The Umbrella-ist: Bill Brewster – DJ, author and record collector extraordinaire

Quotes from people we admire

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You can’t file Bill Brewster snuggly under one genre: he’s done all the cool stuff we dream of doing but just never get round to. DJ, writer, record label boss, club night organizer and, hell, sometime chef at a Michelin-starred spot, Bill Brewster is a jack of cool and a master of it,  too.
 
We’re not over-exaggerating: Bill, originally from Grimsby, was once co-editor of football magazine When Saturday Comes, an editor at Mixmag USA and has also written four books with longstanding partner-in-crime Frank Broughton, including the encyclopedic Last Night A DJ Saved My Life.
 
The one thread that stitches Brewster’s myriad passions together is music. One of the founding residents of Fabric, Bill has played everywhere from Ibiza to the webcam world of Boiler Room, each time delivering genre-bending sets that draw from his expansive collection of disco, Balearic, rock and hip-hop rarities.
 
There’s no doubt that Bill is a proper music nerd. So much so, that over the year’s he’s often pulled from his ever expanding record collection to deliver excellent compilation albums like Late Night Tales and his latest collection, Tribal Rights.
 
Which is why he’s the ideal Umbrella-ist: passionate, funny and completely immersed in popular culture. 
 
 
“We never had a proper, dedicated record store in Grimsby for the entire time I grew up there. I used to buy my records from Boots, WHSmith and Woolworths. When got a bit older, I started hitchhiking the 85 miles down to Nottingham to visit Selectadisc, or buying mail order records from the back of the NME.”

“Nobody in my family was really into music. I was the eldest so I didn’t have an older sibling to shape my musical tastes. Whether I was fatefully supporting Grimsby Town FC or cooking as a chef, music was the thing that always consumed me.”

“The was this man called Jack Wattam who was really famous in Grimsby during the ’60s and ’70s. Jack was in the Guinness World Records for being the oldest footballer in Britain… he was about 64 and looked like Victor Spinetti. Apparently he played football well into his 70s. He also had a junk shop close to where I lived stacked full of cheap records.”

“Growing up I didn’t have much money, so if a record was 79p and the other was £1.29, I’d buy the 79p one. So I ended up with some bizarre records. I’ve always wanted to find really great music not really rare music. The two don’t always correspond.”

“Often when I hear collectors rave about a record, it often ends up sounding like a shit version of Chic or David Morales. I love digging in the value crates as much as I love hunting down rare records. The whole pricing thing puts me off.”

“I collect music rather than artefacts. I still collect a lot of vinyl but I also buy CDs. I download music, too. Getting fixated on buying vinyl, or any one medium for that matter, can be a narrow path to go down.”

“I can’t deny that there’s an element of one-upmanship in record collecting. That’s not simply to say, ‘I’ve got this and you haven’t.’ It’s more about owning the sounds that will excite and enthrall an audience when you play them. I like finding things that could posses more than monetary value further down the line.”

“Sites like Discogs, iTunes and Shopify have helped democratise record collecting. Speaking as someone who grew up in a town that didn’t have a proper record store I think that’s really good. Before the internet, the people who tended to have the best records lived in the big cities like Manchester or Bristol. If you grew up in Carlisle, Grimsby or Swindon you were at a disadvantage. It’s good that everyone can access music nowadays.”

“Even though it’s easier to find music, there’s so much out there that it’s harder to find the good stuff. When I was editing the weekly Mixmag Update 24 years ago, there were about 200 releases to sift through a week. The idea of a DJ being a filter is more important now than then.”

“I love buying compilations. If I’m just discovering a scene or a genre, the first thing I’ll do is try and hunt down a compilation to give me a primer on the scene.” 

“The Late Night Tales compilations were aimed at functional dancefloor-friendly music for 3am. Whereas my Tribal Rights album is more personal to the music that’s influenced me and the different music styles I love.”

“I started out writing about football. Every working class kid likes football, music or both. There’s even a lot of parallels between cooking and music, although they might not be immediately obvious. Part of what you’re doing as a cook is taking different ingredients, and blending them together to create something new. And that’s what DJing is.”

“Time is what turns a great record into a classic. I try to find tracks that aren’t being hammered by everybody, and then I’ll keep playing them for up to a year in order to make them a real focal point of my sets. There’s no edge when you’re playing big-room stuff that isn’t really unique to you. I’ll often ‘retire’ a record if it gets massive.”

“There’s a funny ownership thing with records. You haven’t produced it, it’s not on your label yet you feel like you own it. The DJs I follow religiously, like Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson and Danny Tenaglia, used to have records that felt like their signature tunes.”

“The ability to select the right record for that moment in time is much more important than skill. Some of my favourite DJs can’t mix – like [Loft legend] David Mancuso. Nowadays it’s de rigueur that a DJ can mix so that puts everyone on a level playing field. Then it all becomes about selection.”

“New York’s music scene felt really special to me when I lived and worked there. Sure, it wasn’t as special as it was in the 1980s; mayor Rudolph Giuliani had just got into power and clamped down on fun but places like the Sound Factory, The Roxy, plus afterhours spots like Save The Robots still harboured a great scene.”

“We were disciples of [’90s New York DJ] Junior Vasquez so we used to go to the Sound Factory every Saturday until it closed in January 1995. That influenced us to start our own party two months after. We couldn’t hope to emulate it but in our own way we were doing our own special thing. I didn’t meet my best pal, co-author and co-conspirator Frank Broughton, until I moved to New York.”

“London’s club culture is really good. Sure, it’s a struggle for venues to survive but there’s loads of exciting things happening. Actually, the crowds are probably a lot more responsive and open-minded now than when I was Fabric resident. They’re not just stuck in a single BPM range.”

“Every 10 to 15 years dance music seems to go in and out of popularity. In the early ’00s, dance music was oversaturated with too many sponsors and too much money. But places like Fabric kept the underground alive with a small party ethos.”

“There’s an OCD element to record collecting that nobody really wants to admit to. I can see it in some of my hoarding habits. Being married to a normal person, she’s often very keen to point out the madness of my habits.”

Bill Brewster Pres. Tribal Rights is out now on Eskimo Records. You can buy it here







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