There is definitely something surreal about talking music on the phone with someone you consider one of your absolute favorite producers in the world. Dave Lee, aka Joey Negro, Doug Willis, Raven Maize, Sessomatto, Akabu, Jakatta, Sunburst Band – the list goes on – has been involved in nearly 200 productions in a career that began in the record shops of london and has since established him as a true expert in all matters of funk, tech, disco & soul.
Is this going to be your first time in Chicago?
Yes it is actually, not just my first time DJing but also my first time visiting the city.
When we heard you were finally coming here we were all so excited! You are definitely one of the top five House producers of all time. Every single track you make is one hundred percent quality. And with all of that said, for all the hits you made, have there been a lot of misses?
Oh of course! Sometimes I think it takes longer to make an average track than a good one because the average one you have to keep working on it again and again to make it good. I just think it takes a while to learn what you’re doing.
So yeah there’s lots of misses, I’ll probably start forty tracks to get fifteen that I’m relatively happy with. It depends how high your standards are. You’re never going to please everybody so I think you’ve got to please yourself. Having said that, you can’t take people’s opinions personally. If some people say it’s shit, it probably is.
I love Disco music, but of course I also think there’s an awful lot of shit Disco music. People get a bit misty eyed about how Disco is so great.
With all your reworking of Disco songs, some have accused some of the younger producers of being lazy by getting the hottest part of a well known R&B or Disco song and then making a simple track based around that.
Well, if they’re into it then I don’t want to say that it’s lazy. What I might think is boring because I know the original might be something new to them! If you’re nineteen, you just perceive things differently. To them it may sound more NOW, whereas to me it sounds like crap. I know where the original comes from, whereas to someone else it’s like one new piece of music.
It’s great to hear you have a more generous view of this, I’ve seen a lot of seasoned veterans not be so kind.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard an awful lot of terrible music out there. I mean if I listen to MTV Dance I do think that is garbage. But it’s not meant for me – it’s meant for fourteen year olds. I mean if I hear that sort of stuff, that really commercial sort of trance meets dance meets R&B with rap in the back in the VIP area – no! I think that’s terrible! But I can imagine some guy thirty years ago saying the same thing about Disco music!
And I love Disco music, but of course I also think there’s an awful lot of shit Disco music. People get a bit misty eyed about how Disco is so great.
What were your thoughts about the whole Disco Demolition movement that happened in Chicago in ’79?
Oh yes, that has been very well documented… It was in Comiskey Park wasn’t it? Oh yeah it was just some rock DJ idiot who was worried about losing his job really. But I guess the impression of those proper old-fashioned American rockers, I don’t think they just hated Disco. I mean, I think they just hated the whole thing like the Bee Gees, Sylvester – like the whole glitzy glamorous Studio 54 vibe… The whole thing was the exact antithesis of what they stood for. I just think it’s such a shame – there were some quite good records blown up that day. It was a publicity stunt!
And you know what? Back then I’m sure if you were listening to whatever Disco radio stations, I’m sure they were playing a lot of rubbish. It’s probably really similar to what I was saying about MTV Dance. There’s lots of fantastic Disco records, but they weren’t the ones always played on the radio. They were playing Disco versions of TV themes and showtunes and “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”. That was all the stuff that gave Disco a bad name.
Are you good at mixing Disco? As in mixing the original songs, as is? For a younger DJ coming up, some people consider it a rite of passage to learn how to mix Disco.
That’s something you can only become good at if you start mixing the same records a lot. I think the people who often are good at that are the ones who really know their records. That’s the key to that sort of thing. It’s good when you know the record’s gonna slow down at that point, you know you’ve got 4 bars to get in and out of that, which records go together – things like that.
I still think you have to play good music, that’s the main thing more than if it’s mixed together well or if you have the original pressing of something.
Can you give me a brief rundown of three songs of yours that are personal favorites of mine? Let’s start with “The Other World”.
Oh, that was originally for an album I did by Jakatta for Ministry of Sound. It was a chill out track. It was originally 65 bpm and I thought it would work as a House record so I time stretched all the parts. We actually budgeted for an actual proper orchestra. I gave it to Andre Lodemann to remix because I wanted a fresh take on it.
I basically did the track and I had to meet with Gramaphonedzie’s manager about something else really. I played him the track and that’s how everything started. I didn’t want to do a sample track so it was all original music, like the vocals were with Shea Soul.
Marko (Gramaphonedzie) remixed it and he changed the drums and gave it a little more jacking House drums, which definitely made it better, made it more high energy. But it wasn’t a proper collaboration, we didn’t actually sit in the studio together.
“Music Speaks Louder Than Words”
Yeah, that was a nice track I did with Taka Boom (Chaka Khan’s sister) before she went back to the States. We wrote loads of tracks together like “Can’t Get High Without You”, “Must be The Music” and quite a bit more that became really popular. So that was the last thing I did with her. I wanted to do a Disco House track, kind of what I used to do in the ’90s… that sort of uptempo, feelgood Disco-influenced House which is still quite musical.
I like musical tracks. I think there are quite a lot of DJs that like to find music that’s good to mix with. I’m a music listener, not just someone who likes playing around with two decks. Not just putting this track over this track then getting them on time with each other. I’d rather just have one track playing that I actually like! I don’t mind that for, like, 10 minutes – you know, where you put a vocal over a more minimal track, or a jacking or techy track – but not all night. And that’s what I think unfortunately has happened with people getting into DJing. People are getting into it because they like DJing more than they like music. I enjoy DJing but I like music first.
The most important thing to me about DJing is to play good music, not show off how I can play three records on time. Not to say it’s not important, because some of the mixing of records can sound exciting. But I’d rather hear boring mixes of good music than incredible mixing of shit music.
So what do you think of what happened with Dennis Ferrer being asked to play commercial music at Mansion in Miami?
Well I think it’s rather disrespectful. I’m surprised they booked him having no idea what he played! But I’ve heard that happen so many times in Russia. There are some places there that are really, really commercial. Like when I played there I didn’t know any of the records the guy before me was playing! Like there would be a Nickleback track with an electro beat over the top – just so fucking awful! I think sometimes these clubs just want to say they have the big name DJ but want him to play the same music they always play there. • • •