John Digweed returns to Montreal club Stereo in a few days, and he’s a little anxious. How is he supposed to top that 11-hour set last December?
“I was booked to play 2 am to 10 am, and by 9 o’clock I was just thinking, ‘well I haven’t even gotten to half the records I want to play yet, so there’s no way this is going to finish at 10,’” he laughs. “It was just quite a magical night.”
So magical, in fact, the legendary DJ had to drop it as a six-CD box set, despite the fact he’d just released the 3-disc Restructure series. It was a move that seemed not only bold but downright ridiculous.
“I don’t know anyone who has released an album that’s been so long and then also an 11-hour one,” he says. “I don’t think anyone’s been that stupid – but, it’s been nice. The feedback, the reactions, and the reviews have all been stellar. You can’t want for anything more than that.”
Live in Montreal‘s popularity proves that, while many economists lambast wavering interest in big-budget EDM culture, real dance music fans continue to seek and support true electronic artistry. What people like Digweed do behind the decks is far from disposable. It’s a dazzling display of crowd control and sensory awareness, an exercise of great precision by a master mixer who truly cares.
“I’m probably the most unanimated DJ there is,” Digweed says. “I don’t really show a lot of emotion or crowd participation, but that’s because I’m in a real deep concentration. In order to play 11 hours like I did at Stereo, you’ve got to be focused. You’ve got to really think about where (you) want to get to in five records time.”
And just paying attention to crowd reactions isn’t enough. If you hope to pull off a marathon set of these proportions, you’ve got to be conscious of all moving parts. As soon as he walks into a club, Digweed is tuned in to the quality of sound, the state of each speaker, the lighting equipment and what the guy working them is up to. He’s gonna be sure the booth is clean and organized, and when he leaves, he’s going to check that nothing is blown out or broken, that everything is left as perfect as he found it. That’s something he learned in his early days as a club resident, and a level of ethic he wishes more DJs took to heart.
“If you just walked in and you didn’t give a shit, it shows you’re not really caring about the night in general. You’re just turning up and taking a paycheck, and for me, it’s never been about that,” he says. “It’s about trying to be a perfectionist, and that’s something that I try to do with my DJing … but I think it’s also important the club has that high standard as well.”
Stereo is exactly the kind of club Digweed likes to play, and because the staff and crowd there was as serious about the music as he was, things came to groove rather quickly.
“There’s a unity that brings you all together,” he says. “The fact that they’re still there at 10 in the morning, they’ve gone with you and they want to stay.”
Digweed was serving up nothing but newness that night, but he knew it would take finesse, so he let the build come slow. You can hear his precision in the mix. He spends the first couple of hours on a low simmer, because you can’t tire out your crowd or drop your best jams right out the gate. Around hour three, he starts to turn up the tempo, and by hour six, he’s in a full stride. It’s all power from there, ups and downs and turn-arounds, but even when it came time to close, it was more about keeping the pace than rushing to an end. It took Digweed 50 minutes to find the right finish, but again, it’s that attention to detail that makes the different.
“It’s been such an amazing crowd, and they’ve stuck with it for so long, I wanted to find the right record to end into,” he remembers. “There are two styles of DJs now, more commercial, big, main stage DJs that book to play for an hour hour and a half, come in, do their thing, put on a performance – and then there’s other DJs that really love the music, and they’re not working to a playlist. They’re feeding off the crowd, the crowd is dictating where they go, and I think that’s a more enjoyable approach.”
When he hits Stereo again Saturday night, he doesn’t quite know what will happen, but he does know he won’t be playing any of those records again. What would be the fun in that?
“I’ve got so much great music in my USB sticks, and I just want to share that,” he says. “You’re going to have those gigs that are mind-blowingly amazing, and some not, but it makes me appreciate week in and week out that I’m doing the thing I dreamt about doing when I was a little kid. I’m still doing it, living the dream and getting to play in front of thousands of people every week. There’s no better feeling than that, is there?”