An artist that needs no introduction, John Digweed is a household name for lovers of underground electronic music. Consistency and passion have kept John Digweed at the helm of electronic music for more than 30 years. Recognized as one of the world’s greatest electronic music DJ and producers, he recalls his humble beginnings broadcasting at London’s Kiss 100 FM, and now, Digweed and his show “Transitions” celebrate 20 years of being on the radio. Averaging around 104 hours of radio playtime a year, each show consistently places its focal point on both playing new music and helping showcase fresh talent. Digweed has featured 232 total hours worth of live mixes across 835 total episodes.
In this exclusive interview, Digweed shares lessons learned along the way and why organic growth will always be king.
Thank you so much for taking the time to chat with 6AM today! “Day by day” seems to be this year’s motto. With only a few months left, are there any projects (personal or professional) you’ve been able to catch up on with more time at home?
At the beginning of lockdown, I was rushing around trying to get loads of jobs around the house done as I didn’t think I would get this much extra time again. As time has gone on I have become more relaxed about things and the reality that gigs are still a long way off has set in so I have been pacing myself a bit more now.
Any recent Netflix/Hulu binges?
I have to be honest and say that I have hardly watched any TV in the past six months. A few shows here and there, but when the weather was nice I tried to be outside as much as possible. I recently watched “The Social Dilemma”, which laid bare how much social media controls all of our lives these days. I think the whole world could do with a break from social media at the moment.
2020 isn’t all bad news….this year you hit the big 20 for your career in radio…this is probably a thinker but could you share a few of the “most memorable” moments?
I am not one usually for milestones but was pretty happy with celebrating 20 years on the air. We have had too many great shows to just single out a few, but I will say that the most important part about it is how we went from being a small show in London 20 years ago and grew to be broadcasted in over 80 stations worldwide and reach the ears of over 14 million people a week. Best of all, it grew in an organic way and has built a fantastic and loyal fanbase. [It] continues to keep me on my toes expecting me to deliver 100 percent every week.
Your career can be a mixture of dedication, hard work, and skill, as well as being in the right place at the right time and luck. On the other hand, maintaining a career for decades proves that the consistency and passion for what you do are there even when you have experienced continued success.
Consistency and passion have been pillars for John Digweed and his longevity in the music space
Did your 11-year old self, who first came across electronic music via cassette tapes, ever imagine DJing would turn into a sustainable way of life? Was your intention to be where you’re at now or were you “go with the flow” and allow life’s currents to take you?
I have always said that when acid house came along I hopped on a roller coaster and have not got off it yet. You need to work hard and take chances and seize opportunities when they come around. I have always had a good work ethic and always try and give 110% at every gig and project I am involved in. Your career can be a mixture of dedication, hard work, and skill, as well as being in the right place at the right time and luck. On the other hand, maintaining a career for decades proves that the consistency and passion for what you do are there even when you have experienced continued success.
It’s always been about playing new music and helping showcase promising new talent.
Doing It for the Love of the Culture, John Digweed’s Motivation
Life has its waves–the ups and downs. What have you told yourself or done during moments when life threw you more than you could handle or perhaps you weren’t where you wanted to be (figuratively speaking)?
If everything in life happened perfectly and you never faced any challenges you would never learn from anything. One of the hardest things I ever learned was allowing myself to say “no” to gig offers. I love what I do but you can’t play every gig, even if the travel and logistics were technically possible. There is no point in turning up to a show exhausted from a previous one and not being able to give 100% to your fans. If you burn out you end up canceling more shows which is counter-productive.
It’s [also] very important to take advice from people and friends, but listening to your body and your instinct is the most important thing you can do. I sadly can’t even say “yes” to a gig for the time being. Hopefully, 2021 will see things turn around.
One of the hardest things I ever learned was allowing myself to say “no” to gig offers. I love what I do but you can’t play every gig, even if the travel and logistics were technically possible. There is no point in turning up to a show exhausted from a previous one and not being able to give 100% to your fans.
John Digweed Shares the Importance of Saying “No”
Speaking of music’s ability to capture important cultural moments in time, you’ve worked on almost 60 albums in your lifetime. How does that make you feel? That’s quite the legacy. Any central themes that have manifested?
I have always found it easy to put albums together. I try to choose tracks that I think will work well on a CD and in a club, but also make the mixes sound great in the car or on your headphones. Trying to make something that is played over and over again is a hard task, especially with so many free mixes available to stream online.
Physical CDs are now mainly put together for diehard fans who want collectible items since you can hardly find a CD player in any cars or home systems anymore.
I love going to Japan. The people are so respectful and perfectionists in everything they do.
Japanese culture inspires John Digweed
You’ve dubbed Tokyo-based artist Satoshi Fumi’s track (“Manis”) as your “secret weapon.” What is it about that track that just does it for you?
“Manis” for me was such a great end of night uplifting emotional track that really sends the hairs on the back of your neck. I was holding off on playing it for months because it was such a special track and I didn’t want it all over the internet. Then the lockdown happened so I only got to play it out a few times. There were so many positive comments about “Manis” and all the other tracks on Quattro – the feedback was really rewarding after putting so much work into making it.
Japan kind of stole your heart after your first show there in 2000, right? Japanese culture is known for its discipline, determination, and strong work ethic–all favorable traits to have as an artist as this game takes grit. What inspires you the most from their culture?
I love going to Japan. The people are so respectful and perfectionists in everything they do. It’s always a pleasure to visit and play there because there is always such great energy at the parties. The clubs always have perfect set-ups. You can tell that everyone takes so much time and care to make the party as great as possible.
Safe to say you’ve taken different creative approaches throughout your career, and some of these could even be considered “risks” at the time. Have you always been comfortable with taking risks or did this come over time in working toward establishing your name in the circuit?
I have always stuck to my guns and played the music I love, even when I was voted #1 DJ I felt it was even more important to stick to my sound and not just play the big records to please the crowd. There is no better feeling than playing brand new music to a crowd and getting the same reaction as when you play the biggest tune out there.
I always loved the whole Factory Records ethos and always strove to spend the extra money on great design and artwork for my label, Bedrock, because I want to deliver something that is well thought out.
I can see how social media can really help elevate and push new artists to the forefront very quickly, but it can be a double-edged sword when the organic aspect of growth is taken away.
Social media, a double-edged sword
The DJ/producer life cycle has evolved quite a bit since you first started in the game. Technology, marketing and consumption have all played a part in the change, and social media touches on all three. What’s something aspiring artists need to keep in mind when it comes to using tools like social media to elevate their product (music) vs becoming the product (an online brand)?
I was lucky to start my DJ career way before the advent of social media when you had to slowly work your way up the ladder and build your reputation with word and mouth and consistency in your gigs. I can see how social media can really help elevate and push new artists to the forefront very quickly, but it can be a double-edged sword when the organic aspect of growth is taken away.
As for the aspiring artists, the saying, “remember the people on the way up as they will be there on the way down,” is so true. Always be nice and well mannered to everyone on and off social media and always try and keep a little mystery to yourself.
Struggles and hardships build resilience, and resilience builds character. Your character helps you face life’s challenges (hello COVID-19). It’s all a cycle. Aside from honing in on their production skills, is there any other advice you’d give to artists in the third or fifth year of their journey to “level-up” while social gatherings and touring are at a halt?
I would say now would be an important time to work on your health and fitness. Get out on a bike or go for a run every day if you can. Put together regular mixes to keep your fans up to date with what you’ve been up to and try not to spend hours on social media looking at what other people are doing. Just focus on yourself and your goals.
Anything else you’d like to share?
Stay safe and positive. We will meet on the dance floor again sometime in the future.