Perhaps because Dave Lee isn’t the most exciting name for a muso, Joey Negro opted for something a little more exotic by the time he was becoming a household name in house music circles.
And the name-changing didn’t stop there.
A DJ and producer who has been inextricably linked with club culture since the mid-1980s, Joey/slash/Dave has also gone on to adopt other noms de plume. Whether you’ve heard of them all isn’t the point, since it’s the music that matters most. And of that, you’re sure to have heard plenty.
American Dream, Must Be The Music, Saturday, Can’t Get High Without U, Make A Move On Me: these songs and more have infliltrated so many soundtracks of the lives of club-goers the world over. Forty years on, and the guy is still mixing and making fresh tunes for the rest of us to move to.
Cream catches up with Joey Negro to talk club culture, about the talent it takes to ‘remake’ club tracks rather than simply ‘remix’, and, yes, which drugs go better with specific genres of music.
Hi Joey. Dave Lee… Jakatta… Akabu… Raven Maize… Why do you work under so many pseudonyms?
Well, I don’t really have that many anymore. I did for a while. I guess at that point I was making a lot of music and it made sense to release them under different names, because I would sign to a label, and I would have to sign with them exclusively, or they’d want a contract and it was under a certain name. I wasn’t tied to it in terms of my name being on the contract, so it helps me and it helps the label. If a record was successful they could have a number one under that name, and I couldn’t just run off, but at the same time if it all went wrong I could [move on].
I’m guessing also that as a DJ you wouldn’t want to play too many tracks from the same artists, right?
Yeah, if you don’t read the label then yeah! Ha ha. Friends of mine are DJs that say “I never play two songs in a row from the same person” and I think, well, if I like the songs and I think they go well together, I don’t think it matters. Do you know what I mean?
Sure. You’ve been doing the music thing for quite a while. What else has been going in Joey/Dave’s world?
Well, I had a baby at the beginning of the year, so that’s been quite dominant in my day. The day usually starts at around 6am with me getting up and looking after the baby for a few hours. Work-wise, I don’t really do anything else. Obviously I’m in the studio. Then on the weekend I have a couple of gigs, but I try not to DJ more than twice in one weekend.
There must be a lot of aspiring musicians and DJs out there who would want to know what you did before you became well-known.
Initially, I was unemployed for quite a while. Then I went on this scheme called the Enterprise Allowance Scheme which was basically a way of getting people off the dole here [in the UK] in the ’80s. It was during the Margaret Thatcher era, and I went on that as a sort of ‘musician’. I wasn’t really a musician, but I was in a band and we bought a drum machine and you got slightly more money, and you didn’t have the pressure of having to look for a job, or having to take jobs that were being offered to you. But my first proper proper break was a job I got in a record shop. Then I started my own label, but with somebody else’s money [Rough Trade’s capital]. I was lucky because it was around at the beginning of the house music thing.
So what’s the secret to becoming a reputable DJ/producer?
It depends on what sort of music you’re making, but I’d say try and do something that is a bit more than just a DJ track. Try and get a consistent stream of music out. I have friends that are music makers and whatever, and sometimes they take too long to make something and release it. To really make an impact, you need to release maybe six things in a time period and try and get them on decent labels. Easier said than done, I know, but even if you just release it on your own label, try and get some half-decent artwork, and try to make a bit of a splash.
Your ‘Remixed With Love’ compilations are absolutely brilliant. I think my favourite is your remix of Patrice Rushen’ ‘Haven’t You Heard’ which is getting smashed in clubs at the moment. Are you actually remaking these tracks as opposed to remixing them?
Well they’re remixes but they’re remixes from the [original] 24-track tapes or 48-track tapes, depending on the song. Sometimes even just 16-track tapes. It’s much, much different doing a remix like that then just putting the record into a computer and adding a drum beat. When you’ve got the multi-track you’re able to get rid of things and add things, like I added congas and bongos to the Patrice Rushen track. For me, the best tracks to remix are ones that have never been remixed.
On that note, there seems to be a lot of re-edits of tracks coming out, but there doesn’t seem to be too much new disco. What do you think the future of disco is?
Well I don’t know, really. I think unfortunately a lot of the people making edits and whatever, they’re not actually capable of making a new record themselves, because they don’t have the money or the know-how. It’s a very different skill set to put a record in Ableton and add drum beats and loop bits and pieces of it. It’s cheap to do and relatively easy. Making a record from scratch is much harder and involves a lot more money, and so I can understand why a lot more people aren’t doing it. Also the reality is that the re-edit of the old school disco record will sell better.
Will you be releasing more different takes on the disco front?
I’m actually releasing a new album of what I generally consider disco music – most of which has no samples or anything like that in it. Because I’ve got the money to do it and I can afford to do it. I’m lucky, you know; I’m doing it ’cause I just want to do it and I enjoy doing it.
Do you think disco is still relevant in today’s queer scene?
Yes, I think it is, but perhaps not as relevant. Obviously in London, you have nights like Horse Meat Disco, but I tend to think it was more relevant in the ’70s. Now, it’s maybe lost that cutting-edge it used to have, and I suppose other sorts of music like techno have come along and it’s more extreme. In my experience of going to gay clubs, they like to have that more extreme, repetitive sort of music, and I suppose disco was that in 1977/78 when it was cutting-edge and new. Maybe disco has gone the way of jazz, it’s seen as a little more white and middle class… Not that I agree with that. I think good music is good music, and I still think there is good new disco coming out; people like Crazy P or whatever.
Does drug culture have an influence on the music we’re hearing?
I think sometimes, when it’s a druggy audience, they’re looking for, like, music that’s got a lot of excitement. Excitement seems to be the number one quality they’re looking for. So these records with massive drops, snare fills, white noise, where the bass comes in and drops out again; in some ways that works better with the drugs than maybe something that is a bit more soul-based and, in comparison, quite mellow.
I guess it could also be the kind of drugs that are around at any given time. There was a lot more LSD in the ’70s, and maybe joyful disco was really nice on that?
I suppose it depends on what your musical preference is as well. Whatever drugs I’m on, I wouldn’t want the 135bpm-type stuff with the big drops and whatever. Coke is a drug that I think doesn’t go particularly well with music. And ketamine, I think, makes people want something that’s got very little in it musically, because I don’t think you’re in the best state to appreciate something with chords and strings or whatever. You just want a few wonky noises so you so you can sort of like stare at the wall and see funny shapes…
Joey Negro headlines ‘Sunset Safari’ on New Years Day in Melbourne, supported by Dr Packer and Late Nite Tuff Guy. Joey also plays sets on the following dates: December 30 at Sugar in Adelaide, and New Year’s Eve at The Port in Sydney (early set) and Manly Wharf Hotel in Sydney (late set).