909originals presents ORIGINS… Seamus Haji (Part Two)
Following on from part one yesterday, part two of our ORIGINS interview with Seamus Haji examines the London-born house producer’s A&R work, how he developed the Big Love label, and how a well-timed cover of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life helped take his career to the next level.
Next up for Seamus is a new single, Give You Love, released 8 February, which is a return to his disco roots – check it out by clicking here.
But in the meantime, it’s once again over to you Seamus… 🙂
Q. The first release under your own name came out in 1996, Big Bang Theory. How did that come about?
I was resident at the Satellite Club in London in the mid-90s, and was DJing under the name ‘Seamus’ – I always thought my name was a bit strange. But around that time, I started to do some work for Muzik magazine, and DJ Mag and things like that, and the name Seamus Haji was starting to get out there.
So when I did the Big Bang Theory record, I thought ‘sod it’, I would do it under my own name. It was the first time I had done something like that.
Not long after that, I was offered a job as an A&R man, around 1998. It was for Slip n Slide, which was my favourite UK independent label. That was how I got more and more into the inner workings of the industry.
Q. You also had the chance to work for Simon Dunmore at Defected?
Yes, I was at Slip n Slide for about a year and a half, and Simon headhunted me for the new label he was putting together, Defected. It was a no-brainer for me, because he had been running AM:PM, and already had all the artists I wanted to work with signed up for the new label.
It was an amazing experience, not just from an A&R point of view, but also from a DJ perspective, because I had the chance to play in Ibiza for the first time. I had been playing at places like Back to Basics and Ministry of Sound since the mid 90s, but when I went to work at Defected, it was a massive leg up.
The one thing was, though, that I didn’t have much time to make music, which was a bit frustrating. So around 2002, I put out another record under the Big Bang Theory moniker, and it did pretty well.
Defected at the time was doing brilliantly, it had just had a number one record with Roger Sanchez’ Another Chance, and lots of tracks in the pop charts. So I had to make a choice, did I want to keep doing what I was doing as the label got bigger and bigger, or did I want to try something new?
I decided to leave, and within a couple of months, I had set up the Big Love label.
Q. Was it a difficult environment in which to set up a new record label?
Things were changing. You could already see that things were going more digital, that maybe we weren’t going to be playing vinyl for a lot longer. At some point the illegal downloads kicked in as well. But it was definitely an exciting time to set up a label.
Q. Did you have a business plan in mind when you started the label?
Ha ha, absolutely not! When I left Defected, I didn’t have anything lined up, I just wanted to DJ and produce. I went into my back catalogue and updated the Sonz of Soul record, and pressed up some white labels, and it started doing really well. And then my wife said, ‘maybe you should open up a label?’
I probably had around £2,000 in the bank when Big Love started. We didn’t have the ability to sign people from big labels at the start, so I started putting out records under different names, like Dave Lee did with Joey Negro. I didn’t want everything to go under the name Seamus Haji; although the record shops would know it was me.
Either way, that helped raise awareness of the label, and soon we were able to attract artists from other labels. Big Love was up and running.
Q. The label really came into its own with your cover of Last Night A DJ Saved My Life in 2004. How did that come together?
It was a strange one that. I came across the acapella of Last Night a DJ Saved My Life around 2002/2003, and at the time there was this new sound coming out of Germany and Italy, which was being dubbed ‘electro house’.
That took me back to the early 80s, when you had this electro funk coming out of New York. I really liked it, so I did a version of the track in this style, and pressed a few white labels. I think I gave it to Mark Knight, Deep Dish, Nic Fanciulli and a few others.
Myself and Paul Emmanuel did a version of the track that was a bit more edgy, and then Cedric Gervais did a version that found its way into the hands of Erick Morillo.
Long story short, Pete Tong ended up hearing it somewhere, and then all of a sudden it was played on Radio 1, and it just took off. It became the biggest selling white label in Ibiza that year, and kicked off a bidding war among the major labels. The funny thing was, it ended up being a big hit around four years after I originally put it together.
Q. In terms of the label, you haven’t stuck wholly to house music, and have tried to mix it up a bit; you had the Soul Love offshoot, and projects like Electro Love. Why did you decide to do this?
With the label, I wanted to bring in different inspirations, it wasn’t just about having the one sound. Other labels these days are a lot more genre specific, but then you have labels like Toolroom, which are going down a lot of different paths.
For me, it’s important to take inspiration from what is going on at the time. I’m not going to do drum n bass one minute, and then techno the next; it’s all under the house umbrella. But it’s important to keep your eyes and ears open to new sounds.
Q. You’ve also done your fair share of pop remixes, an area that many other DJs might not go into?
I have, and they have been very lucrative! But it’s not the case that when I do a remix I spend all my time playing these remixes in my DJ sets.
It’s difficult to find a balance: I think if you’re 21 years old and want to remain super cool, you have the ability to say ‘no’ to certain things. But I have bills to pay, and it’s hard to turn down these sort of opportunities.
I always like a challenge, and if people that are into pop music end up listening to more house music, that can only be a good thing.
But I think that I’ve been through all that now, and I’m going back to my roots, and what Big Love was about initially – producing quality house music. There are a lot of things in store for 2019; it’s going to be a busy year. I’m looking forward to it.
[Thanks again to Seamus for the interview. You can find out more about his latest releases and upcoming gigs at www.seamushajibiglove.com.]