Not just another piano recital- An interview with Joey Negro

Joey Negro DJ Shot

A stalwart of the dance music scene under numerous guises, Joey Negro, AKA Dave Lee, has never stayed still for long. Countless tunes, remixes, live band setups and general behind-the-scenes production work on some classic underground and chart music means he’s had a huge influence on his peers and many of today’s contemporary producers alike, and as such it’s unsurprising to see him back in the limelight via a huge dollop of electronic musical history in the form of a hand-picked compilation showcasing a whole wealth of entertaining tracks.

This new compilation, Italo House, sees the man selecting timeless and unforgettable bombs alongside forgotten treats he thinks deserved more credit and attention than they got the first time round. Attention to detail means the deeper tones of our time are brought to the foreground, revealing how the big-room, piano-led, hands-in-the-air sound of the late-1980s and 90s was balanced by many more diverse records that were getting put out during the same era. Delighted at the release, we caught up with the man in question to find out what he’s been up to and why he chose to bring this particular era of club history to our attention.


First of all, thanks very much for your time here, hope all’s well with you today?

I’m bloody great thanks! I hope you are also tip top…

All fine, thanks. Obviously you’re an old hand at this dance music business; how do you feel about where house, disco and the music industry in general are at right now?

As with any time in the history of (dance) music there is always some good, average and shit music coming out…. obviously what is what is down to personal taste. I have to say I’m not really feeling the whole EDM thing, nothing about it I like – the chords, the vocals, the abrasive trancey sounds, massive dropdowns and big noisy builds, in fact I really dislike everything about it. But it’s not aimed at me, and maybe some of those kids who start with that will mature into something better. We all like some crap when we are first getting into things.

I’ll be interested to see how EDM is viewed in 30 years time. Other than that, of course there is some really interesting new music coming out, not sure the cream rises to the top, but it probably never has. The problem is there is so much out there in this digital era that it’s much easier for things on smaller labels to get missed. I’m currently listening to the Foreign Affair CD in the car and I like that.

You have produced a lot of different music under a number of monikers over the years, where did your main influences come from when you were growing up and first starting out producing?

I guess the disco/jazz/funk sound of the early-80s was a lasting influence, along with early house and techno, through to their modern equivalents. However, I’ve never been one of those people who only listens to one sort of music. My brother and other friends were into stuff as diverse as The Dead Kennedys, Frank Zappa, Cocteau Twins & Rush when I was a teenager. I won’t say I always loved every record I heard but I’m open minded and you can often find music you get something from in unlikely places….maybe even EDM, although it would be a painful quest looking for that.


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How much has what you listen to outside of clubs changed over the years? Do you still find yourself returning to the same old favourite albums and producers?

A bit of both, I do like to hear some old favourites now and then – especially if it’s not something that got played to death, as I can get fed up with some songs to the point of never needing to hear them again. However, I also like to discover new music – be it something 40 years old or a current release. Nothing beats the feeling of finding a mind-blowing track you want to listen to again and again

You’re well known as a remixer, what do you look for in tunes that you potentially want to tinker with and create a different version of?

I’m normally looking for something that I like but don’t think is perfect. You need to have an angle for a valid new mix that adds something to what is already there. If it’s a strong song with a well-delivered vocal, that makes the job much easier – whatever you’re planning to do. I guess my ideal remix would be something really short, that’s been badly mixed but has amazing parts… …and a load of stuff hidden on tape that nobody has ever heard before.

What was the thinking behind your new compilation? It’s billed as the “deeper” side of Italo-House. What was the rationale behind bringing it out now?

There is no particular rationale regarding the release date; it certainly wasn’t timed to ride on the current wave of “deep” house. Truth is I’ve always loved this style of Italian house and about two years ago I was going through some old records and thought it could make a nice compilation.

We normally check how many of the songs are available digitally and if there had been any similar albums out recently. If it looks like something worth pursuing then finding the copyright owners and putting it all together legally takes a while. I’ve called it the “deeper side” as many of the songs like Don Carlos or Steve Banzara were considered deep house when they originally came out. I guess it also distinguishes it from the big piano style of italo like Blackbox, Jinny etcetera… …which is probably what most people think of as typical of the genre

Do you think it’s easier for people to get into dance music now without knowledge of its history, than it was 15 years ago? Does it matter if they don’t know about the past?

We all start off knowing nothing and gain knowledge if we are interested enough to bother digging for background information. I think its easier to find out about the history of acts and their other spin-off projects these days thanks to the net, but you’ve still got to want to do the research and take in the information

Where do you stand on digital releases vs vinyl? Vinyl sales were at a record high in 2013. Is that encouraging? What’s the main medium for Z-Records?

Vinyl sales are higher than they’ve been in recent times but it’s still a very small portion of the total of worldwide music sales, less than 1% I believe. We put out vinyl, CD and digital releases. Realistically digital yields much more income for the label as it’s how the majority of people choose to consume music these days. I also find things often only seem to break beyond a very small niche audience once it’s available digitally.

Personally I still like to buy old music on vinyl. New stuff I tend to get on CD if it’s an album or digitally if it’s a single. I don’t think there is that much vinyl-only music out there but there’s loads of stuff not on vinyl, so if you only play vinyl you’ll be missing a lot of releases.

When can we see you playing out next and are there any tour plans set for Joey Negro or your other projects, such as The Sunburst Band?

People are probably best to check my Facebook, SoundCloud or Z Records website for my upcoming gigs. In spring I’m in London, Manchester, Belgium, Dubai, and have quite a few dates in Ibiza over the summer. Sunburst Band still do several shows per year too, but it’s a big band and we’ve never really managed to get it off the ground as a regularly gigging act, as there’s only so many places to play in the UK and they’ve done all of them a few times. Abroad it gets expensive with all the flights and hotel costs, so it’s hard for promoters to make it work financially.


Italo House compiled by Joey Negro is available now via Z Records.