as I remember. Myself, Chocci and Rev were the main DJs and we spawned a whole generation of DJ’s like whole The Idjuts, Garth and Markie. We would haul those big yellow speakers all over the UK. We played the Zap in Brighton once a month then afterwards we’d haul the speakers onto the beach at Black Rock and party till the sun came up and beyond and nobody bothered us. David Sims took some great photos of the Tonka crew I’d like to get my hands on.
Gerd: Nights like Moist, New Hard Left or your tenure at the Ministry Of Sound are legendary and seem to have had a huge impact on a whole generation of British selectors. What was your point with those nights, what were the legendary happenings and did you always like to mix things up and serve a different meal than your counter peers?
Harvey: Heidi (Harvey’s wife and partner, ed.) was really the brain and the balls behind those things, she always sees really well what’s happening next, we would talk about people like Larry and Francois and she would say: “Lets find ‘em and get ‘em to play. They are artists. All they want to do is show their craft and be appreciated.” Then she would be out all over the place spreading the word to the fashion freaks she was associated with. Believe it or not, at the time it wasn’t an easy sell for any of those nights. We were putting DJs on all night long when you could go to a club round the corner and see one an hour for 6 hours. We had to destroy a lot of people’s perceptions, and she convinced the clubs that it was a good way to keep evolving. She’s doing her thing now in LA. She had Madlib, Peanut Butter Wolf and J-Rocc to play a Grammy party she organised – they tore the house down and it was one of the best nights LA has seen this year. You had the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Jay-Z, Mos Def, Tony Alva at one end of the room and friends from London like Frank Tope and Basement Jaxx at the other all going crazy for these guys. Usher and RZA were freestyling through the headphones at one point. Yeah, that girl really does know how to throw a party.
Gerd: Together with Gerry Rooney and your Black Cock joint venture, you were also at the forefront of the whole edit mania – at least in Europe. What do you think about the whole edit business nowadays? “Edit” here and “edit” there, seems to be all the rage since the computer mouse substituted the razor blade.
Harvey: I was aware of the whole edit thing that came out of the US and Paradise Garage scene. There were tracks I would play two copies of or record them to the reel to mess around with as I was DJing – and re-editing for me was just an extension of that. When you have a residency you are playing records week after week breaking new stuff and it’s a way to keep things fresh and exciting and put your personality on the music that people are getting to know. I was into disco loops at that time and funnily enough some stuff I had made for myself was made into actual tunes that were released. I was never comfortable doing that, so much of that stuff got put out credited not to the original artists but the DJ. Some producers made quite nice careers out of it.
Gerd: What are current producers, musicians or disc jockeys you fancy listening to?
Harvey: I always have a great time hanging out and listening to Thomas and Eric (Rub’n’Tug, ed.). I’d like to hang out more with some buddies more than anything. People like Ivan S and Romain, the mad crew in Oslo, Norway. Gerry and I could play records to each other for weeks and still not get through ‘em all. We’re trying to get hold of a bunch of people to come and play with me out in Hawaii, when they’re stateside. I know, people out there would love to hear the likes of those guys and people like Gilles Peterson, Norman Jay, Francis Kevorkian.
Gerd: What is the story with your new project Map Of Africa? Which label will it be on and when can we expect something that is not “white label”?
Harvey: It’s myself and DJ Thomas. It’s our band. We have finished an album and are just putting the sparkle on it. I sing, the first 12” is just out on Whatever We Want Records, and it’s really just a hand-to-hand thing. The next single, everyone tells us, is great and then the album will follow that. We’ve been asked to do live gigs and we will do a few next year. We had a few rehearsals with our band in NY, and it’s pretty exciting stuff. It’s a family affair. Carlos (Noordinarymonkey, NYC, ed.) who owns the label is a great friend, I designed the artwork and Michael K of Stussy is getting the merchandising together – I designed a great t-shirt. We’re really pretty fucking dangerous musically… well, in everything really. I wouldn’t want to be our tour manager.
Gerd: You have been DJing for quite some years now. Have you ever reached that point, where you were so fed up with the whole circus that you wanted to become a Carthusian monk?
Harvey: I always avoid the circus, I’ve been on the brink of it a few times, but then I always disappear off up my arse. I live a pretty nice life. I get to do what I like, when I like, how I like if there’s no waves in Hawaii and the guest DJ’s have been taken care of, I can go to New York. When I’ve damaged my liver partying in NY, I can head off to LA. I’m constantly running off.
Gerd: As one of the pioneers of the genre, why did the “Balearic” thing come back so heavily? Are people tired of the same old, same old 4/4 patterns?
Harvey: I never stopped playing so called Balearic music – I play so much of that stuff in LA and California people really dig it out there – it goes so well with the feel and climate of the place. At the annual beach party I always have a moment where I think this is what people think Ibiza will be like: all beautiful people dancing on the beach to amazing chilled out tunes. But then you have perfect waves here out in front of you with dolphins swimming around. I play Balearic music the world over in fact they really get into it in NYC too, but there you have to mix it up with the ugliest heaviest shit anyone ever heard – you know it’s the light and the dark and I like to push it all the way both ways (laughs).
(Special thanks to Heidi and DJ Klas.)
For some more Hawaiian wisdom, check out DJ Harvey’s lecture session from the Melbourne Academy here.