Closer edits: An interview with classic DJ dynamo Greg Wilson

|
(0)
PHOTO BY IAN TILTON

In this week's issue of the Guardian, I finally got the total fanboy pleasure of writing about, and talking to, one of my true DJ inspirations, electro-funk originator and dance edit king Greg Wilson. (He'll be performing at Triple Crown on Fri/19). Kicking his career off in 1975, the man has the kind of stamina and skills most spinners can only dream about. (And I didn't even get into the fact that he was the first professional DJ hired for a regular gig at the hugely influential Hacienda club in Manchester.) In the late '70s and early '80s, Wilson provided a crucial link between the often segregated black soul and white dance scenes -- he was known as a "black music specialist," eek -- and his panoramic edits were the fruitful results of his colorblind cross-pollination. Here's our email chat in full, his replies coming after a "brilliant night in Melbourne," Australia.

SFBG: It's such perfect timing to have you come to SF for the tour. We're finally getting an edit fan scene going here, as well as our usual host of groove revivalists and analogue equipment fetishists. As to the US edit scene in general, I'm wondering if you've heard and what you think of some of the newer acts and labels like Wolf + Lamb, Soul Clap, Tensnake, and SF's own King & Hound. I'm also curious as to your thoughts on more established soul re-editors like Moodymann. Are there any other Americans you particularly admire? I'd like to try to tease out some of the influence you've had here in the past 20 years.
Greg Wilson: I suppose it's been more the other way around, with me editing or mixing tracks by US artists. On [recently released compilation] Credit To The Edit Vol 2, a third of the album is made up of US tracks -- "Don't Turn it Off" by 40 Thieves, "Starlight" By Escort, "Oh Snap!" by Nick Chacona & Anthony Mansfield and 'One Life Time To Live' by Gary Davis. I've obviously picked up on some of the US edits, via Prince Language, Rong, Rvng Of The Nrds etc, but there's probably loads of good stuff I'm missing out on.

SFBG: Can you tell me the story of your relationship with [musician, DJ, and Green Gorilla crewmember] Anthony Mansfield? You talk about it a bit in the liner notes for Credit to the Edit Vol 2. I'm hoping you can expand upon that a bit, since he's such an integral part of the scene here.
GW: Anthony introduced me to a lot of the people on the San Francisco scene when I was last over. The remix I did of 'Oh Snap!' was a big tune for me, and we've become friends as a result. When I came over in 2008 he took me to Haight-Ashbury, which, being a '60s obsessive, was the first place on my to go to list. He also took me across the Golden Gate bridge and right up to where you look out over the Pacific. The fog was rolling in and it felt like we were at the edge of the world, which I suppose we were in a sense. It really was one of the most incredible sights I've ever seen.

Greg in one of his 1984 electro promos

SFBG: Obviously and strangely for the US, it was the excellent BBC Essential Mix that reintroduced you to many of the heads here, even though you'd been active again for years before that. Of course, the only way we heard that mix was over the Internet, which brings me to my question. One of the differences from when you were DJing before your retirement period has got to be the ways in which DJs and  music-makers distribute music and promote themselves. I know you're open to using the latest technology to make tracks. How do you feel about the current digital distribution era, and can you talk a bit about what it was like in the past? It seems a far cry from the record pool and radio days.
GW: Yes, two very different times -- back in the 70s and early 80s, I received promo copies from all the UK companies, and bought US imports from a shop called Spin Inn in Manchester, which was the only place in the North to shop if you wanted to be taken seriously as a black music specialist. It was these two sources that kept me ahead of the game back then. During the Electro era I also began receiving promos from a few New York labels, which gave me exclusives on a few tracks like 'E.T Boogie' by the Extra T's and Indeep's 'Last Night A DJ Saved My Life'.

Nowadays most of the stuff I pick up on is sent directly to me online. I still buy stuff from places like Juno and Piccadilly, and have records and CDs posted to me, but the majority of newer tracks I play come to me via online contacts. The Internet is key to everything I do, without it I could never have returned to deejaying in the way I have, and certainly not toured around the world.

I think it's an exciting time. Some people pine for the old days, but, as 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 have direct experience of the original disco era are drawing influence from it and re-shaping from their own perspective here and now. For me, music, not matter how old it might be, is always alive and evolving, so I'm all for bringing it into a new context.

My Essential Mix illustrated this, balancing the past with the present. This is what I always strive for -- connecting back, but moving on. I was shocked at the overwhelming positivity response to the Essential Mix. I'd expected it to appeal to some, but not to others, but it was almost totally positive. I also hadn't taken into account that within days of it being broadcast in England, it would be uploaded onto blogs worldwide. I had no idea that it would have global impact.

Greg in 1976

SFBG: One of the reasons I think the edit scene is so hot in the US right now is not just because editing technology is so readily available, but because edits are a slight technological tweak to classics that serve to introduce these songs to a new generation in a relatable way. They're not the exhaustive distortions of techno dance remixes, but neither are they the technophobic "rare grooves" Holy Grails of the purists. The sound seems to be a perfect balance of creative manipulation and relaxed classicism, which seems right for the times. Am I just pissing on myself theoretically?     
GW: For me, it's as simple as putting together a version of a track to play out yourself. This may be a straightforward edit, or a little bit more involved, bringing in outside elements. It might be a simple extension, or it could be a track you love everything about, but for one part, which you can now cut out. It gives older music a contemporary twist, which I'm all for if it's done with love and respect for the original.

SFBG: About that wonderful Revox B77 of yours. Can you get a bit wonky  about it -- what's the model, how do you store it and transport it, and how do you keep it up? Fanboys are dying to know!
GW: I have my own B77s (flight-cased) for UK gigs and we hire them in when I play overseas (Revox R99's also work for me). I used to take my own on the flights around Europe, but it could be steep on the XS. It can give the promoters a bit of a headache tracking them down, but everyone has managed to find a unit somewhere. People would be disappointed if I turned up without one, as it's an essential part of what I do - spinning sounds, samples, and textures over the tracks I play, and creating dub fx. It's become my trademark and on the rare occasions when I do DJ without it I feel really weird. I don't know where to put my hands!

Also from this author

  • Hills are alive

    Sing your heart out at Musical Mondays. Plus: TT the Artist, Sweater Funk, DJ Harvey, Mr. Oizo, Lex 17, more nightlife 

  • Late entries: Juan Atkins, Mykki Blanco, Corn Dog Day, more

  • On the Rise: Avalon Emerson

    A playful combination of house and techno, preferably listened to on a big club sound system