A Conversation with DJ Harvey

Ahead our team up with Red Bull Music Academy for ‘Discopolis’ this weekend, we spoke to music guru Harvey Bassett, aka DJ Harvey, a man who has been in the music game for over 40 years.

He was brought up in London and Cambridge, and has been living in the US for some time now, collecting records and throwing parties around the world. His hedonistic London club night, Moist, ran for 5 years, he held a residency at Ministry of Sound, and he has rubbed shoulders with some of the world’s most acclaimed celebrities. There’s no denying that DJ Harvey is a living legend and dance music’s answer to Keith Richards.

 

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“It’s so nice to come back to Leeds and it’s nice to be wanted. I’m looking forward to the weekend and hopefully having a nice time!”

 

With such monumental legacies under his belt, we wanted to know if it’s hard to impress a man who has seen and done it all. So, we began the phone-interview by asking him about some of his favourite parties he’s been to.

“I’ve been in the music industry for over 40 years now, doing my first gigs in the 70s, as a drummer in a punk band.” He paused at the hook of his story and moved away from the phone.

“Yeah, just about here, mate, is good – sorry, I’m just in a taxi,” he explained. When we asked where he was going, he enlightened us that he was being dropped off to go “have a shave” somewhere in London.

During this interval, it was difficult not to marvel at this man’s legacy. DJ Harvey – the man who is notorious for throwing the most flamboyant and colourful parties on earth. The man who has inspired artists and tastemakers for decades with his sublime selection skills. The man who so boldly claims: ‘You can’t understand the blues till you’ve had your heart broken, you can’t understand my music till you’ve had group sex on ecstasy.’

“Yeah, so I’ve been in the music industry for many years, and I’ve seen a lot of ridiculous behaviour in my time” – he then muttered something about accidentally giving the driver euros instead of pounds, then continued:

“This is all stuff people would consider ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’, but I don’t consider that particularly important. There isn’t really much that young people can do that old people haven’t done already. But that was the same for me, as a teenager in the 70s. Turns out that everything that I had done [when I was younger], my grandmother had done before me!

“In fact, she used to own a nightclub in Gerrard Street in Soho, London. So it runs in the family. It was a post-war French ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll’ club called The Cave.”

He chuckled at the memory and when asked if he ever went there, he said: “No, it was before my time. I have seen some photographs of it and something I think is really cool is their excuse for a party – they would celebrate every religious festival that existed and there’s basically one every weekend! It was an excuse to dress up in the costumes of that particular religious festival and dance around and have a good time.” We assured him, that is what it’s all about, having a good time. He laughed in agreement.

Harvey’s set at our event on Saturday will be his first Leeds appearance in over 20 years. He recalled enjoying coming to play at ‘Back To Basics’ along with Ralph Lawson and “legendary character” Dave Beer.

It’s so nice to come back to Leeds and it’s nice to be wanted. I’m looking forward to the weekend and hopefully having a nice time!”

 

We then turned to the subject of the White Isle: Ibiza, the home of Harvey’s ‘Balearic’ music passion, and where he held a residency at Pikes Hotel, which he spoke fondly of, as if recounting an old friend.

“Pikes is a hotel just outside of San Antonio,” he explained. “It has a long history of hedonistic behaviour,” referring to it being the regular haunt for music icons Grace Jones and Freddie Mercury, who celebrated his iconic 41st birthday there, and also its being the backdrop for Wham’s ‘Club Tropicana’ music video in the 80s.

“For the past couple of years I’ve had a Monday night summer party called Mercury Rising. That happens in ‘The Freddie Room’.” He described it as “just a good fun grown-up party. We play some nice music and have some nice people come and enjoy themselves. It’s as simple as that really.”

 

“There isn’t really much that young people can do that old people haven’t done already. Turns out that everything that I had done [when I was younger], my grandmother had done before me!”

 

Apart from the glitz and good vibes of Ibiza, Harvey also pointed out that the island suffers from what he called the ‘not-like-it-used-to-be syndrome’.

“When I arrived there in the late 80s, people were telling me I should’ve been there in the late 70s. It was finished by 1988, it didn’t start then. That was the beginning of the end… I think that there’s a couple of people we spoke to who left in 1963 because [they said] it was crap!”

The conversation then turned to the concept of ‘celebrity DJs’ who somehow bag themselves residencies at super-clubs around the world. But Harvey seemed unfazed.

“It doesn’t bother me,” he admitted. “It sometimes makes me laugh when you see people like, ‘I’m a professional DJ who’s about to embark on a career as a super-model rock star.’ If you have a certain amount of celebrity you can announce yourself a DJ and people will go see you because you have some fame, or whatever.

“If you take Paris Kardashian, for example…” We don’t even try to correct him, on the name, making his point even more valid – “Her night [at Amnesia Ibiza] is extremely popular, and who am I to judge that she’s not a great DJ?” We both laughed at his humble attitude towards DJing: as long as it makes people happy, you are essentially doing the right job. The name is irrelevant.

He added, “However, I do think dance music and clubbing is a very profitable industry, and people are investing in it, leading to the rise of festival culture, which is actually helping dance music, with a lot more budget for promoters to pay artists.” He concludes with a positive smirk, “So there you go.”

 

“I don’t really play what I want, I play what the people want. The people decide what the music will be. It depends on the situation, the time, the way the people are reacting – that will determine what the next record may be.”

 

Harvey knows how to make a crowd move, often incorporating his DJ sets with a tambourine and manually controlling the lights himself. He told us that everything he does is for the crowd.

I have access to thousands and thousands of records and I don’t have a particular favourite. As a professional DJ, I don’t really play what I want, I play what the people want. The people decide what the music will be. It depends on the situation, the time, the way the people are reacting – that will determine what the next record may be.

“It could be a very different situation from a sunrise in Bali to a sunrise in Berghain. The same record wouldn’t even sound the same, so it’s difficult to have particular go-to tracks.”

DJ Harvey’s parties are an experience like no other, and he is notorious for his extended sets. We asked him what was the longest DJ set he had ever done.

“I think about 3 days” – he answered matter-of-factly, as if we had been talking about the weather. He nonchalantly reassured us that it was something that “just happened.” He laughed, “I remember I survived on Coca-Cola and Turkish Delight!”

We asked him how he prepares for such mammoth sets, expecting something wacky and wonderful, probably involving some form of extravagance. But his answer threw us: “I wear compression socks.” Compression socks? “They’re socks that mountain runners wear and they help support your lower leg.” A professional DJ is like being an athlete, then? “Yeah, so your legs don’t get quite so tired after dancing for like 6, 8, 10, 12 hours, or whatever it may be.”

What about any pre-show rituals? “I don’t get drunk these days, so that makes things a little bit easier. I like to have some cold fizzy water on hand, and that’s about it really.” Harvey spoke with sincerity. He does more than just plays records, he is a true professional, making sure he plays each set with every ounce of his might.

 

Yet, despite his mythical status as a DJ icon, Harvey remains down-to-earth in his effortlessly cool story-telling manner. He concluded our chat by offering some final words of wisdom to young and aspiring DJs: “Just enjoy yourself. There’s so much wonderful music out there, just enjoy yourself.

“Play your records to your friends, and if you’re passionate and committed, then one day, you might be able to pay your rent. That’s the definition of success, really, if you can pay your rent through your art, then I will consider you a success!”

You can grab your tickets to see DJ Harvey alongside Leon Vynehall at our event with RBMA on Saturday 29th October here.

 

Words by Jaguar Bingham