Greg Wilson: Time-travelling
As history goes, so often we look at the past and wish that we could’ve been there. Whether it was New York in the late ‘70s to enjoy the first round of disco, Chicago in the mid-’80s to for the rise of house, or Germany at the end of that decade for some techno. Everyone knows about the acid house scene that exploded out of Manchester and wished they could’ve been a part of it in the late ‘80s.
After speaking to Greg Wilson, though, you might reconsider. The English DJ was responsible for what came next for Manchester, setting a scene in the early ‘80s that you wish you could’ve been a dancer at. He held residencies at Wigan Pier, Legend, and was responsible for the first dance nights at the Hacienda. To this day, he speaks about the scene with such passion, love and fond memories. Although he stopped DJing in 1984, it was this devotion to the scene which made him start Electro Funk Roots in 2003, a website dedicated to that time and place.
Wilson is in Australia this month, offering punters a chance to go back in time. His DJ sets are full of his own original edits, taking the best from then and making them dancefloor ready for the 21st century. He proved that he still has it, with his Essential Mix from 2009 selected as one of Pete Tong’s Top 10 Essential Mixes from 500 last year. Of course now, we can hear the best of now and then in Wilson’s sets: anything from Northern soul, to electro and disco. We caught up with Wilson just prior to him touching down in Australia to talk shop and hear about the legendary scene you only wish you could’ve been a part of.
After spending so long away from DJing, what made you want to come back almost 20 years later?
Basically, in the couple of years previous I became more open with the internet and seeing what was on there in terms of documentational dance music culture and seeing that there was a whole history that had been pretty much forgotten, the years between 1980 and ‘88; before house. It was clear that people weren’t aware of this at all. I decided to put together Electro Funk Roots using all my own archived material. Having made that move, people asked me if I would be interested in doing gigs for them and it seemed like the right time.
It has been a real strange situation where it has snowballed itself and before I knew it I was getting back to play Europe, then Australia in 2006 with the Red Bull Music Academy. It just generated its own momentum.
Why was it so important to you that that story got told and made you want to start Electro Funk Roots?
There has been a lot of documentation of US dance culture in the ‘70s and the disco scene, and it’s great stuff, but a lot of people in the UK know what was going on in the US, but not in their own country. There was a black music scene that went back into the ‘60s, you could see it with the mods. There was northern soul, funk, disco, slow funk, house, techno.
There’s this long lineage and it’s what makes the British perspective so unique. The music in the ‘70s here wasn’t being picked up in the US. Black music which later became dance music started in the ‘60s, even the ‘50s. There were black GIs over here during WWII who bought their records and jukeboxes. I’m just a history geek trying to put it all together and bring to the table what excites me.
Growing up, was music something you were always interested in?
My older brother and sister were buying soul singles and they were part of the youth culture at the time and I picked up on that. A lot of those records were being played around the time. We lived in a pub that put on mobile discos. Music was constantly being played. The soul music resonated a bit deeper with me. I connected with the fact that it had a deeper struggle, the politics of it. I could feel the emotion, the feeling in that music spoke directly to me.