“I’ve always considered myself a rocker really, I’ve always worn the leather jacket. The look works quite well in the disco too, gay bikers and that sort of thing…”
It’s a crisp October afternoon and I’m sitting in non-descript café around the corner from fabric with Harvey Bassett. He’s scheduled to DJ for six hours at the club later that night as part of a tour in partnership with Red Bull Music Academy, having spent the past couple of days seeing old friends and navigating the city’s face lifted streets which used to be so very familiar to him. Clad in his trademark combo of leather jacket, scuffed Levis, slicked back hair and a horde of silver rings, Harvey’s look is completed by a silk cravat, which lends splendidly to his notorious British playboy persona. “I’ve always considered myself a rocker really, I’ve always worn the leather jacket. The look works quite well in the disco too, gay bikers and that sort of thing…”
As dance music’s closest living equivalent to a rockstar, Harvey has played the role of the biker in the disco since the mid seventies, with Rolling Stone once famously publishing the line, “If Keith Richards were a DJ, he’d be Harvey.” A master of the marathon set, his reputation as a daring DJ goes unmatched and he can make the same bag of records work time and time again, no matter the setting.
Fresh off the back of a year on the festival circuit and the startling album debut of ‘Wildest Dreams’ – a successful Psychedelic Rock record where he singularly recorded guitar, drums and vocals, Harvey is in fine form when we meet. Pensive, witty and not showing any symptoms of fatigue, he’s keen to discuss the way the industry is shaping itself today. He has a refreshingly positive outlook on it and on pretty much everything else for that matter – that’s just his nature. One of the main observations he’s made since a long overdue return to the UK in 2012 is the proliferation of electronic music events on the continent. “I don’t know how long it’s taken to happen but in the twelve or so years that I didn’t come to these shores, festivals have flourished.” “What used to happen many years ago was that you did live performances to promote record sales where now you make music to promote your live performances…the industry has adjusted itself as such with the proliferation as a way of making revenue. Twenty-five years ago they were called illegal Acid-House raves, now they’re state sponsored events with corporate branding and millions of pounds in budget.”
Throughout the past year he’s toured extensively in Europe, Amercia, Japan, Israel and beyond but as far as nightclubbing is concerned Harvey believes that there’s been a globalisation of culture through the internet. “The international scene is very similar in many respects. There’s probably a difference between Tokyo and Tel Aviv, but that’s down to the culture of the country which is plain to see. The way people react to music is generally similar across the board and that’s because they have access to everything now. Playing in Israel was completely normal, just some young people having a good time.” Always the joker, he can’t help but slip tongue in cheek, “I mean, there were some rockets coming in which we had to duck every now and then…”
We move onto the topic of the extended marathon set – his most comfortable medium, and the one in which he really gets the opportunity to do his thing and showcase what he’s all about. I bring up Sónar, where his closing set was notably short and sweet. “It was a little bit challenging at Sónar because I only played for about 45 minutes in the end. If I’m doing my thing, that could be three records! I’ve learned to adjust my sets accordingly; to be more sonic, have increased impact and put on more of a general show over a shorter period of time rather than to tell a drawn out story.”
Fast forward a couple of hours and I’m stepping inside Fabric’s Room One to witness just exactly what he’s talking about; Reading the room like a master sleuth, Harvey caters to his audience’s needs – in this instance a decidedly ‘mature’ congregation of dancers, some of whom would have undoubtedly gone to the effort of getting a sitter on a Thursday night and taken an early weekend on the basis that DJ Harvey was in town. It’s worth mentioning the presence of veteran promoters and familiar faces, the likes of Peanut Butter Wolf and Benji B blending into the crowd and some others not so inconspicuously in Skream and Artwork, who were hollering and cheering for more Harvey from the corner of the room like zealous teenagers. For those who attended, it was worth the hangover. We were gifted to a string of classics, obscurities and rarities woven together with masterful flair; Moses’ swinging Disco hit ‘We Just’, Kate Bush’s anthemic masterpiece ‘Running Up That Hill’ and a sneaky Rons Basejam edit of an old Odyssey track which features a ridiculously infectious guitar riff. The resultant effecct was to saturate the room in sweat and an air of Balearic Disco nostalgia – this was the full on DJ Harvey experience.
Two nights on and we’re at an old fire station in Bristol – A venue which has recently been converted into a shiny ballroom and plays a vital role in the city’s bubbling arts scene. Taking to the stage after DJ Nature for one of his all out six hour sessions as the closing set for Simple Things festival, it took all of twenty minutes before he had the booth and stage monitors tweaked and rearranged to his audiophile preferences. On this occasion the room was inhabited by a much younger crowd. Harvey looked up, scanned the faces and the movements in the room and began choosing from his bag accordingly. When asked about what he might play on the occasion, he described his approach thusly, “I’ll do my best to see that people enjoy themselves. I’m not trying to teach any lessons or disappear up my own arse with rare and expensive records. I will fit in some which I really want to hear myself but all I can really say is that I’ll try to be professional but not take it too seriously.” Many of the same tracks were there but it was an entirely different set, harder and considerably rougher around the edges…
Back in the café we move onto discuss what has become of the faces from the old days and how often he might see some of them out and about today, “They’re what we call the ‘gravers’, or the ‘silverbacks’ – those who are 50+ and still partying. A lot of those old friends and buddies were involved in the scene two generations ago, they actually run it now as club owners, established old-school DJs or promoters. Being in London the past couple of days I’ve met up with a couple of old friends but usually when I’m DJing I don’t have much chance to have a chat.” This proved to be a bit of a problem at his return gig at Oval Space a couple of year’s ago. Of the thousand attendees, five-hundred were his old friends, “Just saying, ‘Hey how’s it been, I haven’t seen you since Sidcup in 89’!’ was really getting in the way of me doing my job. It’s difficult trying to be graceful behind the decks and maintain a balance of interacting with people.”
Harvey often finds himself sneaking out the back door after a show, “It really depends if I’ll hang about, usually the insensitive bouncers will kick everyone out, I probably won’t be going to after parties because I have a gig the next day and I don’t indulge in drink or drugs anymore. I don’t find it entertaining if I’m not on a level with people.” Being the DJ puts him in a social situation without having to indulge in whatever it may be. “I like to go out and be able to do something with my hands. Being here in London I’ve seen some rather beautiful pubs but I can’t think of any reason to go in there other than to look at the decor…” Walking around London today is a mind-blowing experience for him. He was born in the city but grew up in Cambridge before being drawn back by the glow of the bright lights in his late teens. “I’ve lived in Wandsworth, Putney, Tooting, Holloway and a couple of places in Camden although I haven’t been back in a long time. Places that used to be ‘no go’ areas now have vintage stores and coffee shops and there are many more bicycles”, he says with a chuckle.
L.A’s seaside neighbourhood of Venice Beach, notorious for it’s punk surf scene is where Harvey calls home today. Living just two blocks from the shore, he spends the majority of his free time surfing and walking in the sand. It’s all about striking a balance between work and play, with Harvey admitting that he could tour a lot more than he does but would end up much unhappier as a result. “I try to concentrate on having as high a standard of living as possible and that’s not necessarily brought on by having money. Once my bottom line is covered and I can afford to eat some endangered species it’s all good…I don’t need a Ferrari or a yacht. I can rely on my other friends for those! Most days I’ll walk down to Venice Pier, get a coffee, scan the ocean for a couple of waves and if there are, I’ll grab my board and paddle out. It’s pretty epic to be fair.”
Weird things tend to happen in the Pacific Ocean, “Somebody was struck by lightning and killed in the water at the end of my street a couple of months ago. It wasn’t even a storm, It was a thunderbolt that came out of the blue. It shook my house.” He rides goofy, but much of the waves break to the right in Southern California so he finds himself going backside most of the time. “I have shortboards and longboards, if I’m surfing First Point Malibu I’ll take a longboard to have a better chance of getting a wave, but more often than not end up snakeing somebody and getting shouted at for dropping in on them.”
His occupation has given his the chance to surf exotic places like Bali, Australia and Portugal but he favours surfing locally, where he can walk to the pier in three minutes. Out amongt the waves, Harvey manages to stay away from the online universe as much as possible – “The internet? I don’t send emails or post things. ‘the staff’’ handle all of that stuff and I definitely don’t twat or twit,” he chuckles to himself. He does however carry an iPhone, which he showed to me. “I received this as a Christmas present. It’s good for telling the time and making phone-calls. I get texts sometimes too and even take pictures of food…”
Between DJ’ing and his productions, Harvey has most of his musical needs covered with Wildest Dreams and Locussolus – a Techno/Disco project in which he’s paired with two female singers. He outlines the differences between the two – “Wildest Dreams isn’t music for the nightclub. It’s more of a soundtrack for driving, camping or sitting in your bedroom. Locussolus is electronica that’s influenced by the dancefloor.” He’s keen to announce that there’s definitely scope for both projects to hit the road with live shows in the future. “There’s room for both but I’d like to put Wildest Dreams together as a unit and go on the road. It would be a three or four piece band, playing actual instruments with our arms.”
If he was to take Locussolus on the road as an electronic act, it wouldn’t be miming to a CD. “Certain aspects would be pre-sequenced and I would be able to trigger sounds and have the vocals live. I could appear with my back to the audience with a mirror looking down on a 24 track mixing desk while the two singers face the crowd.” Something that he’s noticed at festivals is that other artists can’t change the length of their sets. “It’s press go and stop after 45 minutes. My DJ sets are open for improvisation and I would want even the electronic show to have that possibility with me tailoring the music with the moment. So if the crowd decided to take all their clothes off I could become inspired by that and play something to compliment that moment.” That these ideas are pretty close to fruition has Harvey grinning, so we could indeed see him drumming on a festival stage very soon.
Coming towards the end of the interview his agent taps me on the shoe to let me know time is running thin, so it seems appropriate to talk about the Black Cock edits and if they might ever see a revival? Harvey doesn’t think so. “It was fun while it lasted but Black Cock will remain flaccid. We might do some ‘I love Black Cock’ t-shirts and we’ve been threatening to do a Black Cock boxset for years. It would contain all the original twelve inch releases, along with a black 12” a white 10” and a yellow seven inch in an ‘unlimited edition’.” With more than enough on his plate, his priority for this year is to keep a battle plan in place so that everyone around him is kept happy, he’s not worn out and, “making stupid amounts of money…”