Monday, January 16, 2012

Danny Lemon

Juicing the lemon

By Jeff Neems, Rip It Up, 2000.

Call them freaks, fanatics or just true fans, but there's no denying that record collectors are dedicated followers of music. Wellington's DJ Lemon (AKA Danny Setford) may not have the biggest collection in NZ, but he talks with Jeff Neems about having one of, if not the best.

“I really hate pissing people about, you-know-what-I-mean, but I’m aways doing it’’ says DJ  Lemon in his only-left-south-London-yesterday kind of way. After rescheduling twice to talk about his record collectors addiction, we finally met up, but he was 40 minutes late to get to one of his favourite watering holes, Wellington’s Matterhorn on Cuba St. I assure him it’s no problem. The genial ex-pat English DJ orders a plate of chips and his trademark drink, a steaming concoction called a Blue Blazer.

At 41, Lemon is aware he’s the oldest working club/bar DJs in the country and the topic draws much lively conversation from him. His reputation as a reggae, soul, funk jazz and house selector precedes him. Some say his collection of material to be amongthe largest in the country. When I put it to him he’s considered by many to have the largest and finest reggae collection in the Southern Hemisphere, he’s extremely modest.

“Well,” he remarks “I’ve never actually said that. I don’t know if mine’s the biggest? I haven’t seen everyone else’s. Stinky Jim, he’s got a serious selection and I know most of the key collectors. It’s not like I’m completely self-reliant. It’s certainly a compliment though. I’d say it’s a refined collection.”

No argument, however, that he may well be in the leading pack as far as Aotearoa’s most stunning music collections go. He can’t keep his entire collection at hand, and it’s distributed around three places in Wellington. He keeps about 500 records he’s playing at the moment, with more stashed away elsewhere and others boxed up in another friend’s garage.

Lemon’s unsure of exactly how extensive his selection is. “I haven’t counted it, but it’s between 5000 and 6000 titles, including between 2000 and 3000 7 inches, about 2000 albums and the rest are 12 inch singles,” he estimates.

A music selector of sorts for the past 15 years and a collector for even longer, it’s more than a little surprising to find the man has only recently considered himself a DJ.

“It’s only in the last 18 months or two years I’ve felt entitled to call myself a DJ. I feel I’ve put the work in. Before that when people asked me what I did, I just told them what my job was. Now I feel quite comfortable saying, yeah, ‘I’m a DJ’.”

He’s a working DJ who, with a residency at the back bar of Studio Nine, admits to going to bed early to get up at 5am for his 6am to 10am slots playing house at the Edward Street bar.

Lemon has been a New Zealand resident for the last 19 years and he’s happy to call Wellington home, having taken out New Zealand citizenship. He’s never returned to England after he left in 1981, although throughout the interview his comments often linger on his formative experiances at West Indian community roots reggae dances in his native South London.

“One thing you don’t see here in New Zealand,” he says, “is slow dancing, When I came ‘ere, that’s what I was used to, you-know-what-I-mean. Back in England a lot of people slow-dance to reggae, soul and garage, people getting intimate on the floor. You just don’t see that here. I mean, people really love and respect the music, and the people who make it and play it, but they don’t slow-dance to the lovers rock and the roots like they do in England and Jamaica, I don’t think they’re entirely comfortable with it.”

Stories abound of Lemon’s supposed links with reggae megastars across the globe, which he downplays. “No, I don’t know Lee Perry,” he says, refuting one rumour he’s well connected with Jamaica’s most eccentric producer. “I do know Neil Fraser (the Mad Professor) and I am in contact with him, we share a lot of common reggae interests and we exchange notes on music,” he says, before relaying the oft’ told story of the Mad Prof’s recent visit to DJ Lemon HQ. 

Neil, roots-singing cohort Earl 16 and MC Nolan Irie spent seven hours at Lemon’s place, recording sections of Lemon’s extensive rare 7 inch and 12 inch collection to mini-disc, an occasion he remembers fondly and describes as ‘monumental’. ‘’Neil was very interested in some of my lover’s rock sevens, I had to re-catalogue my records afterwards.’’

Before we return to the reggae trainspotting chitchat, during which the term ‘’absolutely essential album’’ crops up a number of times.

Lemon is happy to admit he, like nearly all reggae fans, is indeed a trainspotter. Some English collectors have an encyclopaedia knowledge of the genre, and Lemon seems no exception, reeling off titles and artists faster than they can be committed to memory.

He can’t concede reggae’s his favourite genre, although he will say ‘’the most dominant, definitely. I mean I love my house and my soul and that but the reggae, the roots and the dub are dominant in my collection. I look for house that has a similar sense of purpose and weight to the reggae I play,” he says.

Although a regular at Wellington’s Flipside, he gathers much of music through his vast selection of global music contacts. I’ll ‘ave a look through any list anyone cares to send me, but I do rely on my network of contacts beyond anything else,” he says. They include Wackies London agent Rae Cheddie, Top Beat’s John Mason, London selector and Roots Foundation member Marek, and the aforementioned Mad Prof. However, he states a number of his contacts are not what he considers high-profile people.

He’s never been to Jamaica, but has visited New York, home of a number of highly relevant reggae labels, where he says people were very interested in his collection. He owns 7 inches and 12 inches, of which there are only a few hundred in existence, and is thoughtful in recommending African brothers ‘Torturing’ or Simeon Tyrone’s ‘Do Good In This Time’ alongside the dub brilliance of Augustus Pablo/King Tubby collaborations Rockers Uptown and Inna Firehouse as essential reggae purchases, He rates African Youth’s Forward A Channel 1 as his single favourite tune.

Before departure from the UK he was a member of the Anti-Nazi League, and he regularly returns to the topic of respect and unity among the music and greater communities.

“As white people, we need to be trying to sort it out, and there are people doing that. I do it with music."  He initially approached ZMFM in search of a specialist show, only to be told the soul and funk he wanted to play “was only listened to by people in Porirua.”

Needless to say, Radio Active beckoned, and he has selected tunes on regular occasions for the stations specialist reggae, dub and house and jazz shows. He’s recently been taking a break from the station but is keen to return to on-air selecting in the near future.

The Roots Foundation, which celebrates its 10-year anniversary next year, is probably the outlet he’s most often associated with. The five (Lemon, Goosebump, Mu, Koa and London-based Marek Nielsen) formed in 1991, and Lemon himself declines to accept the title of 'driving force'.

“Certainly”, he says “I was one of the driving forces, but the other guys are great too. They’re all fantastic DJs in their own right, and John (Pell) is a very good promoter.”

And so will Lemon be spinning discs when he’s 50? “I ‘ope so!” ha replies amiably. He doesn’t consider himself the country’s finest DJ, and admits he was stunned to find out he’s been nominated for a B-Net award. “I don’t even know who nominated me,” he laughs. “I like to think I mix a tight, quality selection, whatever I’m playing, whether it be house or reggae.”

And whether it be house or ever more popular reggae, roots and dub that he’s spinning, there’s little doubt the young Kiwi crowds will be paying respect in huge amounts to this veteran and pioneering force in the New Zealand music scene.

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