John Digweed was DJing long before the acronym “EDM” existed, let alone went mainstream and became the musical backdrop of Generation Now. In fact, back in 1982, the young aspiring teen from the South Coast of England was spinning records before he had even blown out the candles at his Sweet Sixteen.
Fast forward 32 years later, and we have seen Digweed grow and develop to become one of the most sought after artists in the world. Alongside Sasha, he was one of the pioneers of progressive house, in its original guise, during the late '90s and 2000s, hitting the top spot in DJ Mag's 2001 Top 100 DJs poll. Today, he continues to exert this influence as label founder/owner of Bedrock Records, while some of the other things that you can find on his resume are actor in the 2001 Sundance Film Selection Groove, former radio show host on the UK’s Kiss 100, and co-owner of several nightclub venues in the UK and US.
Truly an individual who lives and breathes dance music, Digweed gives DJ Mag an inside look into his carefully conceived craft and bids fa ond farewell to the recently closed Miami venue, The Vagabond, which he successfully co-owned for six years.
From being the 15-year-old DJ making his start in Hastings to becoming one of the most revered DJ-producers on the planet, what would you say has been the biggest change you’ve noticed in your craft?
“When I started it was two turntables and a mixer, and everybody was on a level playing field. This really showed who was talented when it came to mixing music together and who was not. The latest technology today is incredible and allows you to do so much more, but it’s also taken some of the fun out of actually trying to mix two tracks together. I don’t think you can beat that feeling of mixing live and the element that you’re holding two tracks together, rather than letting the machines do all the work. Each DJ is different and has their own way of working, but the really creative ones are the ones that stand out from the crowd, as you can really see how focused they are on each mix and each layer. Technology these days is allowing for some DJs to add too much smoke and mirrors on stage, giving the impression that there is a lot more going on than there actually is.”
You’ve just released the latest chapter in your “Live In…” series - Live in Miami. What can fans expect from this release compared with the four previous ones?
“Each one of these albums captures myself in full flow live during one of my recent gigs. I never plan where these albums are going to come from - it’s just finding those sets that seem to just have that extra special something about them that I feel will translate well for the fans listening at home, in the car, on their iPod, etc. I have been blown away by the reaction to this series and how well received it has been all over the world. I also think even though we live in a world of free mixes on SoundCloud/Mixcloud, a physical product is still nice for people to have in their music collection.”
The album was recorded at your last ever set at the The Vagabond. Can you tell us a bit about why the venue shut its doors once and for all?According to fellow club co-owner Carmel Ophir, the club is closing so that he can focus more attention towards his parents. Is that entirely true or is there more depth to the club’s swift shutdown?
“This was my last ever set at The Vagabond and it was mainly due to the reasons Carmel spoke about. He put his heart, body and soul into that venue but some things in life are more important than work, and family must come first, for which I think he should be applauded.”
Being a co-owner, what thoughts/emotions are going through your head now that it’s closed down?
“I knew going into that night that it would be my last night, but we couldn’t tell anyone about the sale due to an NDA [Non-Disclosure Agreement] we’d signed. I really played my heart out and the last hour was amazing with loads of classics thrown in. When I finished the set with The Doors’ “The End,” I am sure there were a few people scratching their heads as it seems an unusual track for me to finish with, but it all makes sense now to everyone that was there. I would have loved to have included that last hour on the CD but with so many major labels being played, and with some massive artists included, I think the licensing would have been a real headache and taken way too long for the way these projects work.”
How does a producer with roots in England decide to become a co-owner of a Miami nightclub?
“I have been involved with a club in Brighton (UK) in the ‘90s before, as well as one with Carmel on South Beach at another venue before. That was sold when he found The Vagabond space. I have been immersed in the nightclub scene since I started and love being involved in various projects. It’s great working with Carmel - he has been a real visionary on the Miami scene ever since I can remember, and I love the fact he always tries to create events and parties with real substance.
What would you say was the craziest thing you’ve ever experienced while at The Vagabond?
“Well, as it’s well documented, I like things pretty dark when I am DJing so most of the nights I spent there felt like I was DJing in a cave with the occasional burst of light. As I played the whole night I never really got to see that much around the club. My fans are pretty cool to be honest so, sorry, no crazy shit to report.”
We were at your final Vagabond performance during WMC and it was a fantastic show. We saw The Glitch Mob dancing away, many industry mainstays... everyone was thrilled to be there. How does that night compare to others for you?
“It’s always been a very special place to play for me. I think with there being so much VIP and drama getting into a lot of Miami clubs, this place felt like a sanctuary for people wanting to cut loose with like-minded people. This created a real friends and family vibe with zero attitude from anyone. I am very lucky I get to play in many amazing clubs around the world, but The Vagabond was one of those nights I always really looked forward to a little bit more. I am glad you attended the last party as you will also understand how well the club worked, with the music from the main room being pumped into the bar and the patio. You never felt like you were missing out on anything if you wanted to grab some air outside.”
What’s your fondest memory from a night at The Vagabond?
“They were all very special to me, but the last night was a real stand out. It’s not often you get to play somewhere knowing that it will be the last time but luckily the crowd doesn’t, so I really tried to make a very special night for everyone there that came. It was also very sad to know that Frankie Knuckles played his last ever USA gig at The Vagabond the week before. He was such a legend and inspiration and will be missed by so many people.”
What do you feel the club brought to the Miami rave scene?
“It was a destination for like-minded people looking for a clubbing experience off the beaten track - offering not only electronic music, but also many varied styles of music including live bands and open mic nights. With normal bar prices for drinks and realistic door prices it catered for locals like no other.”
What some may not know is that you’ve had some acting experience when you made a cameo appearance in the indie film Groove. Would you ever consider doing more movies or was this a one-off?
“My Hollywood agent is constantly sending me scripts for films but nothing has come up yet that I feel is quite right for me.”
That film now serves as a time capsule into the early rave scene, following a couple of kids as they embark on a warehouse party in San Francisco. Considering how much has changed since then – both the rave scene and the city of San Francisco (aka Silicon Valley) – do you ever become nostalgic for the old days or do you like where things are heading?
“They were fantastic times that also planted the seed to where we are now. Back then it was not about money, it was about the party… the sense of being part of something new and very special, and the nod to the promoter at the end of the night. Nobody had any idea that it would grow into a multimillion-dollar business. I am very happy and proud to have been part of this scene I love so much, right from the start to where it is now. The level of production and sound at clubs and festivals these days is mind-blowing, and the technology allows you to be so much more creative when you play out. So it is nice to look back, but for me it’s all about the future.”
Speaking of the old days, how’s your long-time friend and fellow DJ Sasha? Will you guys being collaborating again anytime soon… maybe put out a new Renaissance: The Mix Collection?
“The Mix Collection was a groundbreaking album at the time and something we are very proud of. It really set the template for mix CDs in general and it captured that sound from one of the UK’s best clubs at the time, so it made total sense. We both have our own successful solo projects going on at the moment, which take up so much time, so no collaborations anytime soon I don’t think.”
What else do you have planned for the rest of the year? Any particular festivals you’re looking forward to playing at?
“The label [Bedrock] has a very busy year ahead, with some great album project in the pipeline and single releases throughout the summer. Festival-wise, I am looking forward to Movement Detroit, EDC NYC and Las Vegas, TomorrowLand and TormorrowWorld, Neopop and Rock in Rio, and of course my new residency, Insane, at Pacha Ibiza on Fridays. On top of this, I’ve also got a healthy touring schedule across Europe, North and South America and Asia. It’s a very busy year but all good as I am loving being a DJ more than ever at the moment.”
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