Oval Space, London | October 19th
DJ Harvey is a man that needs no introduction. But here’s one anyway: pioneering taste-maker from the mid-80s onwards; walking, talking encyclopaedia of leftfield disco, house and techno; legend of the ‘scene’ for decades. He hadn’t played in London for 10 years, so his appearance at Oval Space (financed by Red Bull Music Academy) was greeted with huge excitement.
A lot of people had problems getting tickets, which was probably more due to the scale of demand than the dark acts of marketing (sell a tiny amount of tickets, create ‘buzz’ and febrile internet-clamour, release a few more, repeat until sold-out). There were also long queues to get in — again, with an event this anticipated, that was to be expected, but it led to a handful of angsty club-goers.
Upon entry, however, most people’s frustrations evaporated. The speakers were positioned so that as soon as you walked into the main warehouse you were blasted by an all-encompassing loudness; surprising and impressive for a venue of this size. As you walked towards away from the entrance, though, the cavernous ceiling started to act like a giant reverb column, and most people coalesced around the speaker stacks to escape the echo and hear the music more clearly. Reverb is a problem in any high-ceilinged venue, and either Harvey himself or the promoters had employed a sound engineer to limit it, a cheery lady with a pair of expensive-looking headphones who stood contentedly behind a gigantic mixing desk.
In a smart and unusual move, the DJ booth was placed at the centre of the space at the same height as everyone else. We usually (and literally) place DJs on pedestal, so it was heartening to see someone of Harvey’s stature want to get in amongst the plebs. The bar staff were friendlier than your average East London hipster-automata, with their occasional smiles and dancing (!) helping to create a somewhat wholesome but definitely fun atmosphere. Oval Space also benefits from a large smoking terrace attached to the left side of the main warehouse, and was pretty full of chatting revellers all night long.
But we were all here to see Harvey, not the venue. He was on fine form, high-fiving and hugging punters in between selecting records or mixing, responding to ID requests with a smile and (so it turned out when I asked) an anecdote about where he bought it, a biography of the act who made it, and then a slap on the back of said punter. His enthusiasm for dance music of whatever genre was genuinely infectious, and over the course of the night he treated us to a wide range: from 12-1 (when we entered), slow, chugging, Andy Weatherall-style disco and house; 1-2, faster house of his own Locussolus brand; 2-3, up-tempo leftfield disco from late 70s obscurities to present day; 3-close, pretty much anything went, but the tempo was always up. If you’re reading this review to find out what tracks he played you’ll be disappointed — most were pretty obscure, although we’re pretty sure he played Pigbag’s Sunny Day at some point, and Tom Noble’s Africa Bump was there too. But watching Harvey play isn’t about train-spotting tracks; it’s about the atmosphere, and on this count, Harvey’s still the man.
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Words: Rob Bates
Photos: Steve Stills for Red Bull Music Academy