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September 2, 2014

DJ Harvey's Wildest Dreams

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 the 49-year-old "DJ's DJ" as he nursed a coffee on 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.

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Our Vinyl Weighs a Ton

Kanye, Madlib and J Dilla Share the Screen in a New Documentary On Hip-Hop Institution Stones Throw Records

“Hip-hop was stale, like the worst kind of bread you don’t even want to feed to ducks,” recalls Portishead's Geoff Barrow of the creative torpor that afflicted the world of beats and rhymes in the late 1990s. In part it was Stones Throw Records that helped rescue the rap game—and now it is getting its due as the subject of a compelling new documentary directed by Jeff Broadway, Our Vinyl Weighs A Ton. Equal parts tragedy and celebration of the human spirit, the film shows how the tiny independent inspired some of the biggest names in music, from Kanye West to Snoop Dogg, the Beastie Boys to the Roots.

Stones Throw is the life’s work of Californian Chris Manak, better known as Peanut Butter Wolf. Manak launched the Los Angeles imprint in 1996, to put out posthumously the rhymes of his close friend and musical partner Charles Hicks, aka Charizma, shot dead in a car-jacking at the age of 20. As the label’s reputation grew, Wolf found a new figure to inspire him in the shape of prodigious beat alchemist, Madlib. Working in the studio from 7pm to 7am every day and fueling his endeavors with epic quantities of magic mushrooms, Madlib took hip-hop to new levels of nuance. His innovations earned small-time Stones Throw a big-time reputation, and attracted another visionary to the label—Detroit's J Dilla, whose production skills are discussed in tones of reverence by hip-hop cognoscenti, not least Yeezus himself. 

Dilla’s death from a blood disorder at the age of 32 is a shocking moment in the narrative. But the release of his instrumental album Donuts just three days after his death in 2006 sealed Stones Throw's reputation. Today the label is home to musicians of every stripe, from soul singer Mayer Hawthorne to guitar bands like Stepkids. “Most of the things I sign are things that nobody's heard of,” says Peanut Butter Wolf with a smile of pride. “In 30 years I want to find Stones Throw's records either in the $100 bin or the 99 cent bin: I want people to really love it, or really hate it.”—Tom Horan

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Spotlight

Jamie xx: Sleep Sound

Deaf Dancers Move to the Silence with Artist Sofia Mattioli

“I was on a train listening to music, getting deep into it, and this girl started staring at me,” says London-based artist and poet Sofia Mattioli of the genesis of her video for Jamie xx’s “Sleep Sound.” “After a while I took my headphones off and she came up to me, started signing and then wrote me a note to say that she was deaf but could almost feel the music by my movement.” With the germ of an idea from this chance encounter, Mattioli was asked to create a video for the member of The xx and Grammy-winning producer of Alicia Keys, Gil Scott-Heron and Drake. During the course of one day, she danced with 13 members of the Manchester Deaf Centre with ages ranging from five to 27 years old, who responded to the movement of the artist and the vibrations in the air given off by the song. “The relationship between silence and music is a big part of what I am trying to express with my work,” says Mattioli. “The first kid in the video, Archie, was bliss—all of them were amazing. I hope this is a project I can develop further.”

"Girl / Sleep Sound" is out May 5 on Young Turks.

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