Greg Wilson by Nick Mizen
Greg Wilson is one of the key figures putting the ‘disco’ back in Discordia. The Merseyside-based DJ started out in the original 70s disco era before going on to play a pivotal role in the development of UK club culture throughout the early 80s with residencies at Wigan Pier, Manchester’s Legend and the iconic Haçienda, where his New York inspired electro-funk grooves became part of the musical fabric of the times. Wilson went on to produce two critically acclaimed albums for UK hip-hop pioneers the Ruthless Rap Assassins and became known as a worldwide authority on dance music history, and the music’s place in a wider counter-culture, joining the dots to politics, social history and more.
A true seeker with a restless, questing spirit, Wilson has been almost as influential as a writer and blogger as he has been behind the decks or producing his own music. Nevertheless he returned to DJing in 2003 and connected with a younger audience, spreading his reach wider than ever. His first two ‘Credit To The Edit’ compilations did much to cement this reputation as did his 2009 BBC Radio One Essential Mix, named one of the top 10 of all time, whilst Rolling Stone magazine listed it as one of the definitive 25 online mixes, dubbing Greg ‘one of the earth-moving dons of UK dance.’
Wilson co-founded the multi- media label Super Weird Substance in 2014 and it soon became an integral part of the UK’s neo-Discordian revival via its live events, or ‘Super Weird Happenings,’ that mixed live bands and DJ sets with thought-provoking speakers, discussions and readings. Greg has DJ’d throughout the world, including globally renowned events / clubs like the Glastonbury and WOMAD Festivals, the BRIT Awards, Ministry Of Sound and Fabric in London, Space Ibiza, Berghain Berlin and ADE Amsterdam, but always returns to the fertile soil of the underground and the mycelium network of like-minded and inspirational souls that we at Notwork 23 also encourage and draw inspiration from. With ‘Credit To The Edit – Vol.3’, the third release in his acclaimed re-edits series, out now, and with Greg Wilson booked to play a main stage set at Catch 23 in Sheffield on July 7, we caught up with him to hear his thoughts on Discordianism, the underground and where next for this ever-shifting counter-culture we’ve come to call home.
You played blinding sets at Festival 23 in 2016 and at the JAMs’ Welcome To The Dark Ages after-show last year. Now we’ve got you at Catch 23. Do you particularly enjoy playing for Discordian crowds?
I enjoy playing for any responsive audience, and those at F23 and the Dark Ages certainly proved to be such, as did the 14 Hour Super Weird Happening in Liverpool last year. Those events had a special energy, which was palpable from my position on the stage – my role, in effect, to bring in the party, which, to be honest, isn’t that difficult when you’re in such a receptive environment, with people ready to let their hair down in celebration of their coming together before the inevitable sticking apart.
Your Super Weird Substance multi-media octopus (well it seems to have a lot of tentacles) has been crucial to the UK Discordian revival of the last few years. How did you get into Discordianism and what does it mean to you?
By serendipity, as these things often transpire. I came in through the back door really. I’d read a book about the great DJ/club promoter Roger Eagle, who ran Eric’s in Liverpool and managed Big In Japan, the supergroup in reverse, which included a young Bill Drummond, who, of course, had built the set for Ken Campbell’s adaptation of the Illuminatus! across the road from Eric’s at the Liverpool School Of Language Music Dream And Pun’.
Talking to John McCready, the ex-Face/NME writer, Hacienda DJ and Situationist archivist, about the Roger Eagle book, he recommended I read John Higgs’ ‘The KLF: Chaos, Magic And The Band Who Burned A Million Pounds’. This I did, and it was the catalyst for this crazy Discordian journey of recent years. I write about it all in a piece called The Gateway Drug.
I’d been primed via Alan Moore’s work, which I’d fully engaged with for the first time a few years beforehand. My Super Weird comrade in arms, Kermit Leveridge, is a comics geek and I remember him reading ‘Watchmen’ an issue at a time when it was originally released back in the 80s as I was producing/managing his crew, the Ruthless Rap Assassins – he was always passing me comics to look at and ‘Watchmen’ was the one that really stuck with me, but I wasn’t biting at the time. I was an avid book reader, but hadn’t picked up a comic since my youth, so didn’t understand the weight of Alan’s work in this medium.
Having finally taken me over 2 decades to engage with Alan’s writing I dived in pretty deep, devouring everything I could get my hands on – ‘Watchmen’, ‘V For Vendetta’, ‘Promethea’, ‘From Hell’ and numerous others, plus anything biographical. Alan’s writing made more sense of the world around me than anything else – it was quite a revelation.
In 2014 we ran a series of Super Weird Happenings in different cities throughout the UK. Howard Marks, the notorious ‘Mr Nice’, and a friend of Kermit’s, was supposed to be our special guest at these events, but was diagnosed with cancer beforehand and had to pull out. I had to scramble to try to find suitable stand-ins for all the dates, and, having just read John Higgs’ book, and given Liverpool’s central role in it, I tracked him down to see if he was available for our gathering there, which fortunately he was.
John introduced us to Daisy Eris Campbell, who was just about to unleash ‘Cosmic Trigger’ in the city and, having written a chapter about him in the ‘KLF’ book, he’d subsequently introduce us to Alan, and his wife, the artist, Melinda Gebbie.
The idea of Catch 23 has many elements (anti-war, escaping the social double-bind by embracing the contradictions) but part of it is leaping into the void to find out what comes next. What do you think is the next step forward for our particular counter-culture?
Embracing the contradictions is a big Bill Drummond thing, and definitely useful in the confusion and chaos of these modern times, as we try to make sense of the unfolding 21st century. John Higgs’ book ‘Stranger Than We Can Imagine’ provides some nuggets of wisdom in this direction, reminding us that we can’t be looking at this new century through a 20th century lens, and expecting the same rules to apply. This is probably what’s causing so much anxiety nowadays, many of the old ways redundant, whilst the new ones are yet to become apparent – people seriously disorientated in this post-truth political climate.
I suppose the necessary steps forward concern connectivity at this point, bringing previously disparate pockets of creative people together, who’ll hopefully provide a support structure for each other. Although we’re still very much immersed in the age of the individual, the answers, I feel, are to be found by moving in a more communal direction, which is the reason why events like Catch 23 are vital in order to get people away from the particular bubble they exist in during their day-to-day, encouraging them to congregate with like-minded souls in person, and explore art and ideas in an inspirational environment.
Last year on July 23rd, deemed Robert Anton Wilson day by the city of Santa Cruz, I was able, with the help of some promoter friends in California, to facilitate #RAWDay at the Museum Of Art And History in Santa Cruz to mark the 10th anniversary of the writers death. It enabled Daisy to address fellow Discordians from the country/state of its origin, including family and friends of RAW, planting the seeds from which further connectivity becomes possible moving forward – the aim to eventually put on Cosmic Trigger over there.
It’s the joint endeavours of people in places like Sheffield, Liverpool, London, Brighton, Hebden Bridge, Santa Cruz and, of course, Northampton, that has generated this momentum. Without this step-by-step approach, and mutual support of each-others efforts, nothing can crystalize.
Finally, with your DJ and musical curator head on, recommend one great tune to get us all in the mood for Catch 23 next month.
OK, let’s go back to 1971 for the sunshine Psychedelic Soul of ‘Strawberry Letter 23’ by Shuggie Otis – too far ahead of the curve for his own times:
Catch 23 takes place from 2pm to 4am on Saturday 7 July at Yellow Arch in Sheffield, and features Greg Wilson, Kermit Leveridge & The Super Weird Sound, John Higgs and Daisy Eris Campbell alongside over 40 other acts. Tickets are available for just £23 here and more information can be found here.