Theres a whole argument about whether DJs using Ableton is the same as those using vinyl or CDs: yes, Ableton will beat match and put it in time but DJing is still about how creative you are in terms of running order and how you actually fit each record together.
Chatting down the line from his UK headquarters, definitive superstar DJ John Digweed admits hes yet to embrace digital systems for DJing, beyond buying vinyl and burning it onto CD.
Abletons been a godsend for saving time on doing my radio show and also for doing edits of tracks but for DJing I still like the feel of walking that tightrope where any moment the music might slip out of time, theres a buzz you get from simply mixing two records together, he says.
The computer will do some of the work for you, sure, but for me DJing is still about the skill of choosing the records over letting the computer mix it, You could have 15 crap records mixed perfectly by the computer but theyre still crap records. First and foremost DJing is down to having a good track selection, says John.
The still hugely popular progressive house pioneer is chatting to Skrufff to promote his new mix CD Transitions Volume 2, which is described on its press release as a contemporary snapshot of his current set, though unsurprisingly, hes done anything but grab the first few tracks from the front of his DJ wallet.
The whole concept of this Transitions series is to do an album every six months so as soon as ones finished and youve finished promoting and talking about it then within three months youre starting to work on the next one, planning around release dates, press and schedules and everything else. I was working on this one from September and it took over two months, says John.
I think you need to spend that length of time on a compilation, because if you rushed it and just pulled out the first 15 tracks and thought these sound OK you could quickly go wrong. You need to listen to the mix over and over again and if you get bored of it, then obviously there are tracks on there that arent right.
I prefer to give myself a lot more time and let the album grow on myself rather than just throwing it together then suddenly deciding the tracks arent as good as when I first listened to them. Its a long drawn out process and pretty much every album I do is similar because I take a lot of pride in these albums. Nowadays there are so many compilations out there, if you want yours to stand out youve got to make sure youve got stand-out tracks on there.
Skrufff (Jonty Skruffff): Whats the typical lifespan of a track in your set?
John Digweed: Some stellar tracks form the backbone and theyll be in the set for three or four months while there might be other tracks which only last for two or three weekends then theyre out. Also, theres so much new music coming out these days that youd almost have to be playing Junior Vasquez style 12 hour sets every week, just to fit everything in. Even if youre playing four or five hour sets theres not enough time to play all the good new music, along with the stuff youre already currently supporting. The main thing is make sure you keep playing the good stuff. Id rather play something good thats a few weeks old than another track that happens to be new but isnt as good.
Skrufff: Do you have people helping you filter all the tracks out there?
John Digweed: No, Im pretty anal with my record collection. What someone else might listen to and think John wont like that, thatll probably be the track that I like the most. This is my job and this is what I get paid to do and finding tracks is an important part of what I do; I should be the one actually selecting the stuff because at least then I go out with the full confidence that Ive personally chosen everything. I can see the benefits of having someone filtering out the real crap but going through music is something thats never really bothered me. Im a DJ through and through and thats part of the process of being a DJ. Sometimes when you listen to four or five hours of music and nothings particularly good when you come across a good record it really does stand out.
Skrufff: Do you view tracks as suitable for certain parts of your set, eg beginning, middle or end?
John Digweed: Yes, I definitely think of tracks that way so the more banging full on ones go in the latter part of the set. Usually when I hear a track I like Ill know exactly where I can place it in the set.
Skrufff: I guess youre always playing peak-time lead sets though?
John Digweed: Yes, which is another reason I like to play longer sometimes so you do get a chance to play some of the cooler, building up type tracks. Otherwise I have to play full on from the start so I dont feel I can always fully stretch myself in terms of what I want to do musically. Obviously if youre playing big festivals you go full-on from the start, because you dont need to put people in the mood as theyre already in it.
Skrufff: There are more and more DJ schools and teach yourself mixing books and CDs out there and a superstar DJ recently described the true ease of mixing as an industry secret, is it really so easy that someone can buy a £20 book and know how to do it?
John Digweed: No, youve got to have a feel for music. Anyone can learn to beatmix, sure, but what youre mixing and how it sounds together is something else. How will the records sound together? Will they be in key? Will they compliment each other? At what point in the track do you mix? Its all about knowing your music inside out and it does take a while to learn. The next generation of DJs are using digital programmes like Ableton and Final Scratch which make it a lot easier whereas before getting one record to mix into another was much more important.
Skrufff: Youre a regular in the top 10 of DJ Magazines annual top 100 DJs, what common characteristics separate people in the top too from the sea of DJs other there, are DJs at the top generally more skilled?
John Digweed: If you look at the top 10 over the last 10 years, theres always been Sasha, Oakenfold, Tiesto, Paul Van Dyk; these are all DJs who are not fresh on the scene, theyve been around a long time, building up a fanbase and if you look at the top 100 its a popularity contest in some respects. When people are voting theyre looking for some aspects of familiarity. Being experienced can be a big vote winner. Then if you look at the biggest festivals they book the biggest DJs and its the DJs that pull the bigger audiences who seem to end up higher in the poll.
Skrufff: Seems like a virtuous circle if youre already one of the DJs whos there . . .
John Digweed: Its one of those things where the festivals or the big clubs want to book the big DJs because if youre in the top 5 of the DJs and they book you then their club is full. As long as you can consistently rock the crowd, youll keep on doing what youre doing, I dont think anyones got into the top ten for any reason other than being a good DJ. Theres got to be a fanbase out there thats voting for you.
Skrufff: I noticed youve got 25,000 friends on your myspace page , you must get hundreds of requests and messages every day, do you look after the page all by yourself?
John Digweed: Its quite strange how thats developed, I didnt get onto Myspace until January 2006 and tried to register John Digweed as an address but it had gone and the guy who took it didnt respond to any emails. Then I thought Id set up another one then came across another site called John Digweed Forever. I managed to get in contact with the guy who did that and discovered it was this kid in America who saw the need to set up a Myspace page for me and he already had 20,000 friends registered on there. Thats the one thats there now, I spoke to him and we teamed up and now I send him information and pictures regularly and he uploads them. Its incredible, he sometimes gets 400 people a day requesting to join. Hes given me the password so I can have a look and Im like my god.
Skrufff: Do you use it to communicate with people?
John Digweed: Very much so, its also been really useful to get in contact with other DJs and producers that I havent been in touch with before.
Skrufff: Are you a Myspace addict?
John Digweed: Not an addict, no, but I think its definitely a useful tool for promoting yourself. I sometimes have two of three thousand messages on there and theres only so many you can respond to, otherwise youd be on there all day- youd never get any work done. Its nice that people are interested in what youre doing.
Skrufff: I noticed Sasha isnt in your top 8, are you not friends anymore?
John Digweed: Yes we are friends but Ive only just figured out how to change the top 8 and the problem is there are about 700 pages that you have to scroll through to find him. I dont know how to find Sasha to put him in my top 8 (laughing).
Skrufff: Are you on his Top 8?
John Digweed: I dont know.
Skrufff: I always imagine you and him hanging out together all the time, do you see much of each other or talk very often?
John Digweed: Yeah we do, we also just did a tour of Australia together.
Skrufff: Do you continue to share the same vision of clubbing and club culture with him as you did five years ago?
John Digweed: Yeah, I think so. Hes working on Ableton and Im on CDs but musically we still click and still find that vibe and magic together. Its great that after all these years we can still pull it off together.
Skrufff: Why did you change your hair-style so radically?
John Digweed: I started growing it out, which was something Id never done and I think freaked everyone out, because Id always had the same haircut for as long as everyone could remember. So I grew it out then decided to straighten it a little. I had it straightened in America which worked for a little while then within a month it started going curly again. I was then in Australia with five days off and I was jetlagged and bored out of my mind so I went into a hairdressers and said I want to straighten it, the last one didnt last that long can you make it a bit more straighter? So they straightened it and, er (laughing) they definitely straightened it. More than I bargained for, lets put it that way. And now I cant do anything about it until it grows out unless I shave my head and Im not going to do that because Sashas beaten me to that one.
Skrufff: How does it look now?
John Digweed: Its long and straight. Yeah, its a few more months to go.
Skrufff: What did you make of David Guettas LOreal hair gel campaign?
John Digweed: Its not something I would do, I dont think its really me. Each to their own, Davids a more commercial DJ and he reaching a wider audience with that kind of exposure was probably perfect for him.
Skrufff: How important is dressing these days when youre DJing, is it a question of grabbing a T shirt from your case?
John Digweed: If youve seen my haircut Im sure youll know that my image isnt very important to me. I think you have to feel comfortable, I havent got to dress head to toe in Prada, Im more comfortable in T shirt and jeans. I dont feel the need to be a style icon or anything like that. When youre in a hot sweaty smoky club you want to be relaxed rather than dolled up to the nines, feeling uncomfortable.
Skrufff: Eddie Halliwell told us recently that he uses moisturiser when travelling, are you a big face cream person?
John Digweed: I occasionally use face creams but Im not exactly rushing down to Space NK. I just use the grease thats left over from the meals.
John Digweed: Transitions Volume 2 is out on Renaissance on January 29.
Jonty Skrufff (Skrufff.com)