My favourite Harvey story (and everyone seems to have one) comes from the Ibiza ‘90 tour when a whole bunch of UK DJs and dancers travelled en masse to the White Isle. After a rather hectic session we managed to get our weary asses back to the complex where the DJs were staying; Peter Hooton of The Farm was the only one awake and I asked him if he had seen anyone about… “only that Harvey character but he’s taken ten disciples up to the hills to do acid and they will be back in a few days time”. (To get the real effect you have to read this out loud in a thick scouse accent and without any irony at all). A true English eccentric with an obsessive love of American DJ culture and all that entails, he inspires both DJs and dancers alike to try harder and be better every time he plays or promotes a party.
Harvey Bassett is lounging on a balcony overlooking the beach at Santa Monica. The sun is shining, the sky is blue and the sea even bluer. As usual he’s stripped to the waist and for a man of nearly 50, as fit as a butcher’s dog. Fresh from a hugely successful multi-date Japanese tour and a briefer (but just as intense) one in Europe, Harvey sits and plans the two things his multitude of fans, heads and loons in the UK have been desperately waiting for – a new dance project with the cool International Feel imprint and an English tour. The continual loud laughter and positive energy coming through my computer screen via Skype is infectious and both myself and Rocky couldn’t help getting caught up in Harvey’s spirit.
INTERNATIONAL FEEL – WHAT MADE YOU GUYS HOOK UP?
I chose International feel because Mark Barry made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He seemed really into it and is very professional – he actually had things like release dates and distribution and was prepared to let me do my thing and had a great approach to the whole thing. It’s been a while since I’ve done a dance project and Mark runs a tight and exotic ship from Uruguay. What he says is what happens which allows me to simply be creative. I think as a DJ who still plays vinyl and believes its the best format that it was important to go with a label that cares about quality of the vinyl, hence the 180 gram weight and care with mastering but it was really Mark’s attitude to the whole project that convinced me. The album has developed a character of its own with uptempo tracks that are designed for the floor and nightclubbing while the downtempo stuff is more suitable for the bar, beach or boutique. It’s all electronic based with some live guitar playing… It was a fun opportunity to make some music with our scene in mind that is of today.
YOU’RE STILL SEEN AS A CHAMPION OF VINYL ESPECIALLY THE RARE STUFF – IS THERE A MOVEMENT BACK TOWARDS ACTUALLY PLAYING RECORDS AGAIN?
Yeah I’m known for playing vinyl so when I turn up they do actually have turntables that work but I’ve encountered booths where the turntables seemed to be just places for people to rest their CDs and computers on. I’m unsure if there is any movement back towards vinyl but I do think that most DJs (even the younger guys playing off Serato) would rather be playing records but they can be expensive and heavy to carry around and in many ways impractical. Carrying 40/50 pounds of records on my back is hard work and I’ve been thinking about putting a lot of music onto CD’s – during my European tour the excess baggage was more expensive than the actual ticket itself due to the weight of the vinyl. If you have a good quality file then it sounds as good, as everything these days goes through a digital domain at some point – take a half inch tape into a mastering studio and usually the engineer will dump it onto his computer and run it through a plug in or a compressor so in many respects a computer file is more pure than what ends up on vinyl, especially if the actual pressing is not of top quality.
SO HOW WAS THE EUROPEAN TOUR AND PANORAMA BAR IN PARTICULAR?
Panorama Bar was fantastic, really fucking good. I think they are used to doing it right and as far as I know they party for 3 days at a time; Friday night till Monday morning. The crowd was great as well, some had travelled quite a way and all the locals were out. They all knew me and knew the music and knew how to react, they had high expectations and I pulled out all the stops. The sound engineer was really nice, he let me push the system and do my thing and I got to play music for seven hours or so and it was probably as good as it could be. Musically I went right through, playing some real disco, real techno, real house which is all the same as far as I’m concerned – it’s all dance music, music from the last thirty years or whatever and people went insane. I literally saw some people crying which gave me a lump in the throat. I did feel a lot of pressure before the gig but then I do before every gig as far as I’m concerned you’re only as good as your last set… so every gig to me is like my first and last one. I put a lot of energy into the time and motion of my set that makes a positive spiral and I hopefully get the love back. It can be a little intimidating to have what seems like every other DJ in Europe standing there scratching their beards but even the DJs entered the spirit of the party and were dancing rather than holding their shazam machine over the turntable to find out what the music was (‘cos they probably knew them all anyway.) When I spin it’s not the records I play it’s how I play them you know, there is no such thing as a rare record anymore. Every DJ has the choice of every record ever made, its about the ones you do choose and how you put them together. A funny story from that tour was when I played at Robert Johnson in Germany – they had a huge DB meter in front of the mixer that shows the DB’s and someone had put up a link on line of me playing and someone asked what’s that thing with the numbers on and the reply came back “that’s the price of the record going up everytime he plays it.”
WHAT ABOUT THE JAPANESE TOUR?
Something I’ve noticed about the scene these days is that 20 years ago things were localized, so you had the London scene, the New York or Ibiza scene with some cross pollination but still localised and all large. Now these scenes are smaller but globalised, an isolated fishing village on a small northern Japanese island will still have a couple hundred kids who know everything I’ve been up to in the last 10 years – while they may be geographically isolated they are not information-wise.
It was a heavy tour, I did 13 dates in 14 cities in 15 days which is about as hardcore it gets for a man approaching fifty but it was fantastic to play the Rainbow Disco Club for eight thousand kids and play crazy Shirley Bassey disco records and have them all jumping around.
THE JAPANESE SEEM TO LOVE YOU AND I’D IMAGINE, KNOWING YOU QUITE WELL YOU’RE A FAN OF JAPAN?
I’m a big fan of Japan , the veneer of sensibility is very thin – below this friendly, easy going, we lost the war kind of thing is a huge culture for sex, drugs and violence and it makes for a really interesting and potent mix especially when it hits the dancefloor. Japanese people take on things and refine them, it’s called ‘the mania’. They know more about club culture and myself than what I do and it’s really nice because its done positively but you have to be careful because Japanese people also like seeing people fail. If you watch Japanese comedy on TV it’s always about people making arses of themselves so if you don’t step up and do your thing you can be found out and fall from grace pretty quickly, and that politeness will disappear.
DID YOU GET TO PLAY AT ‘ELEVEN’ (THE NEW INCARNATION OF THE LEGENDARY YELLOW)?
Yes my last gig of the tour was at Eleven – it was great, packed out from 10 at night till 9 in the morning I actually ended up crowd surfing at that one. Leapt into the crowd like Iggy Pop – if you go to my Myspace page there is a great 5 minute stop-motion feature that someone took and put up of the whole night; 11 hours into 5 minutes. The room is the same although its tidied up a little and the stairs that led down have been taken out. The system is very good but needs some tuning, a work in progress. The booth is in the same place and they set it up as you like it – I went for 3 decks, a Urei, couple of CDJ’s and a tape deck. They are very professional and there is now a toilet in the booth! I ended up with Shirley Bassey ‘This Is My Life’ which I’ve been finishing up with lately – it’s one of those records that you have to really believe to play it, that has to come from the heart or it could sound like a joke.
GOT ANY WEIRD FANS? (WE KNOW YOU HAVE, C’MON!)
On face value you might think those kids standing there, sticking their camera phones might be annoying and people do say “what do you think of the people three deep standing by the decks stroking there beards and holding up the machines?” but to me if they were not enjoying the music they would not be there. It’s just their way of having fun, not everyone can spin on their head. Sometimes you do get a guy who stands right in front of you for three hours taking a picture of every record you play then holding his phone up and recording a little bit of every tune… now that is a little crazy and a week later you go into a shop in Japan and they have a DJ Harvey section of music I’ve produced but next to it is a DJ Harvey section of all the records I’m going to play next weekend!? Now I don’t know what half these records are but they do, it can get pretty crazy.
WHAT DO YOU THINK OF THIS WEIRD FAN BOY DEVOTION?
It’s good and bad as long as no one commits suicide or shoots me then I really don’t care but i’d rather not end up like John Lennon or Jim Jones. Someone once brought me a large home baked loaf of bread with Harvey baked into it and a promoter in Japan actually pissed his pants when he saw I was about to play Black Cocks ‘No Way Back’ which was kinda extreme and funny, oh and on the way to the booth at the Rainbow Disco Festival one young girl jumped into my arms and would not let go – she was like a human hugging monkey so I had to walk into the booth with a small Japanese girl attached. People giving me my own records happens quite a lot, they will give you up to 20 of my own productions as a present.
ANY MEMORIES OF YOUR MINISTRY OF SOUND RESIDENCY BACK IN THE DAY?
*More hearty laughter*
Sending Terry Hunter to hospital after I gave him a monster skunk spliff just before he was due to go on, poor man had a huge anxiety attack and someone had to take him to ER. Miss Nude Australia 1994′s pussy reflecting in Todd Terry’s managers bald sweaty head as she danced naked for me in the booth – the place nearly got shut down over that due to its lack of a strip license. I got in big trouble for that as well as for wearing a Cream jacket (the Liverpool club) they nearly lynched me for that crime. I did have one bloke lean into the booth and ask for two Stella’s and a Carlsberg, that was the Ministry. I actually do really hold that club with great affection to this day, it is the only pentangled shape floating room to my knowledge on the planet and is accoustically perfect. Justin Berkman worked his tits off for 2 or 3 years to make that happen and it was stolen off him by money men wanting to put more bums on seats – for the first year it was a juice bar and everyone played there, Larry Levan, Tony Humphries, CJ and Laurent Garnier. That had the potential to be fucking amazing and we did have some really good nights in there. I can remember sitting in the corridor and saying “one day we’ll look back on all this with fond memories.” People tell me nobody goes there anymore which is a shame because it was built on the model of the Paradise Garage and the room itself was better than the Garage acoustically, maybe because of their overheads and the need to pay bills they had to lower the common denominator which took it away from its original purpose.
WOULD YOU CONSIDER PLAYING THERE NEXT YEAR?
Yes by all means if I could go in early and speak to the engineer and we could make the sound nice. To be honest I’ve wanted to come back for a long time but due to circumstances not had the opportunity, but speaking to friends and family no one has anything good to say about London. In New York people wear ‘I love NY’ t-shirts and yet to this day I’ve never seen anyone wear a I love London t-shirt. The English are not bigging themselves up enough. I’m an Englishman, a southern Englishman and very proud of that and when I call back home and my buddies are like “well Fabric’s shit and Plastic People only holds a hundred and there’s a only a couple of decent parties in Shoreditch” I’m like “oh for God sake!” Where is the powerful positive energy that everywhere else I’ve encountered lately has? So I’m thinking when I come back it’s going to be pretty much on my own terms instead of linking up with another promoter or group from a scene I’ll do it to the best of my ability with the best venue and the best sound system make everybody welcome and make it just a big bunch of fun instead of some kind of return of the guru playing the rarest records to a bunch of affected hipsters and clueless chavs. As far as I’m concerned get the fuck out of here, it’s going to be a party. We need to sort out how to approach it – will it be one big party or do we do every major city and rinse the thing out? Maybe we’ll do like a little bingo card that gets a ticket go to the first 5 and the 6th one’ free?
I do miss London, my old mates and pie n mash and jellied eels, you cant get that outside of London. I left England thinking the food was shit but came to realise it’s amazing, some of the finest cooking on the planet. I miss the rain reflecting off Oxford Street on a November night and that bite of the cold and the beauty of English heart and soul – that lovely eccentric madness that makes England so great. Maybe I’ll take a barge out down the Norfolk broads when I’m back. I’ve become a little Americanised and I’m looking forward to getting back . Gerry and Thomas tell me “you won’t believe how exotic London has become”.
One of Harvey’s regular London parties that many of the faith crew checked out was the Beautiful Bend in Kings Cross. In fact Leo Elstob and Diesel wrote an article about the infamous den of desire way back in the very first edition of Faithfanzine. We asked Harvey for a top 10 (we got 12) from those parties and sitting next to him during the interview was Heidi who co-ran Moist with him, mother of their son and long term muse. Heidi remembers the Beautiful Bend parties with fondness…
“Harvey was the resident DJ Donald Urquart and Sheila Tequila were the co-hosts. It was at Central Station which was opposite our loft in Kings Cross at the time, we’d go there for lunch. They had this really dingy basement, I think it was fairly damp, with a hidden gem of a back room. Donald and Sheila also lived across the road and we’d all get ready for Kinky Gerlinky etc together with Jalle doing out makeup sometimes, so that’s where the idea was born.
Donald actually has an exhibition currently of Beautiful Bend artwork in London at a venue in St Martins. I believe he was nominated for the Turner a couple years back. The invites would be these elaborate stories illustrated by him, the essence of which was to encourage the theme of your drag for that week. It was always a bit Widow Twanky, ugly sisters vibe but with people like Ali McQueen, David ‘Lola’ Hola, Jalle and Ken, Luke, Jeffrey Hinton (who may have DJ’d actually) and Princess Julia. Ali McQueen one week was the back end of a cow, (most people were giving him kicks up the arse happily) not sure what that theme was but also remember Donald & Sheila handing out pig trotters and ears on silver platters that week Superqueen by Cellophane was definitely a hit on that dancefloor!” Heidi
In no particular order
I love Lucy theme – disco version
Gloria Gaynor – How high the moon
Brazil – Richie Family
Claus Nomi – I feel Love
Disco Stage Show version of Hunchback of noter damn – Quasimodo
Cellophane – Superqueen
Grace Jones – Send In The Clowns
Could It Be Magic – Donna Summer
Cerrone – Love In C Minor
Chaplin Band – Il Veliero
Rock You – Giorgio Moroda
Labelle – Pressure Cooking
interview by Terry “CAP’S’ Farley