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Joey Negro interview: Disco Revisited

Author: Stuart Evans
Monday, January 23, 2006
When he was starting out, UK house producer Dave Lee came up with the name Joey Negro in order to sound more exotic. The rest is history.

Someone once said that disco is dead and that it was an archaic sound which served little purpose in today's ultra technological age. It only takes one person to disagree and in the case of Joey Negro, he disagreed to the point where he decided to do something about it.

Joey Negro is the pseudonym of UK house jock Dave Lee. Lee, or Negro, is known as one of the first house DJs to incorporate disco samples into house music and is one of the roots of the British house and garage scene. He started producing in 1991 and since then has become one of the most sought after and respected producers, DJs and remixers around. Working under the various guises of Z Factor, Doug Willis, Jakatta and Raven Maize, Negro has achieved mainstream success and a cult following amongst house purists. The evidence is irrefutable: Negro made disco cool again.

When someone said that disco was dead, he simply said, "no, it's not." He laughs, "Back in the '80s I heard this song called Disco Can't Go On Forever and I became quite annoyed. I thought, 'why can't it go on forever-'"

However annoyed he may have been, he regularly faces moments when he has to elucidate exactly what and where disco is. "I was doing a radio course when I got talking to a woman in the room. I was explaining that I was a DJ and that I play dance music, and she turned around and said that 'dance music was dead', so I had to explain that it's not dead at all, it just changes into something else. So, disco never really died, it just changed into something else."

He admits that he gets annoyed with people who keep on saying that dance music has passed its life support. "I do get annoyed but it depends on who is saying it. Normally the people who say it's dead don't even listen to it anyway. They say it's dead because they never really liked it."

As we speak he explains that he feels like complaining. He hesitates before explaining what's on his mind. "We're in the process of realising a record and everything's a last minute rush," he laments.

"It's stressful when things don't arrive on time or when something happens to the distribution. At this time of year, if things don't go out on time, it's a pain in the arse. Normally you can put it back a week but because of the timing, we just can't do that."

As a fresh faced youngster, Negro spent his early years growing up in England's not so sunny South Coast, where he would spend hours listening intently to Earth, Wind & Fire and Michael and the Jackson clan. But there was a problem: the lack of quality funk and soul music which was readily available in the South Coast. What he wanted wasn't being played in the local clubs or over the airwaves. A frustrated Negro had to source his cravings from other avenues.

The hustle, bustle and energy that London provided saw Negro make regular pilgrimages to the capital, all in search of the latest grooves and imports. The gamut of the journey wasn't a stumbling block. After landing a job in a London record store, he heard what is now deemed a house classic, Jack Your Body, and the rest is confined to the house history bin.

He made a big impression on Rough Trade Distribution who soon offered him the opportunity to set up D-Mix, its dance music department. The label gave the world Bomb The Bass, S-Express, Cookie Crew and the timeless Pump Up The Volume by M.A.R.R.S.

As acid house was starting to kick in to UK society and Ibiza had already begun, Negro formed Republic Records and introduced yet another new sound to England's now buzzing dance community. Garage music had arrived.

Confusion reigns over the term garage music. Some think of it as two-step, the UK born underground spin off, whilst others see garage as being in the same category as funky house. "The term garage has been hijacked by UK garage. Proper ga