Harris the DJ has never let the tastes of Damian Harris
the label mogul influence his ability to rock a party.
Before he founded the influential Skint Records in 1995,
Harris was a fan of such abstract dance imprints as
Ninja Tune, Warp and Mo’ Wax. But you’d never know it
by the tunes he selects for his Big Beat Boutique parties
in his hometown of Brighton, England.
quite a girlie DJ," says Harris (aka Midfield General).
"Girls tend to like my DJing. I always think, if
girls start dancing, boys start dancing and it’s a good
1996, Big Beat Boutique has been the place where Harris,
Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim), and promoter G-Monday
test out the latest Skint releases. According to Harris,
the party was borne out of his dissatisfaction with
the club scene of the day.
was DJing mainly at bars," Harris recalls. "There
were lots of records coming out at the time that you
could nod your head to; I wanted records that had more
energy. House was going through one of its lulls. We
wanted records that you can play at peak time that weren’t
out-and-out house music. As a DJ, I’ve always thought
it’s very important to have a balance between playing
new stuff and playing more cutting-edge stuff, but you’ve
also got to make people dance. That was the reaction
to what was happening at the time in clubs.
clubs were becoming DJ wankfests, DJs playing rare dubs
they had rather than thinking, ‘Does anyone actually
want to listen to this?’ I hear people playing and being
non-conformist and cutting-edge as they can be. I admire
that and I’d like to get an element of that into when
I’m DJing – but ultimately you have to make people dance.
We still appeal to dance people, but we never took ourselves
very seriously so we didn’t worry about putting out
something that was cheesy, an anthemic record or a party
its inception, Big Beat Boutique has combined bits of
house with hip hop and drum-n-bass into its primary
DJing style, and the organizers gave the evening its
handle to reflect its large range of beats. Over time,
however, the club became largely responsible for the
Big Beat tag and, in some circles, the term became less
any musical genre, you get people jumping on the bandwagon
and the quality drops," says Harris. "I was
so relieved Big Beat started getting slagged. It became
dead again. It was never our policy to have one style
of music. I prefer the label to have a balance like
a whole night would. When we do the Boutique, the ideal
night is someone playing Northern Soul or slow dub stuff
– not necessarily dancefloor stuff – when people are
coming in. Then you have your midtempo, chuggy, foot-tapping
one and then Norman would come and take the roof off
in the last half-hour. That was always how I enjoy a
night and the label is kind of like that."
new project On the Floor at the Boutique (Skint/Columbia),
a compilation mixed by Lo Fidelity All Stars, runs the
gamut of grooves. From rump-shakin’ R&B (Blackstreet’s
"No Diggity"), mad funk (Armand Van Helden’s
"Funk Phenomena"), strident hip hop (BDP’s
"You Must Learn") and the straight-up goofy
(The Tams’ "Be Young Be Foolish Be Happy), there’s
a vibe happening. Of course, Big Beat floor starters
like Dirt’s "Raw Element" and Les Rythmes
Digitales’ "(Hey You) What That Sound?" carry
the disc and keep it in full-on party mode.
put Harris in position to open Skint was a bit of a
misadventure. Having worked at Loaded Records for a
year and a half, he asked his bosses if he could have
a go at a label putting out anything that wasn’t house.
"The funny thing was they were very close to sacking
me because I was rubbish – I’d get in late and I wasn’t
that reliable," laughs Harris. "Norman said
he told them to sack me. J.C., who’s the other partner,
said, ‘I don’t know what to do about Damian. He’s a
mate and everything, but he’s bloody useless.’ And apparently
Norman said, ‘You should sack him then.’ A week later
he went back to J.C. and said, ‘What happened? Did you
sack him?’ And J.C. said, ‘We’ve given him his own label.’"
the Skint roster boasting Fatboy Slim, Lo Fidelity Allstars,
Bentley Rhythm Ace, Req, Indian Ropeman, Cut La Roc,
Midfield General, among others, Harris stays true to
the beliefs that started the label. For his own Midfield
General album project, Harris maintains the same Boutique
mentality. Keeping the balance between a few club tracks,
a few midtempo numbers and a couple of vocal songs,
Harris even has a comedian on one of the tunes.
Harris, the Skint venture has blown up beyond his wildest
dreams. The label signed a deal with Sony that gives
Skint full artistic control, in addition to worldwide
appeal. This allows the label to keep its artists as
their profile grows, instead of losing them to various
major labels. According to Harris, the A&R process
still gives him a thrill.
know that thing when you’re got a new record and you
can’t stop playing it to people?" says Harris.
"That’s when I know I’m going to sign an act or
a record. It just reflects my personal taste. They work
in different situations. The unexpected – things that
I never thought people would do – excites me. Some people
can make a good record and it can be quite cliched,
but it will work. I’ve got to get really excited about
it and think this person needs to be heard. If I’m not
like that about a record, there’s no point in us putting