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Greg Wilson Interview

In Depth Conversation With the Electro Funk King

Mancunian DJ Greg Wilson has never been in finer fettle. Placed in the pantheon of greats ever since his epochal electro funkin' disco sets at Legends (Wigan Pier) and most notably the Hacienda in the early to mid '80s, his return to the world of dance music has been incendiary.

After a long hiatus from public view, he returned in 2005 with a collection of his most notable, classic re-edits ('Credit to the Edit' on Tirk Records), and began to spin again at increasingly high profile gigs and festivals, combining his original, old skool sound with tracks from the rapidly emerging contemporary electronic disco scene, creating a hybrid no groover in their right mind could resist.

Now a firm favourite on the festival circuit, with a whole new generation discovering his funk-fuelled proclivities, Wilson's blending of the reel to reel tape edit machine with digital technology means there's few that can equal his dancefloor destroying skills.

His new mix compilation of nuggets from the superlative 20:20 Vision Records catalogue – 'Greg Wilson's 20:20 Vision' is out now. We decided to track down the affable cat to get some info…

What kind of vibe did you set out to create with the 20:20 Vision mix?

"I was making a connection between the music that I was playing in the '80s, the electro funk, and what 20:20 Vision in Leeds have been trying to achieve. When I started DJing again, I was in touch with Ralph Lawson, and he was obviously influenced by the early house stuff, the music that I was playing back in 82, 83, it was kind of the direction that he'd taken 20:20 in. There were things that I was playing in 1983, like Cybotron 'Clear', it's kind of known as a techno track now, but played back then it was an electro track. We were making these kind of connections, the premise of the album and what excited me about it, is the connectedness in dance music and how everything kind of goes back to the past to create the future. And what I like about 20:20 Vision is that they don't focus on one particular style as such. Coming back to DJing, people see it as almost a new thing that I play really diverse, so now with things going full circle, its seen as a bit different that things aren't all one tempo and one style. With the 20:20 album, I'm really happy with it, certainly from my side it fulfils that criteria that I'm always looking for, drawing from the past, being in the present, and keeping an eye on the future so to speak. Bringing in contemporary aspects, newer records, that fit into the vibe, and bringing in the edits, a completely new lease of life, giving things a new focus."

One of DJmag's personal favourites on the album is your edit of Random Factor with the Chocolate Milk vocal ('Chocolate Factor'). Where did the inspiration for that come from?

"It's really odd, it was one of those things. Sometimes something just occurs to you for no apparent reason. It wasn't that I pulled out that Random Factor track and thought I'll try this with some vocals. It was almost like I heard the Chocolate Milk over that track for some reason. The same thing happened to me when I did this edit with Missy Elliot over the top of this old Imagination track 'Just an Illusion'. It just came to me, I didn't struggle to find it. It just fitted so hand in glove, it was just kind of made for it. It's great when things like that work. I obviously heard something in the track that related."

What are some of the more surprising things you've been playing out lately – things that people might not expect to hear you play?

"I could say for example, the Soulwax mix of the Rolling Stones 'You Can't Always Get What You Want', but on another level people could kind of expect me to play that. Because I'm not adverse to bringing in a '60s element here and there. I think some people kind of consider it to be like, expect the unexpected, but from my side it's not dissimilar to what I've always done. I do it gig by gig. I never set anything in stone. I've always been open to the vibe, that can determine what I might play. For example I played a brilliant dubbed out edit of 'God Only Knows' at Bestival. It was absolutely perfect for that. But at the same time I'll play Hercules and Love Affair 'Blind' as a contemporary thing cos it's a brilliant track, it absolutely fits into the quality aspect of what I'm trying to play. Back then I was playing these kind of tracks to a specialised audience, and although they weren 't known in the mainstream they were big tracks on that scene. The tried and tested tracks have a certain quality so to fit the contemporary tracks into that, it's gotta reach a certain quality. When something new comes along I know if it's gonna fit in with what I'm doing now. Sometimes I might try a track and I won't play it again because something slightly drops, there's a slight drop in the quality aspect. You can only find that out when you play it in a club environment, whereas I instantly know that it's something that I want to be playing. There's always gonna be something in there that people don't expect to hear. It's working with each individual crowd and letting the vibe take you. I can remember when I was playing in Manchester, this club that used to be (famed Northern Soul venue) Twisted Wheel in the '60s, early '70s. I was aware of the environment, and I had it in my head that I might play something that would have been played in there, a half hour '60s thing. It felt right at that time of night. But when I went in I was thinking about it as one final record. I don't want to block myself into a setlist. Another thing that I'm open to as well, is someone coming up and asking for something, requests. If it is Aqua 'Barbie Girl', I can't play it cos I haven't got it! There's always gonna be people coming up and asking for stuff I haven't got. But if I've got it and it fits in with what I'm trying to do, it can be something that you haven't thought of yourself and it can end up being one of the killer tunes. They can call it right! It's going back to the old skool, when I started out in the early '70s, you'd actually encourage people to come and ask for records. That was a part of DJing, it was inclusive. I don't have a problem with that either, it can turn out to be a really good addition. I'm so well covered musically with the laptop and the reel to reel that I can go in any direction musically, and that's what I always want. When there weren't 12" singles, you wanted to get as many crates of 7"s down there as possible, to cover yourself. That was the background I come from, and these old ways, its about utilising them. And to keep it from being a nostalgic thing, which I never wanted it to be, the other element that needs to come into it is to have a connection with what's happening now. In terms of the way I play, on one hand I'm using a laptop and on the other I'm using the old reel to reel. I'm bringing out the tunes from '60s, '70s, '80s, even '90s, but on the other hand also these tunes that are coming out now. That gives the older tunes a new lease. It's always what I do, it's the same with this 20:20 album, and if the balance is right between past and present, I feel comfortable with the situation. When I look at a project like the 20:20 album, when Ralph asked me to do it, what I was doing in Manchester and what he was doing when he started that label, the connectedness between the two things… I didn't want it to about 12 tracks mixed together, and there are a lot of albums out there like that. I'm not knocking it, but, you take on a project and you want to be able to bring something more to it rather than just like… There's loads of great DJs who are better than me , but I wanted to bring something a bit different and that's what I hope I've managed to achieve. "

Your re-edits are renowned but do you have any plans to move into the production realm yourself?

"Finding the time, time allowing! I'd love to have the time to put my mind back into the production. I've just done a co-production with a guy called Ilya Rudman, he's Croatian. Last year we did this amazing festival called the Garden Festival at a place called Zadar in Croatia, and I'm doing it again this year. Last year it was this amazing experience for everyone who went, it just went off, Ibiza in the beginning was the kind of vibe. I wanted to mark that in some kind of way and I spoke to Ilya, and said let's do a track, and we called it 'The Garden', inspired by the festival, and we've had some great feedback on that. Time allowing I'd love to do more, this year's been so busy, more festivals than I've done before, I'm doing Ibiza as well, I've done Sonar, so that's added into it. And I'm trying to slot in a lot more overseas dates. I'm going to go to Brazil, and some US dates on both coasts, Australia, want to get back out there as well. So there's so much stuff, and then I've got my edits and remixes as well. I need the space to get back into it. And ultimately of course I want to be doing my own stuff and there was a lot of stuff that I was doing when I was a DJ, that I'd love to go back to, like that Teenage DJ track that I did when I wasn't DJing, that helped to get my name back around. There's a lot of stuff that I did in the '90s, I was always tinkering away with stuff trying to get something going and it would be great to be able to revisit that. A lot of stuff is on tape, so it's a matter of being able to get into the studio and being able to transfer it to a digital format. I'd love to do it at some point though, and with the experience that I've gained in the last few years, I know how I can update them, and the people who could get involved in terms of doing their own mixes on it. When the time is right I'm gonna be able to re-approach it."