Harvey’s DJs: DJ Harvey recounts his own history of growing up, going out, and dancing in clubs

23.10.14

Hair slicked back and a leather jacket worn at all times, DJ Harvey is sat in front of me in a hotel bar in Farringdon. It’s the day before he plays an all-night set at nearby club Fabric, kicking off a short mini-tour with Red Bull Music Academy, and we’re here to talk about Harvey’s favourite DJs: given Harvey Bassett’s reputation as one of, if not the best in the game, I wanted to know the other selectors that he most respected. There’s a slight snag, though: "I haven’t got a favourite DJ!", he laughs.

Instead, we end up talking about Harvey’s own history of growing up, going out, and dancing in clubs. While we ostensibly kept it about the DJs that were playing around him throughout his career, the conversation inevitably derailed, with the storied Harvey regaling anecdotes about his first time in New York and Japan, the dark secrets of his first DJ mentor, and his pre-teen vices: nicotine and caffeine.

The first DJ he ever saw

DJ Harvey: "I would go to discos in the ‘70s. I really didn’t know the names of the DJs, but they used to have things called ‘roadshows’, which were travelling discotheques, basically – a guy with some records and some speakers, some amplifiers, and some turntables. He was in his van, and he’d travel around the small towns and villages of East Anglia and set up these discos.

"These were under-18s discos when I was first going. School discos, village halls – stuff like that. I can’t remember the first ever one that I went to, but the place I enjoyed going to was called The Haddenham Arkenstall Centre, which was a village hall, basically. This would’ve probably been about 1974, ’75.

"I do recall that there was a kid who went to my school, and I don’t remember his name, but his dad had built him a disco. I went to school in the Cambridgeshire countryside – a place called Witchford Village College, a comprehensive school. Lots of the kids there were farmer’s sons and daughters, and this particular kid had a dad who had some land and had some Nissen huts – they’re like a corrugated archway that were made during the war, usually to house military personnel. I remember going there and dancing, and you paid something like 10p to get in. You could buy Fanta or Cresta, which had a polar bear on it. That was an early DJ thing, but I was interested in the music, not wholly in the DJ himself."

The first time he danced for 24 hours straight

DJ Harvey: "1978 was probably the first time that I danced for 24 hours straight, at my local youth club-sponsored dance. At that particular event there was a DJ who was the brother of a good friend of mine, and his name was Tid Rutterford. Tid was, I think, a nickname that was short for Terry. I was most impressed with him because he had a lot of 12” singles, which I hadn’t really encountered before. 

"He DJed for 24 hours, and I remember that only three of us completed the endurance test. We were hyped up on Fanta and No 6, which were these little cigarettes that came out before king size. We used to smoke Embassy and No 6. That was our drug of choice – caffeine and nicotine.

"If he’s still alive: nice one, Tid!" [thumbs up]

The first time he saw a DJ mix records

DJ Harvey: "It was in the early to mid ‘80s. I’d been to a few clubs in and around Cambridge, but it wasn’t really to see the DJ – I was usually just trying to get as wasted as possible, and there just happened to be music in the place where I was getting high.

"There was a club called Racks, or the night was called Racks, and I think the DJ used to mix then. I remember him playing a Soft Cell medley. And I remember coming up to London and going to clubs like Heaven, where the music would be mixed. Also Busby’s – the Mud Club at Busby’s – and some of the better known clubs with a soft door policy that would let someone like me in. This was in the early, or I suppose mid-‘80s.

"The focus, to me, was more about the club. You didn’t go to see the DJs, you went to a nightclub. You often only had one DJ for the club. I went to New York in 1985, but I didn’t know that it was Jellybean playing there. In fact, I didn’t even know where the DJ was! I remember going to Heaven on a regular basis for weeks on end and having absolutely no idea where the DJ was. He was actually up in the air, in a metal cage that you couldn’t really make out from the dancefloor."

"1978 was probably the first time that I danced for 24 hours straight, at my local youth club-sponsored dance. We were hyped up on Fanta and No 6, which were these little cigarettes that came out before king size. That was our drug of choice – caffeine and nicotine." – DJ Harvey

His first mentor

DJ Harvey: "There was a guy that I knew as TJ, who was a security guard at American Express on the Haymarket, which was a place I was delivering some packages from as a dispatch rider at the time, before I turned professional DJ. I’d been round to his house, and he was the fist person I’d seen who was mixing two records together. And the doorbell rang, and he got up and went to answer the door and let the person in… and the records continued to mix! He’d had them set perfectly.

"I was most impressed by that. At that point, I seem to remember that, although I had mixed and segwayed between and blended records, I wanted to be able to master it to that extent.

"TJ went on to become the head of the Acton Gang Rape Crew. He was one of England’s most wanted men at that point. I saw his face on the News at 10; I think he’d got several life sentences for multiple rapes. It just goes to show that you don’t always know who your friends are, and they don’t often discuss their sex lives. 

"And that was someone who I’d considered a bit of a mentor at one point – he’d helped me get a show on a pirate radio station, and introduced me to the staff at Bluebird Records and Groove Records, and some of the more established shops at that time."

His first professional DJ job

DJ Harvey: "If you can tap your foot in time, and if you have the most basic sense of rhythm, then it takes about three months to learn to beatmatch properly. With electronic music, anyway – with organic, or live music, it can take a little longer. But I’d say that from the mid-to-late-‘80s, I was beatmatching like a champ.

"There’d been a large warehouse party scene in the ‘80s, so at the time I was basically playing at warehouses, house parties, and a few clubs. Probably my first real DJ job in a nightclub was at Spats on Oxford Street. The name of the night I played at was called Wet. It was a little bit of a mix between the southern Rare Groove sound and the northern house sound of the time – probably around ’86/’87."

The DJs that influenced his style

DJ Harvey: "With the major wave of acid house, if you like, in 1988, I was getting gigs alongside anyone from Judge Jules to Danny Rampling, Paul Oakenfold, Trevor Fung, Steve Proctor, Nicky Holloway… There were hundreds of others, because when that took off, it really did take off. There were many parties every weekend – hundreds, all over the place – and I would play most weekends alongside various DJs.

"Who was influential? Every one of them, in some respects. I think Mark Moore was someone who introduced me to how DJing could be glamorous. He dressed very well, in gold lamé jackets with bouffant hair and makeup. In a day and age where DJs weren’t so entertaining to look at, he was actually entertaining to look at. His presence was quite something. 

"Someone like Cutmaster Swift would be someone who had really amazing technical skills, with cutting and scratching and what became known as turntablism. Maybe someone like Maurice Watson would probably be playing in a kind of New York sense of the word – very big and powerful and passionate. Danny Rampling had come back from Ibiza and introduced a whole sort of European flavour to the whole thing. Every DJ that I’d see would influence me in some way – even if it was who to not be like." [laughs]

"Every DJ that I’d see would influence me in some way – even if it was who to not be like." – DJ Harvey

His first trip to New York

DJ Harvey: "I went around Christmas ‘85. Hip hop was on the rise. I went to many, many clubs in Manhattan, including Studio 54, Area, Palladium, Devil’s Nest, Save The Robots, Danceteria, Reggae Lounge, Latin Quarter. I hung out with the Rock Steady Crew. Smoked duuuust. [laughs]

"I was watching it happen – I was a punter. At that time, ’85, I was considering DJing as something to do. Having come out the other side of playing in bands and having to be having a relationship with five people in order to make music, it was looking pretty attractive to be a DJ and be able to play everything on your own terms, and play the music you couldn’t play. New York to me, at that point, was this wibbly-wobbly-amazing-scary-passionate-fantastic place that influenced me in a huge way.

"And again, although we went to all of these clubs, we were going to these clubs, not to see the DJs. It wasn’t until revisiting in the early ‘90s where I’d say, ‘Alright, tonight we’re going to see David Mancuso!’, or Junior Vasquez, or Tony Humphries, or someone like that – where it was definitely the DJ that was the attraction. Even though the DJ had always been the attraction, but it was associated through the club rather than the DJ’s name.

"In New York, there’s always been a vibrant party scene. There’s an awful lot of people that want to have a good time and go out and dance to music, from the end of the Second World War and the birth of the teenager running right through to the modern day. Manhattan has now become a yuppie village, and it’s very difficult for young, progressive, poor people to live there and/or go out clubbing there. But things moved out into Brooklyn and into boroughs in the last 15 years, and that’s been more of the focus."

His first trip to Japan

DJ Harvey: "By the mid-‘90s, I was resident at Ministry of Sound. I had my own club – Moist, in Covent Garden. I was putting out remixes. I was probably well on the way to a half-decent career as a professional DJ, travelling the world and going to Japan.

"The first time I went, it was quite overwhelming. There are so many things going on, on so many levels, that it literally is overwhelming. It’s a culture shock. The amount of people just on the street is something quite hard to deal with, and then everything from the food to the boutiques to the deeply twisted culture – the thin veneer of sensibility, the culture of sex, drugs, and violence. It’s fascinating to this day, and I always have a great time there. They’re very passionate about everything, whether it’s collecting banjos or cutting up fish. Whatever it may be, there’s usually a master and a student for every variety of activity.

"The first gig I did there was at Milos Garage, which doesn’t exist now – but most of the clubs don’t exist now. There was a club called The Cave, a club called Endmax. World Mansion. The Wall, which was in Hokkaido, and which was a precursor to Precious Hall.

"The Japanese tend to be very informed. They have a thing called Otaku, which means ‘mania’. They like to study things, and cultures, and artforms. Dancing to dance music wasn’t invented in the early ‘90s, so they had a whole history of nightclubs and dance music and DJs coming and going in Japan. They were very well informed and passionate, with great sound systems and nice nightclubs. They break the law and stay open ‘til night. There is a cultural difference, but the actual music being played is very similar to what’s being played globally." 

The scene today

DJ Harvey: "With the computer age, things tend to be globalised. The same stuff that happens in Williamsburg happens in Shoreditch happens in wherever. Eventually, it happens all over the place. I think the scene, the way it’s morphed, has actually been very healthy. On a personal level, I have more than enough work, all the gigs are busy, and everyone seems to be happy. So that’s mission accomplished! There are still people dancing around and having a whale of a time to dance music. The future’s bright."

DJ Harvey plays parties in London, Manchester, and Bristol with Red Bull Music Academy from October 23rd-25th 2014 (more information).