Dance Music Veteran Bill Brewster Visits India
Ahead of his debut four-city tour of the country, the UK writer/producer talks about DJ history and keeping an ear out for new music
For someone who was once a chef and football/sports journalist before becoming an important voice in UK’s dance/electronic music circuit for 30 years, it’s important to know what Bill Brewster thinks is common between football and DJing. The writer/producer says with a laugh, “I suppose the joy of football and DJing is that you don’t know what’s going to happen.”
Brewster, who co-wrote Last Night A DJ Saved My Life (which encompasses the history of disc jockeying) and is editor of DJhistory.com along with his long-time collaborator Frank Broughton, will be in India for his debut tour, between November 17th and 20th, in New Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai and Pune. He’s coming in en route from a show in Dubai. He says, “I’m actually flying to Dubai tonight and I’m doing a show in Dubai on Saturday and then on Sunday, I’m flying to Delhi. So I’ve got one show there, four in India and back home. I’m playing Russia the following weekend.”
In an interview with ROLLING STONE India, Brewster talks about picking his sets, watching out for new music and his next book. Excerpts:
Is this going to be your first time visiting India?
It is, yes.
Have you followed any of the producers and DJs from here at all?
No. I don’t know anything about current Indian music. I do collect some older Indian albums – I’ve got stuff by R.D. Burman and Bappi Lahiri and all that sort of guys, but I don’t really know much about what’s going on now. I’m bringing my camera and my recorder over and I’m hoping to interview few people while I’m over.
Is that usually what traveling to a new country involves?
It really depends on how long I’m staying in the country. Often, when I’m doing a tour, I’m only going to be in the place I’m playing at for one night and then I move on to somewhere else. I’ve got a few days to spare in India and I want to make use of those to do some interviews. It’s a huge country and obviously there are strong connections between the UK and India. I’m very friendly with a number of people in the UK who are of Indian origin, but British. I work in the studio with a guy called Raj Gupta, whose parents are from India.
I know a reasonable amount about Indian culture but I just don’t know much about India the country itself and the current electronic music scene, so I’m fascinated to find out what’s going on.
For someone who’s been following the electronic and dance music scene for so long, what is it like seeing its reach extend to countries so far off, in places like Dubai and Bali?
It’s fascinating, because obviously, for a lot of these countries, it’s quite new and exciting for the people that are young DJs starting to play, maybe kids in their bedrooms playing with basic electronic equipment. It’s all quite new and fascinating. That’s quite a nice thing for dance music generally, because that sort of enthusiasm re-energizes the scene, I think. We’ve had quite a strong dance music scene in the UK, particularly in London for 60 years. It’s a very well established and big thing over here. But obviously, if you go to other countries and it’s not quite established and in many ways, it makes it more exciting and interesting.
Documenting DJ history can probably be a very herculean task at times, right? What’s the most challenging thing about it?
Yeah. When we first started writing and doing the research for Last Night a DJ Saved My Life, for a start, there were two of us doing it, so it halved the work a little bit. We did about a 150 interviews. We spent a lot of time in the New York Performing Arts Library, we spent a lot of time in the British Library. We just talked to a lot of people, really. To a large extent, it was sort of an oral history. We created the narrative for it, but we relied heavily on people’s testimony. We were really proud of that book when it came out. We had no idea it would take off the way it did, though. It’s been translated into a number of languages now and the English language version has sold many copies. We’re just really grateful for how it’s done.
It’s been six years since The Record Players: DJ Revolutionaries, your last book, came out. Are you and Frank working on a new one?
We’ve got an idea for another one, but it’s a bit like having a baby, you know? You have to have had a rest before you get to the next one. It’s so exhausting. So we’re just gearing ourselves up. We have a specific idea but I don’t really want to talk about it otherwise it’ll jinx it [laughs].
How do you keep an eye out for new DJs?
It’s a mixture of things. I’m lucky because I know quite a lot of producers so I get sent quite a lot of stuff. Then I talk to people as well and go to record stores. It’s just a kind of informal network that you build up. I’ve been doing it for 30 years now, so, you do end up having quite a lot of contacts and that’s really crucial in terms of staying on top of what’s going on. Usually, every Thursday is my day when I spend all day listening to new music and deciding what’s going to go on the show that week.
Coming to your sets, are you ever tempted to play a ‘History of Dance Music’ set or something on those lines?
People do occasionally say, ‘Can you play a set like this?’ and I’m happy to do that. I have done that, but if I’m just allowed to play what I want, I tend to go all over the place, really. At a show, you just have to entertain them and make them dance. And hopefully, you’re going to play music they don’t know and that they’ll want. That’s what your job is – you’re introducing people to music that they don’t know about.
What is your set for the India shows going to be like?
I’m going to bring all the stuff that I normally bring, but I work from a USB stick now, so I’m bringing about 500 songs with me. And then, I’ve brought a few Eastern/Indian-influenced stuff as well, which I’ll try and work into what I’m going to play. So we’ll see.
I think people probably book people like me to bring a little flavor of London to India, rather than me coming over and playing loads of Indian music. I don’t really see the point of that, because people I play to probably know a lot more about Indian music than I do. So I don’t want to patronize them.
The more prevalent things DJs are today recognized for, at least in the mainstream, is the DJ Mag Top 100 rankings. What are your thoughts on it?
Well, it doesn’t really have much to do with me, and I don’t think it has much to do with DJing either, personally. But it does help that magazine stay in business and I think from that point of view, it’s a good thing. But I looked through the list this year, as I do every year, to see if I’ve ever heard of any of the people, and I counted 27 DJs that I’d heard of before, one of whom I actually do know. The rest of them, I’ve never heard of them in my life.
I think it’s a little bit of a racket, but it’s a racket that keeps the magazine in business and I think from that point of view, it allows them to do other things that are credible and a lot more worthy and probably nearer to their heart, to be honest. But for me, I’m not interested in it at all.
You usually follow a lot of football as well, I can see. And you write about it. Is Football like DJing in any way?
[laughs] I suppose the joy of football and DJing is that you don’t know what’s going to happen. There’s so many things happening when you start out on a night, as there are in football. You don’t know if you’re going to draw, win 6-0, or lose 6-0 and you’re always filled with hope when you go to a football game. Obviously when you go out for a night, you’re also hoping for a good time as well. I’d say football is more heartbreaking, though. Certainly if you support the team I support.
Which team is that?
Grimsby Town, we’re in League Two. It’s my hometown team, so I’m not really interested in the Premier League. We’ve been relegated many times when I’ve been following them, so it can be pretty heartbreaking. But you know what, there’s more pride attached in supporting small hometown teams than in supporting Manchester United. For me, Manchester United are a team that belong to the world, so I don’t feel very much connected to that. Whereas the team I support, it’s essentially people who come from that town and support that team. It feels more like a community thing.
Soul City: Bill Brewster India Tour 2016
November 17th – Antisocial, New Delhi w/Ikonika, Moniker
November 18th – Koramangala Social, Bengaluru w/Robby Banner, Stalvart John
November 19th – Bonobo, Mumbai w/2Sensitive, LoboCop
November 20th – High Spirits, Pune w/FUNC
Event details here.