Thirty two years into a storied career in dance music, it's fairly difficult to believe that a moment could occur for English techno/house don John Digweed that would be considered unique. From his iconic early '90s recordings with Sasha, touring and releasing tracks worldwide both as a solo act and in various collaborations, the depth and scope of his professional history is impressive. However, when collaborating with Nick Muir—with whom Digweed co-founded Bedrock Records—and author/noted recluse John Twelve Hawks (yes, author, you read that right) for forthcoming release The Traveler, Digweed again reaches yet another impressive height in his three decades in dance music.
In this interview Digweed discusses The Traveler existing as a result of Hawks favoring listening to Digweed's material while writing, how one goes about crafting tracks with an author-as-narrator, his beliefs on the collaborative process, and thoughts about dance culture at-present, too. Intriguing, deep and varied, this interview should ideally be as much of a journey as Digweed and Muir's latest release.
Having had such a storied history, where does the idea that an author worked on a story while listening to your tracks rank on the "amazing stories in your career" list, and how did you initially find out that this had indeed, occurred?
There's been some amazing highlights over the years, that's for sure, but to find out you've been soundtracking a novel is a pretty unique occurrence and is quite an honor, especially when it's someone as eminent as John Twelve Hawks. It was unexpected and very gratifying. I found out that John had been listening to mixes of mine from his publisher who contacted me to tell me this was the case and sent me a copy of The Traveler as a token of his appreciation.
How does one go about recording tracks with the author's narration? Did you come up with concepts specific to the tracks he may have heard while writing as a point of reference, or did you use a different conceptual scheme?
There wasn't really a conceptual scheme as such; John suggested various phrases and passages from the book which we recorded him reading and then set to music. He left the direction of the music totally to us. We just wrote what we felt, using his words and phrases as a starting point, often taking the rhythm and meter of his speech as the thematic material, almost as much as the meaning of the phrases themselves.
This is described as "soundtrack-style electronica." What does that definition conceptually mean to you? Were there any books that were read, films watched, etc. as inspiration? Is this "soundtrack-style electronica" a path that you're willing to consider heading down again? Was the process of creating this album everything you wanted it to be?
Well, the book we read for inspiration was The Traveler (laughs)—there's always been the more atmospheric side to our output and we love electronic music of all sorts going back to the first wave of electronic artists like Tomita, Vangelis, Kraftwerk, etc. and although our focus remains underground house music, we will no doubt continue to write and produce in various different styles as the occasion arises. Making the album was creatively very satisfying, yes. It's a project we believe in and John Twelve Hawks ideas make total sense to us. It's a privilege to bring a musical perspective to his writing.
Insofar as creative partners, you've had many throughout your career. Your thoughts about the collaborative process overall, and how do you maintain your own identity in production? As well, are their any tips/hints you have for creating a sense of separate, yet shared space for you and your collaborator?
Nick and I have collaborated with many different artists and producers over the years, but I have a pretty good idea of how I want our productions to sound. I try to encourage people rather than restrict them, if you're always knocking back ideas then you don't get very far with your productions, you have to allow things to grow. I like to push people a little to get the best out of them—often I'll send mixes back a few times because I know they can do better and I obviously want the best possible product for the label. If we're working on a club mix, the acid test is always whether or not I feel as if I could play it in a set—that way I can tell pretty quick if it's cutting it and I end up with a sound I'm happy with.
What is going to be the plan insofar as playing these tracks out in a live setting? Do you have alternative remixes without the speaking, or have you figured out a way to use these unique productions in a DJ mix-friendly fashion?
There is only one track really that lends it`self to a club setting—"3B3"—which we have done an extended version plus commissioned a remix by Robert Babicz. For us, we want people to listen to the album from start to finish not just cherry pick a couple of tracks from the album
Beatrock Records has been in existence now for over 15 years. Foremost, what has been the greatest difficulty in maintaining a label in this era? Also, regarding sourcing new talent, though this is a time wherein digital production is all the rage, what puts a young/developing producer over the top? What makes them stand out versus (what is now) so many others?
There have been many highs and lows over the years, moving from the vinyl and physical era to digital took a bit of getting used to but I think as a label now we are stronger and more streamlined. We get sent 100s of tracks a week from producers and artists, you have to go through loads of average tracks but when you find a great track it's all worth while. Guy J is a classic example of someone who you could tell had the talent and is now on his third album for us.
I'd have to presume that for as much as the digital era, big festivals, social media and so much more have infiltrated dance music, that there are certain notions that remain the same over time that keep you motivated. What are a few of those things that have never really changed, and/or you may have gained a stronger affinity/appreciation with time?
One of the things that makes listening to a DJ who knows his stuff such a rewarding experience is the ability he has to turn on a dime if he feels like doing so. He/she does not have a set list to follow, just a bunch of records that he thinks are cool and he can adjust what he's playing to fit how the night's going. It's a fairly unique form of entertainment in that sense, it's not really a concert but rather a party. Yes, the lines are a little more blurred in some cases, but that feature of dance music culture remains pretty much as it always was. Also, as a DJ it's possible to play for more extended periods of time—I frequently play five or six hours plus—that gives me the chance to lock the crowd in to what I'm doing, then build on it and take it right up. I've always tended to do that although the style music I use in my sets has obviously evolved.
This Friday (September 26), John Digweed's hitting Verboten alongside jozif and Brad Miller, and we have a special package for one lucky android to give away. Not only do you get a copy of John's album The Traveler, but you get a fly under ground_NYC t-shirt and a pair of tickets to Verboten on September 26. Entry is simple: be the first to email email@example.com with a subject JOHN DIGWEED TRAVELER GIVEAWAY. Be sure to include your full name.