John Digweed is about as normal and nice as you can imagine. He’s courteous and embodies an everyman quality of the guy you’d expect to meet down at your local pub. That said, John’s also an extraordinarily talented DJ, producer and businessman. From his humble beginnings as a fledgling DJ, John’s become just as well known for his longstanding partnership and friendship with Sasha as he has for his own Bedrock brand image, which encompasses a club night, labels and always stands for quality. The Voice caught up with the busy Mr. Digweed to talk about a few of his projects and the state of the electronic music industry.
Can you talk about how Bedrock has changed over the years from being the production alias for you and Nick Muir to its emergence as a brand? Was it something you envisioned from the beginning? Can you talk about the evolution? John Digweed: The more I played when I started out, the more I wanted to play. But, obviously, you want to be top of the bill and able to play what you want without anybody dictating to you, so I started my own night - Bedrock started out as a club night. I still advise this as the best way to move yourself forward in DJing. It’s hard work, but that shouldn’t stop people. The night went from strength to strength. Nick and I started to produce together and it just made sense to use something where there was already an association, something people who knew about the club would instantly understand and recognize and know what to expect, to a certain extent. As production got more frequent, I wanted to start my own label, to have more control over how things were promoted, who remixed, the art and the whole package, really. It can be quite frustrating to be left out of those decisions when you sign your record to a label. So, suddenly Bedrock had a few threads to it and all have become well established and successful in their own right. I’m very proud of that.
Your AOL Music Sessions Mix is being released exclusively online – almost doing away with the idea of mix tapes or mix CDs to just become “mixes” that people can burn, copy, etc. A lot of people are touting this sales method as the way of the future, especially with digital media becoming the preferred choice for so many DJs. Is that your feeling? Is retail dying a slow death? The internet is 100 per cent the future of electronic music. The computer has taken over production, promotion, marketing, retail and distribution. As far as I’m concerned, as many problems as it presents it reveals opportunities, and a really exciting prospect in the future of the scene at that. I’ve always loved vinyl and it’ll be a sad day when it’s gone for good - I hope it never does completely and you’ll get purists who can be catered for, but the lifeblood of the industry is online.
In the last couple years, you’ve taken on a variety of mix projects including Choice and Fabric (in the instance of the Fabric mix, it was the only one in the series to my knowledge that had voiceover, piracy protection – was that at your request? Are you still quite conscious about how piracy affects sales?) and now AOL Mix Sessions. Can you talk a bit about the individual projects and what you were trying to do with them? Are you in a luxurious position of being able to pick and choose what you do these days?
I have always been conscious of piracy and what we can do to prevent it. We’ve tried a few things with Bedrock in terms of voiceovers and dummy files. What I find most annoying, though, is people who lament falling sales and downloads supposedly ruining things but don’t do anything to counteract that. Illegal downloading has had a really bad effect on music across the board, but the potential problems should have been seen years ago - most people, especially in the bigger business end of things have only got themselves to blame for burying their heads in the sand. 2005 was a great year in terms of new projects I got the chance to work on. Fabric allowed me to be a part of that great series and present a reflection of what I do down there, which is not necessarily something I’d do elsewhere in the world. The club has a unique vibe and I wanted to reflect that. Choice was great fun too as I wanted to show what music has brought me to where I am today but getting 30 tracks out of tens of thousands isn’t easy.
The Delta Heavy DVD is just being released. Can you talk a bit about that? I recall Jimmy Van M saying if the tour was successful, the Delta Heavy concept would be expanded to encompass more than just you, Jimmy and Sasha and to other DJs and other tours. Since Delta Heavy, which was about four years ago, there really hasn’t been a tour of that caliber, size or philosophy like it in the U.S. At that time, the tour came in the wake of 9/11 and, in turn, a downturn in the electronic music market. Can the American market support tours like it now? Done right, I think the U.S. market can support another tour like it. I suspect we’re all quite relieved in hindsight that we didn’t make it an annual occurrence as it took so much out of everybody involved. It would probably have to be a year-round concern for people involved and really the joy of Delta Heavy was partly in its pioneering aspects, and the fact it hasn’t happened before or since. I’m not sure either Sasha or myself could commit annually to such a big tour - I’m not sure our families would stand for it, either. Like I say, though, I think we did it right in terms of the scale, the production, the scope and the places we played. If it was taken seriously and treated properly, by which I mean not just a money-making machine, it would be a great thing to do again.
I still play out your Bedrock track “For What You Dream Of” and was just listening to Suicide Sports Club’s “Electric Mistress,” out on Bedrock sub label, B_Rock. Can you talk about your musical philosophy between the then of that classic track to the now of stuff that’s being released on B_Rock? There’s an underlying principle that I have always tried to remember which is about good, forward-thinking music. Both these stick to that I think. The fact that you can still listen to “For What You Dream Of” and get something out of it is the greatest testament to it. It might not sound like the latest electro hit hailed in the dance mags, but it stands the test of time and most importantly still does the job played in a club. Suicide Sports Club are doing things differently again, though, by fusing different styles and making something with a lot of substance in “Electric Mistress” - that’s why we created B_Rock to cater for things like this that needed working differently from the mould a Bedrock 12" might demand.
You once said these days it costs a lot more to do promotion these days to far less than it did in the 1990s. How crucial is proper promotion? For example, can you talk about why B_Rock is successful and why something like your short-lived Bedrock Black label wasn’t? Proper promotion is fundamental to making things work. Suicide Sports Club, for example, has the potential to crossover to a much bigger audience than might necessarily be into a Bedrock record so making sure those people get to touch on the music is all important. Having said that, it’s also exceptionally difficult. Bedrock Black suffered because of something going on in the scene on a wider scale though, I think. The idea behind the label was to showcase the more eclectic and diverse end of the house music that I was playing at that time, typified by Luke Fair’s “Let U Know” and “Kritical,” which was the last thing to be released on the imprint. Unfortunately, there was a real backlash against dark, long and what came to be stereotyped as “progressive” at the time and the name of the label, “Black,” just made people think of that. It didn’t do it any favours, but you live and learn.
A lot of people know John Digweed from “Sasha and Digweed,” but I’ve read some stuff lately saying you were formerly involved with Sasha. Do you guys still plan on collaborating? Everybody knows how complementary you guys are towards each other’s play, but what would you say is the principle difference(s) between the two of you? We worked together at the beginning of 2005 on the re-release of the Renaissance album and have DJed together again, but there’s nothing in the pipeline at present. That’s purely down to pursuing our own careers, though - I suspect we’d jump at the chance if the right thing came up. I’m not sure about the main difference between us both - I don’t like to overanalyze these things. In many ways, we’re very similar and in many ways very different, but the combination seems to work. We usually average around six to eight gigs a year together, which is a lot less than a few years ago. But it makes it not only more special for the crowd but for Sasha and myself – there’s still a lot of magic there.
I know you’re involved with the GET INVOLVED online auctions to Benefit UNICEF. How are you involved and how long have you involved? How were you approached? Dance music has long sort of held an apolitical/escapist stance, but do you think it can also be used to help spread a message? I’m not sure it’s about spreading a message that people don’t already know. If it was too high and mighty, people might still feel a bit odd about it but it’s fairly straightforward doing stuff for UNICEF; you know where the money is going and you know it’s a good thing to do, it’s not rocket science. Involved contacted Bedrock asking us to donate some bits when they first did auctions at the end of the summer and we gave some stuff including some metal work from a limited edition release we once did. It all proved a success, so they’ve taken it on a step. I think it’s a good idea and these New Year’s Eve VIP packages should work well.
Which DJs and producers should we be watching out for right now ? Jonathan Lisle, Desyn Masiello, Luke Fair, Neil Quigley, Weird Continental Types, Mashtronix, Parallel Sound, Guy Gerber.
Why do you do what you do? For the love and the fun of it.