DJ Harvey, prominent thread in the cultural fabric of disco and the hedonistic party music at large of the ’80s, ’90s and now, just woke up. It is 12 p.m. Venice Beach Time, which is about 8 a.m. in Universal DJ Time, and despite the fogginess of morning, Harvey is as sprightly as ever and presumably wearing his hair scraggly and long, looking carefree and exuberant and a little bit like a cousin of Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway. “It is the crack of noon,” he bustles down the line.
Harvey Bassett is one of those evergreen creatures in music who’s moved comfortably into each decade wearing a cloak of complete relevance. At age 13 his band was being played by John Peel; in the ’80s he was buds with Larry Levan; late ’80s to early ’90s he threw raucous dance parties in his hometown of Cambridge, UK, with his Jamaican-style soundsystem; late ’90s he was a resident at the Ministry Of Sound in London (when it was actually good); now he still throws a corker of a party known as Sarcastic Disco, where sets of 12 hours are not uncommon.
His own personal brand is smilingly larrikin and devil-may-care, and his music goes in for the kill at the primal, or sexual, level. Harvey let it all hang out when he named his reedit label Black Cock Records, and Map Of Africa, his project with fellow firestarter Thomas Bullock of A.R.E. Weapons and Rub N Tug, was named after the shape of the post-coitus sweat stain left on the sheets of a bed. His latest solo thing, Locussolus, is less overtly sexy in name but still retains it in sound—the disco-oriented singles now grouped together for a self-titled album via Uruguayan label International Feel are specifically made for cavorting around to on the dance floor. His lyrics are appropriately saucy and contain references to Spam (“I love Spam! Spam isn’t quite as bad for you as you might think,” he says) and honey glazed hams. These, of course, are euphemisms.
Locussolus…..The Album by International Feel
How is Locussolus different from the other stuff that you’ve done, and why did you choose to release it under this name?
The project before Locussolus was Map Of Africa, and that was really an exercise in soul lighting, really. Me and Thomas wrote 14 original, or 13 original songs, and it was not necessarily designed for the dance floor. It’s more like a sort of bar, bedroom, car type album. I’ve made records specifically for the dance floor for a long, long time, so I thought it would be nice to release 12-inch singles that are designed for DJs and dancing to, and that’s the main difference really—the direction of the music.
You described it as “adult dance music.”
Yes, definitely. That’s probably the kind of music I DJ, is kind of adult dance music in many respects. I don’t know, how can I explain … I mean, I said to my son, “You can’t understand the blues until you’ve had your heart broken by a woman or whatever, and you can’t understand my music until you’ve had group sex on Ecstasy.”
Are you encouraging your son to do that?
No, but he’s 19, and he should have by now.
How do you feel about actually putting your own vocals on tracks, because I know that you were saying back in the day—this is from a previous interview—back in the day, DJs were also talking over their own records, it wasn’t just the MC.
I don’t know about that, I just sort of stumbled into it. The same thing happened to me and Thomas in Map Of Africa. Neither of us could sing, but he couldn’t sing more than me. So we had no choice, you know? Rather than bringing someone in, some overachieving singer that’s going to become a diva or suddenly wander off, I figured I might as well do it myself.
I can’t stand overachieving singers—if you look at something like American Idol, all those kids can sing, but they’re all fucking awful, you know? It’s about being able to convey the feeling in your heart and soul. Over the last few years, I’ve been getting a little more confident and not actually giving a damn what it sounds like and just trying to convey a vibe—which is usually just fun, you know, nothing too serious.
That’s definitely reflected in dance music, because that’s also about conveying a vibe.
Well definitely, yeah. Celebrating life and wiggling around and stuff, it’s all a good time.
Absolutely. And it sounds like you’ve kind of made a career of trying to enable people to have a good time en masse.
Yeah, I mean, it wasn’t contrived. I’m just another DJ who puts records on and that’s it, really. I’m just an entertainer and nothing much more than that. Some guy came up to me in Japan, some drunken Englishman, and he said, “Ah, you’re a prophet, you’re a prophet, we’re all your disciples,” and I told him the only thing I can prophesize is what the next fucking record’s going to be.
Well that’s enough for him, evidently.
Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of odd. I enjoy a little hero worship, and I have many heroes, you know. People I’ve held in high esteem. I get star struck and stuff like that, so I can understand it. There’s sort of the legend in my own lunchtime, and it’s great. It pays the rent, and I love the roar of the crowd, but it’s not something that I’ve set out to do. I mean, I’ve considered being a cult leader or a guru or whatever, but you have to be an asshole to get a group of people who will worship you and do whatever you say and you can fuck them all—but it’s not a job for nice guys.
So what then are your thoughts on the way that these days a lot of people put DJs on a pedestal?
Well, let’s take it the other way around. So you take your average Joe Schmoe who works in a fucking awful job, whatever it may be, and lives for the weekend, and they go to a nightclub, and there’s someone there—you know, the whole thing of “last night a DJ saved my life”—that actually does happen. It’s like people are liberated from their everyday mundane existence and put in a place of ecstatic celebration and socialization, and who’s there to blame for that? The DJ. So in some respects it is understandable. You have this sort of church-like atmosphere with the crowd and the DJ up in the pulpit express love and vibes for people, so you know, it is understandable, of course.
The only thing I have to say is that I don’t think DJs are very interesting to look at. I think that the people should be the entertainment—the DJ provides the audio part of the entertainment, whereas really the people should provide the visual part of the entertainment. When I go to the nightclub, I’m looking at—well, I don’t know—I’m looking at the people dancing, I’m not looking at the DJ standing there, you know. So it’s a little bit odd that everyone faces the DJ when he’s just standing there. I don’t know if you’ve heard the story of me smashing up all the equipment at Meredith Festival in Australia?
No, I didn’t hear that story.
So basically, you don’t put me onstage in front of 8,000 people and expect me just to fucking stand there. I felt like Wolfgang Puck making pizza, it was just so boring. When I was a kid, rock stars dropped from outer space—you had Funkadelic, David Bowie, Roxy Music, Gary Glitter. These were not humans, these were cosmic space gods. They were entertainers, whereas an anorak-wearing furry DJ that looks like he’s wearing pizza is just not fucking entertaining. So I channeled Keith Moon and smashed up the whole DJ set, did about $10,000′s worth of damage and forwent my fee for that particular show. But I just thought, “What are you guys looking at?” So I gave them something to look at.