Bill Brewster tells all about his After Dark latest
“It’s just a great excuse to call up people you like and ask ask them for music!”
Bill Brewster laughs down the phone line to us from his home in Bedford with all the confidence of someone who knows they’ve got the best job in the world.
You’ll probably know Brewster best as co-author of ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’, generally accepted among the dance music fraternity as the definitive history of the disc jockey, although ‘How To DJ Properly’ is equally loved and respected. But as well as well as writing books and contributing to many of the country’s best known publications on dance culture, Bill practises what he preaches, DJing and broadcasting on a regular basis. Grimsby-born Brewster, he started the DJ habit after moving to New York to head up DMC’s US offering – he was also Mixmag’s American editor – and cut his teeth playing what he describes as ‘low life’ parties in Harlem and the East Village.
Continuing to this day, he can also be found in the studio re-editing disco obscurities and curios as part of the Fat Camp team and collecting tracks for compilations for the likes of Ministry, Hooj Choons and most recently, Late Night Tales.
It’s the third instalment in his series for Late Night Tales, After Dark: Vespertine, that prompts our call today. A 19-track selection of eclectic range (also available in 12-track unmixed form) all gathered under the banner of more relaxed grooves – “nothing above 115bpm was the idea” – it spans everything from dusted off names from the past like (Ian Dury’s sometime writing partner) Chaz Jankel and 70s hearthrob Gilbert O’Sullivan to current cutting edge names like Carl Finlow aka Silicon Scally.
The need for exclusivity was paramount. “The world of compilations has got very competitive,” he tells us, “especially recently. So it’s all the more important to get your hands on exclusives.”
This, he admits, makes the job of the compilation maker much harder – it’s certainly not a case of simply spinning together a load of tried and tested favourites from your box any more. The label and Brewster first started discussing the idea of Vespertine – which means ‘active after dark’ back in 2018, a mere four years after the previous instalment. But the pandemic hit and everything went on ice for a few years.
Not that assembling all the relevant parts and choosing candidates is a quick and easy process even without globe-stopping events getting in the way. What was his criteria, we ask?
“It all depends, In the case of the Gilbert O’Sullivan one, for instance, it’s something I’d heard when I was a kid. The first record I bought was a Gilbert O’Sullivan one, and I found this one almost by accident. It was big in Germany and it came out about two or three years later here and for whatever reason it didn’t really become well known. So I asked Nail (producer and member of Nottingham’s DIY crew) if he would do a dub for me.”
“In other cases I’d be approaching people that I knew had tracks I liked but they’d never been released.”
See, in this case, the ITG v Hot Toddy track ‘Open Space’. “Hot Toddy gave me three remixes and none of them have come out. Selfishly, as a DJ you’re very happy when things don’t get released because it means hardly anyone else can play them.
“With Carl Finlow, he had four or five old tracks that I really liked. But sometimes you love a track and it’s just not available. For instance, in the case of “Manon Manon’ by Chaz Jankel, I’d been trying to get permission to use that for ages.”
As for stitching the whole tapestry together, it’s very much a matter of trial and error, Brewster says.
Well, trial, error and the magic of one Cheeky Paul, that is. Who he?
He’s the audio wizard that Late Night – and various other big names from the dance world – use to ‘micro manage’ the mixes using computer trickery and secret technology far too complex to explain here.
“It would be absolutely pointless to try to live mix it,” admits Brewster of the 19 track selection without embarrassment. It’s a fair point – it’s not as they’re all records from the same time and genre.
“He’s very, very talented,” he says of Paul, “he’s an absolute legend. John Digweed uses him and the Late Night Tales lot swear by him, we should give him a mention.”
With the compilation chat all tied up, we have to ask where he sees DJ life and club culture going after the pandemic. We’ve heard various conflicting tales. Some say that clubbers are hungrier than ever for ever faster, harder music having been deprived by the pandemic, while others report a cost of living crisis-related downturn after an initial rush back to the dancefloor.
Brewster, who has catalogued the rise and fall of many a generation of clublife activities, is yet to be drawn quite yet. “It’s hard to tell really,” he says. “This is the first full year of clubs being open, last year was a bit stop start. So it’s still early days. We’ll have to wait and see.”