It's not hard to understand why John Digweed has created such a loyal and widespread network of fans who can't seem to get enough of his music. In a world of over-the-top festival stages and look-at-me performers, Digweed provides the antithesis to all that hubbub - soft-spoken, humble, and completely dedicated to his craft. He's the anti-Aoki, a DJ who puts his music front and center in everything he does, a calming presence from behind the decks who never relies on gimmicks to engage his audience. His mission is to search out the best new tracks, week in and week out, and put them together with his trademark mastery, utilizing his uncanny gift for knowing how to build and craft a set that few others possess these days.
He has a particularly deep and personal connection with New York, where his storied monthly, multi-year residency at Twilo alongside Sasha at the end of the millennium forever changed the musical makeup of the city. Together, the duo broke tremendous ground in New York, introducing a new generation of clubbers to the progressive house sound that was ruling the UK and Europe at the time, opening up the city's collective ears that had been dominated by hometown talent. For some, those years were the apex of Big Apple nightlife, and it's a time that still clearly resonates with John.
But Digweed has never been one to dwell in the past, despite a career that is now two decades deep. He is constantly on the hunt for fresh new music and talent, and his continued enthusiasm for what he does is evident. Whether releasing tracks and presenting artists on his own label Bedrock, producing with his partner Nick Muir, staging his own events in London, or releasing a series of brilliant "Live in..." mix compilations, he remains on the cutting edge and at the top of his game.
On Friday, March 14th, John Digweed makes his debut at Marquee New York. He took some time to talk about the city, as well as many other topics, while -- what else? -- flying back from a series of gigs in South America. With nightlife and electronic music in general back on the rise in New York, he proudly proclaims that the "city that never sleeps" nickname is back where it belongs.
You've had such a long and storied history with New York. Are there any particular shows from your days at Twilo that really still stand out to you?
That's a real hard question as I loved every time I played at the club. I think apart from Junior Vasquez, I got to spin there the most -- over 50 times -- and it really was a very special place to play. I think it was all about timing when Sasha and myself became residents there, as there was a young crowd who were looking for a different sound from the New York house sound that was so big there at that moment, and we brought a very European sound every month. It was before Facebook and Twitter and word spread mostly by word of mouth and the press about what we were doing at the time. I think the fact that it grew organically was one of the reasons it lasted so long, as it was full of a likeminded crowd who told other likeminded music heads about what was going on at Twillo.
The sound system was to this day the best I have ever heard anywhere on the planet, and the lighting was in total sync with what we were playing and the mood and atmosphere was electric. As for a standout night for me, one of my solo nights in 2001, I was in for a long set when they discovered a smoldering cigarette that had gone under the floor and the fire services came. Everyone had to leave the club which they did in an incredibly orderly fashion with no fuss. They waited outside in the cold and some rain for nearly two hours, then they gave the all clear to come back in and start the party, and the energy and vibe was unreal until midday. That night still gives me goosebumps to this day. The other great thing about Twilo was it was before camera phones and you were not allowed in with cameras, so people just went and danced without any distractions at all. They did not need to tell anyone what was going on as they were in the moment.
You've become somewhat of a mainstay at all the big festivals here in the U.S., and especially here in NYC. Is it important for you to be a part of all the festivals? As a DJ, we know you prefer to play longer sets. How do you prepare for the shorter set time that you typically encounter at a festival?
The fact that every gig can be different for me every weekend is what makes it exciting for me. Yes, I like longer sets, but at festivals there is so much going on at different stages that the longer DJ set does not really work with most people wanting to also check out other acts throughout the event. I don't mind trying to condense and get straight to the point with these type of gigs as it makes me play differently, plus I always have the luxury of playing a longer set in a club
We're really looking forward to having you play at Marquee in March. The club is literally around the corner from 530 West 27th Street. Does just being on that block, in that area, conjure up certain feelings for you?
Of course, New York felt like my home every month for five years, and I have some of my best clubbing memories from that club. After Twilo closed down, New York seemed to lose its clubbing and "city that never sleeps" label a little. It's great to see over the last few years that there is a whole wave of new clubs opening up, and more clubs is actually better for cities as more people go out and the competition makes the promoter try harder, giving the clubbers better nights all round. The big festivals and one-off events are also doing really well in NYC so the "city that never sleeps" moniker is coming back to its rightful owner.
What are you looking forward to most about playing at Marquee?
Well I have heard the sound system is pretty special which is important to me as a DJ as I really want my records to have the impact they deserve. Plus the guest DJs that have played there before me I am sure have given feedback on how to improve things with certain aspects of the club so I am sure its working very well from all aspects now. I am really looking forward to playing there for the first time.
Your series of "Live in..." releases is really interesting to us. How did you come up with the concept of releasing a series of live sets?
I did this amazing party in Cordoba, Argentina, and I had recorded the set. And when I listened back I thought this could be a great album. There was never any plan to start a series it kind of just happened as the reaction to the Cordoba album was really good so the five+ hour, four x CD Live in London followed after that. None of these albums are planned and are all based on how good I feel the recording is after the event. This way I feel the mix sounds more natural and organic rather than me knowing a certain party is going to be the next Live in release and I might play differently with that thought in mind.
These are full live recordings of your sets? Do you do any edits afterwards?
I try and make sure the crowd recording is well-balanced and subtle enough for you to know it's there but does not overpower the music. It's also important to make sure the levels are all OK throughout and the start and end of the CDs are nice and smooth and thats about it.
Tell us about your Bedrock parties you do in London. Obviously these are important and personal events to you. What's the planning and production like on your end, for those who have never been able to attend one?
We just celebrated 15 years of Bedrock parties in London and most recently we did a sold out party on a Thursday night at Village Underground which was so much fun as the venue has a proper warehouse feel to it. The next big event is around Easter at Fire and Lightbox where I will play for six hours, alongside some great guests in three other rooms. The original Bedrock London parties were at Heaven in London once a month on a Thursday night from 1998 to 2006. It was an amazing period and pretty much every DJ I wanted to invite to play came and loved it. The crowd was unreal and there would be over 2000 every month without fail. Bedrock has always attracted a great music-loving crowd, and it's always a pleasure to play for them. We have also done Bedrock nights all over the UK as well as Japan, Spain, Greece, Eastern Europe and the USA just to name a few
You've had a knack for discovering and exposing new talent for years through Bedrock. What are some of the next names you're excited about as producers?
At the moment I am looking for that next Guy J-type artist who just seems to get better with everything he does. Some of the producers at the moment that I am really into are
Carlo Lio, Harvey McKay, Laura Jones, Gardens of God, Soul Button, just to name a few. It's about seeing someone who sparks your interest, then each follow-up production is an improvement on the last one.
As a DJ, you're well-known for always playing new music. How much time do you spend searching for the tracks that make it into your sets?
Pretty much every day I am going through music. This includes when I am on flights, in hotels, listening to new tracks on my iPod. There is so much new music being released
all the time that you really need to stay on top of it, especially if you're going through demos to sign for the label. For me, it's really important to be playing new and exciting music so you have to spend the time going through and searching for tracks to make yourself stand out.
You've seen a few different eras come and go now throughout your career. Any thoughts on the current trajectory of the music scene, particularly here in the U.S.?
I think EDM was the only way electronic music was going to cross over into the mainstream in the USA. When the younger generation are first getting into music, the whole EDM experience must be pretty mind-blowing with the levels of stage set-ups, visuals, along side constant C02 blasts and confetti cannons. They are really getting a show with records they already know from the radio. It's energetic and straight to the point with DJ after DJ whooping the crowd up. In the meantime the underground scene has been slowly growing and growing with people who have been searching out for a different experience, something that has a little more depth and DJs that fine-tune their sets with music that you will not hear on the radio for sure. It's good that both scenes are healthy and growing and as long the music evolves they won't stagnate and risk losing their crowd. Over the last few years loads of new DJs have come onto the scene -- which keeps me on my toes but also brings some different styles into the mix.
There's so much interest in your music and you have such a loyal following, seemingly everywhere you play. Do you find it hard to make room and time for everyone who wants to hear you and witness your sets?
I think people realize I take what I do very seriously and my level of focus is 100 percent when I play. In a world of Jesus poses and fist-pumping DJs, I must look like a preying mantis behind the decks but that's who I am. I want the music to be front and center and my crowds know that I get amazing reactions all over the world based on the music I play, and for me, that is the best compliment to all my hard work searching out those tracks. It's easy to play a record everyone knows and get a massive reaction, but to play 80 percent of new music that they don't know and get the same reaction takes confidence in what you do as a artist. I am very lucky to have such a great worldwide fan base and that's why I always play with passion, because I know they are listening.
What kind of special projects can we expect from you in 2014?
Nick Muir and myself have been very busy in the studio. We have remixes of Fairmont's "Lie to Me" and a track from Robert Babicz coming out soon, plus we have remixed a track by Dorfmeister for an album project for this year's World Cup that has been put together by Fatboy Slim which we are really happy with. There is also another project due later on in the year that has been a very exciting collaboration, plus a "Live in" album from somewhere that's not been recorded yet.
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