The revered techno DJ breaks down his masterful mixing technique.
All of which stands in contrast to his personality away from the DJ booth. Sharpe is generous in conversation, seems to adore talking shop, and is only too happy to share some of the vast amount of knowledge he's accrued over the years. Every Thursday, you'll find him helping to develop Ireland's next generation of DJs and producers through the one-year, full-time course he teaches on, apparently the only one of its kind in the country. He's been a host on national radio, Ireland's RTÉ 2fm, and up until a couple of years ago he produced a video series called The Quarterly Crate, a roughly three-hour show in which he highlighted the best recent vinyl releases.
More recently, though, plenty of Sharpe's focus has been on matters far beyond dance music. As one of the principal figures behind the Give Us The Night campaign, Sharpe and his colleagues have been pushing for overhauls of Ireland's archaic licensing laws—"We endeavour to highlight the contribution of the night-time industry to culture, community and the economy in Ireland, and to raise the quality of nightlife to international standards," their mission statement reads. Sharpe seems to be absorbed in the campaign with the same vigour and energy you find in his DJ sets, but the challenge for him right now is keeping his DJing at the extremely high levels he demands of himself. I saw this level firsthand when I caught Sharpe at Corsica Studios in London, on one of the last Friday nights before the coronavirus began decimating the club scene.
Thinking about the set at Corsica Studios, you were playing more groove-based and percussive than I'd necessarily associate with you. I was wondering about the factors that go into a decision like that. When and how would that decision be made?
I think from when I leave the house and when I've packed the records. I pack my record bags like a record shop—I have all of the sections. New arrivals. Old classics. Groove-based, tribal. Electro. Ravey stuff. American stuff. Whatever it might be. But when it comes to that late '90s, early 2000s kinda loopy, tribal type records, I've always got a few of those to hand. I feel in the scene now I'm also trying to fill gaps of what I don't hear DJs playing as much. Luckily I've got a big enough collection to go back to some of these tracks.
When I'm DJing I think of myself as a team player. I want to fit into the night, in two different types of ways. I'm thinking about the time of night. If it's earlier I do want to have more rhythm and more shuffle going on. I want people to move their bodies in a different kind of way if possible. At lots of events I'm at now it's very kick-drum dominated with very little swing.
I don't just want to make a statement around how heavy I can go. Here's the biggest sledgehammer kick you've ever heard. There's far more to techno than that. Far more than who can play the hardest, who can play the fastest. There are all sorts of nuances to this music. I don't want my sets to be dominated by me trying to show that I'm the toughest and fastest and heaviest. I think techno in general has started to lose the plot in that regard. I would like to see people dance in different ways, or respond to different types of rhythms.
How important is it to you to play tracks that people might actually leave the club humming? I'm thinking tracks with some sort of anthemic quality, or something people might already know, like the Luke Slater remix of "The Horn Track" that you played.
It's about playing those tracks that people might talk about the next day to their friends, or they might be asking me about them the next day. I've gotta say as well, I know a lot of DJs are quite protective over the tracks that they play. And to be honest, sometimes someone will ask you for a track ID and you do think, "If I give them the track ID, maybe that goes up online and I don't feel like I can play that as often." But it's not my track! I didn't make it! Do you know what I mean? I have a duty to let people know what that track is. I always want to let people know what I'm playing.
Our industry can be very harsh and unforgiving on the people who built this music and this scene over the years. Generation after generation, there are producers who get left behind for one reason or another. Maybe it was for monetary reasons. Maybe they weren't as good at the social media game. Or they weren't in a clique, they were just doing their own thing. There are certain records that I will play—a great example is some of the old UK techno, London techno acts. District 1 or Spira, who made incredible techno records back in the day, but you'd be hard-pressed to see any conversation about them now online, whereas back then there would have been. Someone I'd really like to talk about as well is Space DJz—Jamie Bissmire and Ben Long, you're talking about two of the best techno DJs who have ever played, you know? I feel it's unfortunate there are people like that, whether they are DJs or producers. They may have made decisions to do other things and not to gig as much and they're not as prominent as they used to be. But I'd like to think that some of these people would still have a place in the scene.