DJ Harvey: Another Day, Another Disco

The commingling of punk and disco isn’t as loopy as it sounds; if punk was partly about defiance and subversion, professing love for the supposedly superficial genre was about as punk as you could get. At the turn of the decade, proto-rap from the likes of Spoonie Gee and Bobby Broom started percolating from the States. The way Harvey sees it, hip-hop culture owes a debt of gratitude to disco, a fact he feels is overlooked to this day: “By the way, boys and girls, hip-hop comes from disco, that’s why it’s called disco breaks—the original hip-hop record is done over a Chic riff, not a fucking Lost Poets riff. Get with the program, children! Watch 80 Blocks from Tiffany’s and get educated.”

Bewitched by these new American sounds, Harvey and a friend flew to New York in 1985 in search of hip-hop, their one-way tickets financed by the friend’s inheritance from his father’s death in a slaughterhouse accident. It was Harvey’s first visit to America. “We slept in Washington Square Park, we hung with the Rocksteady Crew, we walked up Manhattan to Soundview Park in the Bronx, we went dancing at Studio 54 and Jellybean was DJing, we hung with the Fat Boys at the Roxy, we went painting trains in the layups with Mare and Seen, all that.” And the trip was not without debauchery. “The crack cocaine blew my mind,” he says. “And they thought we were rich and took everything we owned, so we took everything they owned…oh, it got ugly.” Too broke for a plane ticket back to England, Harvey hopped a bus to California instead, crashing with an ex-girlfriend’s family and gardening the gilded landscapes of Palo Alto—his first taste of the California voodoo—until he could afford to fly home.

Back in the overcast UK and still under the influence of the New York scene, Harvey invested in laceless Adidas and a Kangol and began cutting up breaks and teaching himself the basics of DJing. For the next several years, he perfected and experimented with the practice as part of the Tone Def Krew (or TDK), later known as Tonka, a collective of DJs that operated mostly independent of the thuggish world of mainstream clubs and promoters. Tonka’s free all-night parties on beaches and in warehouses, as well as a monthly night at the Zap in Brighton, placed hip-hop and disco alongside the emerging house, techno and blissed-out Balearic sounds that defined the scene’s golden age, before the Criminal Justice Act of 1994 clamped down hard on rave culture.

For Harvey, what followed in the next decade and a half was general decadence, a blur of parties and residencies all over the world, and the occasional pause for a cheeky side project. In the early ’90s, his series of edits with Gerry Rooney under the Black Cock label achieved cult status and led to gigs producing and remixing for bands like The Police and LCD Soundsystem. Later, he and fellow Tonka alum Thomas Bullock formed Map of Africa—allegedly named for the damp silhouette your junk leaves on the sheets after acts of sexual congress—and wrote a scuzzy classic-rock record that pays tribute to the heroes of their youth, including Motorhead, Deep Purple and Pentangle. Mostly, though, Harvey has spent the past 20 years in the booth, cementing a reputation as a man to whom you could and should entrust your night, if not your drugs and your daughters.

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POSTED July 4, 2011 10:00AM IN FEATURES Comments (1) TAGS: , ,