Dj Harvey – Sydney – A Boorman Reflection

Art & Culture

What a ridiculous turn of events this was.  Walking through Sydney, no more than an hour off the plane and with every intention of finding a bar that would show the League Cup Final, I struck gold, but this bar did not say on the outside of it: "League Cup Final: Manchester City V Sunderland shown here", instead I stumbled across somewhere that said "DJ Harvey".



Admittedly, the above photo does not prove this, for it was taken the day after the event, but you'll just have to take my word for it that he was up there in a Cinema-style font, outside a cracking little venue in the centre of Sydney called the Oxford Art Factory.  As much as I wanted to show some kind of north-eastern solidarity and cheer on Sunderland from the other side of the world; when the ultimate DJing enigma (at least in the UK anyway) – the Resident Advisor Master Of Hype – turns up out of the blue, and all you have to do is walk down a staircase to see him… well, you've just got to haven't you?


He'd already been playing three hours but there were still three to go – more than enough time, as it turned out, for him to traverse about ten different genres and four different decades, but in a good order.  I rated this set as better than the one he played at The Warehouse Project in 2012 (which was ambitious but didn't really ever catch fire), and I think the intimacy of the venue and a really up-for-it crowd helped with that.


What made it even more surreal to me, was that only a matter of hours earlier in Cairns airport, I killed time waiting for my flight to Sydney by re-editing one of Harvey's tracks (under his Locussolus moniker on International Feel) so it could incorporate a few samples from Harry Redknapp.  When sitting at the departure gate I was convinced that Redknapp would sound good during the farcical build up of Locussolus – I Want It, so I fired up Ableton and did something about it.  



While Harvey's music on International Feel provided the soundtrack, Harry Redknapp was the other thing that defined my time on the dole in 2010 – Sky Sports News would give me an almost daily fix of him.  When he wasn't leaning out of his car window denying that Spurs were going to sell Roman Pavyluchenko ("unless, yer know, we get a ridiculous offer or something like that"), he was putting the world to rights in a press conference, and never funnier than when he was indignant at the suggestion that his players were going to have a Christmas party, which of course they duly did a couple of days later; so my Redknapp sample bank started with "I don't think they would take the liberty… I wanna see them enjoy their sel's but we haven't got nothing to celebrate really" etc. etc.; but by the end of the week, there he was – responding to photos in the tabloids of an absolutely spannered Robbie Keane at the end of a long night: "But that don't make it right – it was wrong, and it'll be dealt with".  His angry reiteration of "IT'LL BE DEALT WITH it'll be dealt with; severely, it'll be dealt with", which almost perfectly resolved from a Minor 3rd, made me convinced that this would be worth sampling some day… and over four years later en-route to Sydney, this was the result:



So without knowing it, Harvey had already played a significant part in my day, and then there he was, rocking a small club in Sydney.  As ever with Harvey, the moments you remember the most are the brazen oldies and funny edits, because you just don't recognise any of the rest of it.  He makes genre almost irrelevant, and it was good to see people of all kinds of different ages really getting off on it – it was a far less anorak crowd than turned out to see him for his UK comeback in 2012.


Highlights for me were Klein & MBO – Dirty Talk (sans cheesy vocals – might have been the Greg Wilson edit, but was probably his own), and some madcap mix of Giorgio Moroder – The Chase which basically sounded like what would have happened if Erol Alkan or Tiga had remixed it in 2004; that manic update of 80s Gay Disco that was big back then.  For his last tune he played this:



Mixed emotions for me.  I was initially delirious thinking "ah hahahaha he's actually playing David Morales – Needin' U… what a nerve… not even Tenaglia would have done this" and then of course I realised that this must be something from the 70s that Morales copied, pasted and resold to me and the rest of the gullible 90s youth.


This actually hurt – really hurt.  It's up there with the moment I found out that The Soul Providers – Rise – what I thought was revolutionary vocal house when I first started partying – was basically just Idris Muhammad – Could Heaven Ever Be Like This with a different vocal; and of course the moment when my mother cracked under questioning and admitted to me that she was actually The Tooth Fairy.  


These moments make you realise not much is pure in life.  Even Pete Heller, an intellectual muso of the highest order, as comfortable debating the concept of Binary Oppositions in the Deconstruction Theory as he is laying down edgy Acid Techno… what made him famous to people my age?  Big Love.  A track that took him just a day, heavily sampling Stargard – Wear It Out, which he only started doing anyway because he was bored in the studio without his normal partner in crime Terry Farley, who was off watching Chelsea playing in a cup final.  Lucky Heller is a Spurs fan then – better off in the studio than watching that.


You see?  Not watching cup finals can work wonders sometimes.  And so can sampling it would seem.  Once I'd got over my shattered delusions about David Morales' prowess in the studio, I conceded it is a mighty fine thing that Harvey stands for both the unashamed recycling of old stuff as well some un-pillaged originality from the 70s and 80s.  But what sets him apart from the legions of Disco-hashers is the irony; the fun.  What he does with old music makes Morales look like a rapist; but it's not like I'm telling you anything new here – it's all been documented by the Harvey hype machine – but I guess what people might not immediately assume is that in his longer sets – and this one in Sydney was actually six hours – there are quite extended periods where it's just plain dirty; full of scary noises.


It's quite difficult to describe what this sound is (which I'm sure is just how he wants it), and even if you can get it down to a genre ('wild animal noises' was about as common a theme as I could find), no bugger has any idea what the songs are anyway.  Almost every track of the darker stuff he played, you could see at least one person reaching for Shazam, which as I've learned from experience is a pretty futile pursuit during a Harvey set.  On the rare occasions it picks something up he plays – and these tend to be the Disco-irony moments – it's probably one of his own edits anyway.


With more UK dates this year I think the Harvey bandwagon will continue to slow down – he is elusive no longer – but if Sydney is anything to go by, there is still that element of mystique in his DJ performance that everyone told us there was from across the pond.  And then there's the other people who tell you that when he was a jobbing DJ on the London scene back in the day, he was never all-that, and that he's not doing anything different now; but in the context of the producer-cum-DJ dross that comes out of a Macbook in clubs today, Harvey is a better performer than most.

Mike Boorman