One person who is most definitely not swayed by all this hard-earned cred is his 18-year-old son, Harley, proof that all teenagers think their parents are egregious dorks. “He came up to me recently and said, ‘Your music’s gay,’” says Harvey. “I said, ‘Son, you wouldn’t know gay if it jammed its fist up your rear. I told him, ‘You can’t understand the blues until you’ve had your heart broken, and you can’t understand disco until you’ve had group sex on Ecstasy.’” Harley lives with his mother, Heidi Lawden, Harvey’s ex and current manager, whom he met in London, where they threw a popular club night called Moist. If Harvey doesn’t appear to be sweating things, a big chunk of the credit goes to Heidi, who handles all of the details of his career that he can’t be bothered with. Sometimes it almost seems like she has two children. “Me and Heidi have a fantastic relationship, and I get to see a lot of Harley,” says Harvey, who shows surprisingly classic Dad tendencies. “The worst thing I could possibly do if he’s chilling in his room with his boys is threaten to come in and do a silly dance,” says Harvey. Heidi is also friendly with Sam, Harvey’s current girlfriend, not to be confused with the woman to whom he’s currently married (aloha, green card), who’s in Hawaii at the moment. Basically, just smile and imagine Big Love, but set in Venice and minus the polygamy, religion and Harry Dean Stanton.
Thursday evening at the Mophonics studio in Venice, Harvey rolls up to remix a Bjørn Torske track with his engineer, Josh Marcy. The pair also collaborated on a new release, Locussolus, a return to classic Harvey form: an upbeat, danceable A-side and a slightly freakier B-side. Before getting to work, Harvey strums an electric sitar and talks the basics of DJing. In contrast to his laid back approach to life, this is clearly a serious discipline. Nothing he does in a set is random. And there are rules: he never plays two female vocalists back to back (because one will outshine the other) or a lyric he doesn’t believe in. Volume and tempo are tools of the trade, and 120BPM is the magic number for inducing a trance state. “I haven’t managed to take it into the laboratory but I have had dance floors where I’ve seen the difference between 110, which is sort of sleaze-boogie tempo, more of a rolling groove, and 120, which is more of a head-nodder. 130, 135’s different—that’s techno orgy energy, before it slips into a junglesque or happy hardcore realm.” He sees the cycles on the dance floor as having a strong basis in the natural world. “The earth goes around the sun every 24 hours. It’s a very slow boom, but it’s a boom. And you speed up that stuff and start to deal with earthquakes, weather patterns, patterns of volcanic eruption, rhythms of life, seasons, rebirth. You get into the rise and fall of empires,” he says. “I’m not lying in bed awake thinking about it, but it’s something I realize exists and I play with a little.” When he brings up the brown note, the low frequency that allegedly makes you crap yourself, it’s an unsettling reminder that DJs also have the potential to inflict harm as well as highs.
Harvey’s ongoing claim to fame is Sarcastic Disco, a serialized private party in LA that stakes its reputation on good vibes and Harvey’s epic 11PM to 7AM sets, which are exercises in stamina. “Sometimes people will walk up to me and start a conversation and I’ll have to say, ‘I’m dreadfully sorry, it might just look like I’m standing here being really fucking cool, but I’m working so goddamn hard right now you have no idea. I’m concentrating on the two records that I’m playing at this present moment, and you’re talking in my ear because they’re playing together so well you don’t even realize they’re playing together,’” he says. “So I’m holding that down, right, and I’m trying to think what the next record is gonna be, and all this stuff is going around me, and I’m gonna be doing this for the next seven or eight hours, basically I’m in a state of virtual panic for eight hours at a time, plus I dance all that time, too, bobbing up and down, moving around, and I’m throwing some Jack Daniels back and smoking a whole pack of Marlboros—yeah, it can get quite intense.”