For someone whose music career kicked off when, at age 14, the legendary BBC radio DJ John Peel played one of their songs, it would be easy to look back on the good old days. But in his 50-plus years on earth, the passion of DJ Harvey (aka Harvey Bassett) has not dwindled an ounce.
A founding father of the Balearic sound (where disco can sit alongside Fleetwood Mac or a 1980s synth work out), Harvey exudes all the charm of a middle-aged Englishman: he’s half rock-star, half sober-surfer, and all smiles. If you’re looking for a primer on Harvey’s eclectic tastes, they’re laid bare in an excellent Boiler Room session in which his second track comes from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971).
“These are the good old days, mate!” he enthusiastically declares over the phone from sunny Venice Beach, having just returned home from a European tour.
“I don’t like moaning about a train you missed 20 years ago. There’s one rolling through right now!”
Known as a meticulous curator and creator of the parties he throws, Harvey’s DJ life began on Brighton beach in the late 1980s. When I ask him where it all came from the answer was simple: “It came from going to a load of shitty parties. Parties where I was abused by security, unable to take a decent shit and unable to hear the music.”
For many in the trade, Harvey is the “DJ’s DJ”, but he sees himself as an entertainer above all else.
“You’re providing entertainment for the people in front of you, so I don’t think there’s any point in trying to be a teacher or an educator or some kind of like, purveyor of rare and expensive records”, says Harvey, in a statement seemingly aimed at the forum on Discogs, the world’s biggest online vinyl marketplace.
He takes a serious tone when I ask if he’s ever had a crowd walk out on him.
“Um no, because I’m a professional DJ and I play the music the crowd wants, not necessarily what I want” (in the distance, more faint moaning from Discogs).
However, the “Keith Richards of the cross-fader”, as he’s been described ad nauseam, is never apologetic about his views. He speaks with an assured tone that could feel confrontational if it wasn’t constantly interrupted by a genuine laugh.
Yet his “rock-star” aura is hard to ignore, and I’m compelled to ask him about the Rolling Stones’ bad-boy comparison.
“I’ve heard that Keith Richards has been described as the DJ Harvey of Rock and Roll,” he responds. “So you know, we both gotta live with that!”
To hear Jimi Hendrix is one of his heroes comes as no surprise. It certainly doesn’t get any more rock and roll than smashing all your equipment to end your performance, as on his last Australian visit.
“Well, I am an entertainer after all,” he deadpans.
Harvey also entertains the notion that with age comes wisdom. “You know it’s a very fine line between being a party animal and ODing. It’s all very glamorous while you’re doing it and then all of a sudden it’s not so big, hard and clever to have drunk yourself to death.”
I ask if his newfound “cleaner lifestyle” has changed the way he plays.
“Not really, no,” he says. “I don’t feel like my style or outlook has particularly changed. I saved some money on my drugs bill.”
Harvey see’s no separation between his DJ persona and his real life, even if that life is unrecognisable for most. “What you see is what you get. I’m me all the time. I don’t put on a rabbit mask when I DJ,” he says, “Although I did put on a gimp mask the other day, but that’s another story.”
While enthused about his Australian dates, he is appalled by Sydney’s controversial lock out laws. “It just sounds fucking ridiculous to me. Trying to stop something like people dancing is one of the most stupid things I’ve ever fucking heard. Entertainment should be looked upon as something that celebrates the culture of a nation.”
Ever the optimist, Harvey urges us to lobby our local governments and “elect people that lean in your direction.”
Another place where he takes the vote seriously is the dance floor. Harvey once said “there is no hype about DJing. The people vote with their feet.” When asked to expand on this he simply tells me that “if the crowd aren’t enjoying it they could easily walk out. They could stand still, then throw bottles of piss, THEN walk out.”
Needless to say Harvey isn’t expecting any bottles of piss during his upcoming Australian run. Expect to see an entertainer with a cheeky grin, maybe some damaged equipment, a master tallying dance floor “votes” and a hybrid rock-star/sober-surfer playing for the masses. All things considered, it’s easy to see why DJ Harvey is convinced these are the good old days.