Greg Wilson: Creating visuals with snippets of bygone eras

Emma Gritt

Untitled 2 199x300 Greg Wilson: Creating visuals with snippets of bygone erasAs a key player in the Manchester scene of the early 80s, and a current champion of the re-edit, disco sound, there isn’t a dancefloor Greg Wilson can’t get moving. That was until last year, however, when he took his live show up a notch and introduced a visual aspect, a stream of archive footage from decades past that he had personally collected. Now, the dancefloor was throbbing slightly slower as they stood transfixed by clips and snippets of bygone eras.

To create each installment of Reels of Steel he works alongside his friend Tim Collins, painstaking selecting clips from his vast video library of moments captured throughout the 1980s and 90s. They are then woven in to a rich visual tapestry that perfectly fits alongside Greg’s journey through decades of electronic music.

Greg’s passion for electronic music is immeasurable – as is his excitement at sharing the bill alongside the legendary Afrika Bambaataa when he brings his reels and records to the forthcoming Fred Perry SubSonic event.

How do you go about sourcing the visuals for Reels of Steel?

It comes from a variety of sources – one of the main ones being the numerous VHS tapes I recorded from TV during the 80’s and 90’s. There were points in time, during the period I’d stopped DJing, that I had a lot of time on my hands. One of the upsides of this was that I was able to keep a close eye on what was on the box and managed to catch some great programmes, including lots of stuff that has never been repeated.

What’s been the best bit of footage you’ve uncovered?

There’s so much, and it’s so varied, that I couldn’t answer that. However, for a number of years, I’ve been on a mission to make people aware of the Nicholas Brothers, the great tap dancing duo. The fact that they were black during the overtly racist 30’s and 40’s meant that, tragically, they were never given the full opportunity their incredible talent deserved and were limited to bit parts in Hollywood movies. Eventually these dried up completely and they were forced to come to Europe in order to make a living. Fortunately their memory lives on via incredible set-piece routines for films like ‘Orchestra Wives’, ‘Down Argentina Way’ and  ‘Stormy Weather’.

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What can people expect from your set at the Fred Perry event?

It’s an extension of what I do as a DJ, with the visual aspect added, providing a random juxtaposition of music and images.

Have you played on the same bill as Afrika Bambaataa before?

No, so this obviously has special significance, given that ‘Planet Rock’, and the then new Electro sound out of New York, made such a big impact on my DJ career back in the early 80’s.

Do you think any recent track will be as influential or enjoy similar longevity to Planet Rock?

I don’t think there’s anything comparable. ‘Planet Rock’ pretty much split the atom, marking the end of one era and the beginning of the next – hip hop, house and techno are indebted to its open-mindedness and innovation. It marked a quantum leap in the evolution of dance music.

In your opinion, what year was the best year for electronic music?

1982/83 was the great hybrid era. There was so much experimentation – you never knew what you were going to hear next. It was such a creative period. The spectrum of styles and ideas that fermented during these two years provided the DNA for all that followed as far as electronic dance music is concerned. The underground club scene in the UK was thriving, but it was under-documented. It’s still under-valued all these years on, most people under the impression that dance culture in this country didn’t really kick in until the Acid House movement of the late 80’s when, in reality, the big bang of the Rave era would never have been possible without the solid foundation of the specialist scene of the early 80’s.

Any more Credit to the Edits lined up?

Vol 2 pretty much took things full circle – the first Credit To The Edit was mainly older tracks, with a few contemporary additions, whilst the second was the opposite, mainly contemporary tracks with a few older selections. I’m not saying there won’t be a third volume, but it’d have to be for the right reasons.

Who’s your favourite iconic Fred Perry wearer?

I go back to my youth and the mods and skinheads – that’s where I first became aware of Fred Perry. More recently I thought Amy Winehouse put a different spin on things, adding a strong contemporary contribution to Perry’s ongoing iconography – the fact she’s no longer with us makes these designs all the more  precious, and in years to come they’ll be regarded as an important part of the brand’s rich heritage.

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What’s your most cherished record, and why?

Far too many to choose one, but, on the Fred Perry tip, I’ll rewind to the skinhead days for my favourite UK Number 1 – 1971’s ‘Double Barrel’ by Dave & Ansil Collins. A Jamaican recording, beloved by the skins, and a true organic triumph, having come completely out of leftfield – nobody more surprised at it’s massive crossover success than the artists themselves.

Greg Wilson plays Fred Perry SubSonic at the Garage on 20 April

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