Piotr Orlov was born a music enthusiast in St. Petersburg, Russia – back when it was called Leningrad – and remembers hearing Louis Armstrong records in his crib.
Though his story reads like a nice stroll through a few of late 20th century's most potent musical subcultures, the reason forty-something Brit Harvey Bassett (a.k.a. DJ Harvey) is honored with legend status by today's disco hipsters rests less on where he's been, than on what he's brought back.
For one, there's the eclecticism of his record selection. Having played in a punk band as a Cambridge teen, inhaled every kind of beat New York offered him in the '80s, been on warehouse-party frontlines during the nascent days of UK club culture (developing his trademark 6-hour sets), and recently settled in as a cool boho in a Malibu club, Harvey has a good, motley idea of what makes a crowd move. Crucial to his groove: electronically enhanced Euro-disco and funky rock. In fact, while legendary NYC DJs such as Larry Levan and David Mancuso are often invoked as models for today's hipster disco movement, it was Harvey who spent a decade championing that music's punk and psychedelic sides, before labels like DFA popularized them at the turn of the century.
There's also his mastery and resuscitation of re-edit culture. Part of the master's handbook for early disco and house DJs, and analog precursors to remixes, re-edits are (the often pirated) extended versions of already existing songs made by splicing, reorganizing and prolonging the original sounds. Never fully gone, re-edits were nevertheless deep in the closet in the early '90s when Harvey, then experiencing a third musical life as resident DJ at London's Ministry of Sound club, started making his own with partner Gerry Rooney under the name Black Cock. Today's hipster disco scene is powered by re-edit couture, with the Black Cock style a model to the trend.
Yet, even with Darshan Jesrani and Dennis Kane's classy Adult Section party hosting Harvey, Cielo on the night after Thanksgiving wasn't really about disco hipsters, old or young. It was more about NYC clubbing on holidays: lots of out-of-towners, drinking too much and ogling, usually a nightmare! But one great thing about Harvey's music and style is it's egalitarian nature. You don't need to be a trainspotter to feel a strange intimacy with his sounds (disco strings and funky brass, riding atop synthesizer and drum-machine rhythms popularized in the early '80s), or to recognize the songs he's playing (Donna Summer's "Lucky," for instance, via a re-edit by the British duo Horse Meat Disco). In this way, Harvey's DJ sets are like comfort food that's always kinda new.
It wasn't 'til around 3am, when the holiday crowd departed and the hardcore became the majority, that Harvey's more experimental nature began to mix with Cielo's fine-tuned Funktion One sound-system. The records that Harvey started pulling out suddenly became more technologically progressive, and darker. The sound, bright for two hours, got more dubby, echoed, murky, no longer so easily accessible or assuring. Thanksgiving, it seems, was finally over.