“What Bill Brewster doesn’t know about disc jockeying is probably not worth knowing.”
One minute he’s rocking the roof off at Fabric with his tough and funky big-room underground house; the next he’s charming the pants off a more intimate crowd with everything from dubby disco, funk and hip-hop to trip-hop and Latin batucadas. Armed with a sensitivity and sense of occasion that few DJs possess Bill Brewster knows how to work a crowd in the best possible sense.
Together with long-term pal Frank Broughton, Bill is the author of the definitive history of DJing, ‘Last Night A DJ Saved My Life’.
He has contributed his encyclopaedic knowledge of music to just about every dance rag there is, not to mention The Guardian, Independent and Mail On Sunday.
A critic, a studious writer and a ‘sound-digger’, Bill Brewster is first of all a music lover – nurturing his passion, to depths that have rarely been foreseen.
Originally a chef, a football pundit and record collector, Bill began DJing in in the late 80s, but he cut his teeth playing ‘Low Life’ warehouse parties in Harlem and the East Village New York. He moved to NYC to run DMC’s US operation – and anyone hearing Bill today can see how these New York ‘roots’ shine through. For eclecticism, surprises, amazing unique music and sheer long-haul dedication to the dancefloor, Bill’s your man!
He’s an industry insider, having brought Twisted records to the UK and launched his own highly successful deep house label Forensic.
In his spare time he is often found in the studio, either with Fat Camp partner, Theo Noble, re-editing old disco, funk and rock records; or producing original music.
Bill’s a legend in dance music, constantly surprising crowds on the dance floor. He is inspirational to musicians, having him dubbed as a DJ’s DJ.
We invited Bill to join the Gouranga night inside the Rabbit Hole, Glastonbury 2017.
Here is the recording of his brilliant set:
Bill also put together this selection of ‘Electric Eighties’ music for our Mixtape Series:
What was the first record you can remember buying?
Benny Hill – Ernie (The Fastest Milkman in The West)
What was your first musical composition, edit or remix?
I was in a post-punk band called Group Therapy in 1981, through to 1983. The first song we wrote was called Arty-Fact, which became our debut single on Kamera Records in early 1983.
Gouranga is a Harre Krishna mantra meaning ‘be happy’ - where are you most at peace?
Walking away from Blundell Park after Grimsby Town have won, a sadly all too rare occasion this season.
If money was not an option who would play at your wedding or birthday - both live acts and djs?
Well…. I was lucky. When I got married, we threw a bit party in a warehouse and Jon Marsh from the Beloved played, along with Ross Allen, two of my favourite DJs and Osibisa played live. So I feel like my fantasy wedding gig actually happened.
Which musical acts do you feel have not been dealt their fair hand in the annals of time?
The Feelies, Eugene McDaniels, Lee Moses, Gary Wilson, Kevin Hewick. Too many to name, really.
What song do you put on when you wake up?
I never put on a song when I wake up. I like to listen to Radio 4’s Today programme, even though it makes me want to throw porridge at the wireless.
What songs do you put on when you want to relax?
Ray Davies – I Got To Sleep
Erik Satie – Gymnopédie No. 1
If you could ask any musician, dead or alive one question, what would it be?
Can I have your publishing?
Bill Brewster's Frankie Knuckles Obituary
Trailblazing American record producer and club DJ hailed as the Godfather of House
“Disco’s revenge,” was the way Frankie Knuckles, who has died aged 59 after a long period of ill health, mischievously described house, the style of music that was born in his club, the Warehouse in Chicago. The raw, machine-driven, four-to-the-floor kickdrum sound that Knuckles helped conceive went on to become one of the dominant forces in popular music over the next 30 years, upping the energy in dance clubs and earning him the tag Godfather of House. One of the most sought-after remixers in club music, he worked with scores of stars, including Michael Jackson, Chaka Khan and Diana Ross, found a fan in Barack Obama and gave his name to a Chicago street.
Raised in the Bronx, New York, he grew up surrounded by music; Luther Vandross lived down the road. As a gay man, Knuckles was one of the early beneficiaries of a rapidly changing society and the nascent disco scene was a primary driver of those changes. His entry into the music industry began as a teenager when he and Larry Levan, his childhood friend and fellow DJ, worked for Nicky Siano at the Gallery in Manhattan, blowing up balloons and assisting Siano. His first DJ break was at Tee Scott’s Better Days on West 49th Street, but he also did the lights and filled in for Levan at the Continental Baths.
In 1977, when Levan turned down a residency at a new club in Chicago called the Warehouse, Knuckles stepped in. Over the next five years he established himself as a primary force in the city and, as disco collapsed spectacularly towards the end of the 1970s, he began to experiment with his own edits, adding electronic oddities from Europe and employing drum machines that emphasised the beat in his live performances. “Sometimes I’d shut down all the lights and set up a record where it would sound like a speeding train was about to crash into the club,” he told the Chicago Tribune. “People would lose their minds.”
The term house probably came from the local record store Imports Etc, which would describe the music Knuckles played by this condensed term, although house music was never actually played at the Warehouse, which closed before musicians began making their own productions. “I really felt that I became a part of something and that I belonged somewhere,” Knuckles recalled. “I got the same thing that David Mancuso got from the Loft and Larry got from the Garage: you knew it was yours. It was always being heard and recognised and adhered to.”
If the Warehouse lent the term house, the other clubs where Knuckles played, the Powerplant, and Ron Hardy’s Music Box, provided the foundry in which house music was forged. Chicago producers eagerly passed on cassettes for Knuckles to play, the most influential of which was Jamie Principle’s Your Love, which was played years before its release. The pair then collaborated on a string of club hits.
Although house music was driven by outdated electronic technology, principally Roland drum machines and rudimentary polyphonic synthesisers, Knuckles’ intentions revealed him as someone more ambitious than the average bedroom producer. Under the tutelage of Judy Weinstein, owner of the production company Def Mix, with whom he signed in 1988, arguably the most significant relationship of his career, he enjoyed great success as both a producer and travelling DJ. He recorded two albums for Virgin in the early 90s. The Whistle Song was his only crossover hit, but he continued to deliver consistently opulent remixes that made him one of the most in-demand club producers of his generation.
In 1998, his role in house music was acknowledged when he won the inaugural Grammy in the category Best Remixed Recording, and on 25 August 2004, thanks to a campaign backed by Obama, who was then a senator, South Jefferson Street in Chicago, the original site of the Warehouse, was renamed Frankie Knuckles Way.
For the past 10 years, having developed osteomyelitis after breaking bones in his foot, he also developed Type-2 diabetes; in 2008 he had the foot amputated after refusing to let up on his punishing schedule. He appeared regularly in Britain, his final gig being at the Ministry of Sound in London, two days before his unexpected death.
“I think Frankie, more than anybody, could capture emotions,” said the Chicago record producer Steve “Silk” Hurley. “It wasn’t so much a technical thing with him or what beat he was mixing, it was more what record the people wanted to hear after the record he was playing, and what was gonna take the energy up, up, up. That was one of the things that made you want to go to hear him.”
• Frankie Knuckles (Francis Nicholls), record producer and DJ, born 18 January 1955; died 31 March 2014