DJ Harvey as Wildest Dreams
Harvey Bassett – legendary DJ, seminal master of the edit and bona fide rockstar – exudes the kind of warmth that only the perpetually cool are in possession of. We find him sat in the bar of a Waterloo hotel on the kind of evening when a stroll down the Southbank is a snapshot from a picture perfect life rather than spirit-sapping trudge past tourists in stunner shades. Coronation Street is quietly seeping out of a wall-mounted flatscreen, Bassett is surrounded by Germans and theatre-goers who’re unaware of the greatness whose presence they find themselves in. He seems completely relaxed, at ease with himself and the environment.
Bassett, a British expatriate, is visitng London to play a special Cirque de Bend DJ set as part of the James Lavelle-hemmed Meltdown series of concerts. That set – a set that Harvey promises me the night before to be a “super gay disco experience” – is incredible; four hours of deeply-dug dancefloor gold played to a crowd committed to a good time that culminated in Justin Vandervolgen’s intensely tantric, insanely orgasmic edit of Brenda & Herb’s I Who Have Nothing. This wasn’t a man playing records; this was like watching Michaelangelo paint the Sistine Chapel. It was heaven on earth.
But the evening preceding the set, we’re hanging out with Bassett to talk about his new record, an album that swaps the sweat-soaked confines of clubland’s labyrinthe darkrooms for the sandblasted, acid-washed landscapes of psych-addled garage rock. Wildest Dreams, recorded in “four days, and with everything done in single takes and left as it was”, is a ride through some far away imagined desert, a sonic bender pushed through battered old amps and caught on a set of beaten up mics, an album that stinks of the cooked and the raw.
Bassett had sat on the album for years, presumably content with touring the world being treated like a 12” toting messiah from Tokyo to Toronto. So what prompted its seemingly-sudden release on Norway’s Smalltown Supersound imprint? “Well, it didn’t have a label deal as such and the Smalltown name was brought up, and they got to hear it and an offer was made. It was a natural progression. They seemed to be a real record label with release dates and distribution and press back-up – the things that real record labels should have in place if you want to actually sell the record. So it was a no-brainer really. They were very excited about the whole thing, and if they’re excited about it, then I’m excited about it.”
Excitement is an apt word; Wildest Dreams hurtles along down desert roads in search of the perfect wave, that perfect hit, a moment of crystaline mental and physical clarity. Weirdly, it achieves this through rawness. If the Map of Africa material that Bassett worked on with Rub’n’Tug man Thomas Bullock was a case of, “recording something and then making it into what we wanted, a post-production record,” then this release is, “actually a case of recording what we wanted – nothing was added, nothing taken away. We held up a few microphones and pressed record and that was it.”
We’re intrigued to know if stepping up to the microphone (this album is far more reliant on vocals than the Map of Africa record was, or his sunkissed club tracks as Locosolus are) wiped that messianic smile off his face? “I’ve learned to not really give a damn about it. We make mistakes when we sing and when we talk and that can be the fun of it. My vocal heroes are people like Lemmy, Shaun Ryder, people like that – people who you wouldn’t think of as virtuoso vocalists, but people who get the message across because they’re heartfelt and it feels like it’s meant.” Feeling over technicality then? “Yeah. The other side of it is what I call American Idol singers, ‘you’re going to Hollywood, you can sing!’ Personally that means nothing to me. They’re not singing anything. They’re just singing by numbers. Like, I haven’t yet quite worked out what key I can sing in: sometimes I’ll have something in mind and I’ll try and sing over the chord progression I’ve written and I just can’t do it.” He’s human after all.
Given that everyone and their mum has rediscovered the joys of balearic these days, and that it’s pretty easy to stretch the definition of that genre to fit Wildest Dreams‘ mellower moments, it makes sense to dip into that imagined Formamentera shore of conversation and ask one of the scene’s kingpins what he makes of all the young bucks dropping Lady in Red at 33 into their sunset sets. “Well, when I invented balearic back in ‘94 I took the spirit of Ibiza, put it an aerosol can and would spray it over unsuspecting gentlemen from the home counties and convince them that New Beat was special, heartfelt music from Formantera. It’s another genre of now and that’s OK. I genuinely don’t know what constitutes balearic these days. Balearic to me, or the first way I understood it, was music played in and on the island of Ibiza throughout its long club history – from the mid 60s to mid 80s. Then it was transported to the rest of Europe.
"Wildest Dreams was a case of doing what we wanted. We held up a few microphones, pressed record and that was it"
“Since then it’s been open to interpretation. I think pure Balearic music still exists and is still being made – and that’s the music being made and played in Ibiza right now. That might be Taylor Swift or Garth Brooks.” Naturally, his ‘tache raises with the smirk on his lips as he drips Garth’s name from his mouth.
As the last, plangent notes of the Corrie theme tune fall into the ether, we manage to get a final few questions in. What does DJ Harvey think of Bicep et al turning all those old Strictly Rhythm records we swapped for Scandinavian cosmic disco or industrial techno from the Midlands into en-vouge club bangers? “It’s hilarious. It’s already over. We’re done with deep house. I want shallow house. I’ve got all those records.” Have your years in America turned you into an EDM aficionado? “Not only are these guys not interesting to look at, they’re not really doing much anyway – so they have to turn up in a spaceship firing out foam or whatever.” More importantly, what’s group sex on ecstasy like? “It’s always scary. Someone always misses out. And you never know who’s hand that is on your arse.” A final grin. A handshake. He’s gone.
Wildest Dreams is out now via Supersound. DJ Harvey headlines the RBMA Stage at Simple Things, Bristol on 25 October