John Digweed: Frequent Fader
John Fucking Digweed. He hates the term super DJ. His diary has more stops than an airline pilot’s, and he has more names in his little black book than Heidi Fleiss. His sets have the capacity to elicit Beatlemania among normally cooler-than-thou vinyl heads in any of the tens, nay hundreds of countries he plays annual gigs in. It takes him a year usually to complete the cycle and get back around to places like Bulgaria, Macedonia and Argentina. On his latest compilation,Fabric 20, he lays down a rough emulation of one of his Fabric sets on plastic.
'At the end, the most important people in the scene are the people who pay to come and see you and the people that buy your records. You are not the most important person. You are only one part of the puzzle. You should never forget that.'
“I play probably a couple of times a year at Fabric. Which doesn’t sound like a lot but with my schedule and travelling all over the world, it’s just about right. There’s enough distance between the gigs to make it special each time. It’s the sort of club also I wouldn’t want to overplay. I love playing there, I could play there every week but I think it makes it that much more special doing it a couple of times a year.”
This is John’s nineteenth compilation. This is the nineteenth compilation from the man who, with Sasha, brought us the first real DJ mix CD. Sure, it may not be those halcyon Renaissance days anymore, but to the hardest working DJ in the world, that don’t make no matter. To many people, John is like the fifth (or is it sixth?) prophet. For them, his compilations are like the one true gospel. You can just imagine him up in his chain-suspended pulpit fading The Word from one channel to the other when you listen to his mix CDs, and that’s just how he likes it. “I kind of went into it with the thought process that if I was playing out the weekend, what would I be dropping. It really does allow you to dip into those cooler house tracks, the more electronic vibe. I usually play for about five or six hours, so I was trying to create something that would reflect what I do in five or six hours in 74 minutes. I think I managed to give a little bit of insight as to what goes on when I’m on the decks at Fabric. I’ve done enough mix compilations by now to know where I want it to end up. I was really happy with the way this one turned out.”
Fabric 20 is a crystal clear goblet where you can see all of John’s latest inspirations all gliding together inside like one of those slow motion fluid dynamics videos. From Pete Moss to DJ Rasoul’s True Science, Martin Solveig to Infusion, his vision is broad. Defected, Soma, Metro, Sub Static, Alola, Kompakt, the Germans are well represented, which means that John still hasn’t strayed too far from his uplifting roots.
However, despite his own awesome success story, John is acutely aware of the state of affairs these days. And of how important his own tenacity still is. “I run a record label,” he says demurely, “so I’m totally aware of how record sales have dipped, how DJs that I play with, their diaries aren’t as busy as they used to be. The scene has gone through a bit of a change. Being part of a record label, I know that each release has to be good. I know that if we’re doing a club night, we have to make sure we are putting on a high quality night. Otherwise we could suffer as well. I think the scene needed some change though. A lot of people got complacent, letting things tick along nicely. When things like that happen, clubs aren’t turning out as much as they used to be, I think there’s a good reason. Promoters weren’t putting their 100% into it because people were just turning up.
"You have to make sure you give clubbers a quality night. You make sure that everything is perfect from start to finish. If you don’t do that, then they will vote with their feet. It’s the same with record labels. They will only do that for a certain amount of time before they think, I don’t want to buy this anymore, and they stop buying your records. At the end, the most important people in the scene are the people who pay to come and see you and the people that buy your records. You are not the most important person. You are only one part of the puzzle. You should never forget that.”
In the course of the average conversation with John, thanks to his alacrity and persistence, he has woven around himself a never-ending wall to wall schedule of events, gigs, appearances, stopovers, layovers and whatnot. The guy must have about a billion frequent flyer miles, and when John shows up at the airport, he doesn’t go to the gold lounge. They have a special oxygen hibernation suite where they pump oxygenated air into an entire hotel suite. There’s a cold bar replete with $70 a glass scotch that is all included, and a hot bar with every imaginable vice (money, folks). Well, probably some of that I embellished, but probably not all. It’s a long way to the top, but staying there can be just as hard. How stressful is the life of a Super Star DJ? “If you enjoy doing something, it doesn’t stress you out,” replies John, matter-of-factly. “You just have to make sure you are allowing enough time to do what you set out to do. I think in previous years there have been times when I have taken on too much. You’ve said yes because you think if I don’t do it, I’ll never get the opportunity again, and you end up overloading yourself. I think the most important thing is to have people around you who understand that the schedule isn’t just can you do it, but can you do it and still play your best at the next gig.
“I’m very fortunate that I have incredible gigs all over the world. I never forget that I am in a very fortunate position. You can’t just take it for granted like I’m just going to turn up and play and everyone is going to turn up and everything will be fine. You should never think like that at all. I think because it took me a long while before I gained success, I know how it is. It wasn’t like I bought some decks, recorded a mix and suddenly was playing at Twilo. There was a whole process before that, so I’m totally aware of how the scene is when you’re not at a higher level. I think that’s what keeps me grounded now because I do realize there is a whole element of hard work involved.”