house pioneer dj harvey on catching waves and shopping with larry levan
i-D met up with the disco don for The World Wide Web Issue in 2012, and ahead of his performance at Fabric tonight pay your respects to a legend.
DJ Harvey is not just a DJ. He is a DJ Legend. A pioneer on the UK house scene during the '90s, Harvey's eclectic tunes and flawless ability to read a crowd have ensured he is in demand the world over. Founder of the legendary Black Cock edit label, today Harvey spends his days catching waves in Hawaii - where he co-owns contemporary art gallery thirtyninehotel. Here's our discussion with the discman from 2012.
Hey, Harvey. How's the surf?
It's amazing, there's always a wave in Oahu.
Bit different to the UK then.
Very. Cornwall can be good on a good day but it's always cold.?
How long are you in Hawaii for?
These days I spend half my life in Hawaii! I play once a month at our space at the thirtyninehotel, the night's called Doublejoy Disco, and then usually stay a week or two after to surf, eat fresh fish and hang out.
How's the sound system there? I heard you got hold of some original Loft gear?
We now have the original system from The Loft. I'm busy putting it together at the moment.
Sounds exciting, tell me in detail what you've got?
Klipschorn speakers and Mark Levinson ML-2 amplifiers. The speakers are from the late '50s and the amplifiers were hand built by Mark Levinson in the mid '70s.
Has owning your own space always been the plan?
It's a dream come true to have a space in Hawaii with the ultimate sound system where I can call the shots.I put it down to good disco karma.
You also DJ at Love in New York, how's that?
Love's a great club with a fine Gary Steward sound system and all the tools someone like me would enjoy to use. NYC has a disco legacy and there are enough people at Love who understand what I'm trying to do.
You play 12-hour sets - sound-wise, how do you approach that??
I take the crowd into consideration and the pace of the evening, start off easy, build up through the night before ending up easy again. Its not like the UK where the club shuts at 2am, we'll be in full swing till 9/10 in the morning, I need to provide an atmosphere.
Has living in the sun opened up a Balearic side to your set??
My set varies from night to night depending on where I am. The last Sarcastic disco party in LA was 500 people in a large warehouse so I played dirty warehouse dance music. It wasn't the place to start playing yacht rock.
The move to the US elevated you to cult leader, did this surprise you??
I don't really think about it. I've lived in England all my life so I wanted to live somewhere else. It could have been Bangkok but lots of my friends had moved to California so LA was calling. In Venice Beach there's 300 days of sunshine, that was definitely a factor.
Do you have any plans to DJ internationally again?
I'd like to tour Japan, East Asia, Europe and England, catch up with some people I haven't seen in a while... but nothing too stressful.
The price of Black Cock releases continue to escalate on eBay, I looked recently, there are bootlegs going for $350. What do you make of this??
On eBay there are at least five full length CDs released under the Black Cock alias, which do not have anything to do with me whatsoever! Somebody is using my name to sell their thing. It shows a great lack of courage, and is very bad disco karma.
You created a monster! Can you explain where the idea of Black Cock came from?
Re-editing had been part of the New York scene for a long time and a natural part of a DJ's job, but for a good ten years virtually no one was doing it. So when? I heard Larry Levan play an edit of South Shore Commission, which I couldn't get hold of because it was his edit, me and Gerry Rooney decided to do our own. We didn't put our names on the record, it was done out of love and for some tongue in cheek fun. Whereas there's no fun in the DJ Harvey bootlegs, there's no-one sitting there goin', 'I'm doing this because I love disco music and because I love DJ Harvey' they're doing this because they love money. They love sushi. And they can't afford it. I'd love to see them put their own name on it and see how many it sells.
So are there any plans on a Black Cock reunion with you and Gerry?
We were considering doing a box set, with an added white cock 10-inch on white vinyl and maybe a yellow cock 7-inch on yellow vinyl.
What direction are you taking the records you're playing at the moment?
In this day and age I'm more a personality DJ. Rather than me determining what's played, the people, the venue, the location and the time of day determine my sound.
Are you still learning? Are there still musical avenues to explore?
Oh most definitely, I hear a fantastic record every day. Who would have thought people would be listening to Turkish Psychedelia or that High Energy would have become so popular. Just think of the music you dislike the most, and you'll probably be really liking it in about four or five years time! Especially today with all the downloads you can get your hands on pretty much anything, there's very few rare records left.
Do you feel your trade as a DJ is in danger because of downloading?
It doesn't worry me, but, when I turned up to DJ at the Miami Winter Music Conference and stepped up to the turntables to play, they didn't work. No other DJ had played records so no one had discovered they were faulty. So I had to DJ the entire night on one half working turntable. I was the only DJ with records. It was definitely a sign of the times.
Do you think it's the end of the record?
No, I think there will always be DJs that play vinyl, it's the finest medium for getting the music across, and there are still millions of records on the planet so there's still plenty of fuel.
I once heard this story about yourself and Larry Levan going to Romford market to buy some stonewash jeans. Is this true?
That is true. Larry called me up and said, 'Harvey I've found a fantastic boutique, I want you to come visit it with me' so we travelled all the way to Morden, then had to walk for 2 miles to find this place. Larry brought these stonewash jeans with one grey leg and one red leg in denim. And then this baseball cap with a mirrored peak, a rhinestone studded leather jacket and green crock skin shoes.
Did you get anything?
No, I was trying not to be spotted!
Are you inspired by any other DJs?
I rarely get a chance to hear DJs. I don't go clubbing and these days I often play the whole night myself. I have absolutely no idea what's going on in clubland, I just chug along in my own little world.
Text Dean Langley
Photography Shusei Tsukahar
[Originally published in The World Wide Web Issue, no. 322, Winter 2012]