The Cult British DJ Surfing an Endless Summer
DJ Harvey’s life has long been a musical mash-up. Following punk, disco and acid house in the UK, hip-hop in New York, and a residency at London’s Ministry of Sound, his latest project is—strangely for a man better associated with willing on communal bliss in clubs from Montreal to Melbourne—a rock band. Showcased here in a new George Trimm-directed video for single "Last Ride," which stars longboard surfer Joel Tudor, Harvey's group Wildest Dreams is a groove-laden psychedelic odyssey, gleaned from a lifetime of selecting vinyl cuts and a fascination with the darker edges of a hippy culture emanating from his adopted home of California, where he has lived for nearly 15 years. We spoke to the 49-year-old "DJ's DJ" as he nursed a coffee at his beloved Venice Beach, watching 'Big-Wednesday' waves glide across the horizon.
Tell us about the star of the video, Joel Tudor.
DJ Harvey: He’s my buddy, and maybe the best longboard surfer that has ever lived. He basically re-introduced longboard style in the mid-90s when it was very unpopular: he took it back to its roots in the same sort of way that I’ve done musically with the Wildest Dreams record. He’s riding a seven-foot retro single fin board, which is the kind of thing that was being ridden in the 1970s before the short-board revolution started.
What made you start this band up?
DJH: This kind of music is roots music for me. My babysitter played me “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix when I was about eight or nine. I remember them going, “I think it will be a bit heavy for you.” Sonically, no one can escape from how powerful that record is. I was just like, “Wow! I don’t know what heavy is, but I love it.”
With Wildest Dreams, you’ve adapted to your musical surroundings as an adopted Californian in a similar way as you have in the past, with hip-hop in New York for example.
DJH: As an East-Anglian Englishman, I looked to California as a promised land when I was a kid. It had skateboarding, surfing, hot rods, tattoos, the Mansons, the Beach Boys, pornography, the plastic people and the movie industries. It was everything I was into, the dark side of the hippie thing. I aspired to Hollywood babylon: hippy satanism, psychedelia and Frank Zappa and The Mothers, all that wonderful stuff.
Can you trace a lineage from that time to Los Angeles today?
DJH: If you walk down the boardwalk of Venice Beach you hear nothing but Led Zeppelin and The Doors—the local gangsters, the Venice 13, sing along to LA Woman. It’s Californian folk music. But I often feel that some of the greatest of that music was actually made by Brits. It’s almost imported to LA, in many respects: Keith Moon was in a surf band, and The Turtles, Cream and 'Zeppelin were English. So much of it was actually originally made by people who could only dream about being here.
Todd Cole Hits the Ocean With the World Champion Surfer to the Sounds of Liars
Slicing her way through breaking waves, professional surfer Stephanie Gilmore stars in Trestles Forever, filmed on the Pacific Ocean by NOWNESS regular Todd Cole. The 24-year-old Gilmore rose to international prominence in 2007 when she seized the Women’s World Title for the first time, an award she has regained in four of the five years since. “I love working with people from outside the world of surfing,” says the New South Wales native. “It’s so refreshing to see their take on what we do every day.” SoCal-based Cole turned to the famously ocean-adept cinematographer Sonny Miller to swim after Gilmore with a 16mm camera locked into some custom-made underwater gear and loaded with black-and-white reversal stock. “I wanted to create something emotionally true and elemental,” explains the filmmaker. “Light, water, and a strong, talented, beautiful woman, all dancing around.” Overflowing with saltwater bubbles and chiaroscuro the film is set to “The Exact Color of Doubt”, a new track by LA band Liars from their latest album WIXIW. “I’ve had the pleasure of surfing with Devendra Banhart, Megapuss and Unknown Mortal Orchestra drummer Gregory Rogrove,” says singer Angus Andrew. “They’re real surfers—none of that poser Beach Boys crap!”
STATS FROM THE SET
The Trestles, San Diego County.
One day; a few hours in the morning, then off on a boat looking for clear pools of water, and then another hour of surfing at sunset.
Number of waves surfed
Number of surf choreographers used
One: Sonny Miller.
Two Arri 16mm film cameras in custom-made underwater housings.
Food consumed on set
Bagels and cream cheese, chips, guacamole and salsa.
Drink consumed on set
Water, coconut water and some tequila at the end of the day.
Approximate calories burned surfing
5’9 DHD (Darren Handley Designs).
Bikinis by Zero, Maria Cornejo and Cali Dreaming. Wetsuit by Quiksilver.
On the Trail of the Afrobeat Pioneer with Longtime Confidant Rikki Stein
Finding Fela delves into the uncompromising life of Fela Kuti, the Nigerian band leader of Africa 70 and Egypt 80, who fused together the tight-trousered funk of James Brown and the high-life jazz of his home to create a new musical form: Afrobeat. He stood up against the oppression of the Nigerian state, speaking before gigs at the Shrine, the venue in Lagos that became the center of his music. In retaliation he was beaten, his mother was attacked and his house was burned down. But in the midst of the chaos surrounding him, Kuti is remembered as much for his humor, strength of character and lavish lifestyle that included his marriage to 27 women in 1978. Former manager Rikki Stein has helped look after Kuti’s musical legacy since the artist died from an AIDS related illness in 1997: in recent years he has served to bring the Broadway musical Fela! to the world and worked as consultant on director Alex Gibney’s new documentary, excerpted here for the first time. Below, Stein looks back on his time with the man who changed the course of African music.
How did you come to manage Fela?
Rikki Stein: We met at the very beginning of the 80s. Someone played his music to me, and I was completely gobsmacked. I went to see him, to propose a project to him. It was the winter, so I was wearing a hat and a coat and a sweater and a scarf. I went into this unbelievably hot room because he used to carry additional heaters around with him. He was in his Speedos surrounded by lovely ladies, and the hat, coat, scarf and jacket came off. The thing that impressed me most about him was the candor with which he operated. Everything was as clear as a bell, which is not easy to find in the world unfortunately. He had such amazing courage. He took licks from the Nigerian authorities—the guy had scars all over his body, but it didn’t ever stop him. He just said, “Ah well, they didn’t kill me.”
What was it like to try and manage him at that time, when he was at the center of a constant, violent political storm?
RS: You just rode the wave with Fela. He was a great deal of fun to be with. He loved telling stories and had a deep sense of irony, pointing out the ridiculousness of much human endeavor. He wasn’t a cynic, but an optimist, and he insisted on excellence. If you were an audience member, you had to listen to what was going on, and play what he called the ‘Underground Spiritual Game,’ which involved everybody. If you were a follow-spot operator, he’d work your ass off because the guy was everywhere on stage. He enjoyed life. He was somebody who just wanted to make music and fuck and eat. When he came to London he’d perform at the Academy in Brixton. I would say 90 per cent of the audience were Nigerian. I remember him saying, in front of 5,000 people, “Oh, I’m staying at the Russell Hotel, room 439, if anybody wants to come by.” He was looking for ladies, but he accepted anybody. Whoever you were he’d let you in, look at you and say: “Sit down.”
Is he still held up as an important figure in Nigeria?
RS: Yes, definitely. Taking the musical Fela! to Lagos was an amazing experience, because when we put on that show in London or New York it’s a story, but in Lagos it’s history. Young people know Fela and his music but they don’t know much about him. Presenting the show there, we effectively took Fela home. It was a very moving experience.
Do you think he contributed to real change in his country?
RS: The mess in Nigeria during the 70s and 80s I am afraid to say is still there. But when the Nigerian government removed the oil subsidy two years ago, which doubled the price of petrol, people from one side of the country to the other came out on the street and shouted: “Listen to what Fela was saying 30 years ago—it’s still true today.” His music became anthemic to that process. The part of Fela’s legacy that is most significant in Nigeria is that all those licks he took for speaking his mind, people are now speaking their mind without getting the licks.
Finding Fela opens in cinemas September 5.