Name: John Digweed
Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: John Digweed has just celebrated 20 years on radio with a special edition of his Transitions radio show. To tune into Transitions and John Digweed's other podcasts and mixes, click here.
Recommendations: I have books people should check out — “Irresistible” by Adam Alter and “The Traveler” by John Twelve Hawks.
If you enjoyed this interview with John Digweed, visit his website, facebook account or soundcloud profile for background news, current updates and music.
If you want to go deeper, John Digweed's long-time creative partner Sasha also answered the 15 Questions interview.
You've talked a lot about how you started DJing. What about radio – how did you get involved in it?
In the ‘90s, Kiss FM was the biggest station in London and was well-known for playing the best underground music. I had always fancied having a go at presenting my own radio show to see how it might be. So, in 2000 I finally got a chance to host a show and the rest is history, with it expanding to over 80 stations around the world and with over 14 million listeners a week.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
I have always been lucky with the people I have worked around, and have been given some great advice since I started. I was always taught to speak clearly and naturally with pauses and to not sound too rushed, so I don’t suddenly change into some radio voice — it’s just me talking about the music I love.
What were some of the main challenges and goals when starting out as a radio DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing for radio, compared to, say, playing out at a club, that makes it interesting for you?
I love the fact that with radio you can play so much amazing music that is not always based on rocking the dancefloor. Sometimes the biggest club tracks don’t translate as well to radio as they do in the clubs. I love storytelling with my sets so having a radio show allows me to do this even more sometimes. There is so much great music being made all the time and radio is a great way to bring it to people’s attention.
I've always been fascinated by the fact that the very same track can sound entirely different when played by two different DJs in their sets. What's at work here, do you think? What is it about DJing that transforms the music into something new?
That’s always the sign of a great DJ and how they program their tracks in their sets. You could give 10 DJ’s the same 10 records and they would all play them differently, but only a few would play them in a way that would make sense.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I had one cheap second hand turntable and small, realistic mixer, then I saved and bought a second variable speed turntable. It was very hard to mix on them, but also made me very adept at mixing records for when I finally saved up and bought some Technics SL1200’s. At the moment, I am currently using the new Pioneer CDJ3000’s and V10 mixer for my home DJ set up.
How do you today make use of technology? Relatively speaking, would you say technology has become more important or less relevant for your DJ sets compared to when you started out?
The technology out there now is so incredible and allows you to do so many things while playing, but, firstly, for me the main important thing is still playing great records and then using the technology in a way that enhances what I am doing in a positive way. Sometimes overusing the effects takes away rather than improves a DJ’s set.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
A day in my life now during lockdown and before are very different. There is no rush at the moment to get things done, as before I would normally leave for the weekends gigs. I have enjoyed not having jet lag for the last 8 months, but really miss the social aspect of being and playing in clubs.
Let's say you have a radio show coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
I go through new music every day of the week, and I am always thinking where a track might fit in a set or on my radio show. I have been doing this for so long now it’s become second nature to me, and I find it very easy putting a radio show together. I can hear a track and know straight away if I want to play it on the radio or not.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Sometimes I have no idea what I am going to start my set with, and it even might take me 2 or 3 records to get into my groove once I have started. I really thrive off of the reaction and feedback from the crowd that pushes me on what I choose to play next. I tend to prefer to be in the zone with few people in the booth and no distractions so I can focus on my set and give the crowd 100%.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
I tend to go through my tracks during the week and write comments as well as rate the energy levels so I have a good idea of the mood of every track. I add these to a weekly playlist for reference. The more you play them, the more you feel at home with the tracks. The sheer amount of new music every week means sometimes I am adding 100+ new tracks a week to my record folders. I just naturally have a feel for tracks’ vibes and energies, so when I choose the next track it complements and adds to the energy.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
I did my weekly Bunker live streams for the first six months of lockdown starting in March and played over 60+ hours of music. I think I only repeated about 4 or 5 tracks over the whole period. It was possible to make each 2-5 hour set totally different every week, and was something I enjoyed doing every single week. I think hearing a DJ read the room correctly and play based on his feelings rather than having a pre-planned set is a way better experience for the crowd.
How do playing music at home and presenting it in on the radio compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
I think if you know how to place records correctly it will make total sense in whatever environment you find yourself in. The skill is always in the programming.
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
Happy faces and a room still full of energy is best. To me, it‘s not always about having to keep playing and playing until the last 20 people are left. I would rather play until it feels right to finish the party, leaving the crowd wanting more.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
It’s been important to me to make sure the artwork for my label Bedrock has always been on point, with clever, well-thought out designs and images. Having a strong, well-designed image on a vinyl can help build longevity for your label.