John Digweed on the One Constant in Dance Music: "The Crowd Stays the Same Age"

The one thing aspiring DJs must possess is a good set of ears. Passion, drive, and an expensive setup are important enough, but as legendary DJ John Digweed told Miami New Times, "If you can’t hear the detail and beauty in certain tracks, you will miss out on those tracks that will make you stand out from the crowd.”

Digweed knows. He’s graced stages from Ibiza to Buenos Aires during his 25-year tenure as a dance floor name. He moves in circles with the likes of Carl Cox and the Prodigy. For a decade, Digweed ranked in DJ Mag’s annual top ten DJs list, even earning the number one spot in 2001.

Recognition may have come suddenly for Digweed, but it didn’t come quickly. The Hastings, England native cut his teeth in his hometown at the tender age of 15 before he and long-time collaborator Sasha released what’s considered to be the first proper DJ mix compilation, Renaissance: The Mix Collection, in 1994. Sasha and John Digweed's Renaissance ushered electronic dance music (the classic kind, not today’s EDM) into a new era in which compilations were intentionally marketed and promoted and the names behind the albums competed for significance with the music they produced.

Renaissance and a tendency to perform epic eight-hour sets earned Digweed the “superstar" title before DJ superstardom was really even a thing. "In the '90s, in the UK, myself along with a few other DJs were called 'superstar DJs' due to our ability to sell loads of tickets and loads of CDs,” he admitted, with a hint of discontent. The title didn’t sit well with Digweed. He never wanted to steal the show. His music, he said, should be the star.

Superstardom has different connotations today than it did in Digweed's heyday. "The superstar DJs today are having number one records worldwide, selling out stadiums, and having millions of social media fans,” he said. “It’s crazy to see how big some of these guys are, but they are making and playing pop music, so they can’t really be judged alongside techno and deep house DJs as it's two different worlds.”
Though DJs and their music may have mutated into pop, there’s one thing Digweed said seems to never change: “Every time I look out of the DJ booth, the crowd stays the same age.” Digweed acknowledges and appreciates his older, loyal fans but recognizes that the younger generations keep his sets fresh and electric.
And that’s really what it’s about – the music.

Rather than taking the main stage at Ultra, Digweed prefers to perform in Carl Cox’s tent, where music is priority number one. During his epic sets, Digweed showcases his musical acumen, transitioning between various styles, from deep house to hard techno, playing the crowd with the care of an orchestral conductor. "Making peaks within your set creates energy,” he said, “and knowing when to rest the crowd helps. You don’t want the crowd putting there hands in the air every record; they will get tired and the energy will drain from the room.”

This September, Digweed and Sasha will play back-to-back at the Social Festival in Kent, which has both new and old fans abuzz. Reflecting on his early years in Hastings and those since Renaissance, Digweed said he has no regrets. "I would do it all the same again if I had the chance – the long, hard slog at the start made me who I am today and also makes me appreciate what I have today.”

Who he is today is a legendary DJ who maintains relevancy and integrity in a scene where both are in short supply. And despite praise that may have ballooned the heads of most men, Digweed hasn’t lost his — or those ears. 

John Digweed. 11 p.m. Saturday, June 18, at Story Nightclub, 136 Collins Ave., 305-538-2424; Tickets cost $20 via
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Dyllan Furness is Miami New Times' "foreign" correspondent. After earning a degree in philosophy from the University of Florida, he crossed the pond and dove into music, science, and technology from Berlin.
Contact: Dyllan Furness