AfterDark interviews Greg before the Hacienda Party
Greg Wilson, the man who brought electro to Manchester in the early eighties. Plucked from a residency at Legends (now 5th Avenue) - the club at which Stu Allan would also break new music in the city - Greg was mixing tracks together when it was a new phenomenon. Recruited to play at the Hacienda by Mike Pickering, Greg had already appeared mixing on Piccadilly Radio and on Channel Four's The Tube, a youth-oriented music show that was breaking cutting edge music. On that show, he demonstrated to a young Jools Holland exactly what this DJ mixing lark was all about, while Mike Shaft helped to explain the process to Jools and describe Greg as being, "one of the top guys in the field". Greg's innovative and fresh style earned him the Friday night Hacienda residency in the summer of 1983.
With the Hacienda Easter Party 2014 just a few days away, we thought now was a good time to catch up with Greg and get his thoughts on a few things including what the next dance music frontier might be, the current state of music that's influenced by electro and whether, given that he took a long break from DJ work, he would have done anything differently.
Q: You're originally from Merseyside. Did you feel that, in the early eighties, Manchester as a city had something to offer you that Liverpool didn't in terms of being somewhere that you could break the exciting new music that you wanted to?
Greg: Liverpool had major racism issues at club level post-riots in '81, whereas Manchester had become more cosmopolitan, with students and artists moving into Hulme, which had a prominent black population, bringing about a melting pot environment. This is what gave Manchester its edge, and what would inform the course of the city's music during the Madchester years – the black/white mix, as I called it. The Hacienda embraced this mix of people, something that could never have happened like that in Liverpool at the time.
Q: If you had a time machine and could pop back to early '84, would you tell your younger self to take another path and perhaps keep DJ'ing, not even necessarily out of any regret, but just to see if your career evolved differently?
Greg:I needed to get away from it all. I knew instinctively, but hadn't made any contingency in case problems arose after I'd stopped (which they did). I was cast adrift and it was bumpy, but I never fully capsized, so, at the end of the day, the discomfort was not only worthwhile, but totally necessary. Had I continued I'd have been going through the motions, and that's not something I'm able to do – I'd fallen out of love with the club life and needed fresh nourishment in my life. It was the right thing for me, although it could certainly have been a better planned retirement!
Q: During that break, you produced music and managed bands. Even without the DJ gigs, that must have been a time when you gained valuable experience about other aspects of the music industry that have served you well today?
Greg: Many of the lessons of the music industry are unpleasant ones, stuff you're often better off not knowing – ignorance can be bliss in certain cases. The music business wore me out. It was once the domain of mavericks – people who believed in the artists they signed, even when success failed to happen immediately. Without this type of support you could wipe so many artists, who had a bumpy start to the careers, out of Pop history. For example, David Bowie had released 4 non-charting albums (aka flops) before Ziggy Stardust set him on the way to mega-stardom, and the previous albums that had prompted such a lack of mainstream interest all of a sudden started selling like proverbial hot cakes. This couldn't have happened in the 90's, once the accountants had taken over the industry and everything was rationalised. Problem being that music isn't a rational thing, but works most deeply with emotion. Yes it's a business, but it's music – there should be a balance. I say bring back the mavericks.
Q: Hip-hop has changed a great deal over the years and there are have been many sub-genres within it (hardcore, gangsta, jazzy, commercial, etc.) and styles that have some debt to it (bassline, grime, breakbeat, etc.). What do you think of the current state of hip-hop? Is it now a commercial monster earning millions for moguls that has forgotten its roots, or is there still an underground movement out there that is true to the urban spirit that gave birth to it?
Greg: Hip-Hop was the most successful music form of the late 20th century – it started out as a street form and ended up as a multi-billion dollar industry. That's the fact of the matter, and artists are often taking financial decisions to the detriment of artistic integrity, but they've earned the right to do that if that's their thing. It's more a case of turning away from the mainstream and looking back underground – finding new branches that are growing from much purer motives. There's always the underground, but sometimes it's hidden in the shadows, out of view, and you have to get your torch out and have a good concentrated look about before you find it.
Q: A few years ago electro house popped up as a new genre, and more recently there has been its relative, EDM. Do you feel that giving the former's sound that name was a misnomer and didn't really have any relevance to actual electro, or do you see a connection between it, a relevance, to anything that was happening 30 years ago?
Greg: There's a kind of distant relationship, but a lot of the Funk has been wrung out, and that's the bit that does it most for me. We're in an era where previous descriptive terms are often re-adapted to a contemporary form, which confuses the issue somewhat. For example, I still find it difficult to view myself as a Disco DJ in the current context, but that's the term that's most associated with the music I play nowadays, although, when I think of it, the range of stuff I play would probably have been placed in the Balearic category at a different point. I suppose it just leads to greater confusion when there's more than one Electro, or more than one R&B, but that's the way things are and you've just got to get on with it.
Q: As a DJ that's credited with introducing new music to audiences, where do you think the next frontier might be? Do you think there's anything new and exciting on the horizon, or is dance music just recycling itself and renaming its own sub-genres? Is it even possible that the best dance music has already been created and from here, it's just homages and also-rans?
Greg: At the very moment you believe it's all been done, something always comes along to shock you, and I'm sure this will be the case again, although I'm not sure of where and when. We're going through a period, and a necessary one I believe, where people are re-connecting with the past in a way that's never been possible before – via the wondrous scope of the internet. This is the heritage of younger generations, especially in a country like the UK, which has produced so many incredible recording artists, whilst embracing the greats from overseas, not least the black American artists who had such a huge bearing on the course of music and popular culture here in Britain. We've been in an era of taking things apart to see how they work, then copying what went before, whereas the next phase will have something to do with re-contexualising the past, rather than trying to re-create it. I'm hopeful that we're approaching a more artistic time, where risk takers will gain more admiration, and the same-old same-old will be seen for what it is. It's all about refusing to accept mediocrity – people need to strive for something more.
Q: Which contemporary Manchester clubs/events, if any, do you have respect for, that push boundaries in 2014 and you feel are making their mark on the city's clubscene?
Greg: I played at Antwerp Mansion recently and really liked the environment. A great, slightly off-the-beaten-track venue with bags of character and a top attitude from those who run it. I really think this can be an important space for Manchester.
Words: Justin Richards interviewed Greg Wilson
Just a final reminder then, that Greg plays alongside a host of other legendary names on Good Friday at another of Manchester's important spaces, Sankeys.
- Hacienda Easter Party 2014:
- Friday Apr 18th
- Hacienda @ Sankeys
- Mike Pickering
- Graeme Park
- Greg Wilson
- Justin Robertson
- Jon Dasilva
- Hewan Clarke
- Herbie Saccani
- 10.30 – 5
- £15 advance
Tickets are on sale at Skiddle for the Hacienda party but are due to sell out before the night after a recent ticket warning alerted us that only 200 were remaining.
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