Given John Digweed’s considerable impact on electronic-music culture, there really is no better fitting name for his label than Bedrock.
Talk to any artist who spent their formative years clubbing in New York City around the turn of the millennium, and chances are they’ll cite Digweed’s monthly residency with Sasha at Twilo as a major influence on their careers. Coupled with the pair’s seminal Northern Exposure mix compilations, it’s no exaggeration to classify their work together as legendary. Simply put: it laid a foundation upon which much of the electronic music world built itself.
However, it’s 2016, and Digweed’s solo career in the 15 years since Twilo’s shuttering has been just as groundbreaking as the era leading up to it. Continuing to explore and expand upon that deep, dark, progressive house sound he helped pioneer, the Hastings, England-born jock remains a staple on both the club and festival circuit.
Vogue Editor-in-Chief Anna Wintour once expressed her disdain for the fashion industry’s overuse of the word “journey,” a sentiment that’s certainly relatable for anyone who’s heard seemingly every DJ set described as such over the past few years. However, if there’s anyone in the dance-music realm still doing that word justice, it’s John Digweed. Well-known for his marathon-length extended sets that dip, dive, rise, and trip for hours and hours and hours, Digweed is more than just a master behind the decks: he’s both a musical Svengali and precise technician. He simply must be heard to be believed. Need a primer? Look no further than the recently released Live In Montreal mix compilation (on Bedrock), which chronicles his epic, 11-hour performance at Stereo nightclub over a whopping six CDs.
Beyond the decks, he’s proven an astute curator and tastemaker as co-founder of the aforementioned Bedrock Records label with Nick Muir. Since its inception, the imprint has become a de facto institution of the club world’s deeper end, routinely churning out top-notch tune after top-notch tune for years on end.
We caught up with the club stalwart this past May, right before he took to the main stage of Detroit’s Movement festival to discuss his storied career, his views on DJing today, and the true, unabridged tale of his Twilo residency.
DJ Times: You’re about to play at Movement Electronic Music Festival. There’s a story of you playing here in a torrential downpour—when did that happen and what exactly happened?
John Digweed: It was 2013. I turned up really excited about playing, and they brought me from the hotel and was thinking, “Well, at least the stage is going to be covered, so I’m not going to get wet.” They weren’t expecting the rain, so the stage wasn’t covered and the rain was coming in sideways. Maceo Plex was on before me absolutely soaking wet, and I’m thinking, “Fucking hell! I’m going to get absolutely soaked. I might as well be out there with the people.” Literally, everyone on the stage was soaked. They were holding tarps over the decks to stop them from getting wet. I started playing, and it was nuts! It was a great experience.
DJ Times: Sounds dangerous…
Digweed: How I didn’t get electrocuted when the water was like that on stage—I’m surprised I didn’t blow up! It was just magical. Even though it was cold and wet, the crowd stayed. No one left; they really stuck it out to the end. If I’d been using a laptop, it would’ve been game over. It was a testament to this festival: their perseverance, their passion.
DJ Times: What is so unique about the festival and Detroit that separate them from any other festival and location?
Digweed: Firstly, it’s the birthplace of techno, so there’s a lot of history. The city is super-welcoming; they embrace this festival and are really supportive of it, which is a big plus. Sometimes cities don’t want festivals in their town; they try and think of everything not to have them. To have a festival like this really supported by the city, the people come here are super-friendly. It’s just a pleasure to play. It’s a pleasure to walk around. It’s a nice vibe, and I think they get it right.
DJ Times: How’s that?
Digweed: They book all the best electronic/techno acts from around the world and showcase it here. And when you say, “How do you compare it to other festivals in America?”… you can’t really because it’s the only one like it. There are lots of other festivals that incorporate techno, but they’ve got EDM and this and that.
DJ Times: Your residency at Twilo with Sasha is cited as an influence by seemingly everyone and anyone who went to it or even heard of it. I’d love to hear the oral history of it from your own lips.
Digweed: At the time, we’d come out to support our Northern Exposure album in 1996, and we’d done a series of gigs across America. One of them was at Twilo. Later on that year, I was talking to the owner Phil Smith, who said, “We had such a great reaction to you and Sasha playing, you should come do it again.” I said, “Yeah, every month!” And he said, “That’s a good idea!” We started talking about it, and we ended up signing this deal to go there once a month.
DJ Times: What was the musical atmosphere like then?
Digweed: At the time, we were massive in the U.K.—three gigs a night sometimes. We were busy, so there was no need for us to go off to America during that time. New York didn’t really have international guests then—Junior [Vasquez] was there, Danny [Tenaglia] was there, Jonathan Peters was there. It had more of a New York sound to it. I think we came in on a Friday—when they weren’t doing anything at Twilo—and we started up the night. It didn’t start off packed, but month after month it got busier and busier. I think when we left, a lot of the U.K. publications were like, “They’ll be back in a few months with their tails between their legs.” No one before had gone out and made a success of it, but after a while everyone was seeing this amazing buzz and reaction coming this night. It was organic. It was before social media and websites. It was just word-of-mouth. People just talked about it: “There’s this night on a Friday with these European DJs playing music you’re not really hearing in New York right now.”
DJ Times: It was something new.