Exile and the disco: DJ Harvey returns

Following a decade in L.A, one of the world's most celebrated DJs is finally back in the UK. Samuel Breen meets him

Famed for his Ministry of Sound residency at the height of 'Superclub culture', Harvey Bassett is grandmaster of the dance floor, an archetype of the smiley face generation.

With bouncing curly locks and an ear to ear grin he looks like he lives in an eternal state of bliss. Part of a strong lineage of classic DJs: channelling the inclusively of David Mancuso’s Loft parties, the edit culture of Larry Levan, and the communion of Alfredo Fiorito, Harvey is planning his return to the UK having emigrated to LA, "On the cheap seats after 9/11".

But right now it’s midday in Venice Beach and he’s only just woken. Waiting for coffee to perk him up everything is a little hazy. Yet even when he is yawning himself awake Harvey is candid from first to last. As DJ and label boss Phil South remarks: “Harv is so adored by so many. He’s not one to let the hype get to him - the most mellow, lovely, humble and affable guy you could meet.”

He once said: “You can’t understand the blues until you’ve had your heart broken by a woman, and you can’t understand my music until you’ve had group sex on Ecstasy.” But these days Harvey has gone straight, kicking his vices to the curb. How's sobriety treating you? "It's all right," he says with a tone that suggests he's surprising himself. "It's a weird and wonderful world being dry than high."

Having worked in the game longer than most, a dry spell is probably long overdue. In 1988 Harvey began to run a night at London's Gardening Club where he slowly built his profile. The big event at the time was Shoom, irregular era-defining raves along the M25 famously dismantled by a Criminal Justice and Public Order Act.

“Memories are a really odd phenomenon. It’s funny because I can’t remember the things I can’t remember. I always said I never went to Shoom but not so long ago I found in my archives a flyer from the 1st ever party. Lots of people claim they were there when they weren’t, so I thought I’d do it the other way.”

The past is something Harvey carries in his record bag. Although he is happy to play music from any pocket of pop culture, big bombastic rock and roll, funk, and disco feature prominently. And having befriended record dealer and music fanatic Gerry Rooney, Harvey would find himself digging through old LPs to find that hook.

“There have always been disco edits. Editing the music is an integral part of creating the 12” single. So most records at some point are edited to create an arrangement. At a particular point I remember Larry Levan was in town and he played an edit of South Shore Commission’s ‘Freeman’ and I asked Larry “What version is that? Where can I get that record?” and he was like, 'well you can’t because it’s an edit that’s on an acetate I have only one copy. And I was like, “Oh dear.” So I decided to do my own.”

Starting with a tape machine Harvey acquired an Atari Mega STE (or Mega 4, the ‘four’ denoting the Ram capacity…in megabytes).

“I remember I often couldn’t get the whole track onto the hard drive. The computer made it, not any quicker, but made it quite a bit easier to splice together these edits, and Black Cock was born off the back of that. It was just a bit of fun. A way me and Gerry could indulge ourselves, and make edits of tracks we liked. It just so happened that no one had done that for 10 years. We were just on the crest of the wave that has become the disco re-edit phenomenon.”

Under the name Black Cock Harvey and Gerry would revisit tracks such as Bill Withers' "You Got The Stuff", Tony Silvester & The New Ingredient's "Cosmic Lady", and The Dells' "No Way Back". Taking a segment, or stem, they would restructure a piece to make it more dance floor friendly. With many of the tracks artefacts from 1976-78.

“I’ve always thought that society is going backwards. There’s no more supersonic flight, there’s no more going to the moon, there’s no more space shuttle.”

It seems strange that as House music was sweeping the UK club scene, music accelerating in both tempo and technology, Harvey was engaging with a nonlinear narrative, happy reinvigorating dusty classics. Reflecting on this today, when music culture has enjoyed a ralentisme since the early ‘90s, could it be Harvey himself who resembles the retro model?

“I’m not a retro model of DJ Harvey. My future hasn’t ended yet. I’m still the design phase for next years model, which is going to be more spectacular, more cutting edge, more on it, more driven, and more aware than all the last models of DJ Harvey.”

Today Harvey is working on Locuslossus, his project with engineer Josh Marcy. There's been an album last year, and 2012 has seen 12" 'Berghain/Telephone' which has received heavy rotation throughout the summer. And despite the lack of bourbon he's still running his night Harvey's Sarcastic Disco on the lawless fringes of L.A.

“I’d always been a bit of an Americanophile, and California was calling: LA, voodoo, Mansons, Beach Boys, pornography, hot rods, movie industry, gangsters…you know, all the sort of fun things in life. I think it’s more the idea [of America] than the reality.” For a moment Harvey slips into a familiar territory flirting dangerously with 'American Dream' consensus. Typically his mind speeds off, kicking up dust in its wake.

“I’ve been trying to explain how I thought The Good, The Bad, And The Ugly was a documentary. It’s like some people take this sort of Wild West fantasy and believe it’s achievable. That loves go bang and people fall over and no one gets hurt. There’s a sort of mood to this place…the Hollywood Babylon…Fatty Arbuckle destroying hotel rooms in the ‘20s...the Malibu colony and the high life.”

“I don’t know whether you’ve seen the movie Sunset Boulevard with Gloria Swanson, where she won’t accept that’s she’s not a star in this Hollywood palace. That’s part of that delusion. There’s a huge delusion in the head of the actress but her reality is also wild too. That kind of thing is everywhere out here.”

Harvey DJ plays tonight at Oval Space, Bethnal Green; and Thursday 25 October at The Warehouse Project, Trafford

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

    Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

    Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
    Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

    Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

    When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
    5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

    In grandfather's footsteps

    5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
    Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

    Martha Stewart has flying robot

    The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
    Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

    Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

    Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
    A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

    A tale of two presidents

    George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

    The dining car makes a comeback

    Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
    Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

    Gallery rage

    How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

    Eye on the prize

    Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
    Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

    Women's rugby

    Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices