UK disco edit and electro-funk hero Greg Wilson sails beyond the vinyl revival, reel-to-reel in tow
SUPER EGO "Don't you think that scratching records might annoy the people who spent a long time in the studio making them?"
I'm snickering at a jaw-droppingly antiquated — yet actually quite relevant — video from 1983 titled "1st UK DJ to Mix Live on TV." It features famous, fresh-faced turntablist Greg Wilson, gracefully fending off tin-eared questions from Tube program host Jools Holland while demonstrating to an antsy, angular-haired audience what this whole "mixing records" thing is about.
The scratching bit's a hoot because Wilson — who recently emerged from an 18-year retirement and will be performing at Triple Crown on Friday — isn't scratching at all. He's merely cueing up the record, a simple act that draws gasps. "Well, that's it, that's the danger," Wilson replies to Holland, poker-faced, his soft brown Afro unshaken. "But when a record's been played in the club for a long time, people get a bit fed up hearing it, and it's nice to hear it in a different way. And that's why I kind of ... play about with them a bit."
Wilson goes on to blow post-punk minds by phasing on two — two — tables at once. Then he takes it to a whole other level by revving up his trademark, Steampunk-prophesying Revox B77 reel-to-reel effects machine, real-time sampling David Joseph's Jheri curl-slick classic "You Can't Hide (Your Love From Me)," filling out the back-end with sly loops and layering on psychedelic dub echoes. It's a wondrous bit of analog theater that I imagine, in this "digital age" I keep hearing about, would cause the same kind of pop-culture rupture if played out on American Idol today.
Or maybe not so much. Two of the big nightlife media hooks of the past few years have been the disco revival and the vinyl resurgence — twinned digital-reactionary movements that recall the late-1990s hip-hop and soul crate-digging of hometown heroes like DJ Shadow and Ren the Vinyl Archeologist, a fruitful response to the CD reissue mania of that time. Every technology carves out an implicit niche for its own backlashes. Now, it swallows them too. Despite all the retro nostalgia, DJs need the Internet to get their mixes out and research rare tunes. Plastic and silicon moving in tandem — it's a real mishmash.
Wilson, who spent his decks hiatus pursuing his production career, may still keep one hand on the vintage — that Revox B77 still travels with him — but he's made no secret of his enthusiasm for new fad gadgets, and felt that with the simultaneous rise of disco re-fever and software hijinks, a comeback was due.
"I think it's an exciting time," he e-mailed me from Australia, in the midst of a bonkers world tour to support his latest compilation of rejiggers, Credit to the Edit, Vol. 2 (Tirk). "Some people pine for the old days. But great as they were, I don't like to dwell on the past too much in a nostalgic way, but use it to inform the future. I like the way younger people, who didn't directly experience the original disco era, are drawing influence from it, reshaping it from their own perspective here and now. For me, music — no matter how old it might be — is always alive and evolving, so I'm all for bringing it into a new context."