A Sit Down With DJ Joey Negro

12:05 Mar/11/2018

Joey Negro is the most well-known pseudonym of Dave Lee—a DJ, producer, and one of dance music's most prolific remixers. Under a plethora of other monikers including Akabu, Doug Willis, The Sunburst Band, Sessomatto, and Z Factor, Lee was one of the first artists to incorporate disco samples in house music when he began his production career in 1988. Today, he remains widely regarded as one of the most credible and in-demand artists on the global scene.



"When the DJ is playing what he actually wants to play and it’s just a few people there that are really into the music."



What trends do you not understand at the moment?

I see things all the time in fashion I don’t understand. One thing I really don’t get is how far tattoos have gone but they’re a really personal thing and people take them very seriously, I guess that’s a generational thing as well though. People didn’t have tattoos like they do now when I was growing up. I’m not sure how people where skinny jeans as tight as some people do as well, I like comfort. Some of these jeans just can’t be comfortable. We’ve all done silly things to look good though, I’ve definitely worn shoes that were too small before, just because I thought they looked better smaller!

How do you find new music? Are you constantly digging through your old records? What’s the method to your song selection?

It’s a terrible thing to say, but I get so many promos and I only occasionally look at them. But I’m better off listening to 3 hours of music I might actually like on Traxsource, Juno, Beatport than 3 hours on promos. I also listen to music on Discogs, Ebay and YouTube – I listen to a lot of old music that way. Sometimes I’m just looking for new or old records and sometimes I’ll listen to something like Gilles Peterson, and then maybe I’ll listen to music that friends send me. I mean a lot of it isn’t even stuff I play when I DJ – it’s just new music. 20% of it is stuff I might play and the rest are just new tunes that are slow, jazzy things… Unless I DJ at a bar from 6 o’clock in the evening until 3pm in the afternoon, it’s not stuff you can play at a club. You can get lost sometimes in getting so much new music. Really when you’re playing, a lot of the time people don’t want new music. People would just be happy to hear classics. It’s not really what I want to play but a lot of the time you find that it’s what a lot of people respond to. It’s not the new track – the new track you’re playing more for yourself. There may be a few people that are responsive to that but it’s not going to be the track that people are going to go home singing.

What influenced you to DJ predominantly disco music?

Just because I like it, obviously I’m pretty old, probably older than your dad maybe… I suppose when I was at school most other people in my class liked heavy metal. That’s what everybody seemed to like. I didn’t mind some heavy metal, I didn’t mind Whitesnake and Saxon or whatever, but I just loved disco music, it’s not something I can really explain in a way, I just like it.

You’ve been doing the music thing for quite a while. What else has been going in Joey/Dave’s world?

Well, I had a baby at the beginning of the year, so that’s been quite dominant in my day. The day usually starts at around 6am with me getting up and looking after the baby for a few hours. Work-wise, I don’t really do anything else. Obviously I’m in the studio. Then on the weekend I have a couple of gigs, but I try not to DJ more than twice in one weekend.

One of my favorites is the “Must be the Music.” How did you rework that?

It’s a remake of an old track I had out about 15 years ago, but the only thing that remains is the chorus backing vocals. All the drums, music and verse vocals are new. The original sounds pretty dated now: too fast and with that Subliminal Records filtered sound. However, it was a big hit here in the UK at the time, got into the Top 10 of the singles chart, so I often get asked to play it when I DJ. I thought it would be cool to do a radically different remake my own song, produce a new version I could play in my sets alongside original Disco. The idea was give it the vibe of Chic or Change.

You’ve put together a lot of compilations over the years. What are your criteria for separating the good stuff from the okay stuff?

The way I look at it when I put something like this together, is would I like this track if I was hearing it for the first time now? I try to separate that from the memories that I associate with that track, whether I was having a good night or whatever. You just have to look at it purely as a piece of music. I rarely go on Discogs, but occasionally I'll see what records are worth, like this record is worth 50 quid and this one is worth five quid. But if I prefer the five-quid one, that’s the one that goes on the compilation.

Which songs do you plan on having remixes done for? Who are some of the producers you may be enlisting?

Well, we have remixes in or coming from Ron Trent, Andres, Crackazat, Lay-Far. I’m sure there will be others over the course of the next few months. Also Z Records has had quite a few of the remixers I rate already. Money-wise remixing isn’t as lucrative as DJ work so prospective remixers have to really want to do it because they love the track and think it’s good exposure. You can always get someone to remix your release, but finding the right person isn’t always that easy.

The year’s 1993, Take That ‘Relight My Fire’ is at number one – something you had a helping hand in. What were you wearing in those days?

I personally got lost in the 90s. I think I was spending so much time in the studio I just didn’t pay attention to fashion. I think it’s a mixture of that and I just didn’t really like what was fashionable back then so I sort of just kept replacing worn out clothes with something very similar. When I DJ’d in Italy I use to like buying something a little more unique, I used to have a really nice black jacket with elbow pads, I used to love that because it looked so different and I’d never see anyone else wearing it. I guess I was more interested in music back then though.

Are you pretty hard on yourself when it comes to judging your sets?

You know sometimes as a DJ, some nights people will tell you that you were good and you don’t think you were any good. I’m pretty critical of myself and I think about how I should have played this song here and brought that song in then. And some nights to you it looks like it’s going somewhere you know (I hate the term “taking people on a journey”) – but, you know, it kinda works in that you join the dots in a good way and you think it was wicked but then nobody tells you anything. I hate listening to my live mixes. I like listening to other people’s but I’m just one of those people who prefers not to listen to their live mixes. Maybe I’ll check them before I put them online but I just find it painful listening to myself. I prefer to just be in the moment. Do it live and forget about it!

What is the process for when you choose a track and make a remix out of it? Where do you store all of your samples?

Well it depends, if I’m doing a remix like I’m doing at the moment where I’m doing it from the multitrack and whatever, I mean a lot of the thing is about finding the person who owns the track and seeing if they’ve got the multitrack. Which most of the time, with independent releases, that’s very difficult, and a lot of the time they haven’t got the multitrack. So, the major labels were better at storing their multitracks, but even then it’s probably only 50% of the song, 40% maybe, where they’ve actually got the tapes. When I was starting doing some stuff with Sony, I went on Discogs and went through everything in the Sony catalogue, from like 1965 to 1985, and thought of any artist’s I might not have thought of, because it’s obviously Sony, Epic, Arista, there’s lots of labels and then I presented them with this massive list and they didn’t have quite a lot of it. So, once you find out they have got one, then you decide “do I wanna pay a few hundred dollars to get that digitised”. Sometimes you get the parts and it’s quite disappointing, sometimes it’s missing stuff like the lead vocals, the lead strings, or it’s got all the drums bounced down to two tracks so you can’t do the things you wanted to do or the piano has got loads of spill on it which sounds okay in the track but not if you come out with it on it’s own.

So what’s the secret to becoming a reputable DJ/producer?

It depends on what sort of music you’re making, but I’d say try and do something that is a bit more than just a DJ track. Try and get a consistent stream of music out. I have friends that are music makers and whatever, and sometimes they take too long to make something and release it. To really make an impact, you need to release maybe six things in a time period and try and get them on decent labels. Easier said than done, I know, but even if you just release it on your own label, try and get some half-decent artwork, and try to make a bit of a splash.


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