From being the first DJ to mix live on British TV, to holding the first dance night at Manchester’s Haçienda nightclub, Greg Wilson has proven himself to fans and critics alike to be one of the greatest DJ’s of all time. Though he retired from DJ’ing back in 1984, he returned in December 2003 and for just over a decade he has been playing his disco and electro funk edits to the new wave of young music fanatics.
1. Your sets are almost entirely made up of music from previous decades yet your audience appears to be a mix of young and old. Does it surprise you that you have such a varied audience?
I’ve watched the audience get younger year on year since I started up again at the end of 2003. In a sense it doesn’t completely surprise me, many of the records I play are classics or cult-classics (tracks that may not have made a mainstream impression at the time, but were big underground tunes). However, that wouldn’t be enough on its own – what really enables these tunes to connect on a contemporary level is that they’ve generally been respectfully updated via re-edits / reworks. It’s this re-framing of the past, in a manner that suits the present, which allows DJ’s to present these tracks a new context, without the baggage of nostalgia to put off a younger audience.
2. What is it about the post-disco period and electro funk that captured your interest in the first place and still influences your work today?
It was such a hybrid of styles and directions. Disco had been declared dead by the US media at the end of the 70’s, but people were still, of course, dancing, and with Disco now re-branded as ‘Dance’, this led to a return to the underground. Artists and producers began to concentrate more on the dancefloor and less on the dollar – for example, when Afrika Bambaataa made ‘Planet Rock’, despite it’s title, his primary focus would have been localised to New York, and specifically the Bronx, where Hip Hop had evolved. All these various flavours were still played together, we hadn’t got to the stage were DJ’s split the music into sub-genres, and concentrated on ever-narrower strands. Because the mainstream focus was elsewhere, Dance music became increasingly experimental, the early 80’s a golden age of creativity, which led to the development of the subsequent Hip Hop, House and Techno movements.
3. You have been pushing for today’s society to sit down and listen to music properly through ‘listening to music’. Why do you feel this to be so important and what album out of any do you feel to be the greatest as a complete piece of work?
If you went to the cinema to watch a film you wouldn’t be nattering away to people, or busy texting, or looking at something on your computer – your total attention would be on the movie. Yet music has become something that’s there around us, rather than something we set aside time to listen to. In this way we’re diluting the gift that music brings. If I had to pick one album, I’d probably plump for ‘What’s Going On’ by Marvin Gaye – a truly remarkable work that not only spoke to the time in which it was recorded, but translates right through to today. Albums like this, and ‘Sgt Peppers’ by The Beatles, have that special quality of not only being exactly of their time, but also timeless – this is why they’ve so often topped the critics lists of greatest LP ever.
4. Do you feel there will ever be another punk or rave musical revolution, or do you think that we have seen the last of the musical underground movement?
It’s usually at the very moment people begin to feel that everything’s already been done that our minds are freshly blown by something new and unexpected. Music will always find a way to help us make sense of the world around us, we just have to sometimes dig deeper top discover the right stuff.
5. What is it do you think about the North West that has seen it play such a crucial role in not only rave scene and the bands of that time but also the club culture that came before it?
City’s like Manchester and Liverpool are not only important nationally, but globally when it comes to musical innovation. It’s surely down to their cosmopolitan nature, Liverpool as a sea port, Manchester a hub of the industrial revolution. There’s also a grittiness in Northerners, a willingness to go against the grain if they feel the situation demands this. When, in the early 60’s, the Merseybeat scene was developing, with the groups, including The Beatles, looking back to the Rock & Roll era for their inspiration, they would have initially been viewed as behind the times by the Southern based music media, harking back rather than looking forward (although looking forward in their eyes meant following the bland path of Cliff Richard & The Shadows, the major UK pop force prior to The Beatles blowing the old order apart).
6. What are you working on now and do you have any exciting plans for the future?
It’s a massive year for me, with a particularly important new venture – the setting up of my new record label, Super Weird Substance, which is launched at Dry in Manchester on Record Store Day. I’m also busy working with my remix partner, Derek Kaye, we have a number of releases either just out or imminent – Blancmange, Gilberto Gil, Joan As Police Woman and Steve Mason included.