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If you’ve never heard of DJ Harvey, this isn’t the ideal way to learn. Theoretically, you’d be introduced while rolling in the predawn hours at an illegal warehouse party, with the British-born necromancer inducing euphoria through buttery transitions of techno, acid house, disco and rare grooves.
After all, Harvey Bassett famously once was quoted as saying, “You can’t understand the blues until you’ve had your heart broken by a woman. And you can’t understand my music until you’ve had group sex on ecstasy.’”
It’s been roughly a quarter-century since the Venice resident, surf junkie and turntable samurai has dabbled in MDMA, but the axiom remains relevant. Harvey at three decks reminds you of watching Magic Johnson at the head of a fast break: You never know which way he’s going to go, but he’ll instinctively make the right decision and inevitably, someone will score.
Scan the (very abridged) résumé. He spent the late 1970s as the drummer of British punk band Ersatz, who got played on John Peel’s legendary BBC program. The mid-’80s were spent shuttling between London and New York City, absorbing early hip-hop and dance culture.
“I just played whatever came to hand. Mixing, scratching and cutting were important, and manipulating beats was its own form of rhythm and expression that worked for me,” Harvey recalls at a Silver Lake Mexican restaurant. “I was blending breaks and beats with proto-house, Roy Ayers, James Brown and electro hip-hop.”
His accent and rakish charm recall Captain Jack Sparrow if he’d buried his treasure between Oahu and Ibiza. Naming Harvey one of the “25 DJs That Rule the Earth,” Rolling Stone described him as “Keith Richards if he were a DJ.”
Since moving to L.A. a dozen years ago, Harvey has adapted to L.A. culture with a native’s fluency. He wears a blue Hawaiian shirt, olive cargo pants, aviator shades and Reef sandals. The only visual evidence that he’s roughly 50 are the flecks of gray in his beard.
During the early 1990s, he was a resident at seminal London nightclub Ministry of Sound. Since then, there have been innumerable original productions, remixes and sounds introduced to the underground. His peripatetic, all-night Harvey’s Sarcastic Disco parties long ago became the stuff of local rave lore. Last year, he rocked Coachella; this month, he’s at FYF.
His latest salvo is Wildest Dreams, a psychedelic blues odyssey in the vein of The Doors and Cream, released late last month on Norway’s Smalltown Supersound.
“It’s California folk music. I didn’t try to do particularly anything new or be particularly old-school. That kind of music just comes out of my arms in a really natural way,” Harvey says. Backed by L.A. funk excavators Orgone, Harvey drums, sings and plays several guitar parts on Wildest Dreams.
“With the dance music that I produce, you make a noise and spend months trying to make it into something,” Harvey adds. “So many bands trying to make ‘authentic psychedelic’ records end up over-producing themselves. This is a very honest record — just three guys in a room with a mic.”
An interview with the gifted raconteur runs the gamut from the failure of the federal drug war to esoteric Italian DJ legends, Ibiza’s history as a Roman orgy island, and the innate progressiveness of techno.
Harvey’s career has been a triumph of synthesis and imagination, showmanship, sly wit and indefatigable groove.
“It’s great to, in some respects, come full circle, but the circle isn’t complete,” Harvey says of Wildest Dreams. “Revolution isn’t the solution; it’s circular by its nature. Small change for the good is my politics. That’s how you move forward.”
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