On DJ culture, the birth of mixing and why ’80s deejays needed to just shut up and dance.
Greg Wilson by Ian Tilton

Greg Wilson is a UK electro pioneer. Here, he talks to Clash about the DJ culture, the birth of mixing and why ’80s deejays needed to just shut up and dance.

“It’s over thirty years since I did my first basic edits. This was for a demonstration tape I made for local radio, which, as was the way back then, would only be listened to if submitted on reel rather than cassette, with the tracks shortened to minimal length (the emphasis placed firmly on how you sounded over the microphone, rather than the music you played). The guy who taught me how to splice tape was a presenter from Radio Merseyside called Dave Porter.

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This is an excerpt from an article that appears in the December issue of Clash Magazine. Pick it up in stores now or subscribe HERE.

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However, it wasn’t until 1982 that I began to explore the possibilities of creative editing. By this point I was a successful DJ playing the latest imports at Wigan Pier and Legend in Manchester. I was also one of the few people in the country to fully embrace turntable mixing and, in May ’82, I was invited by Mike Shaft to create specialist black music mixes for his show on Manchester’s Piccadilly Radio. They were the first mixes of their type in the UK and I became known nationally as an innovator of this style. These early radio mixes were recorded onto reel-to-reel at Legend during the daytime and ‘topped and tailed’ later in one of the station’s editing booths. At first someone else did this for me, but one day there was nobody available so I had a go myself…

This would be the start of my obsession with editing. Pretty soon I’d decided to invest in a home DJ studio, where I’d subsequently record and edit my mixes. I bought a Revox B77 reel-to-reel, along with two Technics SL1200s (extremely rare to see in a club back then, let alone someone’s home), a Matamp Super Nova DJ mixer and a cassette deck (for the occasional pause button sample). When I demonstrated mixing live on Channel 4’s music show, The Tube (February ’83) I also had the Revox on stage with me, using it for dub/echo effects.

What I was doing was pretty unique from a UK perspective. I had nobody to reference, so I devised my own techniques, some of which had been inspired by innovative US bootleg mixes, especially ‘Big Apple Production Vol. 1’, plus some of the Disconet DJ only series. The first ‘Kiss FM Mastermixes’ LP (US Prelude 1982), courtesy of Shep Pettibone, would also make a big impression on me.

Suffice to say that editing has been a major part of my life. Nowadays my work is computer based and I can do things that would once have taken me hours in a matter of minutes - many tape edit effects, previously highly complex and time consuming, are now relatively simple. That’s not to say that the craft has gone out of editing, you still have to come up with the ideas and that’s always the most important thing, no amount of technological expertise can make a silk purse from a sow’s ear. However, the precision and speed of computers undoubtedly makes life much easier, allowing so many more possibilities than I could have imagined during those countless hours sat blade in hand. There are also things that were impossible when I started out, like changing the tempo of a track without changing the pitch. The tools I had at my disposal back then were certainly primitive when compared to what’s available now.

I’m under no illusion that without the movement towards re-editing I could never have returned to deejaying in the way that I have. It was the crucial element of my comeback (in 2003), enabling me to find the balance between past and present following my two decade hiatus. Had I played the same old tunes in the same old way it would simply have been a trip down memory lane, and I doubt my resurgence would have had the legs to go further than the odd booking here and there before I faded back into middle-aged obscurity. Featuring re-edits, both mine and other peoples, I could put a new spin on these older records, whilst the inclusion of more recent productions, often influenced by the type of music I played in the ’70s and early-’80s, added a further contemporary twist. This was, and still is, reflected in the juxtaposition of laptop and reel-to-reel as my primary means of presentation, again fusing past and present to create my own unique proposition.

During the past four years the amount of re-edits has increased drastically. Many DJs now put their own together as a potential stepping stone to wider recognition - by sharing files online, or pressing up copies for the vinyl diehards, a DJ’s association with a particularly popular edit can lead to a notable increase in their club bookings. Whilst some believe that the market has been swamped by the sheer quantity of re-edits in recent years, stifling the amount of original productions that are being made and played, others see it as a shot in the arm for the dance scene, an exciting development that regenerates great music from the past, bringing it into a contemporary setting in a non-nostalgic manner.

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Adapted from the sleevenotes for ‘Credit To The Edit’ Volumes One & Two. Copyright Greg Wilson, 2009
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