Q&A: DJ Harvey On Phil Spector, American Idol, KGB Theremins And The Only Two Kinds of Music in the World


Thirty-three years ago Harvey Bassett had his punk band’s song played by legendary DJ John Peel on his BBC radio show. He was 13 years old. He has been on musical walkabout ever since, becoming a world-class DJ, bringing back the Jamaican soundsystem and single-handedly reviving the disco edit. His quarterly Sarcastic Disco parties in Los Angeles are the stuff of legend and feature him—for twelve hours. No opener. No breaks. No fanfare. He has one of the most loyal fanbases and is arguably one of the greatest living DJs whose sets zigzag through whatever genre he’s feeling at that moment. He shook Santos Party House last Saturday (for a measly six hours, pshaw!) in celebration of the release of the debut album by his new project Locussolus. We got a chance to chat with the man just as he was finishing up his set for Tim Sweeney’s Beats in Space show, and he was in a punchy mood.

You’ve managed to be in so many scenes just at the right time: punk, hip-hop, acid house, techno, disco. You’re like a counterculture Forrest Gump. How does that happen?

(Laughs) I’m just worried that I’m missing out on something. I’ll be walking down the street and see a line of kids outside a club and they all look interesting and I’m like, “What the fuck’s going on in there?” It could be something I don’t know about that’s peaking right now. This is back in the day for that scene and if you don’t check it out then you’re off it. So I’ll sniff it out & realize OK, they’re just listening to the Smiths. (Laughs) I walk down the street in New York, I look at a beautiful chick and I think “SHE KNOWS ABOUT SOMETHING I DON’T!” I want to go where she goes on Saturday nights. And then I realize “Oh, she’s just listening to the Smiths too.”

Everyone everywhere is just always listening to the Smiths.

Yeah, basically!

So was it a conscious decision to move toward production, or did you just feel it was time?

I think it’s just the way stuff happened. I always liked the idea of Phil Spector—whenever you see footage of him, all he does is dress well and hang out in the studio. And great music gets made.

The guns help, too.

Just point guns at the Ramones and they’ll make a great album. I’ve never seen footage of Phil Spector actually doing anything in the studio apart from looking weird. He doesn’t even say anything! All you have to do is look good in the studio and shit happens. They don’t ask whether there should be five pianos on the track, they just know there should be five pianos.

Do you enjoy singing? It seems like you’re doing it on more and more tracks lately.

Uh, I don’t really, but I kinda sing more like “Why not?” What’s the guy’s name from the Happy Mondays?

Shaun Ryder.

If Shaun Ryder can do it, then so can I. Or the guy from the Pogues.

Shane McGowan.

If Shane McGowan can fucking sing then so can I.

If Shane McGowan’s alive, you can literally do anything.

Yeah! And I think it’s not about really being able to sing. I mean if you look at American Idol and you got all these people who can “sing” and they’re fucking awful! It’s about whether you can actually portray a feeling.

You used to make your disco edits on an Atari. These days people are using Nintendo Wiis to make dubstep theremins. What’s the world coming to?

Really? Wow. That actually sounds amazing. Theremin had developed a room in which you dance within, but it was very very sensitive and he had Russian ballerinas in there but it hadn’t been fully tuned. He was actually a KGB agent. He’d invented a passive microphone that didn’t need batteries and these Russian boy scouts made a wooden sculpture to be placed in the American Embassy and they had a bug in the embassy for like, thirty-five years there which was untraceable because it wasn’t powered!

I’m not quite sure what to say about that. Let’s talk about Locussolus for a bit. Did you enjoy working with a group of people as opposed to just going it alone?

Yeah, definitely. I never release anything that didn’t make me fall on the floor laughing first. Every idea has to be a giggle—even if it’s serious, it’s gotta be fun, but it’s never serious. Maybe a serious good time. So the communication helps ease you through the project instead of just sitting there on your own masturbating with your own tears.

Oh God. Are tears good lube? I guess it depends how thick you cry.

(Laughs) Yes it does.

DJ Harvey’s Locussolus…The Album is out now on International Feel Records. Preview it at SoundCloud.