Throwback Interview: Joey Negro


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Neon Nettle Gets Candid With House Pioneer Joey Negro

We discuss EDM, fashion and the future of house music

British DJ turned producer, Joey Negro aka Dave Lee, is known for his creative approach to house music. He blurs the genre lines and has majorly contributed to the growth of the house music scene since the late 1980s. He now serves as the resident DJ for Ibiza’s popular Glitterbox event and runs his own label Z Records, giving him more creative control over the output of today’s house music.

Neon Nettle took some time out to see how Joey Negro feels about the emergence of EDM, the extensive possibilities for more music genres to jump on the house music bandwagon and what he has in store for the rest of 2014.

NN: How did you find it performing at last month’s Glitterbox in Ibiza? Do you feel that the audience has changed as dance music becomes more mainstream?

JN: I’m one of the residents, along with Dimitri From Paris and Late Nite Tuff Guy. All of the Glitterbox gigs I’ve played have been great. The music policy is classic house, disco house, disco, both new and old, which is very much the spirit of Ibiza and pretty much what I play anyway. The crowd has been quite international with Spanish, Italian and a decent amount of Brits.

The audience at Glitterbox and the clubs I play remain pretty constant. It’s not full of people who’ve heard Route 94 on the radio and want to hear some deep house. Or [people who] went to Las Vegas and discovered EDM. You kind of hope the mainstream crowd will dig a little deeper and get into more underground stuff, but the crowd I play to are already aware of Defected Records and Dimitri From Paris. [They would] exist whether or not there had been this mainstream explosion.

NN: Glitterbox is known for being pretty fashion forward, is fashion something you are interested in? Would you ever collaborate with fashion designers for a show?

JN: It’s never been something I’ve set out to do. However, I like the fashion atmosphere, the arty crowd, people dressing up. It adds a little something to the occasion. I’ve [been on the decks] at fashion shows in Italy, Eastern Europe, Singapore. It’s something I enjoy when I do it.

NN: What direction do you feel that the British house scene is going in now that dance music is becoming more popular internationally?

JN: I think the UK has always been slightly different to the rest of the world, taste-wise. At the moment the old school house thing is very much in vogue – new records are sounding like records of the 80s and 90s. Sometimes, when I hear a DJ playing, I have no idea if he’s playing an old or new record. Such is the current sound. Ultimately it’s like a return to ‘proper’ house music. However, EDM, the electro house/trance fusion, is completely the other end of the spectrum to deep house. Both genres are producing hits, but EDM is probably bigger internationally. At the end of the day I play my own genre, so although it’s good to be aware of what’s happening, it’s not something I base what I do on.

NN: You are known as an innovator in the industry for your use of disco samples and soul elements in house music, are there any other genres you can see blending well with house music in the future?

JN: There are loads of genres that could work. House music comes from disco, so it’s not difficult to blend those two together. In many respects early house was simply a cross of 80s electro and disco. A 4/4 beat can work with most styles and there are house versions of every [genre of] music imaginable: big bands, country music, indie and rock. Obviously many being novelty records. Technology really dictates new trends.

Drum and bass flourished because the sampler gave us a way to cut and speed up breaks in a way that wasn’t possible before. Rock and roll only happened because someone invented the electric guitar. Advancements in technology often drive what happens in dance music. What always seems to work, from a sales perspective, is remaking or sampling classic records from the past with all the current noise. The download sites are full of these reworks; often tracks that have been sampled many times. So moving forward I’d like to see more people [with original] music, rather than sampling. It’s been done so much over the last 25 years.

NN: You previously had your own label, Republic Records, did that experience deter you from exploring the possibility of starting another label in the future?

JN: I’ve been doing Z Records since 1990, when Republic, the label I ran with Rough Trade, stopped. Republic gave me good grounding in how a label works. It’s not that complicated, especially now in this digital age when many don’t bother with physical product. However, some people are wary of it, maybe because they imagine it to be a headache. But for me it’s the best way to release your own music. There isn’t an A&R man to go through; so you can decide when your song is released, design the artwork, choose the remix and of course keep all the money, if there is any. I have no problem licensing crossover records, as a good label can take it to places you can’t.

NN: Who are your favourite house artists at the moment? Are there any new acts you feel we should look out for?

JN: I think Disclosure are pretty good, like a younger Basement Jaxx, and I’ve played many of their tracks in my DJ sets. Julio Bashmore has done a couple I like too. Well they aren’t exactly new, but [you should look out for] Kyodai, Sean McCabe, Opolopo, Shur I Kan and Princess Freesia.

NN: In 2012 you collaborated with boogie funk act The Sunburst Band and gospel artist Kendra Cash, what other artists would you like to collaborate with in the future?

JN: The Sunburst Band was actually me creating a live project so that I could re-live my love for acts like Earth Wind and Fire or Chic. Kendra had a track on her album “smile” that I really liked, so when she was over here to do some live shows she came down to the studio and we recorded a house version of it. There are loads of singers I’d love to work with, but my experience of the reality of collaborations has been more miss than hit. I’ve recently been trying to collaborate with a couple of artists from the past, who seemingly don’t have that much happening career wise. But it often ends up going the same way, lots of emailing and sometimes phone conversations that lead nowhere.

Sometimes the problem can be that they are still living in the 80s and want far too much money upfront, but don’t seem to want to tell you that until you’ve been speaking for months. However, on other occasions they might agree to do something, but they never manage to get around to actually doing it. You’re just chasing them every week for months until you give up or they stop replying. I’m self-managed so I don’t have anyone to do this for me and I prefer to spend my time actually working on music, not sending pointless emails and ending up frustrated with the situation. When I worked with Seal, as Jakatta, I was signed to Ministry and my A&R Ric Salmon made that collab happen by calling again and again until eventually they said, “come over to LA next week and we’ll do it”. That’s when record companies or managers can be useful, as I’d probably have given up.

NN: Do you feel that the commercialisation of house music is a good thing or do you feel that it was more authentic when it was still more underground?

JN: I think house music is still mostly underground. Yes, the odd record gets in the charts, however, the bulk of it you don’t hear on the radio and probably sells less than 1000 downloads. The genre that is currently called deep house, but isn’t really deep house (it’s more like a cross between the original piano house sound and UK garage), is what could be considered commercial right now. When I hear these tracks being played on the radio, I just think 5 years ago this pop singer would have had an R&B backing track, now she has a house one. House music was marginalised for years, so it’s definitely good the kids are into it again and we’ve got a new wave of young producers.

There has been [a change] in the ‘general scene,’ but I’m not one of the people reaping the benefits of it financially with remixes etc. Now, any new pop act the industry is trying to market is getting a trendy “deep house” type mix of their single, but it doesn’t fall in my lap and I don’t want to do it anyway. It’s basically a good time for those people that work on that type of music, if they can bang them out to a decent standard. Alas the money is not like it was back in the pre digital days, however, I’m sure the likes of MK is doing very well. I consider myself lucky that I was around in the 90s when there was decent dosh to be made out of remixing for major labels. In retrospect some of it wasn’t the best music I made, but it enabled me to buy a house lol.

NN: You’ve had a lot of aliases in the past, how important do you feel it is to reinvent yourself within the industry? Would you ever change your name again?

JN: I think it’s good to reinvent yourself, not sure I would change my name now. If I lived my life again, I wouldn’t have picked the name Joey Negro. The pseudonym was created for just one record and because of its success it ran from there. I wouldn’t mind doing a scam again, as it’s always fun. I had a great time watching the response to Raven Maize, Hed Boys etc. I guess you could do scams easier in the vinyl days, when records sold more and they were far less releases per week so it was easier to get noticed if the track was good.

If you put out a record today, under a new name on an unknown label, it will be hard to get attention. As for doing that as a download, forget about it. It will get lost amongst the several thousand releases out that week, many by more established names. People tend to look for familiar names when they search for music online now. I’ve noticed from what we’ve released on ZR that an average remix by an established producer will sell better than a great remix by an unknown. I think people pigeonhole things very quickly and have preconceived ideas of what a certain producer’s music sounds like. We all do it with music, films, actors etc and in most ways it makes sense to categorise things from previous experience. In many respects the whole purpose of a scam is to get them to give your track a non-judgmental open-minded listen.

NN: What’s next for Joey Negro?

JN: Recently I put together an Italo House compilation, which was released on Z Records. Italo house is one of my favourite kinds of classic house and the best time for it was the late 1980s and the early 1990s. I didn’t include obvious hits like ‘Black Box’, this is more the underground and slightly deeper side of the genre. I’ve had a few singles out this year under various monikers; Doug Willis, Z Factor, Sunburst Band; as well as my collaboration with the Horsemeat Disco guys. Also I’m working on a follow up to my compilation, ‘Remixed With Love’, which will be out next year. [It] includes my remixes of Grace Jones, The Trammps, Jean Carne, Robert Palmer and other classic tracks all reworked from the original tapes. On ZR, Nick the Record has done the latest ‘Under The Influence’ album, full of disco funk and more leftfield obscurities. While young Bristol producer, Sean McCabe, has his debut album out in October. We’ve got another couple of comps ready for next year and I’m working on a new album project too.

Catch Joey Negro on the decks at Glitterbox, at Booom Ibiza, on August 30th, September 13th and 30th.

EDM and house fans can also check out my interviews with Anna Lunoe and Zoot Woman:


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