Best DJ nods are swell, but John Digweed doesn't get caught up in popularity contests
John Digweed is a twenty-year veteran of the international DJ scene. As such, his story is punctuated by numerous high points. Among them: pioneering the art of the mix album with longtime DJ partner Sasha on Renaissance: The Mix Collection; refining it with the classic Northern Exposure chill-out trilogy; and becoming one of the first European DJs to break into the American market via constant touring anchored by a high-profile residency at New York's famous Twilo nightclub.
Now in the third decade of a hugely successful career, Digweed's razor-sharp technical skills and chameleon-like adaptability enable him to continue to thrive in an environment where change is inevitable and happens almost overnight. We caught up with John Digweed -- who was rather candid about his future as a DJ and seemed to hint at a forthcoming artist album -- in advance of his appearance tonight at Beta (Diggers will play an extended, three-hour-plus set, so be sure to arrive early).
Westword: You have a new mix album out this month, Live in Slovenia. Can you tell us a little about it?
John Digweed: It's part of a series I started last year, which was basically just recording my sets when I'm around the world. This is the third in the series, which was recorded in Slovenia. None of these albums -- what's the best way of putting it? -- I never knew this night was going be the night that we were going to release as a CD, so nothing was pre-planned, or, like, getting all the tracks cleared.
I record every set I do, and every once in a while, there's one that pops a little bit more than the other ones, and it feels an extra bit special. We're trying to put something out twice a year that gives a snapshot of where I am musically at that time. The feedback and reaction to it has been really great.
I think we live in a world of people wanting and kind of expecting mixes for free, music for free, but it's all on MP3, it's nothing tangible, nothing you can hold in your hand. I still think there's a market out there for people that want physical products as well as a digital download to give them a memory of a certain night, or, if they're a fan of what I do, it's something for their collection.
What else do you have coming up on your label, Bedrock Records?
Next month, we've got an artist album from a French producer called Electric Rescue, and then in July, we've got an album from some guys in Northern Ireland called the Japanese Popstars. So we've got three album projects in three months, as well a healthy single release plan.
Do you have any new tracks or remixes you can tell us about?
I've got a project I've been working on with Nick Muir [Digweed's longtime studio partner], which is almost finished, but I can't divulge any information on it yet, just because I want to get everything in a row and all the ducks in place, and if I start saying what's happening now, and then it doesn't come out for a few more months, I'd rather get everything right and then give out the information. Put it this way: We've been very busy in the studio and there's quite a lot of material coming out from us.
What are some of the best experiences you've had deejaying recently?
Obviously, this Slovenia party was pretty special. That's one of the main reasons why it was released as an album -- because the party was that good. There was Miami Music Week in March, where I did the Vagabond, and also some of the big shows there.
There's a new club in New York called Output, which is very good. It's hopefully a start of many clubs in the states that is, like, no VIP, no bottle service, no cameras...it's all about the music. It's got a great soundsystem. I think they're doing something a lot different from what other people are doing, and it seems to be a winner with that idea.
From a quick glance at your upcoming gigs, it looks like you're playing twelve shows on four continents in just the next eight weeks. Do you think your touring schedule will ever let up?
[laughs] I don't think it's really down to me. I think it's down to my fanbase. If the phone doesn't ring and no one wants to book me on one of those four continents, I don't really have a say in it, do I?
I'm very lucky that I do something that I enjoy immensely. I have to travel farther and farther these days, whereas when I first started, I was just playing in England. But I'm also very thankful of the fact that I've got to see the world many, many times and experience different cultures, foods, people, languages that I probably never would have got to do if I wasn't doing something like I'm doing now.
So, yes, there's a lot of traveling, but the end result is I get to play a party in either some exotic location, or somewhere I haven't played before, or with people I've played for many times before, and I get to absorb that, but I also get to go somewhere where there's a lot of people that are happy to see me turn up for work. I'm living my dream that I wanted to do when I was very young, so long may it continue, because I love what I do.
It's been twelve years since you were voted the number-one DJ by DJ Mag, but last year, you finished in the top twenty in the Resident Advisor poll. To what do you attribute that kind of longevity and success?
I've always said deejaying's not really a race. It's always hard to say who's the best DJ when you've got so many different musical genres out there, and how could you say X DJ is better than Y DJ? It becomes more of a popularity contest and how well you want to market yourself in the end, and I don't really want to get caught up in any of that.
So the fact that I'm still getting voted highly in Resident Advisor, I'll take it, but the biggest vote of confidence for me is all the gigs I've got around the world. I'm busy, and people want to hear me play. That's the proof in the pudding in terms of my hard work over the last couple of decades. It's the fact that people trust what I do and they know that I give one hundred percent when I turn up to play. For me, the genuine vote for me is the people with their feet on the dance floor in front of me.
Ten years ago, you could say "the Digweed sound," and that really meant something. How would you describe the style you're playing now, and is it still the Digweed sound that made you famous in the late 1990s and early 2000s?
I still think I've got a sound, and I think if I play certain records people can say, "He's playing it like John Digweed would," you know? I can take techno records, I can take house records, but I play them in a way that makes sense to me. I like to kind of get a groove going and lock people into it, but I'm also quite a varied DJ as well.
Last weekend I did a pre-opening in Ibiza, and I played Mambo Beach Bar first, which is like a beach bar, early vibe vocal set, and then I went and did Pacha, which was a bit more housey, some vocals, but then getting a bit tougher at the end. And then on Saturday, I was playing in the techno tent at a festival in Amsterdam, and I was playing really hard techno.
What I love about what I do every weekend is each gig can be a completely different kind of vibe. I'm not turning up and playing the same thing every gig regardless of where I am, what I'm doing and what time I'm on, and I love that aspect of my gigs and my bookings -- the fact that it pushes me, it challenges me. I still want to perform the art of deejaying. I don't want to turn up and just press play and work my way through a playlist. I want to turn up and get a vibe off the crowd and work off that and then chose my records based on what's in front of me.
What is your current deejaying setup?
Three [Pioneer] CDJ-2000s, an Allen & Heath [Xone] DB4 mixer, and that's it, really. It does everything I need it to do.
What can Denver expect from you at Beta?
They can expect an extended set. I'm looking forward to playing there. The sound system's great. Every time I've played there, I've always had a really good time, so I want to play a little bit longer this time. It's a place I've been coming to for many, many years, and I've always enjoyed it, so hopefully it's gonna be another great night.