DJ Harvey is one of the UK originators of the dance music scene. From his beginnings in Cambridge punk band Ersatz, he discovered hip-hop and DJing on a fateful trip to New York City, and later alighted upon an eclectic mishmash DJ style inspired by the B-Boy everything-in-the-pot approach of the NYC scene's first DJs. Later becoming a leading light for house music in the UK, his night Moist at London's Gardening Club cemented his reputation as a true original, where his mammoth sets became the stuff of legend, and where he also invited the legendary likes of Larry Levan as guests.
Becoming a Ministry Of Sound resident in the club's early days, he later went on to cut remixes and original productions for hip labels like Junior Boys Own, Mo' Wax and his own Black Cock imprint, while he's recently been spotted putting out cool Balearic cuts with his Map Of Africa and Locussolus projects. Currently based in LA, he has been DJing the circuit around the States on a regular basis. New York, Miami, San Francisco and Hawaii are his usual stop-offs, as well as some choice locations worldwide. But for his recent RBMA London and Warehouse Project gigs, Harvey wanted to go the extra mile and provide a soundsystem that would compliment his brand of dance music excellence and really give the partygoer a truly memorable sonic experience...
What was the purpose of fitting your own soundsystem at your recent UK gigs?
“The basic idea was to try and get as good a soundsystem as possible. My mate Mick Boyle installed the soundsystem — it was a B&W rig, we just wanted to get the sound as good as possible. All the components that went into it were good components. We used an Alpha Recordings pre-amp, which people know as a DJ mixer, customised Technics 1210 turntables with Rega arms, Shure audiophile styli, plus a value stage to get a smoother sound out of it. It was basically a really fantastic bit of kit; however, on the night we suffered a little on the technical side of things. We had some pretty nasty acoustic issues, the shape and size of the room led to some nasty reflections which affected the sound, plus we had the local tenant association complaining at the volume of the system, so we had to reduce the bass levels and retune the system on-the-fly. From a punter's point of view, they probably wouldn’t have noticed, but to be honest I think our concept was a little too high.
“We had a five-way, five-stack system. I think if you had probably been sitting in your living room in the sweet spot, you would have been crying about how beautiful it was, but when it came to going into battle as they say, there were a few shortcomings. We have learnt our lessons and next time when we come to do something like this, we will look into a little more acoustic treatments to the venue, stuff like that.”
Do you think these issues affected the (London club) Oval Space party?
“I mean, taking an overview of the party and what went down it was actually a fantastic event. A thousand-plus really cool people came out and had a really lovely time, so a rule of thumb is that a party will overrule all hi-fi. The people who are into the greatest hi fidelity are into engineering, they are not even into the music, they feed off the finer details of the sound. They can get pretty weird — anal about the whole thing, there were definitely a few moaners out there in internet land who have forgotten how to party that’s for sure — but the vibe of the event was amazing, and to be honest the sound wasn’t bad, it was actually really good. Everyone was having a good time, there was like 500–600 close friends at the event. I haven’t seen a turn-out like that in years, the “silverbacks of acid house” were at that party, the guys who started it all from over 25 years of dance music culture in Western Europe were there. Those people don’t come out in their masses these days, so to see them out was great, smiling, dancing and enjoying the music. It was an honour to play the event and my first time back in London for 10 years!”
Why did you choose the D&B Audiotechnik system rather than firm club favourites like Void or Funktion One?
“I think Funktion One has become almost the standard for a lot of touring sounds and installations, but it does have some shortcomings. Some people do accuse it of being a little harsh, but again, you know, tuning a soundsystem can go a long way to solving these problems using EQ and that. Getting rid of problem frequencies will help a sound.
“Basically, for the London gig I went with my man Micky Moist. When I do my own parties in LA, we use predominately a JBL system, an old school JBL with a classic sound. At the Oval Space party, the D&B system was Micky’s recommendation. He basically said he had access to this new system and it was a good one, and I was like, 'OK, let’s go for it', simple as that. It definitely lived up to its reputation for power and clarity, but we should have looked into the finer details, considering the venue. But hey, as they say, 'Nothing ventured nothing gained'.”
You teamed up with your original engineer Micky Moist. What was the significance of getting him back onboard for these events?
“We are really just good, old friends. He used to do the sound for me at a bunch of events like Moist and various warehouse parties, it was really lovely to link up with him again, reconnect and reminisce. He is part of my party heritage and party family. He is one of the top boys, as far as that I would advise anyone to try and get him to provide soundsystems and engineering for their parties. He still does the Mastermind sound at Notting Hill Carnival, which is spectacular. It was really just keeping it in the family and getting the old band back together.”
Do you get obsessed about the sound at your gigs?
“I think it is really important to make an effort and try and get the best sound possible within the limitations that you have to deal with. It's like, I try to have high quality new styli when I DJ out, if I DJ using digital files, I try to have high quality, high bit-rate files. It is quite difficult to get the message across if the sound is bad, if you can’t hear the lyrics to the song or if the mid range is screamingly painful — whatever it may be. “I think it is the DJ's job, the engineer's job, the club's job to aspire to be as good a sound as possible.”
So you’ve been drawn down the digital route when it comes to DJing?
“I do play quite a few CDs, as there are a lot of things that haven’t made it to vinyl, like edits, remixes or brand-new productions. As far as USB sticks/Serato, I think for me it’s a case of never say never. I thought I’d never play CDs, and I do. I honestly don’t think it really makes a difference. I think the spirit of the party and mastery of the DJ should trump all formats. Personally I like the way vinyl sounds, I like the feel and touch of it, but hey, do you like oysters, do you like snails? I like them both.”