Awe to the floor | Monocle

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DJ Harvey

Turns out, DJing for 40 years to audiences around the world teaches you about human nature. DJ Harvey, born Harvey William Bassett in London, cut his teeth behind the decks after hearing early glimmers of hip-hop on a trip to New York. His sound has morphed and moulded over time, touching on house, disco and whatever else catches his ear, into a mélange of beautiful eclecticism.

As a drummer in his earlier musical life, rhythm and interesting percussion are often the red thread but he has a knack for finding gems, forgotten B-sides and music that requires a bit of digging. He has also earned bragging rights during his 40-year tenure: he is often referred to as “your favourite DJ’s favourite DJ” and holds residencies around the world in places such as Ibiza and Bali.

One of these longstanding relationships, with Bali’s Potato Head in Seminyak has resulted in an interesting opportunity: Harvey was asked to lead the design of an entirely new club from the ground up. The result, Klymax Discotheque, is a space made for hedonism, with an emphasis on sound and acoustics, but also created around the nuances that, according to DJ Harvey, make for a good night out, that understanding of human nature. It is a place where he’s been able to put things together the way they should be. “I like to say that my place is a machine where you feed art in one end and happy people come out the other,” he says.

The club is at Potato Head in Seminyak
Hidla and Daniel Mitchell take a break from the dance floor
Klymax’s huge disco ball
Lost in the moment

When monocle speaks to DJ Harvey, he is perched at Potato Head, embarking on a monthlong residency where he plays Saturdays – all night long. We talk about what makes a good club, either as a dancer or a DJ. “Good, well-functioning bathrooms,” he says, also citing friendly security and a well-run door. Hospitality is one of the key, unsung heroes: making people feel safe and looked after. “People pay their money on the door and they all come in,” he says. “At that point it’s on you. I actually feel personally responsible for everyone’s welfare when I’m putting on an event.”

The aesthetics of the room are essentially a byproduct of the need for the room to be acoustically treated, taming errant frequencies to build what the club calls a “sonic sweet spot” on the entire dance floor. Any look or “vibe” is a direct outcome of the obsession with sonic design. “Just by the nature of acoustics, if you do it right, it’s beautiful,” says DJ Harvey. To do this, 2,680,135 holes are perforated in the wood to diffuse the sound as it hits the walls and ceiling. Concrete walls 20cm thick are fitted with 365mm of acoustic layers in three sections: Rockwool, perforated panels of 25mm plywood and 3mm of teak veneer. And, of course, there’s a giant, glittering disco ball.

DJ Harvey’s emphasis on welfare also extends to subtle elements of feeling: the way a club is laid out, the flow of people and subconscious feng shui. He also cites the capacity of Klymax as being a particular emphasis for him: 500 people is a sweet spot. “It doesn’t shift into the sort of stadium-type stuff where you start having to lower your common denominator to reach 10,000 people. But it’s big enough to have that sort of group trance – the sort of thing when people feel stronger and braver in a mob, together.”

DJ Harvey on the decks
Dressed to party
Clubgoers Chiara Croserio and Kai Evill
VIP couch area

Some of the physical attributes are hidden and unseen, down to a sprung dance floor. Traditional ballroom dancing floors used a similar technique, says DJ Harvey. “That floor would not only give you a little push back and bounce in your step but it would also stop the hard compression and damage to your joints from stomping up and down for five or six hours at a time,” he adds.

And then there’s the sound. It’s a traditional New York-style four-stack system including Larry Levan-style Bertha bass bins, with drivers from jbl, amps from Crown and processing by Lake. The audio engineer, George Stavro, previously worked with engineer Richard Long, who was responsible for the sound at legendary venues Studio 54 and Paradise Garage. DJ Harvey jokes that there’s nothing out of he ordinary about the components, saying that you can probably “buy everything off of Amazon Prime”. Instead, “it’s about the 300 years of collective experience of the people that put it together”. The magic is in the wood, paper and transistors, assembled by people with taste and experience.

Before the party...
Feeling the beat

This focus also extends to the design of the DJ booth. DJ Harvey didn’t set up the controls as a place for idolatry but rather functionality and flexibility. “I’d go to nightclubs and not even see the DJ. I went to [famed London club] Heaven for five years straight and had no idea where the DJ was; they’re actually in a cage above the dance floor.” He says that DJs should be not very interesting to look at but be very interesting to listen to. As such, there’s respect for the craft: DJs at Klymax can play whatever format they want, be it vinyl, reel-to-reel or, as DJ Harvey says jokingly, “even Laserdisc”. There’s also a bathroom, bedroom and shower. “There’s a toilet in the DJ booth and an apartment behind it” he says. “You can put on a long track and go have a shower if you’re all sticky.” 

Harvey is quick to dismiss overt fetishisation of components or materials when it comes to the club, speaking to an intangible atmosphere that has to be created. “I’ve been playing for 40 years on the worst sound systems known to man having the time of my life” he says. “The party will transcend that; it’s just that all of that might help a bit, give it a nudge in the right direction. But if you don’t have an intention...” His thought trails off. He’s alluding to the particular alchemy of sound, people, safety and other details that go into making a wonderful night out amid the flashing lights and bass bins. — L

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