Pre-publicity interview for Dave’s Joy Division lecture, New York (March 2010)

The full interview with introduction can be seen here; http://thewhiskeydregs.com/

You’re the only person I’ve heard of who DJs as well as writes. What do you find in common between both mediums?

Ewan Pearson who DJs mostly in Berlin now; he’s a writer too, though not as prolific as me. He’s also a producer though, and has recently produced albums by Delphic and Tracey Thorn. But, as you say, it’s a rare combination. It’s worked for me though. The main similarity is evangelism and excitement; my DJing comes from getting excited about music and wanting to share that excitement and my writing comes from wanting to share ideas or stories. The biggest difference is that writing is very solitary and cerebral. I love DJing because I can indulge the more social/visceral side of my personality.

What or who influenced you to write? In other words, what came first: DJing or writing?

Hard to say because a lot of the ingredients of being a DJ I was into when I was very young; playing music loud, making tapes for people, thinking what do I really like and finding out more about the bands. All that was before I’d even seen a turntable or been to a club. And what drives me as a writer – being questioning and being interested in the world and how it works – again I guess that was around very early in my life. I was a geeky little boy who loved to read the newspaper and watch the news.

You have DJ’d for Stone Roses, New Order, and even toured with legendary DJs Paul Oakenfold and Paul Van Dyk. You’ve also DJ’d at Hacienda 450 times during the rise of some seriously good music coming from Manchester. What was it like being part of these influential movements in music?

At the time – if we’re talking about 1986-1994 or something – then it was a bit chaotic and also although I knew I was part of some things that were exciting and unique I never thought of that at the time. It was always about “what’s next?”

All three of your books (Not Abba: The Real Story of the 1970s, Manchester, England: The Story of the Pop Cult City, and Adventures on the Wheels of Steel: The Rise of the Superstar DJ) discuss musical and cultural history. What inspired you to write your first book?

I had done some freelance journalism in NME and the Face in the late 1980s and even before that I had a fanzine, so I had written for magazines but I wanted the challenge of a bigger project and I wanted to be able to go really deep into subjects. I spent 5 years working on my first book, and didn’t show it to anyone, let alone get paid an advance or whatever. I thought it might be the only book I ever write so I wanted it to be MY book. Luckily when someone prised it from my grasp and sent it to an agent she phoned me up and said it was a stunning work and within a week I’d signed a book deal.

I read that you once cooked cauliflower cheese for Morrissey. For those of us who have never had the luck of meeting him, what could you tell us about the experience? We love him here in the States, too.

Actually my favourite personal anecdote is when Sonic Youth slept on the floor of my apartment – it was a ‘flat’, that’s what we call them in England – but you want the Morrissey one?? I guess in NYC everyone has a Sonic Youth story! Well, Morrisey was very polite and it was before the first album so he wasn’t a big star particularly. I wanted to interview him for my fanzine and I didn’t know if he wanted to sit in a pub and drink pints of beer with me so I invited him to my flat and because it was early evening I said I’d cook for him. After the interview we actually went and had a drink and then afterwards he sent me a postcard. Even back then though (January 1984) he had a persona, a shell, and I met him a few times afterwards and I’ve never been sure who the real Steven Morrissey is and what he thinks and feels, or even if there is a real Steven Morrissey.

Since you brought it up. What’s the Sonic Youth story? We can’t ever get enough of Sonic Youth here in New York.

I used to put on bands, and in 1987 along with a guy called Tim Chambers, I put on Sonic Youth at this Irish club in Manchester. I was very into what was then still I think ‘underground’ American rock (the previous year Tim and I promoted Big Black’s first ever gig in Europe, in what Steve Albini called in his tour diary a “homo bar”). Anyways, it was great, all very undercapitalised. Sonic Youth played for 200 pounds plus a 50% share of the profit I think. To keep costs down they stayed with me (my flat was a hundred yards from the venue), and after the gig we drank for a few hours and talked about Raymond Carver and Patti Smith. Firehose were the support, so they stayed over too. It was very cramped. A few other American bands stayed over around the same time, including the Butthole Surfers; I remember they complained to the tour manager because my flat was so primitive, in a horrible concrete housing estate. They wanted carpets and stuff I think, I said to the tour manager “Tell Gibby if it’s good enough for Sonic Youth it’s good enough for the Butthole freakin Surfers!”

Do you have a favorite DJ gig? If so, why?

During the filming of ’24 Hour Party People’ the film-makers had to re-create a Hacienda night and they built a fake one in a warehouse and made it look just like the real club (which had been demolished). I got on the decks that night and it was truly very emotional.

What changes in Manchester have you seen? Do you believe the music that came out between the ’70s and ’90s contributed to the city’s current renaissance?

Definitely. Like other urban areas, Manchester had no future in the late 1970s, or so it seemed. Joy Division captured this spirit but created something out of it, something which inspired. And the profile that the music scene has given the city ever since has helped create the sense of a ‘happening’ city, and that draws interest and investment into the city. It’s not solved the city’s problems, but it’s an adrenalin boost. And the fact that new generations of musicians have come out of the city creates a virtuous circle; people don’t have to move to London to make it.

Are there any other upcoming works?

I’m meant to be writing another book but I get so easily distracted. I have twelve days in the USA at the end of March 2010, doing some DJ gigs and some public lectures and some book signings. I have gigs in Paris in the diary. Cracking on with a book is hard when you don’t have enough time or enough sleep.

Okay, here in the States, people are going to start going ape shit over the World Cup so now a little football (soccer) question: Manchester City or Manchester United?

Ha! The blue team or the red team? I actually support West Bromwich Albion – a great-great grandfather of mine was a baker with a shop near the ground and he was one of the original directors of the club. So it’s about a personal connection, heart and soul. And history.

What was Joy Division’s last show like?

I’ll tell you on April 2nd.