Interview: DJ Harvey
December 7, 2010
Our friends in Australia, The Blackmail, got in touch to see if we wanted to run an interview that they had just done with Harvey for their site. We of course said yes. To be honest I don’t quite understand the cult that is developing around the man but you have to say he’s got it right – the parties, the space in Hawaii and living the happy life. On top of that he seems totally genuine and speaks total sense. So over to Mr Michael Kucyk of The Blackmail and on with the program…
Text: Michael Kucyk Images: Harvey Bassett
Spanning many scenes and sounds, Harvey Bassett has been unconsciously carving his global cult notoriety for almost 25 years. As a DJ, Harvey is like no other. His infectiously positive personality seeps into his eclectic sets that aren’t limited to meaningless genrefication and often journey for six hours. Harvey will play whatever he feels, how he feels, and will never spin a lyric out of context. Inspired by his encounters with Larry Levan, he started the lewd label Black Cock with fellow Englishman Gerry Rooney and released legendary reel-to-reel edits which became heavily sought after and widely bootlegged. With a long list of credits as remixer, producer and session player, he has been involved in recording outfits Map Of Africa and Food of the Gods, as well as his recent solo project Locussolus. After overstaying his Visa, Harvey has spent the last 10 years bouncing between Honolulu, Los Angeles and New York. A newly acquired green card finally allows him to visit Australia for the first time.
Michael Kucyk: Are you enjoying the freedom of having a green card?
Harvey Bassett: Yes I am, this year I took a tour of Japan and Europe, which was fun. It was nice to get out and about. I don’t want to spend the next 20 years on the road. It’s nice to be in one place for a couple of months so I’ve been enjoying Venice since I got back.
MK: With such a large gap between visits to Europe, the UK and Japan, have you noticed a dramatic change in any club cultures?
HB: Not dramatically, no. I mean there might be a whole new generation of kids that have come through in that ten years but there was definitely a percentage of the old school represented too. It was good.
MK: Are there any new countries that you’ve toured recently with scenes that have excited you?
HB: Nothing so far. It seems like the scene is small. The venues are maybe only up to 1000 people but globally it seems to be pretty healthy with all the digi-communication and all the rest. People tend to know what’s happening.
MK: You’re involved in thirtyninehotel, a club in Honolulu. How’s that going? Does it have a community following?
HB: Pretty good, chugging along out there. I actually haven’t been out there for ages because I’ve been touring. There are definitely people there but I don’t know if they’re thirtyninehotel people. We’re open five nights a week and stuff goes on there. It could be anything from a seminar of lawyers or earth mothers to a wedding or a jazz band, reggae band, rave party. On the weekend it tends to be R’n’B based music on Fridays and dance music on Saturdays. There are regulars that come out for those nights.
MK: Has this international travel encouraged you to start digging again?
HB: When I was away in Europe I got into it but I think that was more to do with the guys I was hanging with. They’d be like “Harvey there’s a warehouse two miles from here with five million records,” and I’d be like “Let’s go then!”. I don’t purposely go out searching for them anymore but if stuff comes by way or if someone has a bright idea then I’ll go off and dig for some tunes.
MK: Did you have much luck at the warehouse?
HB: That particular spot was in Switzerland. Usually at a place with that many records it takes a whole day just to understand what’s going on in the room. It’s like “OK I’m getting a vibration from this area.” I found one or two records but I actually gave them to the guys I was digging with. Knowledge swapping.
MK: Can you recall your strangest digging experience?
HB: I remember once being in a warehouse somewhere in New York and we had a packed lunch and got locked in for a couple days with mountains high. We uncovered a full working record player so we got to listen to the tracks right there. I’ve had various rooms ankle deep in water with rats and the records are covered in dog shit from the guard dogs at the storage units. Some awful, stinking, brutal stuff. There’s also AIDS hospices where you get gay guys who have been disinherited by their families and all their loved ones have died so all their possessions end up in a warehouse. You go down there and pick up some disco records. That’s maybe morbid instead of strange but at least they go to a good home.
MK: Have there been opportunities for you to tour Australia in the past?
HB: Loads of people have said it but nobody ever made the call or took the kangaroo by the horns. I’ve always been down. I’ve even got some distant relatives and a few good old buddies out there. But this is the first time it’s actually come together and its perfect timing in many ways. It’s a good time of year and it seems like the scene is healthy.
MK: I hear that you’re an avid surfer. Are you looking forward to hitting some waves out here?
HB: Yeah man! As long as it’s not too strenuous! I might drag out a long board. I just bought a new wetsuit and I’m considering bringing it along so I don’t have to borrow someone else’s stinky beaten up wetsuit.
MK: You should watch some cult Australian surf movies like Crystal Voyager or Morning of the Earth. Both have classic psychedelic soundtracks.
HB: I’ve seen both of those. I’m big up on the surf movies.
MK: Earlier in the year I saw you play at Cielo in New York’s Meatpacking District and you opened with a medley of Justin Vandervolgen’s edits. Is he one of a few producer-DJ-edit makers that inspire you?
HB: Yeah I think he’s really good, he’s a friend. Actually I think that was the first three songs off his Golf Channel mix. I was like “that’s fucking great, I’m going to play it!”. So that fantastic mixing wasn’t me. It was Justin making it super smooth although I was adjusting it as it was playing. There’s a thing called Hot Q on the CD player which you can edit on the fly so that’s handy.
Loads of people inspire me. So many European cats making new records and edits and obviously Rub N Tug with Eric Duncan and his C.O.M.B.i stuff. On my European tour I played alongside 20 of the most happening DJs on my scene and everyone gave me a CD with 30 edits on it. And I was like “Whoa!”. Just mind-boggling amounts of rare cosmology. There’s some sublime and some ridiculous, you just have to check them all out.
MK: You’re bringing DJ Garth with you on this forthcoming Australian tour. Do the two of you share a similar spiritual vision?
HB: Spiritual vision (laughs)! There’s not a spiritual bone in my body mate. Me and Garth go back a long way. We’ve been friends for 20 years. He’s a gentleman and a scholar and a real good time DJ. I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be on the road with for a few weeks. He’s definitely part of and a purveyor of the style of DJing, if there is one, that came out of our scene in the late ’80s and early ’90s. He’s a great DJ and has a great bedside manner as I would say.
MK: How did you two meet?
HB: I don’t really remember. Probably at the Zap club or a TONKA party in Brighton many years ago.
MK: What about Gerry Rooney? How was Black Cock a collaborative effort?
HB: He would often come up with the tracks that we would edit. He’s been a collector, dealer and DJ for many years and has access to unbelievably incredibly great music. We would have some fun cutting up and editing those tracks and putting them out. Although we haven’t done anything together; although we did do a remix kinda but even that wasn’t really together. It was sort of a Black Cock record but he remixed; it was kinda official but he was in London and I was in LA and we basically did a mix each. Gerry was definitely instrumental in the Black Cock thing, for sure.
MK: He seems pretty illusive. What does he do now?
HB: He’s still DJing and dealing records. I’m not sure if he has a website that you can buy records from him or if it’s by secret phone appointment only. I know he DJs out on the scene in London and gets around the world.
MK: The names Black Cock and Map of Africa are pretty potent with a sense of perverse attraction. Were you channeling some raw sexual energy when creating the music?
HB: To a certain extent. Obviously it’s all about sex – the potency of the Black Cock, the double entendre and the tongue in cheek font. And the same with Map of Africa. Just to have fun with word play, and also secret meanings that aren’t that secret. It’s a joke but it’s kinda cool at the same time. To me so much of music is sort of a version of fourplay, especially on the dancefloor. You’re sizing each other up and it’s a version of sexual play in many ways – the way you move and express yourself, shake out or dance with someone. I like names. I often like inventing names and concepts. Obviously Black Cock and Map of Africa are prime examples of the sort of fun we like to have.
MK: Food of the Gods doesn’t feel as erotic.
HB: That’s because I didn’t make it up (laughs)!
MK: Are these just recording projects?
HB: We’ve never performed live as such. It would be nice to be able to put a live unit together and play out but me and Thomas [Bullock] basically never have the time. He’s in New York and I’m in LA, and when I’m in New York, he’s in Europe. To get a tight act together it really takes a couple of months of living together and working together every day for a few months. A couple of years later we’re deep into other projects and our solo projects so I don’t know if Map of Africa will ever play live.
MK: What can you tell me about the Rwandan Ice Cream Project?
HB: Basically these drummer girls came over to New York from Rwanda. They were holocaust survivors and had come over to learn to make ice cream so that they could take the knowledge back to Rwanda and get some parlors going to make a living. It turned out that they were members of this all woman drumming ensemble so we put them in the studio and recorded a couple of hours of songs and chants. It will be released and all the profits will go towards a Rwandan good cause.
MK: Have these girls since returned home?
HB: Yes. Hopefully they’re ice cream millionaires by now.
MK: What does a regular day for Harvey consist of?
HB: Wake up, have a cup of tea, let the fog of the night before clear, decide if I have anything to do, go to the studio, jump in the ocean. You could say I’m awfully romantic and that I get on my motorcycle, drive up to the surf and have a macrobiotic sandwich on the way. It swings between that and peeling the kebab that I slept on the night before off the side of my face. Finishing off the can of hot special brew that I left on the windowsill. Straggling down a very oily 50/50 spliff before staggering out into blinding daylight. In the last couple of months I’ve been pretty healthy and productive. I’m all about good food. A friend of mine catches a lot of fish in the ocean right in front of the house and brings back lobsters and flounders. I would imagine Australian’s are quite used to that behaviour but it’s pretty exotic for an Englishman to actually be able to cook local fish caught a hundred yards away.
MK: Are you eating some quality tacos?
HB: Yes. Without question, the best Mexican food in the world outside of Mexico is in Los Angeles. There are some phenomenal tacos of every variety. I like to eat the ones from the traditional Hispanic taco trucks that feed the workers. You can get three carnitas tacos, a seafood tostada and a Mexican coco cola for five bucks and you’re stuffed and ready to go back to cleaning toilets. Happy and full.
MK: What do you think you’d be doing if you didn’t get into DJing and producing?
HB: Absolutely any kind of mundane brainless job like greeting people at the supermarket. A job that wouldn’t take up any of my brain so that my brain could be left to meditate. I once worked in a factory where the speed of the machines was such that you couldn’t day dream, or you’d loose a finger or two in the blades. I actually learnt to slow the entire productivity of the factory down by turning a particular knob. It was just slow enough so that everybody in the factory could daydream and everyone was happy and could get the job done. But this is where the party’s at and I don’t want other people spoiling party time.
As we said at the top this article first appeared on the ace The Blackmail site. Follow them for more. Thank you kindly to Michael Kucyk.