Marko Kutlesa spoke to Gideön, one half of the design team behind Block9, to discuss musical interests, his own personal style and his radio show.
Last updated: 6th Sep 2017. Originally published: 4th Sep 2017
Gideon Berger, also known by his DJ name Gideön, is perhaps best known as one half of the creative partnership Block9. The duo have come to acclaim over the last decade for their conception ideas and construction of projects like the Block9 area at Glastonbury, with its imposing Genosys stage and famed The NYC Downlow, Banksy's Dismaland and tour sets for the likes of Lana Del Rey, Gorillaz and Skrillex.
The NYC Downlow is an imagined gay nightclub from the NYC meatpacking district of the early 1980s and which pays tribute to the gay roots of today's worldwide clubbing scene. In doing so, it has brought the first dedicated, permanent gay space to one of the world's best music festivals, a precedent that has not gone unnoticed throughout the club scene. Some of the world's best DJs now request to play at the space. Gideön curates the lineup for this pop-up nightclub and for another four venues in the Block9 field at Glastonbury.
Gideön’s musical taste is arguably informed by his youth , a time split between attending free festivals, warehouse raves and living in and around mainland Europe and most importantly San Francisco. He is a serious DJ in his own right, having previously held a residency at Berlin's Soulhole and The NYC Downlow as well as recent bookings at Panorama Bar and The Lab.Oratory underneath Berghain in Berlin.
Much has been written about the design aspects of Block9, but little of the attention afforded by the likes of broadsheet newspapers has focused on the musical side of Gideön, his DJing often given passing mention in preference to discussing the design duo’s visual style. The following interview with Skiddle's Marko Kutlesa hopes to go some way to amend that.
As far as I know your musical interests include soul, techno, reggae, disco, gospel, funk, latin and house. Did I miss anything out?
No, I don't reckon.. I'm interested in anything that's good, so that includes classical too... I guess you got about it all.
I grew up in south London and so one of my main lines in musically was pirate radio stations in the late 80s and 90s and Jamaican soundsystem culture of south London. Also following soundsystems as a kid, going to events in parks, back when the GLC was the council and London used to spend on community musical events which were free. When I became old enough to lie effectively about what I was doing of a weekend I started going to illegal warehouse raves in and around London and to free festivals.
And do you collect music on different formats according to what genre it is?
Yes. To be honest I don't feel like I own a piece of music unless it's on wax, but so much of the good stuff today doesn't even make it out onto vinyl. Anything that I can own on vinyl, sometimes regardless of the price tag, I do like to own on vinyl. That's why I usually tend to be skint. If there's a rare gospel tune or northern soul tune I want, I have to have it.
You live in London now but you've spent time in San Francisco and New York too. Can you attribute the interest you have in any of the genres you like to any particular place you've lived or visited?
When I lived in San Francisco I chased music a hell of a lot. I lived there in 1999/2000 so I'd be at places like the End Up on a Sunday morning. At that time I sort of liked the soulful end of the dubby, deep house spectrum. Dub mixes, tracks on the b side, the non screechy, cheesy vocal parts of deep house. Strictly Rhythm, Chez Damier, Francois K, and some of the deeper west coast stuff. Obviously that's not necessarily all that I'm into now.
How would you describe the kind of house music you play now?
I would describe it as deep, dark, blackbox, sweaty, testosteroney, homocentric, dubbed out house music. When I DJ what I try to do is showcase a sound that is very specific to me. The house music I like is very much about underground gay culture, a culture we've inherited.
That sounds like a lot of indoor, club music. But a lot of your background is in festivals, open air music...
I think of late you do hear a lot of house music outside because of the resurgence in festivals. To be honest I'm not particularly keen on festivals, having experienced a bunch of amazing parties that were outside in the days of illegal raves and free festivals in England. It's difficult to enjoy things that don't come nearly close to them.
I've heard you play quite a lot of reggae in your online sets. You're a quite politically motivated person and you express that in a lot of the work you do. Reggae's not always been the most gay friendly of genres, so how do you square those two things?
I don't, really. Luckily I'm not someone like, say, the president of America, who needs to be be morally airtight. Essentially all I'm doing is putting out there records which I love from my collection.
About ten years ago my only response to homophobia in Jamaican music was to try and reclaim it as a bunch of south London gay, black kids also did. We would play stuff like Elephant Man’s 'Log On' (’Step On Chi Chi Man’), Sizzla, Capleton. 'Shoot up batty man', those kinda tunes. When they were played, it would be the fiercest, blackest queens on the dancefloor, owning that shit.
Now that I'm a bit older I don't play so much dancehall and zero homophobic dancehall. It just pisses me off actually... but back then we flipped it and re-claimed it. The Jamaican roots stuff that I now play is pretty carefully selected for its deep soul quality... the 80s/90s bashment sound is not really something I pull off the shelves so much anymore.
You said in a previous interview that with a lot of Block9's work, music is the initial inspiration. In fact, you went on to say that the foundation of The NYC Downlow was a specific disco record. What is that disco record?
Chemise 'She Can't Love You'.
You also said in a previous interview that you don't really have time for pop music. Really?
Really. Sometimes, occasionally, something will cross over, some good stuff does make it into the top ten. But I do think that most stuff you would hear on regular, commercial radio stations is shit.
You've done over 100 SohoJams shows now. What sets your show aside from others?
In terms of Soho Radio, I suppose I have quite a lot of big name guests, usually from the world of dance music, but I generally stipulate that we don't play any electronic music or what they might play as a Saturday night DJ. Most of my favourite DJs have collections that extend beyond what they'd play on a Saturday night. I want to hear what they play at home on a Thursday night. So, that's what probably makes it a bit different.
Tickets for Gideon's upcoming events are available below.