DJ historian Bill Brewster digs deep for this week's RA podcast.
Originally hailing from Grimsby in the North of England, Bill Brewster's first passions were football and music. Already amassing a substantial record collection whilst he was writing for football magazine When Saturday Comes, he was then approached to write for Mixmag, eventually becoming the one of the editors at their New York branch. It was there that he met writing partner Frank Broughton, with whom he compiled the hugely successful How To DJ (Properly) and Last Night A DJ Saved My Life books.
The duo's most recent venture into the literary world is a collection of articles and reviews by Rolling Stone scribe Vince Aletti, who was among the first journalists to write about disco. Brewster also runs the popular DJ History site, which apart from serving up interviews and features from some of the legends of dance music, acts as a hub for eclectic selectors worldwide through its forum. Where else would you get to read a dissertation from disco intellectual Daniel Wang, or have Ian Dewhirst school you on the history of the most expensive record of all time?
The popularity of the forum, especially in London's disco-loving community, has contributed to the success of Brewster's Low Life parties. But it's the music that keeps the crowds—and guest DJs—coming back. (He's even managed to coax the much-bootlegged French disco wizards Arpadys into playing their first ever live show at Cargo on April 30th, which coincides with the release of a compilation of their archived material on the Tubetracks label.) As with every Low Life event, Brewster will be taking to the turntables to showcase how a real veteran DJ plays (properly), but you don't have to wait until then for a history lesson from the man. This week's RA podcast sees Brewster jumping back and forth through the decades with a wide variety of disco and house treats, with a few curveballs along the way.
What have you been working on recently?
For the past year Frank Broughton and I have been working full-time on DJhistory.com our website, trying to develop it into different avenues. At the moment we're just about to publish our first book (by another author): The Disco Files by Vince Aletti. It's coming out in two weeks' time. We've got another two books planned for this year and we're currently working on about five book ideas. We've also got the Le Disco: Tele Music Remixed album coming out shortly and to celebrate that we're bringing over Arpadys, the legendary cosmic disco band behind the original music, to perform live in London. It's the first time they've ever played live as Arpadys!
How and where was the mix recorded?
It was recorded in a variety of ways. I used both original vinyl and digital files, I mixed some of it live on 1200s and an Allen & Heath XONE62 and then I did a bunch of editing on Garageband, I rarely do any mixes totally live now, I don't see the point. Live mixes are for playing live and mixes on the net are a chance to add a bit of spice to the mix and do a spot of judicious editing where need be.
Can you tell us a little about the mix?
It's sort of a representation of what I would play live, so the tempo changes quite a lot, but often gradually so it's not noticed particularly. I've thrown a few classics from our Low Life parties in there and some proper old school classics like Curtis Mayfield, just because I can't bear to just do a mix of obscurities, I find a bit dull, frankly. And it represents all modern dance music eras, from 1971 up to today.
Your Low Life parties have become a resounding success, selling out Corsica Studios with little or no promotion, and attracting a large female contingent. Care to reveal your secrets?
Ha ha. Yes we do have a strong female contingent. I'm not sure there's a secret per se, but we've been doing them 15 years so we're pretty confident as to what makes a great party: great people and great music. We've got both bases covered now. We've got brilliant resident DJs, we've got a great crowd, a mixture of loyalists who've been coming for years and a lot of new blood who have started coming in the past few years. And we try and do them in interesting locations. The last one was in a squat in Hackney. The next is in a warehouse in Limehouse. And we never do too many, so demand always outstrips supply.
What are your thoughts on the currently thriving edit scene?
I suppose it's gone a bit ridiculous, really, but 95% of any scene's records are crap. The job of a DJ is to sift through the avalanche and pick out the ones worth having and it's the same with the current edit mania. Lots of rubbish, but some real gems in there too.
How did the Vince Aletti book come about? Did you visit Matthew Higgs' "Male" exhibition?
We didn't visit the exhibition but Matthew got in touch with me when he was doing it to ask if I was interested in receiving a copy of the Record World columns they'd reproduced as part of the exhibition. Frank and I thought it would make a great idea for a book (we were just in the process of setting up our little book publishing venture at the time) so we got in touch with Vince who we knew from interviewing for the Last Night A DJ Saved My Life we did in 1999 and Vince said yes, fortunately. We're really proud of the results. I think it's a great document of the 1970s disco scene, possibly the definitive document.
What are you up to next?
The next book we're planning is Raving, which is a collection of raw but vivid pictures from 1989 raves around Slough in Berkshire done by Gavin Watson (who did the Skins book previously) and his brother Neville. That's out in July. Then after that we're hopefully just about to do a deal with Boys Own to do a Best of Boys Own book which would come out in September. We're also presently licensing two albums: Secret Weapons and An Overdose of the Holy Ghost: Gospel Disco. Bloody Nora, we're busy aren't we?