Tuesday, 20 December 2011

Gaggers on Diggers

John Digweed is a man of few words and great tunes. Never known for his extensive or enthusiastic interviews, these days, the tireless globetrotter prefers to answer journalists’ questions by email and gives the distinct impression he would rather just let his music to do the talking.
     Which is fine when you have been at the forefront of the progressive house movement almost since its inception, and continue to push boundaries, envelopes and the limits of human endurance, with some 30 years on the job under your belt and a reputation for occasional marathon sets lasting anything up to 13 hours.
    Digweed, 44, who took over the cavernous members-only Lyndhurst Terrace club Hyde on Saturday night to a rapturous reception, has left an unquestioned mark on the electronic music scene, from his groundbreaking early collaborations with fellow dance music titan Sasha, such as Renaissance and Northern Exposure, through to his latter day progressive and downtempo excursions of the Structures series.
     He is a fixture in DJ Magazine’s Top 100 DJs list, and peaked at number one in 2001. He has graced Hong Kong’s shores on several occasions, from the heady early days of its rave scene to last year’s John Digweed Live In Hong Kong @ StarHall International Trade & Exhibition Centre show. He even released his tribute to the city, Global Underground: Hong Kong in 1999.
      Just don’t expect the man to wax lyrical or rapturous about the scene that has sustained him. He even defines his own music somewhat prosaically as: “Consistent quality electronic music’’. Of course his curmudgeonly way with words is no doubt due in no small part to the grueling schedule of gigs he continues to accept, averaging almost a set every second night some years, and a lifestyle he defines as:  “Gig – hotel – airport – hotel - gig – hotel – airport’’.
     In the interests of full disclosure and achieving word counts, therefore, it should be noted that only some of the quotes below were divulged exclusively to the South China Morning Post by the man christened Thomas John Digweed, and the rest were cobbled together from a selection of equally brief interviews he has given over the past couple of years.
    I would dearly love to have been able to present to you a revelatory peek into the soul of one of dance music’s most enduring and influential figures. Instead, I give you, for the record, Digweed on Digweed:

Digweed on Saturday’s gig: “This is my first time at Hyde, I have always had a great time in Hong Kong so really looking (sic) to playing this month.’’

Digweed on his most memorable Hong Kong gig: “………”

Digweed on dancing: “In the age of camera phones, I don’t need to see myself on Youtube dancing.’’

Digweed on gear: “I use Pioneer CDJ 2000`s and Allen & Heath Mixers for my set up I never really made the switch really like the feel of playing with the CDJs’’.

Digweed on drugs: “……….’’

Digweed on Northern Exposure: “It was a risk to make an album like that at the time, I have never been about playing it safe, its always better to give people something to think about. The quality of the tracks on this cd makes it stand the test of time which I am really happy about.’’

Digweed on overexposure: (See “Gig – hotel – airport – hotel - gig – hotel – airport’’).

Digweed on his label, Bedrock: “……..’’

Digweed on Hong Kong’s underground: “I don`t normally get much time to hit many after hours.’’

Digweed on being Number One: “It was a fantastic achievement to be voted No1 in DJ mag for me. It was not a marketing tool like it is today. Things change and you have to accept that higher placing can make for more gigs, I am happy that people have voted for me for so long so I must be doing something right.’’

Digweed on crowds: “I just try and observe how the crowd are reacting and figure out what I am going to play.’’

Digweed on new stuff: “I have a new release with Nick Muir called '30 Northeast' which features a great remix from Abe Duque.’’

Digweed on superstar DJs: “I hated the word superstar DJ as my personality does not fit that title and for me it`s always been about the music first, I count myself very lucky that I live the life I do playing the music I love week in week out, I have worked incredibly hard to get were I am and still love what I do week in week out. I think if you look at David Guetta for example he is bigger from a commercial point of view than any DJ back in the day so the superstar DJ did not die just got bigger and more mainstream. I am happy keeping the underground scene ticking over.’’

Digweed on his influences: “Everything from New Order, Heaven 17, Talk Talk to Planet Rock, early Hip-Hop and the beginnings of Chicago and Acid House.’’

Digweed on his ‘Transitions’ radio show: “I love what I do. Music is something that is part of my life 24/7/365, so as long as I am having fun and people like what I do, I will continue doing it as best I can for as long as I can.’’

Digweed on his favourite clubs today: “Fabric London, Mayan LA, Space Ibiza, anywhere in Argentina.’’

Digweed on the greatest club ever: “Twilo in New York. The sound system was so incredible. I loved everything about it. It`s shame it`s gone, but I have great memories from it.’’

Digweed on the movie “Groove’’: “It was a fun experience to work with those guys and I am amazed how many people have seen that film over the years as I always get asked about it.’’

Digweed on his oeuvre: “Try Google for research in future.’’

Digweed on his longest set: “13 hours at Cavo Paradiso in Greece.’’

Digweed on his best set: “Playing at The Big Beach Boutique to over 250,000 people with Fatboy Slim at Brighton Beach which was pretty special.”

Digweed on the jet set: (See “Gig – hotel – airport – hotel - gig – hotel – airport’’).

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Planet of the Ape

A Rewind for the South China Morning Post on a lesser known work by the world class mentalist and mind-bending maestro of dub.  

Lee ´Scratch´ Perry is probably the maddest man in music, or possibly the sanest, and certainly one of the most prolific. The man also known as Pipecock Jackxon, The Upsetter, Dr. On The Go, the Red Ninja, Inspector Gadget, Super Ape, Ringo, Wonder Man and the Duppy Conqueror began his career as a gofer for the Jamaican label Downbeat Sound System in the late 1950s, edged his way behind a desk and then in front of a mic, and went on to put out at least 60 albums containing some of the strangest and most innovative music ever committed to tape and vinyl. He has probably smoked more marijuana than any other living human, until about a decade ago when he foreswore his sacred herb “to see if it was the smoke or Lee Perry making the music.’’
By the late 70s, he would be capturing sounds on his four-track tape recorder at the famed Black Ark studios that would inspire artists from Bob Marley and the Wailers through to The Clash, The Prodigy and The Freestylers, employing delays and loops to create the fuzzy echoing dub sounds he claimed were being beamed down to him from “the extraterrestrial gang’’.
Back in 1975, however, he was just getting over an obsession with the spaghetti westerns of Clint Eastwood when Perry saw Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon, and was smitten. The result was Kung Fu Meets the Dragon (DIP/Justice League, 1975) by Lee Perry and The Upsetters, an album some hold up as a seminal classic, others dismiss as a shambling, rambling and somewhat boring dub dud, and most will simply never have heard of at all. Should the album’s name not convince you fully of Perry’s sudden passion for Bruce Lee, the song titles probably will: Enter the Dragon, Theme from Hong Kong, Heart of the Dragon, Hold Them Kung Fu, Black Belt Jones, Iron Fist, Kung Fu Man and more besides.
 The album is faster and to my ear catchier than some of his more feted later material, closer to ska or rock-steady, featuring the melodica of Augustus Pablo and plenty of crazed clavinet. Many of the songs sound somewhat similar at first blush, but upon repeated listens the entire work begins to make a trippy kind of sense. Perry mostly just grunts, hoots and hollers, although on Kung Fu Man he lapses briefly into lucidity, extolling us to “Kick dem Kung Fu, kick dem Kung Fu, hoo ha, hoo ha!’’ Even if you’ve never smoked a joint in your life, by the end of Kung Fu Meets the Dragon, you’ll probably want to.    

 I finally managed to catch “Scratch’’ live at Japan’s Fuji Rock festival in 2008. Despite edging up on his own mid-70s, the Super Ape looked in great shape, a sprightly cat in a smoke-belching voodoo hat, shambolically shuffling about the stage spewing streams of consciousness, rub-a-dub-a-dubbing umpteen to the dozen, looking for all the world like he was in on the ultimate cosmic joke.
So perhaps it’s only fitting that the last word on Kung Fu Meets the Dragon should go to The Upsetter himself, straight from his original sleeve notes: “Madder than mad, dreader than dread, redder than red, dis yah one … heavier than lead.’’