We included John Digweed in our guide to Movement 2013, and with good reason. For me, the idea of seeing John Digweed close at the Detroit techno mecca was a primarily selling point of the festival, and I felt no hesitation in citing Digweed as the artist I was most excited about. I expected his headlining set on Monday night to end things on a transcendent, positive note.
Things didn't quite go as planned, and Digweed's Movement set was easily one of the strangest, most unique things that I've seen happen at a festival. While the first two days of Movement saw clear skies and perfectly pleasant temperatures, we weren't so fortunate in the final stretch. During the day, the warm rain was easy to tolerate; in fact, dancing to Azari & III's disco-infused house in a downpour was one of the festival's highlights.
However, as it got dark, it also got cold. Cold in the way you don't plan for at a "summer festival," cold in the way that makes you impulse buy a $50 Detroit Tigers sweatshirt from a vendor stand because you're freezing and soaked to the core. Maybe the formidable big cat on your chest will distract everyone from the fact that you're looking like a drowned kitten and can barely speak through your chattering teeth and in ten minutes you have to go interview one of your musical idols. But I made it, and managed to have what felt like a decent five-minute conversation with one of the busiest men in dance music.
John Digweed got his start DJing at the young age of 15 in Hastings, England, and his gig at the Mansfield club Renaissance is often cited as his breakthrough, in addition to his residencies at Heaven in London and The Beach in Brighton.
EARMILK: Was there any particular moment in your music career when you felt that you took off or snowballed into something bigger?
John Digweed: You know, there's lots of sort of small defining moments that are probably going to add up to when you actually have that big moment, but for me, it was playing in the big club in the town that I lived in, going there and seeing a DJ and thinking "I want to play here," to playing there, to being resident there for about three or four years, and then thinking, maybe there's something outside of here. And then going and seeing other clubs, and going up to London and standing on the dancefloor at Heaven and seeing Frankie Knuckles DJ and thinking, "this is amazing, but I want to DJ in that club." And then, three years later, I'm DJing there.
There are loads of little sort of goals I set myself. And I think, "that was exciting." And obviously when I got the Renaissance gig in 1992, that was more of a massive stage because they were doing huge advertising, publicity, and obviously playing alongside DJs like Kevin Rowland, Frankie Knuckles, Sasha, CJ Mackintosh, that did kind of elevate me and give me the next stepping stone to suddenly start touring around the world. For me, those kind of little things helped. When you did get a big break, you could deal with it. It wasn't like, "oh, this is a big stage, shit, what do I do?" I think I'd had seven years before I'd gotten to that point and I thought, "ah, this is the gig that makes the difference."
While "superclubs" like Renaissance have sometimes been criticized for their role in the corporatization of dance music, Digweed has managed to retain his musical integrity and keep his ear to the underground, calling in guests from diverse genres and backgrounds to play on his popular weekly radio show, Transitions (guests in the last year have included Jon Hopkins, Max Cooper, Guy J, Nina Kraviz, and many more). His Global Underground and Structures mixes and the Northern Exposure mixes alongside Sasha also have a penchant for heterogeneity, despite an overall progressive/tech house lean.
EM: You seem to have your ear to the ground for pretty much anyone who's coming up in the electronic music scene. Where do you think the sort of hotbeds are for that right now, in terms of artists or labels?
JD: It's just so global now. If I look at the artists on the Bedrock label, they range from people from Turkey, Israel, Australia, America, Canada, Eastern Europe, Spain. I think the Internet has made it possible. It's not all about the big scenes in England or the big scenes in America, it's global, so if you've got some talented little producer, it can pop out from anywhere, really. That's the time to latch onto him, before he goes and signs off to someone else.
I think it's a very exciting period at the moment, because there are lots of people just making music how they think it should be made, and not trying to follow what happened in the past. They just think, this is what excites me, I'm going to make music like this, and they've got the technology at their fingertips. You know, ten years ago you needed to have a lot of expensive equipment to make music, and now you can do it so cheaply but make it sound amazing.
Digweed launched the still-active Bedrock Records in 1999 alongside Nick Muir, with the debut release being classic track "Heaven Scent," featured as the soundtrack to Digweed's cameo in the 2000 movie Groove. Since then, Bedrock has dropped releases from Guy Gerber, Christian Smith, Henry Saiz, Electric Rescue, Maetrik, and James Zabiela, to name a few.
EM: Since you have experience with running a label, what are your thoughts on what the future of music distribution might look like?
JD: It's hard to say. We still sell vinyl, we still sell CDs, but will that be something that's still around in five years? It's hard to say, but we just try and adapt the best we can. We keep reading all these things saying that music will be free in five years time, because you're buying phone contracts with X amount of free tracks included with it and stuff like that.
We'll cross that bridge when we get to it. But for the moment, the label's in the best shape it's been in for ten years, so I'm not complaining. I think the fact that there's so much excitement about electronic music at the moment is only kind of helping things. I think that as long as you keep putting out good quality music, you'll stay around. So hopefully we will.
After a brief reprieve from nature's sopping assault in the press area, I made my way to the Beatport Stage to catch the rest of Maetrik's hard-hitting techno set. The rain remained somewhat subdued—until Digweed took the stage.
From our elevated perch, my friends and I watched as the crowd began to disperse from a certain part of the concrete dancefloor, which had begun to flood. It was only a matter of time before the entire area was a six-inch puddle, and eventually, the crowd adapted, as did Digweed, who DJed through it all like a real trooper, his gear tenuously protected by a tarp. But he remained in good spirits, and so did the crowd that stuck things out in a hedonistic splash.
Despite the less-than-ideal conditions and the probable negative effects of the cold rain on everyone's physical health, I don't think anyone who stuck around would have traded Digweed's strange, stormy set, his first time playing at Movement, for something more conventional.
Photo courtesy of Beatport.