With a third volume of 'Credit To The Edit' about to land in stores, we catch up with one of the UK's most revered DJ veterans
It's a sad fact that the vast majority of us who take up the fine art of mixing two records together will never, ever get to anything like "famous DJ" status. So fair play to Manchester veteran Greg Wilson - he's managed it twice, emerging in the 70s and 80s and then mounting a remarkable comeback in the 21st Century.
Starting out playing soul records in his home town of New Brighton on Merseyside in the mid-70s, Wilson went on to become resident at the famous Wigan Pier, where he helmed the Tuesday night jazz-funk sessions. A move to Legends in Manchester followed, where Wilson would make his name as a champion of electro and 'electrofunk'. It was here that he became known as one of the first UK DJs to actually beatmatch, a skill he famously demonstrated on The Tube in 1983 - the first time a DJ had mixed live on UK television. Wilson also became a Friday night resident at the then brand-new Haçienda, and - legend has it - taught Fatboy Slim (or Quentin Cook, as he was then known) to scratch during a Haçienda tour that year.
In what would be a surprise move today, a 23-year-old Wilson then retired from DJing to concentrate on production and management at the end of 1983. Together with the two male members of what would become 80s jazz-pop outfit Swing Out Sister, he produced all but one of the tracks on Streetsounds' seminal UK Electro album, and for a while in the late 80s he managed Manchester trio Ruthless Rap Assassins. But apart from compiling the 1994 Classic Electro Mastercuts album, his career in the 1990s was a little bit on the downlow.
That all changed in the early 00s when he set up the website Electrofunkroots, concerned that this crucial period in dance music history wasn't being properly documented compared to the disco that came before or the house that came after. That led to a series of DJ bookings - one early appearance was at Bristol club night best before:, run by iDJ's very own Matt Anniss - and then, in 2005, a compilation of his re-edits on Tirk, called Credit To The Edit. And lo, Wilson was suddenly a famous DJ all over again, in demand on the festival and club circuit not just in the UK but worldwide.
A second volume of Credit To The Edit was released in 2009 - and now, nearly 10 years later, Volume 3 is about to land in stores, featuring Greg's take on tracks by everyone from French disco pioneers Space and Fab 5 Freddy, via T-Coy and Bassheads, to the more contemporary likes of Red Rack'em and Psychemagik.
Here, iDJ talks to Greg to find out how the album was put together...
Were the edits on this album ones you'd already made for your club sets, or was everything made fresh, or was it a bit of both?
"Yeah, a little bit of both. When we did the original Credit To The Edit album, it was about putting together new edits for it - there were a few I'd already done but most of them I made for that album. Whereas now, nine years later, I've done a lot more edits and reworks and so on, so there was all that to draw from. We added a couple of things, like the Fab Five Freddy one and the Space one I did with Peza, but all the other tracks are things I'd already done."
When you think about editing a track, is it always about the end result - "I want a version of that to play that does this" - or is it sometimes about the process - "I want to try doing such-and-such"?
"It's a means to an end, as far as I'm concerned. It's wanting a version I can play out myself. For example, the Chaz Jankel Glad To Know You track... that's actually a Todd Terje Edit and I edited into that, because I was never a great fan of the vocal on that track but I loved the music. And so from that, I took out the vocal and made it into a coherent instrumental edit that I can play.
"It might be a track, for example, that you like everything about it except the middle eight, or you like the chorus but you don't like the verses. It's really doing a bespoke version that suits you, originally. And then after that, if other people like it, it's great to be able to share with other people.
"Another good example would be Spacer by Sheila & B. Devotion. There's a track that, for me, has a very, very cheesy verse. I used to play it, back in the late 70s when it came out, but back in those days you never had the option to edit, so you either played it or you didn't. That verse always grated me but the backing track... it's Chic! What they did was implant a French singer on top of a Chic track, but although the chorus works for me, the verse never did. So what I did was strip it down, make it more instrumental and let the backing shine through more."
How are these edits approached from a practical point of view? You famously play reel-to-reel tapes live - are you doing any actual tape editing with a razorblade, or is it all in the computer?
"No, the tape is used in a different way these days. Originally I used it as an editing tool, but now it's there to enhance what I'm playing on CD. So I'll play tracks on CD and I'll spin sound effects and samples and bits of voiceover over the top. And also I can use the reel-to-reel to get dub effects, by feeding it back through itself. So it's used very much as a supplement.
"It would kind of be pointless me editing on reel, because of the time factor - it's very time-consuming to edit on tape. If I want to repeat a bar 16 times, on tape I have to record that single bar and edit it 16 times. With digital, I record it once, then press the number 15 and I've got my 16 bars. It'd just be romantic to edit on tape now - there's no practical advantage to it that I can see."
So what software do you use - what's in your studio?
"I'm a bit stuck in the past. My three main programs historically for editing have always been Cool Edit Pro, Sound Forge and Acid Pro, which is a loops-based system. So it's a combination of those three."
Does the re-editing process become addictive? Do you find yourself wanting to tweak and fine-tune every record?
"Not for me personally, no - I play a lot of original tracks! There's got to be a necessity for an edit, because I only have a finite amount of time, so I need to be doing it for a purpose. But sometimes I'll hear edits that other people have done, and I think it's all in order, it sounds good, it's simple but effective... and then about two-thirds of the way through, they'll try to be too fancy with it. They'll do a big flourish of editing, and to me it ends up sounding messy.
"I think people feel they need to do more to the track to really call it an edit. But I don't think that's true: it's just whatever you need to do that works, and sometimes that's very simple. There's certain edits I've done where it might just be an edit that runs the instrumental into the vocal, and that's all it needs. To fancy that up would be superfluous.
"So I try not to do that, because I've only got so much time, and as well as editing tracks I also produce and write music, so I'm always busy. But with the overall 'movement', I think there is sometimes a tendency for people to over-egg the pudding."
Do you think young DJs sometimes feel re-editing is something they need to be seen to be doing?
"I don't know if age comes into it in that way, but I think what you do get sometimes is people making really simple edits and then putting them out under their own name. And younger audiences might not realise, but I'll know that it's by X artist from such a year... so I like to keep it all pointing back to the source. I like the idea of someone hearing an edit I've done and then seeking out the original to compare the two. They might actually prefer the original, but that's part of the process too."
It's interesting that you mention the need not to over-edit, because there are a couple of edits on the album where I struggled to make out what you'd actually done! For instance, Bassheads... I can tell you've extended the intro a bit but what exactly did you do with that one?
"Yeah, there's an extended intro, and I also extended the middle bit where the piano comes in - that's doubled in length and I've added in a bass tone, just to add further tension before the track kicks back in. But everything's very subtly done, because at the end of the day that's a great track, a classic. So that's an example of a track that doesn't need anything extensive doing, it's just adding things more for atmosphere than anything else.
Same question for Red Rack'em...
"That's my edit of the Luke Solomon and Terry Grant remix. When they did their version of it, they only used the big main bass hook one time, but I wanted to use it twice in the version I played out, so I just rearranged it to add in a second hit of the bass."
And T-Coy's Carino?
"That's basically an extension. Like the Bassheads one, it's a classic track and in this case I was approached officially by Mike Pickering, who was in T-Coy. They were relaunching the Deconstruction label and they wanted me to do an edit, so it's really just an extended version... with a little reshuffle here and there, but nothing major."
Last one... what about Magic Fly by Space?
"That's a classic early electronic dance track from the 1970s. With this one, I had access to the stems so I could go a bit further with it, and it's more what I'd call a rework than an edit. I stripped it right down, then got Peza involved, because he's a great keyboard player and because he's got a good acid sensibility, which was the direction I wanted to go in with it. So we took the multitracks, then added new parts, just to make it that bit more contemporary, to make it easier for modern DJs to slot it in sonically."
Was it daunting taking on that track, given that so many different edits and remixes have been released previously?
"Not really, because it's my own take on it, and I wouldn't necessarily have played any of those other versions, even if I did quite like some of them. So this gave me the chance to make a version that'll work on the side of the scene that I'm involved in.
"As I said earlier, I wouldn't have done an edit if I didn't feel the need for one. And I don't see myself as being in competition with those other versions, or with the original: it's just about making something that suits what I do. If other people like it and want to play it, that's a bonus."
What legal and licensing issues are there around making an album like this?
"Well, that's really something you'd be better speaking to the label about. It's difficult, because nowadays, with compilations, with declining sales on physical product, some companies won't let you use things. But some things I had to have on there - like the Electronic track, that was essential for me. When I set out on this, that was my end track, the one I wanted more than anything else, and I was so happy that we got it.
"What I did with that was, I took two different versions and extended it into an epic that goes on for over ten minutes. I did it with festivals in mind and I wanted to have like a false ending, so it stops and then comes back in again. So at the end of one of the versions, the strings are playing to close it out and then I reintroduce the track and it goes again. I was looking for an end-of-night track that would have a big impact. I did that edit about six or seven years ago and it's worked really well, it's been my closing track for many a set, so getting that on there was important.
"Something else that was important was getting a balance of older tracks with things that are more contemporary, like the Red Rack'em and Psychmagik tracks. So it's about getting that balance, and then you have all the back and forth with the record companies. But it's the label that do all that, not me."
But that only applies if you're making an album like this, doesn't it? No-one can actually stop you editing a track just to play it in clubs?
"Well, there's two aspects to all this. Credit To The Edit is like the official aspect, where everything has been properly licensed, but then you've also got this more underground re-edit culture, which is worldwide, where people are making their own edits and it's become a little cottage industry, with tracks getting shared online, or maybe people are pressing up a few hundred white labels. No one's getting rich off this, it's very much a DJ thing.
"And I suppose for a lot of DJs, those edits get their name around and help to establish their reputation, because a lot of people have evolved from this scene, probably most notably Todd Terje. He started off doing re-edits and eventually started doing his own music, and then he had massive success with Inspector Norse. Red Rack 'Em would be another one who's come through in the same way."
"At that level, it's all a bit of grey area, but I can't see anyone having any real problems unless they actually start making serious money. Like anything in this business, a lot goes on under the radar... until money starts being made, and then that's when the lawyers come out!"
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"There's always the DJing rounds: I've just come back from a US tour, and now it's the festival season coming up so I'm booked pretty much right through till September. Then I've got an Australian tour coming up later in the year, and before you know it we'll be back at Christmas and New Year again!
"Apart from that, we've been working hard on our label Super Weird Substance, so there'll be some fresh stuff coming there very soon. Just generally trying to get some original productions out there as well as the re-edits.The label started two years ago, and we put out our first compilation the same year. But last year we only had a few things out, so for this year we're looking at getting more new stuff out there again."
Words: Russell Deeks Pic: Nick Mizen
Credit To The Edit 3 is out on Tirk this Friday (20 April)
Tags: Greg Wilson, Tirk, re-edits, The Hacienda, Space, Red Rack'em, T-Coy, Chic, Bassheads, Deconstruction, Mike Pickering, Fatboy Slim, Super Weird Substance, electro, electrofunk, electrofunkroots.co.uk