Good stories are the tools of legends, a way to cement ones legacy on a timeline book-ended by the status quo. For legendary DJ/Producer Harvey Bassett, tall tales run the gamut from his early days birthing club culture to life at home in Venice, California, a seemingly perfect stage for eccentrics, including Harv himself. Whether he’s oceans away playing out for the masses or huddled up in his California studio, one thing is for certain: They don’t make ‘em like Harvey anymore and he’ll be the first one to tell you that.
So you recently toured with Garth [Wynne-Jones] in Australia?
Yeah, that was a voyage of discovery. It was my first time out there and we went all over the place from Perth to Brisbane and Adelaide. We bypassed all the floods; in fact, they happened just after we left.
Do you ever make it South America?
I’ve toured Brazil and have gotten down into Mexico. However, I haven’t been to Ecuador, Uruguay, Bolivia or Chile. There’s a wealth of epicness down there from surf to malaria. Every risk you want! I really do love Spanish culture and everything that has come out of it. I think I have something coming up in Brazil at the end of the year. A friend of mine is coordinating Rocking Rio, the biggest festival in the world. He was like “Ey, my friend, you wanna warm up for Shakira?! I give you fifty grand!” Fuck yes! [laughs]
Also, I work with Mark who owns the label International Feel. He’s basked in Uruguay. He’s painted this picture of surf shacks by the ocean, homegrown marijuana and fun food. Hopefully before the end of the year I’ll get there too. Funny thing is that I haven’t met Mark but he’s supported the music project so well. It’s not like I’ve produced a bunch of music with indie labels but of the ones I have this is a really good one. Mark is compassionate and really cares about making it happen.
Looking at the dynamic between Internationl Feel and Whatever We Want Records, it appears that International Feel is more consistent with releasing new material.
The Whatever We Want catalog is pretty fucking amazing, though I do think the fans and the artists themselves have become a little frustrated with the lack of availability. There are also mountains of music that haven’t been heard, including a full album by myself plus the second release of the Map of Africa album and numerous other stuff by other artists. I assume it builds the enigma but in a world when you’re lucky if you sell three thousand singles what’s the point of a damn limited edition? Give the people what they want. Their products are also really beautiful pieces of art.
Can you talk a little more about the new Map of Africa album?
We kind of finished it but didn’t finish it. It’s all recorded but just needs mixing. Having Thomas in New York and me in LA makes it challenging too. Getting together to work on the record is an issue to start with. As far as its connection to the album before it’s still Map of Africa and it’s the second album. It’s not a radical departure.
Are there any projects aside from Map of Africa that you and Thomas [Bullock] are working on like maybe a DJ tour of South America?
Who knows. Garth and I didn’t decide to go to Australia and do the tour together. It just sort of happened. Thomas and I have crossed paths where we’ve played back to back, like the No Ordinary Monkey parties in New York. I’m down to do it anytime!
You and Thomas have quite the history.
It’s funny because I don’t believe I have an accent, as such. I mean, I have a southern English thing but until I hear Thomas who speaks exactly like I do I don’t realize it. It’s because we spent our formative years in Cambridge. It was almost a nucleus like a King’s Road punk nucleus or a hip-hop scene. That crew went along to do a hell of a lot as DJs, with record labels, sound systems and creative projects. It was all really without a design but if I look at what all our friends have done from that era it’s quite a tour de force. It was good to come from Cambridge during that time. It was very liberal and if you didn’t have a place to live you could squat.
The target=”_new”>Tonka Parties were pretty famous and set the tone for the
Acid House movement which also migrated over to San Francisco with the Wicked Sound System. Do you have any good stories from that time?
A body washed up on the beach once! I was way too scared to look at it and everyone was looking to see if other bodies were around him! Someone finally got the courage to go down and check it out. He came back up saying that the fucker had been in there for days. He was this green, grey bloated mess. The cops come down, bagged him up and no one stopped dancing! Evidently there was a big suicide cliff called Beachy Head that a lot of people jump off; in fact, our boy in Quadrophenia drives his scooter off it—or does he—at the end.
There was another time when our friend came dressed as the biggest acid tab in the world. In an LSD factory you have a table where you lay your blotter sheets out to dry. You put down plain blotter wallpaper and that soaks up any residue. So Robert, who just so happened to know someone who worked at an acid factory, made a costume out of a giant piece that was eight by six foot! We were all just tearing pieces off of it munching it. We had no idea how strong it was going to be because some parts were overly stained.
What about the story of Maurice Fulton in a wedding dress?
[laughs] I think that particular night was called ‘My Daughter’s Wedding Left Something to be Desired’. The club, Beautiful Bend was kind of a transgender extravaganza where I would inspire the evening by straight perversion which would then be interpreted by a gay point of view. My friend Donald Urquhart, who is now a successful artist, would make a flier that would dictate how you were to dress and behave at the party. People showed up in wedding dresses and tuxes. The trolley that was going around served pig’s ears as bar snacks. By the end of the night when I wanted one they were all gone! I didn’t know if people had taken them home or consumed them! [laughs] Maurice was there having a whale of a time in his vintage Vera Wang wedding dress.
We’ve all heard the Pete Townsend-esque flipping of the consul onto the dancefloor during the last tour. Any chance of topping that?
Well, I threatened to set fire to myself and the poor promoter got really scared! The smashing of the consul was the first gig and she’d only met me a few hours before that. I wanted to be entertaining and I didn’t feel like I was being entertaining. That made me go insane and I forfeited my wage for the night.
I’ve said this before but don’t expect me to get in front of six thousand people and expect me to stand there like I’m making fucking pizza. I always loved what Steve Jones said: “Rockstars fell from outerspace.” Roxy Music, Gary Glitter and David Bowie. They weren’t dudes wearing anoraks crouched over their fucking Seratos. I just wanted to add a little flavor.
Larry Levan also lived with you for a few weeks in England right?
Yeah, he came to stay when he was in London working at Ministry of Sound. There’s one story where he showed up all out of breath saying, ‘Hey man, you’ve got to come with me. I found this boutique. They have the best shit!’ We get on the subway and go as far as you can to the last stop in deep, south London. I was thinking “How the fuck did he get down here in the first place?!” So we go into this boutique and they have those pants where one leg was green acid washed denim and the other was grey. Larry was African not West Indian so he was into all this Afro shit. So he buys a studded leather jacket with big shoulder pads and a studded skull on the back with these pants, these green crocodile skinned shoes and this baseball cap with one of those metal shields like George Michael. We stepped out and I was like “Larry, I don’t know if I can walk down the fuckin’ street with you man!” He looked completely outrageous but was so happy with his stuff.
Did you guys ever share the turntables at some point?
He played for me at Moist one time, which was a great, great night. He was really relaxed at that point in his life. None of us had heard anything like it at the time. We thought, “Wow, just by turning it down you can fuck people up!”
Larry and I wouldn’t talk about music all the time. He would get all excited about something like a movie and tell you the entire plot— and immediately after go out hunting for train in the bathrooms at King’s Cross.
Here in Los Angeles you throw Sarcastic Disco, which is your party. Can you safely say that it’s the best party in the world?
In some respects, yeah; in fact, I think I’ve said that as far as discos go. I can safely say that we throw one of the best underground dance parties on the planet where people can come feel safe, secure and indulge themselves all night long for $20. It’s a loyal crowd both young and old.
We’ve heard you play some great techno records at Sarcastic but most people know you for playing disco and new disco. Who are some of your favorite techno producers?
Marcellus Pittman out of Detroit—he’s a fucking genius. My eyes are bad so these days it’s all about the blue record or the yellow record or the one that has ‘Harv’ written on it that a guy gave me in San Francisco. [laughs] I really like Tin Man; he’s making some great acid house. Half the records I play could be considered techno, purely electronic-based modern dance music which, as far as I’m concerned, is the modern equivalent of the blues. Coming from a place like Detroit makes so much sense because the place is in fucking ruins.
Have you been back since it’s progressively gotten worse?
I was there last year and I also played DEMF this year which is the biggest techno festival. It’s the only festival that I felt honored to play.
Do you feel a personal responsibility to archive what you deem the best records?
No, I’ve never really thought of it that way. I’ve always collected for selfish reasons. I’m not saving records for a future generation; I don’t care what happens when I die! [laughs] I treasure my records and covet them; they’re carbon-based which is weird to me. I love the idea of tube technology as well. It takes music, turns it into fire and back into music again. Zeros and ones tend to have square edges as opposed to round edges and one little glitch could wipe out your collection. But, in this day and age everything goes through something digital at some point.
It seems like you’re more into the idea of making music accessible to people versus being a DJ who keeps their set lists or collections private.
Well, one of original jobs of the disc jockey was to break music to the charts. You’d play a new single and even announce it as such. It’s not like I’ve got an arsenal of stuff to use like breakdancers had moves. I do have a rule though: Do not come into the DJ booth and start looking through my bag. When it’s in my bag it’s mine. When it’s on the turntable it’s yours. But really, I don’t wait to spoil the surprise for that person by having them know what’s coming next.
Are you planning any new stuff for Locussolus now that this record is out?
I really want to see how the album’s received first before launching into anything like a live show, starting a new project or making a new record.
What is the typical process that goes into an album starting with the studio?
If I’m starting from scratch we have to have a root point because these days anything is possible. That’s as easy as looking at the fact that it’s on a 12” vinyl or knowing that we want to make three singles. From there we’d plug in a drum machine and see what happens. There’s a beat, that’s cool. How are we doing on the bass guitar? That sounds fucking great. Now loop that. Bring in Eliah, he’s really good on the Chapman Stick. That little lick sounds good. Let’s make a chorus out of that. Drums are getting boring so we’ll play some bongos. Stuff builds up. If the foot’s tapping, it’s good.
We don’t necessarily take a sound and apply every plug-in that’s existed to try and fuck-it-up. I’m into what I would call pre-production rather than post-production. We rather record the sound we want as opposed to recording something and making it into the sound we want. In that case, tracks kind of mix themselves while they’re being made.
The sound of Locusslous is really the juxtaposion between myself and my engineer Josh. I’m on the couch and he’s on the computer. We just bounce it off each other. If we’re laughing at the end of the night then it’s good.
What excites you more, making music or playing it out?
I enjoy the creative process and it’s so fun to be able to make music. I play records out all the time so I enjoy being able to jump behind a drum kit. I’m not sure what I enjoy most; it’s all part of my life and I augment my income with both.
Have you ever considered scoring a movie?
I’d love to do that but no one has asked me! I think I could do music supervision and tell people, “You need James Brown there” or score an opus like in a James Bond film. If I was to score a movie it would be like that, where the same opus would run through it whether the main guy is racing down a mountain in a car or in bed with a woman. I always appreciate the Ennio Marricone movies where each character has a signature noise. Lee Van Cleef walks in and it’s like “Boiiiiing!” or when Clint Eastwood walks in he has that signature sound.
What are some of your favorite films?
Sweet Movie, Oh Lucky Man, Caligula, Two Lane Blacktop, Funny Car Summer, everything by Kenneth Anger, everything by Fellini, everything by Dario Argento and Jack Smith, who influenced Warhol. There are so many!
Has anyone ever approached you about doing a documentary on your life?
They have yes, but I honestly think it would be pretty boring! [laughs] It’s not all glam, mate! If it was around something like a trip to Japan I think it’d be more interesting than just the life and times of DJ Harvey. Japan would have been pretty mad because I did sixteen dates in a row, woke up and ate the weirdest shit like live octopus, horse temples, grilled soft sperm and all kinds of wild stuff.
Harvey’s Locussolus project is out now on International Feel Records.