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Greg Wilson sofa session Q&A: what he said

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There's so much out there in this digital age that its impossible to keep up - all we can do is sort the wheat from the chaff as best we can. As DJs we're acting as filters.

Our third sofa sessions guest was DJ and blogger Greg Wilson who played at the first Campfire Convention and has recently launched his Super Weird Substance website. He talks about his earliest influences, musical eclecticism , dancing as meditation, Liverpool and MuMuification, amongst other things.

If you're a Campfire member you can read the thread as it happened here

Earliest musical memories and influences? 

Growing up in a seaside town music was always there, be it coming from the fairground rides or someone's tinny transistor radio. At the age of 6 we moved into a pub with 2 functions rooms above, so I was hearing mobile discos pretty much every weekend between the ages of 6 and 13. Then there was the influences of my older brother and sister who were buying singles on labels like Tamla Motown, Stax and Atlantic. It was that whole stew of sound.

Thanks to my brother and sister, soul was my first love musically. I was once asked to chose a track that made a major impression on me, which was 'Ball Of Confusion' by The Temptations - the interview outlines how, as a young boy, this music reverberated with me on a deeper level : http://www.sounds-like-me.com/news/rewind-greg-wilson-on-ball-of-confusion/

What motivated you to return to the scene and what continues to motivate you, how has this changed, if at all?

Motivation to return... sorry missed this. around the millennium I got my first computer and started looking about online, I discovered some great sites that were dance/DJ related, with lots of the history discussed or written about, but there was a total lack of documentation when it came to the black scene in this country, where the latest dance tracks were played first and the audience was as knowledgeable as you're going to get. It was from these seeds that dance culture as we know it emerged, yet it was almost totally unrepresented. As a consequence I put together the electrofunkroots.co.uk website to document the pre-rave early-80s period and highlight its influence. It was after this that people began approaching me to DJ at their nights, starting late 2003.

How did you come to get involved with the MuMufication?

Not a question I can answer in a paragraph. This has just gone online, outlining 23 steps along the way: 

 

I need to know why I'm doing what I'm doing, so set myself fresh challenges when I feel I need to shake things up. When I'd been back DJing for 10 years I made the decision to launch Super Weird Substance - its a case of keeping myself on my toes.

On counter-culture :

I'm a huge 60s obsessive, so all the countercultural movements that emerged in that decade, from San Francisco, London, Amsterdam etc are a source of fascination. Then there's the sub-cultures of this island, which generally go hand in hand with music and dance culture.

Dancing and changing the world at the same time?

Dancing is hugely important as a release, especially at a time like this, when there's so much uncertainty in our everyday world. We need to get away from things and lose ourselves in music. Its like meditation in a sense, an emptying out, but more from a physical aspect.

Most memorable gig?

An easy one, pick almost any Wednesday between 1982/83 when I was resident at Legend in Manchester. That was DJ nirvana for me. I was playing the latest music out of New York, we couldn't have been more cutting-edge, at a time when electronic dance music, or electro as we called it, was really emerging, and the crowd contained the best dancers from all around the North and Midlands. It was a wonderful specialist scene I'm so grateful to have been a part of.

On programming sets :

I obviously have my own musical approach, but I'm able to pick from a very wide spectrum spanning a rich history. I never set things in stone - I very much weigh up the audience and environment once I'm there and cut my cloth in accordance.

Its always important to find common ground with the people you're playing to - its very much a reciprocal thing. If I was in a gig and people were asking me for a style of music I don't play that's not the audiences fault, but the promoters fault for booking the wrong DJ or my agents fault for taking the booking. Generally I can connect with most people as the roots of whatever dance music they love is contained within what I play - its just that they might not have been exposed to it in this context and need a few reference points to feel at home.

Would you say tastes are more eclectic now, or does dance scene tribalism still predominate? 

Re Eclecticism... yes I think things are more eclectic now, although younger people will always gravitate towards tribes. With the internet an entire history of music is accessible, and younger people aren't stupid, they're eating it up - its their heritage.

What they do with it, who knows, but I'm hearing some interesting musical juxtapositions which merge past and present. You'll see loads of acts who pretty much mimic their idols, from whatever generation, but what really interests me is the fusions that come out of all this.

How relevant is the B77 in your sets these days?

Essential, I'm often shoved out the way whilst someone wants a photo of it. Even thinking of sending it out on tour on its own, just need the right robot.

Inspirations away from music?

away from music I'm an avid reader. My major inspiration during recent times has been Alan Moore, famous as the comic book writer (Watchmen, V For Vendetta, From Hell etc), but so much more in terms of helping make sense of the world in which we live. It's no wonder his ideas have seeped into popular culture.

Can you explain why Liverpool is able to produce so much deeply emotional music, made by football supporting weed smoking dudes?  

The sentimentality of the city sets it apart - it was the place where people were waved off at the docks never to return, and that must do something to the psyche of the city. I think there was some kind of loophole in music, where young men could show there emotions without being laughed at, as would have been the case in most other situations. When you look at the early lyrics of The Beatles and imagine them expressing the same feelings around their friends, it doesn't tally - this was still the back end of the stiff upper lip. Yet it was all ok within the lyrics of the songs and I think Liverpool was primed for that.

I was listening to some early 80s 12"s by Soft Cell, in particular Tainted Love, Bedsitter, Say Hello Wave Goodbye and Torch - all produced by Mike Thorne, and was struck by the fact that all of these singles were made as extended mixes first and then had the 7"s cut from them. These extended versions are quite extraordinary, each and every one, and I am struck by the fact that these days we tend not to get true 'extended versions' of tracks, just remixes by people not connected with the original recording, and they are often made for specific dancefloors without any real artistry relevant to the original track.

QUESTION (finally!) Would you agree that UK dance music has lost much of the innovation and artistry first shown in those early days of extended versions? And do you think that the 're-edit' genre is in a way a throwback to the extended version days - in that 'editeurs' tend to work with most - if not all - of the original track and seem to celebrate what was there, wringing the most out of it that they can?

I suppose this was happening anyhow, away from dance music, with album versions being cut to single length - 'Light My Fire' by The Doors an example. From a dance perspective, they started issuing tracks on 7" as pts1&2, fading out after 3 minutes or so, and re-entering from the same place on the other side of the record. They'd have, in effect, worked out the radio/7" arrangement beforehand, with an extra 3 minutes, generally more instrumental, following (sometimes the opposite was true). The advent of the 12" in the mid-70s changed all this, enabling full length versions to be pressed that were nice and loud for club play.

With the re-edits, I see it in terms of the alchemical principle solve et coagula, which Alan Moore explained. Solve is about de-constructing things to their component parts and coagula is putting them back together in a more useful way. Re-edits are like this, perhaps a classic track, but not strictly in time so DJs can mix in and out of it without problem, or perhaps than cheesy middle-8 was great at the time, but ruins it now. The best re-edits make already great tracks playable in a contemporary sense, whilst you have to remember that people below a certain age may never have experienced this great music in such a setting as a club or a festival. 

I'll bet you're justifiably proud of your Tube performance. Are you?

I still have nightmares about that 10 second countdown to 'on air'. I can't say I enjoyed the experience, it was so nervous once I'd realised that everything could go belly-up if the cameraman jogged the deck, but all's well that ended well and it proved to be a defining moment of my career. I suppose that sometimes you have to put yourself on the line, but it didn't make the experience any less terrifying! More here: 

A while ago when the no smoking in club thing was new l was part of a chat with a couple of fellow DJs (IG Culture and Chris Greenwood- Madere Verde) discussing the new rules' effect on crowd dynamics - with quite large numbers gone at any one time flicking to puff together- and ways of playing in a crafted set to accommodate that and possibly keep people in the room longer or having to rebuild a vibe . I don't think it's as extreme now as people are more used to it all. You play sets that do go on journeys that can be boarded at any time even so and also repay longevity....

How do YOU read crowd waves? Did those rule changes make you play differently and how?

Smoking ban... you definitely noticed it at first - all of a sudden the room would be half full then 10 minutes later they'd all be back. I think that was more about people following the crowd, but I rarely notice anything like this these days, people now used to having their own individual routines, many waiting until after you've finished before popping out for a cig.

As for playing differently - if you see the room thinning out it makes you think, of course, and perhaps play a little safer than you might do in a different circumstance. 

Re Dance Music... there's still innovative dance music being made, but there's so much out there now that you have to wade through a mountain of mediocrity in order to dig out the gems. Its not like the old days when you went to a record shop and there was a finite amount of releases to choose from. You could literally look forever online for music if you wanted, and still not scrape the surface. There's so much out there in this digital age that its impossible to keep up - all we can do is sort the wheat from the chaff as best we can. As DJs we're acting as filters.

Sitting here typing for the past 90 minutes (sorry for my one-fingered slowness) reminded me of the DJ forums i mentioned where you could often sit exchanging for a couple of hours. Anyhow, I think that's everything answered. Thanks for your questions, and to Pete for inviting me along. Have a nice night and hope to see you on a danceflooor somewhere in the not too distant.

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