John Digweed Interview: 'I don’t feel any pressure to validate my relevance'

Marko Kutlesa spoke to John Digweed about sound quality, his Bedrock record label and his favourite DJ mixes ahead of his upcoming shows.

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 20th Apr 2017

John Digweed has been regarded as one of the world's premier and most forward-thinking dance music DJs since the mid 1990s, seldom straying from the top of lists compiled by critics of by public vote.  

He is, along with co-resident Sasha, credited with having recorded the first commercially available mix CD for a club brand, Renaissance. It is at that shared residency that the pair began to earn international reputations, where they became known as creatively pioneering DJs for their long mixes, their promotion of new music and their association with what became known as progressive house. 

Sasha and Digweed repeated their CD releases with Northern Exposure, which went on to become one of the best selling mixes of all time and Digweed alone has produced over 30 officially released mixes, not least the most recent series Live in... which are released on his own Bedrock label.

Following the release of the 9th edition of his Live In... series, which was recorded at midnight New Year’s Eve 2016 at Output in Brooklyn NYC, we caught up with Digweed to discuss the marathon mix album, music technology, Bedrock and much more. 

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Your 9th edition of Live In… was recorded in NYC on New Year's Eve. Does playing on such a significant date as New Year's Eve, with all the associated expectations, hold any extra pressure than playing on other dates?

New Year's Eve has always been a strange night in the calendar as there is usually so much pressure riding on the night as peoples expectations are so high, but I’ve done so many over the years that it doesn’t faze me, I just try and play as well as I can and give people a special start to the new year.

The tracklisting of the mix takes in a lot of moments from 2016 and features some previews of 2017 material, yet you don't stray far back into the almost half century of electronic music past as some DJs might, particularly on New Year's Eve. Is there ever a pressure, having been in the game so long, to try and continually validate your contemporary relevance and do you think that in choosing this strict concentration on the contemporary it might sometimes be to the detriment of the audience's enjoyment?

Well, I was only a few hours into 2017 so people can’t expect a whole five CDs full of tracks from 2017. I always look at NYE as a time to reflect and highlight some of my favourite tracks from that year while still keeping a steady hand on loads of new tracks.

I don’t feel any pressure to validate my relevance musically as most people who know and follow me know I’m always playing and searching out new tracks for my sets, I like to constantly push myself and my music and try to be different at every gig. I think this is why people like coming to hear me play over and over again as they never hear the same set twice.

Aside from this latest instalment, which of your previous DJ mixes are you most proud of? Why?

Montreal was a real standout and statement CD for me - 9 CDs live, straight out of the mixer - it was a perfect night for me and I’m so happy I captured it and made it one of the Live In… comps. Northern Exposure is still a landmark CD and has stood the test of time so well, too. I’m proud of all my CDs to be honest, as I would not have released them if I wasn’t happy with them.

Can you tell me if you've ever listened to any other DJ's mixes more than five times and if so, which DJs were they and which mixes were they?

Coldcut’s Journeys by DJ, Michael Mayer’s Fabric CD… Of course there are others, but I’m not at home at the moment, so can’t remember them all off the top of my head.

With all the advances in sound production and music making technology there seems to be a high bar now set in terms of sounds that DJs can choose from. Do you think, if they were made now, it would be more difficult for primitive, raw productions such as some releases on Chicago label Trax to make it into a modern DJ set because of their lack of finesse in sound quality and do you think that in this concentration on high sound/production quality it's ever possible to miss out on some of the raw, brutal emotion such primitive recordings hold?

Well, at the time those tracks really stood out and changed the way people made dance music, but I don’t think we should be trying to make things sound like the past or make out tracks were better back then. They fitted the time and worked amazingly then, and a great DJ can still weave some of those original tracks into his or her set nowadays to great effect. The technology is there now to make music differently, so why not use it?

You play globally and naturally that takes you to territories where rave/dance culture is not as advanced as it is in the UK where you started. In what respects are visiting such territories like taking a step back in time to an earlier moment in the UK movement and in what respects are they different?

I think a lot of places around the world are pretty developed in terms of throwing parties and the crowds getting it, the Internet has played a massive part in spreading the music and the culture as well as showcasing the style of DJs and how parties look in other parts of the world. Travelling is great for your mind, as playing to different crowds every week keeps you on your toes and also you get inspired from playing to new crowds.

Aside from yourself and your own contributions, which other artist(s) do you feel best exemplifies the sound of your label Bedrock?

The label has always been a great platform for new artists to shine and Guy J is a great example of someone who has gone on to massive things while still having a great association with the label. New producers like Eagles & Butterflies, BOg, Montel, Khen,  Stelios Vassiloudis… just to name a few, all bring their own original sound to the label.

What are your forthcoming plans for the label and any new productions you are involved in?

There are two new projects in the pipeline, another one with Darren Emerson and Nick Muir, and also one with Eagles and Butterflies and Nick Muir that we are excited about, and they’re both coming out on Bedrock.

The font of all contemporary knowledge Wikipedia describes you as an English DJ, record producer and actor, the latter accolade having been attributed following your cameo in the 2000 movie Groove. When is your next acting gig, do you have any ambitions in that area and, if you were to be simultaneously offered roles in Coronation Street and Eastenders which would you choose to take over the other and why?

Groove was a moment in time and it was fantastic to be part of it, so many clubbers around the world have seen that film and it definitely has a cult vibe to it in the States. As for other acting roles, I don’t think that’s going to happen, it took the producer about 45 minutes to get me to point my finger in Groove, so I don’t think I’ll be making small talk in the Queen Vic anytime soon.

You are the brother of 25 times World Clay Shooting Champion George Digweed. How would you compare your skills in shooting to your brother's skills as a DJ?

He’s the best that the world has ever seen in that sport and I don’t think anyone will come close to what he has achieved. The one and only time I shot a gun I got 7/10, so not bad. I’ve listened to my brother try and DJ and he needed shooting after what I heard!

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