I met David Holmes for the first time in the spring of ’92 in Belfast. What led me to him was a copy of “I Believe” by Octave One. My then girlfriend and I went to Dublin in the winter of ’91 and in one particular record store I found quite a few Detroit records, and a gang of Nu Groove 12 inches too. I asked the boys behind the counter if they had a copy of “I Believe” or if they knew where I could get one. One of them told me he knew where there was a copy of it right now, he said he’d seen it in a store in Belfast called Sugarsweet when he was there the previous week. He told me that two fellas named Iain McCready and David Holmes ran the place and gave me Iain’s number.
I called Iain, ordered the Octave One and a grip of other US and Italian imports and he mailed them to me in Galway. The following spring and over the next few years Iain came down to Galway and DJed two or three times for the club night my girlfriend and I ran. We also went up to Belfast and hung out with Iain, David and their girlfriends and friends in the summer of ’92. He brought David down to Galway with him in the summer of ’93. There was also one crazy weekend in February of ’93 when Iain arrived down to Galway with David’s mate Paul. Hilarious carry on, as they say back home. I reconnected with David when he was out in San Francisco in ’97 and interviewed him in his hotel room on 5th street.
IRISH PRODUCER AND DJ DAVID HOLMES HAS HAD A LONG TRIP TO THE TOP. ON A RECENT VISIT TO SAN FRANCISCO HE DISCUSSED SOUL MUSIC, MOVIES AND DARKNESS WITH XLR8R’S RESIDENT IRISHMAN/SCOTSMAN, CHRISTOPHER ORR.
David Holmes is homesick, very homesick. He’s been in the U.S. for one whole month now, promoting his new album “Let’s Get Killed.” A strange name for an equally strange body of work that is being hailed as a masterpiece in the UK. Holmes is obviously enthused by this response, but he has one thing on his mind…OK, two things, firstly, getting back to Belfast and secondly, scoring a rare soundtrack album from On The Onester, Andrew Jervis. These are his main concerns as he sits in his hotel room on 5th street a few hours before his appearance at SF’s excellent club night, “Ultra.” In the UK and his Belfast home, Holmes is a household name. In the early ’90s he was collaborating with prolific British producers like Ashley Beadle and Andrew Weatherall, flying off to Germany to produce jams for Harthouse, DJing all over Europe, running a record store and the legendary Sugarsweet nights with the equally legendary Iain McCready in Belfast. Holmes’ name was synonymous with the then thriving British techno scene, that took its cues from Frankfurt as well as Detroit.
Nowadays he is a lot more eclectic and so I ask him when he veered slightly left of techno. “The thing about it is that when I was 15 I was a jazz DJ, playing rare jazz and rhythm ‘n’ blues and soul stuff. In a way I’ve gone full circle; you go through all these different genres as you get older. It’s all about being excited about the music, it’s not like I’m into this and that’s it. Even with Sugarsweet I played loads of different styles. I’m still into techno, it’s just that I can’t listen to it at home. As you get older you realize what’s going to turn you on for a long time rather than what’s doing it for you at the moment. I’m still into techno, but at the moment it’s just stalemate. There are certain people who are doing it, like Jeff Mills, Jay Denham, DJ Rush and Gary Martin from Teknotika, they’re making great music because they sleep, eat and shit techno. I’m into music that turns me on. It doesn’t mean that I’m not into ‘X,’ it just means that ‘Y’ is a lot more interesting to me at the time, plus when I’m making music I have to be 100% satisfied, I have to be making music that doesn’t sound like anyone else. I don’t think I could make techno that sounds different, but then to me techno is just forward-thinking music. I would call my album techno whereas to most people techno is just ‘boom, boom, boom.”
Holmes displays the kind of enthusiasm that you would ascribe to a seasoned and accomplished genre hopper like Andrew Weatherall, showing a complete disregard for restrictive pigeon-holing and a love, first and foremost, for music in general. I ask Homer (as he is known in Belfast) how this is manifested on the new album, “Like I said, I’ve gone full circle to what I was into when I was growing up, which was rare rhythm ‘n’ blues, soul and funk, all those rare grooves. I had such a good collection that I could pull out records that I knew nobody had sampled and tried to find a style that wasn’t being done. Half the battle is making music that sounds unique. That’s hard to do now and it’s the reason why this album is doing so well in the UK. I couldn’t believe that it went straight into the British album charts. I mean at the time Elton John was doing tribute records. The album was released the day after Princess Di was killed, the last track is called ‘Don’t Die Just Yet.’ I thought the whole thing was going to fucking bomb.”
I hadn’t heard the album at this time, but from what Homer was saying it seemed that it had an overall dark mood and a preoccupation with death, not exactly typical dance music subject matter. But then David Holmes has never been a typical DJ or producer. No typical producer would spend a sizeable chunk of last summer in some of the worst areas of New York recording interviews with people on the street, recording their thoughts, frustrations, their frivolous moments, in order to build an album around this little slice of the human condition centered in the Big Apple. So I asked him if this ground breaking piece of work is all doom and gloom. “There are some dark moments on it, but it’s a varied album. Some of it’s really humorous, the people I talked to ranged from the really amusing to the downright menacing. Some people were really cool and had a great story to tell. One little guy even read my fortune. One interesting thing was that we were approached to do a track for the new James Bond movie, so we did the theme from “Dr No.” I was thinking how I could tie it into the album, so I went out and talked to these kids in New York about what they thought about James Bond. I got different opinions so I sampled some radio interference and turned it into a radio debate on the album.”
Earlier this year Holmes won an award for one of his essential mixes on Pete Tong’s BBC Radio One show. What made this unique was that he played a selection of his favorite oldies, didn’t mix anything (why try to mix classic soul from the ‘6os), and had a young Belfast hip hop DJ add subtle scratching over some of the tunes. “It’s kind of ironic I won the Best Essential Mix and I didn’t mix one record. It just depends on how you put it together. It’s the first time I’ve done an essential mix where I didn’t have to stop and start again and before we started it took me ages to get my DAT player unracked so I could hook it up to my decks. I didn’t think it was going to happen. There you go.”
Across the Atlantic Holmer would be tagged as a jammy bastard, in fact I’m sure he has been tagged this on several occasions. He still lives in Belfast. He loves it there, his friends are there, his mate Paul is there. He certainly loves it. He loves New York too and would love to return to San Francisco, interview people on the streets, tape the characters, write a script around them and then have his mates in the starring roles. Pardon the cliché, but it seems that he may have a future in films. “I’ve just scored a movie called ‘Resurrection Man.’ It’s based loosely on the story of the Shankhill Butchers, a notorious Belfast terrorist gang in the ’70s. There’s not a happy moment in this movie. OK, there’s some things in it that’ll make you laugh, you know, Belfast humor, but it’s a dark piece of work. It’s abstract, quite avant garde, the music is twisted and eerie. It was directed by a Welsh guy called Mark Evans, and based on a novel by Owen McNamee, who has been hailed one of the best current Irish writers. He just retold the Shankhill Butchers story, so in a way the names have been changed to protect the maniacs. It’s a mental film, a mental film.”
Movie scores, a groundbreaking album, collaborations with Keith Tenniswood from Two Lone Swordsmen, the Stereo MCs, who loved the album, a track with Joe Strummer, movie script ideas, production help from Tim Goldsworthy of U.N.K.L.E. and Richie Fermie who produced some of the early Jungle Brothers stuff, and global domination. How does the boy from Belfast sum up this astronomic rise to fame? “You’ve just got to jump in, if you think you know it all you’re never gonna get anywhere and I’m far from knowing it all.” Surprising words from a man who’s never been famed for his reserve, but who has always been lauded for his talent. Some might say jammy bastard, but most know that he’s put the time in. So fair play Homer, more power to ya!