I’ve been really lucky in having had the opportunity to interview some of the DJs that made me the music fan I am today. John Digweed is by far the biggest name in that list, and his story is the stuff of acid house dreams. Through grit and determination sending mix tapes to Mixmag, other promoters and friends, his music was heard and loved from the very start. Indeed, it was one fateful day when a certain other superstar DJ heard his mix after dropping in on Geoff Oakes at Renaissance HQ that Johns world would change for the better. Fast forward 22 years, and we find John Digweed still as potent in the scene, still a maverick, still a trail blazer. Bedrock the club night is the toast of the world, and Bedrock the label recently celebrated its 166th release with relative new comers BOg and Jonas Sandbach to critical acclaim.
As a DJ, John weaves a magical tale which quickly hypnotises you. Deep house, progressive and techno all melt into a wondrous cacophony of beats and sonic textures, unlike any other artist playing today. Its taken him years and years to get to this level of sophistication, and there no signs of him slowing down any time soon. As an ambassador for the scene, he’s honest and forthright without ever having to resort to sensationalism. We trust him; trust his passion for the music. If only they made politicians in this mould…
Welcome John, its an absolute honour to spent some time with you today. Let’s start with the label. The Bedrock brand has been a part of clubland for pretty much as long as theres been dance music! But your first few tracks with Nick Muir were released on Dave Seaman’s’ Stress records. What was the catalyst for wanting to run your own label?
Basically it was a natural progression of wanting to release our own stuff and be in control of it from the start as well as being in the very lucky position of getting sent lots of unsigned music from great producers that I really wanted to work with. Being able to play tracks out to a full club that had only just been finished in the studio and seeing the reaction was a great way of seeing which tracks worked on the dance floor.
Bedrock has always been a brand you can benchmark quality against. How rigorous is the vetting procedure in your A&R department, and do you feel in today’s music climate, that smaller labels are pressurised into releasing music they don’t fully believe in to keep their business afloat?
Thank you and quality control is something we keep on top of, from the single releases to the many album projects we have done over the years. It’s great to road test new music out and be able to give a little bit of feedback to artists to do little tweaks or edits to tracks. I imagine labels do feel quite a lot of pressure to stay in business these days but with Bedrock the ethos has always been that the music comes first whether it’s techno or downtempo music we always stand by the music we release otherwise there would be very little point running the label.
There’s been much talk recently about STEMS. Does Bedrock have any plans to release some of their catalogue this way?
Not at the moment just waiting to see how it works out.
OK, lets move on to the new CD, Underground Sounds of Ibiza 2. We know it’s never an easy process putting a CD together, so can you talk us through the development of this compilation?
I usually start reaching out to various producers early spring requesting new tracks from producers I know as well as going through new tracks from producers I don’t know. This album was supposed to be a double CD but we ended up with so much great music we decided to make it a 3 x CD release.
Of personal interest on the CD is the chillout disc. It features a few artists you wouldn’t immediately think of as downtempo producers, like Eagles & Butterflies or Marc Romboy. How important to you is allowing an artist to fully express themselves musically, even if it’s not necessarily on brand with the label they’re signed to?
When we approach most artists and ask them to do an alternative version the results are always excellent and I think they all love the opportunity to show how diverse their production talents are. Our album with Pig&Dan is an excellent example of that as nobody was expecting an album of downtempo music but it worked really well and got some outstanding feedback and is still doing well a year after the release date.
The two upbeat discs feature a who’s who of underground talent mixed with newer up and coming producers. That’s been a constant with your DJing and the output of the label, how do you decide when a new artist is ready for a Bedrock release?
It’s all based on the quality of the production not the name behind it, Bedrock is always about pushing the music first and foremost. A great track is a great track whoever made it.
It’s 1993 and you send a tape to Geoff Oakes which changes your world forever. A similar thing happen for James Zabiela and to a lesser extent Desyn Masiello, but these days, you never really hear about someone breaking through on the strength of a mixtape. Did we lose something important from the scene when big money took over clubland?
I still think there are plenty of DJ’s that have a love for music and playing music with passion and want to become a DJ for the right reasons, but to succeed now you need so much more to get noticed with a strong social media presence, Original production, remixes , radio shows, podcasts – Production seems to be the quickest route to rising up through the ranks quicker. Nowadays you have great producers becoming really popular yet can’t really DJ that well. Being a great DJ, and not having any original productions behind them will find it harder to get noticed just based on their DJing skills.
For all these years you’ve resisted DJing digitally, preferring to use CDJs with USB. We understand you have tried laptop DJing for about a month, but it didn’t take. How much prep do you put into the tracks you choose to play, and do you still practice transitions with new tracks in your spare time?
I spend a lot of time prepping and getting to know my music then when I turn up I just try and get a feel from the crowd and see where the music takes me. I don’t really practice I just play music how I think makes sense.
Where do you source your tracks? Do you still have the chance to buy music at all?
Yes I still buy a fair amount of music from Beatport plus I get sent so many exclusive tracks everyday from new producers and labels I always seem to have way more music than I could every play at the weekend which is a good thing as it shows how much great music there is out there these days.
Its very evident that the way we consume music has changed. Do you find in your travels that the anticipation for upcoming releases has dulled in light of promo list leaks and the whole peer to peer sharing community?
I tend to move through tracks a lot quicker these days but also with the volume of music these days people miss tracks so you can dig out a track from 3 – 6 months ago and start playing it again and people are like what’s this track as if its brand new one.
I’ve been fortunate to hear you play many times in different arenas and time slots. What ratio of crowd reaction vs person choice goes into your performances?
I think the key to being a proper DJ is knowing how to play at the time slot you have, and also how long you are playing for. If you are playing earlier on in a club and have a decent set time it makes sense to build the mood and atmosphere – if you have the main set you want to be playing more uptempo, and people will be wanting to hear a peak time set. Its all about reading the crowd and playing what make sense for the time and type of gig that your playing at.
I suppose I can’t miss the opportunity to ask you about the Renaissance mix series! haha, sorry. I’ve always wondered if you had any idea that you were creating something so game changing? And at what point did the penny drop for you?
Well there had been plenty of bootleg mix tapes for years up to that point, but that album was the first that felt official with amazing packaging and the cream of tracks from a period that made them all seem timeless. People wanted to own that one, as it captured a moment in time – it was a fantastic project to be part of.
Another super brand within the progressive sphere that you’ve worked with has recently launched a new album – Electric Calm. Can you tell us about your experiences with those lovable Geordie rascals, and are there any plans to work together again?
If they had used the money to pay their bills instead of on speed boats and entertaining, they might have had a longer working relationships with people, so no, plans to work with them again.
Ha! …as we draw to the end of another Ibiza season, I wonder if you have any thoughts on the direction of the scene over the next few years?
There seems to be more and more nights on the island so its good and bad. People have so much choice now but not every party can be a success as it takes so much work now to make your night stand out. A lot of people have already made their mind up where they are going before they hit the island so you really need to have a strong promo to break into one of the toughest markets in the world.
Thanks John, its been wonderful to chat. Finally, where can we catch you playing for the rest of the year?
Best to check my website for full details but heading to Asia, North America and all over Europe.