In the ’90s, Brit DJs Sasha and John Digweed pioneered and popularised progressive house (or just ‘prog’) with their cult mix-CDs, the first being the influential Renaissance: The Mix Collection. They’d spearhead a British invasion of the US, ironically reintroducing house to its homeland, where the music was traditionally underground.
While the charismatic Sasha, an infamous party animal, would be heralded in clubland as “the Son of God”, Digweed is respected for his quiet dedication to dance music, and his remarkable consistency as a club and radio DJ. He was voted No. 1 in DJ Mag’s 2001 poll.
In October, Digweed and former session muso Nick Muir will unveil a bold ‘event’ album, The Traveler, led by the single 3B3, with a science fiction theme. They worked on it with the notoriously shadowy John Twelve Hawks, author of 2005’s bestseller The Traveler, part of The Fourth Realm Trilogy.
So determined is Hawks to conceal his true identity, and avoid surveillance technology, that he only ever communicates via the Internet or by calling on a satellite telephone using a voice scrambler. Yet Digweed hung out with him. Oddly, it was the writer who proposed their collaboration.
Hawks contacted Digweed through a publisher, revealing that his DJ mixes had partly inspired The Fourth Realm saga. Hawks narrates The Traveler album, reading passages from the novel, his voice disguised by software. In November, Digweed, a big traveller himself, will return solo to Australia for a club tour.
Watch: John Digweed & Nick Muir Feat John Twelve Hawks – 3B3
Music Feeds: You have this intriguing new project, The Traveler, with Nick Muir – and the mysterious John Twelve Hawks. What can you tell us about that exchange?
John Digweed: We live in a world of selfies and people publicising themselves as much as possible and [so] it’s quite refreshing to meet someone who actually wants to live “off the grid” and doesn’t want to be photographed and recognised and wants to live his life not in the spotlight.
[Hawks has] got the way he wants to live his life. He wants to live off the grid. He doesn’t believe in a lot of the privacy laws and all that kind of stuff that governments are imposing. So he’s definitely got that George Orwell mentality of Big Brother watching you. So he’s a very interesting character.
Both Nick and myself were very honoured that he entrusted us enough to meet with us, to do the voiceovers in our studio, rather than down the telephone. Because obviously the quality was a lot better, but we actually got a chance to meet him, spend some time with him, hang out with him.
We’ve really poured our heart and soul not only into the music but [also] the packaging. The CD looks like a book with 32 pages of amazing images that our designer’s done, with all the info on the album and stuff like that. It’s just a real collector’s piece. What we try to do with the label [Bedrock] now is make things that people wanna keep. They want them because it’s a nice memento as well as being a great piece of music.
MF: You lately tweeted, “Nerves play an important part in pushing myself to stay fresh.” It’s surprising that you’d ever get nervous – especially at this stage of your career.
JD: Yeah, when I turn up at any gig, I still get nervous. I think that’s because there’s more DJs out there now than ever before, so there’s more expectation from your crowd. They’ll be like, “Oh, well, he’s been around. Can he still deliver as much as the young guys?” So for me it’s about making sure not only that I’m giving 110 percent, but I [also] wanna make sure those people who come to hear me play wanna come back and hear me again.
I think nerves are a good thing – it shows you care, it shows you’re passionate about what you do, and it also shows that you want to deliver 110 per cent. If I just turned up and didn’t care, I think it would show within my music and the way that I play. I might as well mail it in, just do the same set every night. [But] I’m not just serving up the same thing that I’ve done all month with a couple of tweaks.
It’s literally each gig for me is different. I try to do something different – not only for the crowd but [also] for my own sanity. I can’t imagine doing this DJ set off a playlist where you just do the same thing every night.
MF: Over the years a lot of barriers have fallen away in electronic music – house, progressive and techno all fused together. There isn’t that old tribalism. Would you agree that people are more open-minded?
JD: Yeah. Sometimes when you see people go, “My favourite DJs are Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Skrillex and Sven Väth,” or something like that, you’re thinking, “How do you go from liking all those different styles of music?” In England when the rave scene started, you were either into one sound or the other. You didn’t deviate from that. You were tribal. You nailed your flag to the mast and that was the sound that you liked.
If you were at a festival, you wouldn’t dare nip over to the girly garage stage or the more commercial [stage]. You were either at the techno stage or the underground arena. You wouldn’t go, “Oh, I’ll just nip over and see the main commercial act.” It just wouldn’t even register on your radar. I think now people are more open. They’re like, “Well, I like this kinda sound and I like that one,” and they dip into different styles of music.
Maybe that’s a good thing. At least they’re getting to experience different things and they can make their mind up based off all those different experiences on the night. But I think what happens then at a festival is people are going shopping. They’re like, “I’ll just nip in here for 10 minutes – and then they’ll go over there for half-an-hour.”
Listen: John Digweed – Live In Miami Preview
MF: It must be fascinating for you with what’s happened in the US. You and Sasha were touring there in the ’90s and some of the US DJs were grumbling, “They’re exporting the music here and yet we’ve been here all along.” But it’s evened-out now. What do you make of the EDM phenomenon? Is it now part of the mainstream culture there?
JD: What’s interesting about the States is I remember when there was the first electronic explosion in the late ’90s. There was Sasha, myself and Underworld and Orbital and all those bands coming through and all the magazines were all getting excited and going, “Electronica – it’s gonna be a big thing!”
But MTV never got hold of it, daytime radio never got hold of it and so it never had a chance to go bigger than it did because, if you can’t get onto daytime radio or MTV in the States, you’re gonna stall. You’re not gonna go any further.
It wasn’t until David Guetta made that record with Kelly Rowland [2009’s When Love Takes Over] suddenly it was on daytime radio and everyone’s like, “Hey, dance music, let’s check this out, EDM,” and it just exploded from there.
The level of investment is insane over there. I’ve played Electric Daisy Carnival [in Las Vegas] and it’s just amazing. I mean, the level of production – even if you had earplugs in and you weren’t listening to any of the music, just to visually soak up what’s going on around you – is incredible. I’ve never seen anything like that at any festival all around the world. So I can’t see it slowing down any time soon because, if you’re 18-years-old and you go to that, you’re just gonna have your mind blown. You’re just gonna be like, “This is incredible.”
Listen: John Digweed & Nick Muir Versus Guy J – Heaven Scent
MF: You’re coming back to Australia for a club tour. Will you play any material from The Traveler in your sets?
JD: There’s probably only one track, ’cause a lot of it’s kind of downtempo or electronica. So there’s only one track, called 3B3, which has a kinda old school acidy vibe to it. But I’m really excited about coming and doing the club shows in Australia. I think the one in Perth is already sold-out – so that’s really nice to know several months out that the tickets have all gone already. Obviously Melbourne and Sydney, I always have an amazing time. Yeah, I think it’s gonna be a nice little tour.
MF: Your name is still linked with Sasha’s. You toured here together in 2006. Is there any chance of you uniting again?
JD: It’s one of those things. Yeah, it’s something that could happen in the future. I think it’s gotta be the right thing. At the moment we’re both enjoying doing our own things. [Sasha has] got his [label] Last Night On Earth and [Ibiza party brand] Never Say Never, and I’ve got my Bedrock events and stuff like that.
MF: I remember Sasha once saying he’d never do any kind of ‘retro’ thing…
JD: I think both of us lean towards that as well – we wanna be seen to be moving forward, rather than looking at the past. We’ve both got a great history musically, but it doesn’t mean to say we need to go back to it and go, “We’ll start doing retro sets.” For us, it’s about just playing quality new music.
John Digweed returns to Australia in November. Details below.
John Digweed Australian Tour Dates
Friday, 14th November
Prince Bandroom, Melbourne
Saturday, 15th November
Garden Party at Chinese Laundry, Sydney
Tickets: Chinese Laundry
Saturday, 15th November
The Met, Brisbane
Sunday, 16th November
The Stables Bar, Perth
Tickets: The Stables Bar