20 Questions With John Digweed: Dance Legend on Being Productive During Quarantine, Bad Reviews & More

John Digweed
Dan Reid

John Digweed

Digweed's latest album, the four disc 'Quattro', is out now via his own Bedrock Recordings.

The metrics surrounding John Digweed's name speak for themselves: 36 years as a DJ, a 57-project discography, the first U.K. DJ (along with fellow Brit Sasha) to have a residency at New York '90s clubbing institution Twilo, the No. 1 DJ in the world on DJ Mag's 2001 poll and countless fans moved by his transportive, genre-spanning music.

The latest number to enter the Digweed orbit is Quattro, the name of his new four-disc LP out April 3 on Digweed's own Bedrock imprint. (Originally slated for an April 10 release, Digweed dropped the project early due to demand for the vinyl and signed CD pressings, physical copies that were sent out even earlier so fans could hear the project before everyone else.) The four-disc project is broken down into segments called  Soundscape, Tempo, Redux and Juxtaposition. Nick Muir, fellow Bedrock Records producer and Digweed's longtime friend, collaborates on the fourth segment.

Altogether, the project spans sounds from ambient to techno to more cinematic sounds that have become beloved to Digweed fans worldwide throughout his nearly four-decade career. Those hungry for that live feeling can tune into Digweed's weekly livestream series, the Bunker Sessions.

Currently at home in the U.K., Digweed talks to Billboard about his early influences, the time his and Sasha's classic LP Northern Exposure got panned, and how producers should pass their time during quarantine.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

I’m sitting at home in the U.K. It’s calm and quiet.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium? 

Patrick Hernandez's "Born to Be Alive" (7” Single) in vinyl.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

My parents ran a traditional butcher shop, which I worked at when I was younger. Needless to say, I quickly realized that this was not something I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I think they’re happy that I chose something that I personally love and enjoy, but at the same time makes other people happy. They also instilled the value of hard work in me, which ultimately has paid off.

4. What was the first song you ever made?

“For What You Dream Of” as Bedrock with my long-term producer/collaborator Nick Muir. The track was huge in the club circuit and was part of the official Trainspotting soundtrack.

5. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into dance music, what would you give them?

This is a hard one as there are so many genres to choose from, and everybody’s taste is different. If I were to recommend an album of mine to someone who was looking to get into electronic music, I’d recommend my Live in Montreal record. It’s a collection of music that spans over 12 hours and nine CDs, and covers pretty much everything from ambient to techno with everything in between.

6. What’s the first thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as a DJ?

More vinyl records, of course.

7. What’s the last text message you sent, and to whom did you send it?

My last text was to Malone Design who does all the artwork for Bedrock releases, asking about new artwork for the single releases we have coming up.

8. What’s one song you wish you had produced?

New Order's "Blue Monday."

9. Who are some upcoming artists that you're into right now?

Dance Spirit, Tara Brooks, London Acid, Miles Atmospheric, and Mordisco are all making great tracks at the moment.

10. What’s distinctive about the place you grew up, and how did it shape you?

My hometown is a small seaside town that has a very creative side to it. People believed that if you worked hard enough, you had a shot at achieving your dreams. I think this energy and mantra was heavily embedded in me since I was young.

11. What's the first dance music show that really blew your mind?

When I was 11, an employee in my parents’ butcher shop was really into dance music. He used to tape cassettes of the KISS FM show and mixes from NYC that included master mixes from Shep Pettibone, Francois Kevorkian, etc. These amazing mixes and music blew my mind and were one of the main reasons I fell in love with electronic music in the first place. It was so different from what was being played in the U.K. at the time.

12. Your brother George is a World Clay Shooting champion many times over. What accounts for your family's exceptional talent streak?

It’s simple: passion, drive, determination, hard work. That’s all there is to it.

13. You were the resident DJ at New York clubbing institution Twilo for years during the late '90s and early 2000s. Give us a classic crazy-night-at-Twilo story, please?

One of the most memorable nights for me was when there was a small fire on the second floor of the building. The fire department had to be called, and the crowd had to leave the building. We made an announcement and the packed club was empty in a matter of minutes with everyone leaving in a orderly manner and waiting patiently outside on the sidewalk. It was cold and even rained a bit, but nobody left, and after nearly two hours, the fire department said it was OK to open the club up again,

When everyone came back in, the energy was insane, and I played 'til past midday, I think. Great times, great memories, but also showed what a beautiful crowd that club attracted, as no one complained about waiting outside -- maybe as this was before social media -- so the community spirit was right there outside with everyone talking to each other.

14. You've just released a four-disc album, Quattro. What's it like to release an album during quarantine, and why did you decide to go ahead with it?

I first started working on this over nine months ago and had no idea the world would be going through a global quarantine at the time of its release. The wheels were already in motion and, to be honest, the reaction to the release has been phenomenal. With the situation at hand, people want an escape from the news and everything that is happening around them; music is the perfect outlet for this.

We also invested a lot into this project, so it would’ve been a shame to have it mothballed. What’s particularly great about Quattro is that our vinyl copies and limited CD sets sold out before release date -- a great indicator that fans are thirsty to support their favorite artists at the moment.

15. What does this album say about where you're at in your career?

Well, this is the 57th album that I’ve worked on. However, each one continues to be different from the last and forms a snapshot of where I was when I was creating it. I love all the different elements and genres on this project -- the music has depth and I think people will be playing it for months and years to come.

16. Northern Exposure is one of the most influential electronic LPs of all time. Give us a notable anecdote from the time you and Sasha spent making or touring that album.

This was the first album Sasha and I had done together since The Mix Collection in ’94. Two years later, and we started our "Northern Exposure" midweek club night, which became very successful and grew into U.K. tours and eventually worldwide tours. We decided to treat this album totally different. By embracing the technology at the time, we were able to mix to the limits with layering and effects. Musically, we also went with a more spacey atmospheric breaks vibe on CD 1, which threw a lot of people off as they weren’t expecting it. One magazine even gave it a 0/10 in their review, but this mix was a slow burner.

The more people listened to it, the more they got it and appreciated the journey we were trying to create. It has withstood the test of time, and you can listen to it now and it still stands up after 20 years. Sometimes people are too quick to judge and review something when you really need to listen to an album at least three times to really get your head around the whole thing.

17. What's your studio set up like?

Very basic. My long-time collaborator Nick Muir is the one with the big set up with all the toys hooked up.

18. Any advice for DJs and producers who can't tour right now because of the pandemic?

It’s a very good time to get productive in the studio. Make some great tracks and remixes, keep your fans updated with useful info on what you’re up to and stay the f--k indoors.

19. You're one of the most revered producers of all time. People tear up when they talk about hearing you play. What accomplishments are you proudest of?

I’m most proud of my loyal fan base that has been supporting me from day one. Without them, I would not be playing on a weekly basis, have my own successful radio show and label, and still be living the dream I began pursuing when I was just 11 years old.

20. One piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

I wouldn’t change anything I did in my past, as I believe the early struggles and hardships shape you into who you ultimately become. People have become so used to receiving instant gratification, and as a result, don’t learn the value of appreciating things when there’s no hard work involved.