Return Of The Prodigal – DJ Harvey

DJ Harvey (aka Harvey Bassett) makes his long awaited UK return tonight at Oval Space in London (followed by a Manchester date, at The Warehouse Project, next Thursday). It’s his first UK appearance since 2002 when he re-located to the USA, and where visa problems conspired to restrict his movements, meaning that it was almost a decade before he was able to leave the country.

Rather than being out of sight, out of mind, it was more a case of absence makes the heart grow fonder, and it was fascinating to watch the ‘cult of Harvey’ evolve, largely via the DJ History forum, where sometimes you’d be forgiven for thinking that the H in DJH stood for Harvey not History, such was the obsession, even resulting in the obligatory backlash. Thread after thread appeared discussing his musical eclecticism and personal enigma – I contributed to a thread myself back in July 2004, titled ‘DJ Harvey – Great Or Grate?!?!?’, highlighting the mathematics of the situation;

Regardless of what people might think of him, it’s clear that no other DJ generates anything like the amount of interest that Harvey does here at DJ History. It’s pretty amazing when you think that since June 25th, when Candelah posted the link to Harvey’s mix, there’s been close on 5000 views of the three current Harvey related threads! Compare that to the ‘End Of Night’ thread, which has taken around 5 months to build up to just below 3000 views.’

I’d never seen him play, or, if truth be told, even heard of him before I started posting on some of the dance forums in 2003 (on the back of writing the article ‘Electro-Funk – What Did It All Mean?’, the month before I made my club comeback). I was totally out of the loop during the years he was making an impact via his residencies, including Moist at The Gardening Club and New Hard Left at The Blue Note in London, The Zap Club in Brighton, and London superclub Ministry Of Sound, playing through until the morning (Harvey is renowned for long through the night sets). He probably hadn’t heard of me either, given that I’d hung up my headphones in 1984 before his own DJ journey began, and didn’t start up again until after he upped sticks to the States.

One of my biggest tunes during the period leading up to when I quit was the Sugar Hill 12” ‘Break Dancin’ – Electric Boogie’ by West Street Mob, which came in on import in August ’83 and featured in my ‘D’Ya Like Scratchin’’ mix for Piccadilly Radio the following month. It turns out that this was a defining track for Harvey. Originally grounded mainly in Rock and later Punk (he was in bands before he became a DJ), ‘Break Dancin’ – Electric Boogie’ (which is based around one of the quintessential breaks, the Incredible Bongo Band’s ‘Apache’, from 1973), opened up the Hip Hop realm for him and prompted a mid-’80s trip to New York, where he embroiled himself in Hip Hop culture.

Having tried his hand as a graffiti writer, he found his true vocation as a DJ, gaining cult status throughout the late ’80s and into the ’90s as part of the TONKA Hi-Fi crew, a sound system that built a strong following in his hometown of Cambridge, as well as London, Brighton and on the festival circuit. Here’s some grainy footage of him playing at a TONKA gig in Brixton back in ’91:

Also some rather marvellous Super 8 footage from an early morning TONKA beach party at Black Rock, Brighton in 1989:

Kelvin Andrews, a contemporary of Harvey’s and a hugely under-valued DJ in my book, summed him up as having ‘a fearless ability to dig up something to get both the girls shaking and the beards stroked’. What’s for sure is that he’s a maverick selector with an infectious smile and a glint of mischief in his eye, which has proved to be an irresistible combination, gaining him almost mythical stature. His reputation precedes him, but he’d never have provoked such intrigue without being very very good at what he does – I don’t need to have seen him play to understand this.

I’m going to get across to the Manchester date – it’ll be his first time in the city since his final appearance at the legendary Electric Chair in August 2002, one of his favourite club nights of the era, where he was a regular guest of The Unabombers. Matt Johnson, who’s been looking after Harvey’s European bookings since he finally acquired his green card, is my agent too, so I appreciate what’s gone into setting these dates up, with, of course, the Red Bull Music Academy’s assistance, so everything can be just right for the long-overdue return of one of the true nonconformists of the DJ world.

DJ Harvey Wikipedia:

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27 Responses to Return Of The Prodigal – DJ Harvey

  1. Kay October 19, 2012 at 10:24 am #

    I feel very lucky to have a ticket to this! GW and DJ Harvey in the same week – great disco karma!

  2. Ed October 19, 2012 at 10:55 am #

    Am off to see him tonight in London. Was lucky enough to see him in Barcelona last summer at the Resident Advisor X party and it’s easily in my top 3 nights of all time.

    Hope you enjoy it, when I try and describe the set in Barca, I use the phrase ‘it’s like he had his foot on my head for 5 hours, I was glued to the spot, didn’t want to leave the dancefloor for the bar or the toilet, in case I missed another scorcher of a record’.

  3. Ralph Lawson October 19, 2012 at 11:33 am #

    Nice one Greg. I learnt my DJ ropes from Harvey. I used to buy records from him at Zoom Records in Camden and he turned me onto deep US house when all my mates were into harder edged rave. He also introduced me to disco. I went to a few Tonka parties but my favourite was in a warehouse in Vauxhall, South London. We had to all get in there before the security shut the gates then wait until they were gone. Harvey played a load of Timothy Leary speeches and weird psychedelic soundscapes really quietly while we were waiting. When the security left and he got the all clear he cranked the volume and started to play. It is still, to this day, the most crazy I have ever seen people go to electronic music. It wasn’t packed at all, like your video links show. It was a small intimate scene and we would all talk to each other through the party as well as dance.

    I would drive to MOS to catch Harvey’s late sessions (early morning) from Leeds ! He made a CD compilation of these shows for the ‘Late Night Sessions’ series which is still very much worth picking up. He always had a mate around called the Wizard, who was an interesting character, but I won’t mention why here…

    We then invited him to be a monthly resident at back to basics at The Pleasure Rooms through the 90s.

    I couldn’t wait until London to see his return to Europe so went to see him at Sonar this summer. He only had 90 minutes but once again I was transported back to being that same kid at the Tonka party.

    Enjoy the UK shows !

  4. Gary October 19, 2012 at 11:36 am #

    Such a good all rounder and top chap he inspired us to call our son Harvey aswell!

  5. Ralph Lawson October 19, 2012 at 11:39 am #

    sorry one more –

    Please notice Rev in your first video link. Rev was also a bad ass DJ. The Tonka crew also had Chocci and Markie Mark. All great DJs. Chocci ran a record shop in the West End called Chocci’s Choons. He was the most crazy of them. He had an air horn in the shop and he’d fire it off when he liked a new record and come the other side of the counter and start pogoing !

    Markie Mark went over to the states before Harvey and was influential in setting up the scene there with DJ Garth and the Wicked Crew. Which incidently brings us back to a shared friend Eddie from The Garden festival Croatia who was the man who put on the legendary Wicked boat parties with them in SF…..

  6. AJ October 19, 2012 at 11:54 am #

    One night in Basics Harvey presented “The History of Disco” in the upstairs back room (bar basics}. DJ Pierre was supposed to be in the main room, not sure if he turned up. Anyway I danced all night with about 15 others. Memorable.
    At the Chair his last record was http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nweuZKQ16iU Dont Stop Til You Get Enough……I’ll be at Manchester next week, guess I still haven’t got enough. I like the music he plays and he always offers up something unique to take away and remember.

  7. Bryan October 19, 2012 at 11:57 am #

    I got tickets for this because I’m off work the next day and was looking for a night out. I don’t know too much about the man so thanks for the timely blog. I’m a bit excited now. 🙂

  8. Bert Warsaw October 19, 2012 at 12:09 pm #

    I saw him at Miami WMC 2010 (swimming pool party) and that was one of the best nights in my life. It was worth to spend 40 bucks to be there…

  9. Paul Nahm October 19, 2012 at 12:27 pm #

    “worlds are colliding, jerry!”

    harvey was in nyc a few weeks after your set in bk and i had the chance to shoot the shit with him. i casually asked him if he was familiar with your work (as i still had a nice buzz going from your set and was still freshly imprinted) and he noted that he knew of you but your paths hadn’t crossed. so this post comes as a pleasant surprise, but i guess not so much now after knowing you share agents (but still pleasant, nonetheless).

    in any case, growing up, i’ve never been known to be a fan of disco…but the last few years, i’ve gradually come to appreciate this genre. my musical upbringing is firmly rooted from the mid-90’s to the decade thereafter and i just wasn’t exposed (nor did i really search out) proper disco…but with the revival the past few years and master disc selectors like yourself and harvey educating ignorant fools like myself, i’ve come to embrace it wholeheartedly.

    many thanks to both for playing two of my favorite sets this summer. and have fun tonight!

  10. Paul Nahm October 19, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

    addendum: a recent interview w/harvey on nyc’s beats in space radio show where he talks about his upcoming uk appearances and new life choices.


    fwiw, greg should def stop by the bis studio next time he’s in this neck of the woods.

  11. Jillontop October 19, 2012 at 1:39 pm #

    Great piece as always Greg. Worth mentioning that The Tonka Crew were loved & adored by The Underground posse in Liverpool & were involved in Brighton/Liverpool ‘cultural exchanges’ back in the day – they are all piling onto a charabang next Thursday on a pilgrimage to witness the return of the prodigal honorary scouser ! I remember hearing when he played Cream, finishing off with Bowie’s Life On Mars, grown men cried buckets 🙂

  12. Martin Trollope October 19, 2012 at 3:17 pm #

    Used to do the Tonka in brixton and the zap, though my mates were always waiting for Choci to get on toughen things up! I always loved a bit of both!!! And Moist was a great night too…
    Ralph’s recollections of the night in the Vauxhall warehouse was spot on… even better for me because it was in the same premises where my I worked in graphics… double fun and rebellion!!! Tonka has a page on FB if you were there… http://www.facebook.com/groups/6408483234/

  13. Irfan Rainy October 19, 2012 at 3:29 pm #

    It’s interesting observing the world of cult or to some ‘pseudo’ cult DJ, as I often hear from veteran Levan clubbers. I first heard Harvey spin in the bar room of Ministry during the early 90s when taking a break from Masters Of Work, Tony Humphries etc in the main room and he was playing mostly independent label US Deep/Soulful House from New Jersey/New York etc quite similar to the main room but less anthemic songs, he was playing second fiddle to the stars. Then met him many years later at Release The Groove and he came across as straight up mellow and open person who loved music. It’s interesting how he is now regarded as a DJ God in the Disco loving world etc ? I guess the hype is in full flow after no UK set for 10 years ? I think. Anyone who can captivate an audience who are totally into the many styles of music at varying tempos, old and news, disco or not, highlight very unusual records, stick to his mantra for 30 years plus consecutively, play to every colour & creed, be individual and considered as to where he djs can be a legend. Thankfully only a few of those DJs have ever existed. Let’s hope he’s opens up the audience to new music, something I’m pretty sure he is a capable of. 🙂

  14. Ed October 19, 2012 at 4:59 pm #

    Jillontop, my mate spent a good half an hour in Barca in tears at Harvey. Had to keep explaining to strangers he was fine, just really enjoying himself!

  15. james October 19, 2012 at 5:45 pm #

    So when Harvey was a MOS resident he didn’t play the main room with the legendary system? I always thought he did by the way he talks about it (“like steering a boat”). Did he play in the room you enter into with the very long bar- or in that smaller side room?

  16. greg wilson October 19, 2012 at 5:53 pm #

    I’m not sure James, I’m sure somebody else will be able to answer though, but I reckon that he’ll have played in the main room at MOS from time to time regardless – hence the quote.


  17. Harris McNeil October 19, 2012 at 8:39 pm #

    As an og member ( lighting fx visuals and promotion) of the Tonka crew, i’d just like to correct Ralph on the ‘Wicked’ boat parties… Eddie O’Callahan and his wife Gail were the originators of the Bulletproof Boat Party which regularly featured all kinds of DJs incl Wicked DJs.
    I became a part of Bulletproof (lighting Visuals and promotions) over time. The Bulletproof Boat was hands down the best party in SF for over 15 years and Tonka was the og mobile acid house sound system and the best underground party around. Wicked was the relocation of part of Tonka to SF USA which trailblazed underground house music in the Bay Area and the US.

  18. Harris McNeil October 19, 2012 at 9:14 pm #

    …and yes!
    The Vauxhall Tonka party was a hoot! Great party! Gerry Rooney ( Black Cock ) and co. had bribed the security guard in this gated business center with the girls sent in with booze and party favours now and then to keep him sweet. and it did go off lie Ralph said it did until the end of the night when the boss of the security firm showed up with a couple of his henchmen in a Jag I think….really shady looking guys.
    Still don’t know how he found out? maybe the guard had called in drunk or something? The boss guy was livid and really trying to be menacing threatening us and keeping on asking us how we broke in and who helped us etcetc, and he basically tried to keep us prisoner there, in fact he took Eliza, Rob’s GF at the time hostage! because we told him we had to go and get our van or something?
    The cops turned up eventually and boss guy screams at the cops ‘Arrest Them!’ as he purpled up gesticulating wildly at us… we were all as high as fuck drunk as fuck and just laughing at this arsehole raging at us! The cops turned round and told the guy, ‘we cant arrest them sir, as they havn’t done anything wrong as far as we can tell’ and boss guy just goes over the top!! effin and blinding and frothing at the mouth! brilliant! Still makes me chuckle…

  19. Jenifer Glanton October 21, 2012 at 2:49 pm #

    What is general admission to see the Dianna exhibit?

  20. Giovanni October 21, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

    For 7 years I did not miss a single night he played out in London.

  21. Ed October 25, 2012 at 2:42 pm #

    Just popped back to say how much I enjoyed my Friday night, despite queueing for about 1 hr 15, despite there being 3 urinals for 1000 people (ok ladies don’t use them), and the sound being patchy, it was a great event, the music was fantastic and it crowd were really lovely, got chatting to a load of complete strangers, felt like the old raving days (and some of the European festivals that very much have that vibe).

    Harvey didn’t play as many well known records (by me) as when I saw him in Barca, but I’ve enjoyed ploughing through a couple of forums to dig up what he did play. But there was italo, electro, disco, techno and house and then some. And he looped the Nightwriters classic ‘Let the Music Use you’ to fantastic effect and sent us all happily delirious. He’s one of those DJ’s not afraid to slow it down a little, to finish one journey and start another story mid set.

    Enjoyed it so much, I’ve gone down with the flu, always the sign of a ripping good weekend.

  22. Fatneck October 26, 2012 at 9:41 pm #

    Manchester lived up to expectations in my book. Quite a departure from first hearing him play the knuckles dub of Terry Lin back in the MoS days.

    Being sober as a judge I took the oportunity to listen properly to most of the night and was genuinely impressed with the way he covered so many genres seemlessy whilst rocking the party. An eclectic style I think we all strive for as DJs. Paul Rutherford, I-Cube to Scandal in three moves. Acid to contemporary house to disco.

    A mate who was at both the london and ADE gigs basically said he plays loads of your obscure faves and records you have but havnt got the balls to play coupled with loads you’ve never heard of but WANT

    that sums it up for me

    whens the next gig!?

  23. Bryan October 27, 2012 at 3:05 pm #

    I had a great night. I liked the new WHP venue: good sound and light show; space to move about; no queues etc. Good crowd. Greg W – saw you at the back near the bar and was going to say hello but was dragged back to the dancefloor. I only recognised two tracks in the 5 hours I was there. Can anyone help fill in the gaps?

  24. heidi November 14, 2012 at 2:47 am #

    Harvey was resident in the main room at Ministry Of Sound, never the bar. He may have covered once for an absent DJ stepping in after or before his own set. He played both Friday’s at Open and Saturdays at Rulin, such was his range and often either headlining or closing out the night.. He was actually the first guest to play the Ministry’s main room other than Larry Levan long before any other guests, when only Justin and Bert were residents. Even guesting before the likes of Tony Humphries etc.
    Hope that clears it up

  25. Anthony McDonald December 7, 2012 at 10:03 pm #

    Hi Greg

    What is the second track, the instrumental ?

  26. Tim Raidl January 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm #

    Harvey was and still is a great eclectic DJ who broke rules, and picked up a cult following as a result. Great Bloke.

    Choci was a mad full on skinhead, he will not mind me saying, Lived life on Hypa drive, and yes if ever you visited his shop, originally in the basement of Boy in Soho, then later St Annes Court in Soho, again a basement….. it was an experience to behold, especially during the rave scene 91. Good Times…

  27. Pic1london April 3, 2014 at 11:10 am #

    Burning man 2007, Harv played 1 track for over an hour. Twat 🙂

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