John Digweed Continues to Change with the Times
One of the great legends of our scene, John Digweed, has changed the face of dance music multiple times since 1993. Although he has never conformed to any one genre, Digweed is most well known for pioneering and popularizing progressive house in the 90s and subsequently being one of the first major artists to undertake a live performance of electronic music in the 2000s.
His legendary extended sets became a calling card after an extensive residency at the iconic NYC club, Twilo. Honing his skills for years, Digweed has had the opportunity to play clubs and festivals worldwide. His label, Bedrock, has been going strong for over 20 years and has been a constant representation of the newest sounds in electronic music. Digweed has no intentions of slowing down. He is in the midst of a US tour, and his label will be releasing a unique, four-disc box set featuring four studio albums from select artists, aptly titled Quattro.
You started DJing in your teens, throwing parties on Hastings Pier. Do you have any specific memories of that time and what it was like being so young in that position?
It was a fantastic time for me as I, like many others, had been bitten by the acid house bug. I realized I wanted to build my name and profile as a DJ, but I needed to associate myself with the key DJs at the time. I started the "Bedrock Night" in 1990 at The Crypt in Hastings. We booked the likes of Carl Cox, LTJ Bukem, Groove Rider, Pete Tong, and many more. Bedrock Night was held on Thursday nights, so it only attracted people that really wanted to come to our parties. Over time, it grew and grew, and eventually, I had the opportunity to hold the first all-night-long party on Hastings Pier.
You have to remember that everything was all fresh and new. Nobody had any idea how long this movement was going to last, so we kind of treated it as if every party was going to be the last one. The energy back then was absolutely incredible as well as the mass of people all unified on the dancefloor. It was a very special time indeed.
In the mid-90s, you and Sasha put out Renaissance: The Mix Collection. It was essentially the first commercial release of a DJ compilation and set the stage for a big piece of the label side of things in electronic music. What prompted you to publish the collection in this manner? Did you have any idea the concept would become the phenomenon it is today?
Sasha and myself were asked by Renaissance to put a CD together to celebrate the club night. We put forward around 40 odd tracks thinking that they wouldn't clear most of them. We then set about the task of mixing them, and it went from being a single CD mix to a triple mix CD. A lot of thought went into the packaging for this project to make it stand out from the normal mix cassettes that were being sold on market stalls during that time. This made the album sit alongside big artists in Tower / Virgin record stores as it really stood out from the rest. Choosing the cream of the tracks during that period made this album really stand out - it's one of the main reasons why it has withstood the test of time.
Nowadays, every DJ has a label, but when you started Bedrock, it was a more nuanced thing to do. What are some of the biggest challenges you've faced over the years maintaining a label?
When the digital age dawned upon us with Napster and file-sharing software and in vinyl sales, it was a very strange time for a lot of record labels. As a record label owner, you have to learn to adapt to the trends. I move with the times, and thankfully after 22 years, we're still here. Ironically, vinyl sales are currently really strong as a lot of people crave and want the feeling of playing vinyl again.
Have you noticed a change in the music people send you over the years, whether it's style, quality, etc.?
Of course. The music changes every year, and we'd be crazy not to move [with] the times. I'm always looking for new and exciting producers. That's what keeps this electronic scene so exciting. If I was still releasing the same sounding tracks as 20 years ago, I'd be long gone by now
Can you tell us the story behind having your track, "For What You Dream Of," used in the movie Trainspotting?
I think the producers of the film really loved the track upon hearing it and wanted to use it in the film. It's incredible to be part of such a groundbreaking film with a legendary soundtrack.
You had a lengthy residency at the prominent NYC club, Twilo, during the late 90s and early 2000s. It seems like during those years, you honed your ability to perform long-form sets. So how do you prepare for marathon sets both physically and from a musical standpoint?
When I first started playing in clubs, you were expected to play all night long. There was no such thing as a warm-up DJ. You built up from an empty club until the end. It was the perfect way to learn how to read a crowd and pace your set with peaks and builds, as well as create moments for the crowd and wait for the tension to build up again.
Are there any crazy nights from your time in that residency that you can share with us?
One night, there was a small fire on the first floor, and we had to empty the whole club while the fire department checked everything out. The crowd was amazing and cleared the room in less than a minute, waited outside (in the cold) for two hours, and when we got the OK, they came back in. The atmosphere was absolutely electric - such great memories.
After so many years of playing back to back with Sasha, is there any preparation or conversation between the two of you about the music before a performance, or is it just natural at this point?
We've always just gone in and played with no rehearsal or pregame prep talk. That's why it's so special; not only are the crowd hearing these live mixes for the first time, so are we!!
You've worked, in some capacity, on almost 60 albums throughout your career. You recently put out Quattro, which was a massive undertaking. Are there any albums from your past that you think of more fondly than others?
I love the Live in Montreal CD - it is spread over 9 CDs total. I think it really captures me as a DJ from the ambient intro right through so many different genres, constantly building and changing moods but always flowing between the tracks.
How have you found your production style/process has changed over the years with technology?
Obviously, technology has really helped the process of mixing studio albums, which gives you more flexibility to be more creative. However, to me, an album like Live in Montreal sounds as perfect as I would want a studio mix to be, but done live and captures the vibe of a DJ in the zone.
Do you have any advice for upcoming producers and DJs?
That's a hard one. My advice always used to be to try and be original with what you do, yet nowadays, more focus lies in how you present yourself and your social media presence. These days, it's not just being a great DJ to be successful. There are so many more moving parts that all need to work together to guarantee a breakthrough.
Are there any new artists that you've been listening to regularly in the last few years? What kind of music do you listen to outside of electronic?
I tend to listen to many, many demos that come through to me. Outside of that, I tend to give my ears a rest.
After such a lengthy and successful career, you are still going as strong as ever. So what do you hope to accomplish in the next decade of the John Digweed project?
I'm just rolling along doing my thing. I still live and breathe music 24/7. I have achieved way more than I could have ever imagined at the beginning of it all, so I'm just happy to play the music I love to people who love music.