As a music writer, speaking to Greg Wilson is the journalistic equivalent of drunkenly gabbing with a friend over cigarettes. Having stepped outside of the party, you’re now free to rant, rave, and gesticulate as wildly as possible; ideas are exchanged, historical precedents are cited, and rhetorical positions are asserted, all in the name of sharing serious insights about unserious things. That is to say, music is a big deal to Wilson.
Wilson was the first DJ to live-mix on U.K. television and once held a residency at the Haçienda, the legendary Manchester club that once lay at the heart of British dance culture. What's more, he’s a master on the decks. Wilson’s 2009 Essential Mix for BBC Radio 1 — one of the station's best — is a gob-stopping electro odyssey, deftly weaving seminal moments and genres in dance history into one awe-inspiring tapestry. Those wishing to acquaint themselves with Wilson before his set at Bardot tomorrow evening should start here.
Wilson bristles at the notion of the DJ as an educational figure. “The primary role of a DJ is to entertain,” he says. "But within that... you have the ability to introduce new music."
Wilson’s egalitarian approach to DJing can also be glimpsed in his blog, Being a DJ. For anyone who’s ever peeked over a DJ booth or caught themselves Shazam-ing in the middle of a set, Being a DJ is an invaluable resource, offering dope tracks, moving personal anecdotes, and well-researched music history. In addition to being there for many of dance music’s most exciting moments (cue the LCD Soundsystem), Wilson is also the rare DJ who can wax rhapsodic about the intersection of social circumstance and sonic palette.
“If you go back to New York at the turn of the 1900s, when you’ve got all those different communities coming together and they can’t speak each other’s language and they’ve got to work it all out," he says, "out of that you get this amazing cultural shift.” And from his disco-tinged record selection to his writings, Wilson has shown that he regards the music of black artists as “the story of the 20th Century.”
“From jazz through blues through rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll into funk and soul and disco... that was the music that first really connected with me,” Wilson remarks. “It got me on a deeper level than the pop music that I was into.”
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Wilson speaks in strongly empathetic terms about the necessity of dance music in people’s lives. He recalls the early days of dance music in Britain during the rampant capitalism of Margaret Thatcher's rule in Britain. “The term 'party,' I’m uncomfortable with it," he says. "It wasn’t a party; It was people that in their day-to-day life were being stopped and searched by the police, getting racist abuse, they had no prospects — it was a pressure cooker, and they had to let go. And the way that they let go was in the club and on the dance floor. But they walked around the streets of their community, and other people would [chatter] about them... because they could dance.”
Having borne witness to so much of dance music’s history as well as studied its underpinnings, Wilson has no doubts about the medium’s future or its ability to persist in turbulent times. If anything, given the general historical arc of emotionally resonant music emerging from trying circumstances, its brightest days might just be ahead of it.
“People always want to dance!” Wilson says, dismissing the music’s recurrent doomsayers. “Dance music never dies! Because people, in any circumstance, want to go out and dance, whether that be in times of great stress or war... [or just] to forget their woes and let go on the dance floor.”