Q&A: Last Night a DJ Saved My Life with DJ Bill Brewster

Ahead of DJ Bill Brewster's gig at UP at The Standard, Ibiza on 23 July, we chatted White Isle anecdotes, books & more.
Bill Brewster, real name Nigel Peter Brewster, can often be found filling London's favourite club Fabric with funky house tunes, streaming live on NTS or writing about DJ History on Substack. Ahead of DJ Bill Brewster's gig at UP at The Standard, Ibiza on 23 July, we chatted White Isle anecdotes, books & more.

Read our Q&A: 

‘Last Night a DJ Saved My Life’ was published 25 years ago, coincidentally, the same year that The Standard, West Hollywood opened its’ doors. If you could bring one thing from 1999 to the present day, what would it be?

My football team, Grimsby Town, have been largely terrible for the last 20 years, so I'd bring back the side we had in 1999, which was the year after we were promoted back to the Championship. We had a great team, managed by the legendary manager Alan Buckley. I miss having a team that were reliably entertaining every week. 

Can you recall when you first decided to be a DJ? Was there a particular moment in history that inspired you? 

No, I can't because it all happened by accident, really. I think I'd always been a DJ without really knowing it. I started collecting records when I was ten or 11 and seriously from the age of 14, when I got my first part-time job and had a little bit of money. I'd always made compilation tapes for friends and girlfriends, I was constantly taping stuff from the radio, as well as looking in junk shops and record shops for interesting music. My first entry into music was playing in a post-punk band in 1981, which did fairly well. We got a record deal, we got played on John Peel's late night show. Sadly that all fell apart after about two years, but some of us started another band and that lasted a couple of years. After that ended, I started getting asked to bring my records to parties at friends' houses, because I'd started to amass a reasonable amount of records by then (around 1987). I had no idea how to DJ or to mix, but I had some good records. At that time I was really into go go, hip hop, old soul 45s, and a few rock bands like the Pixies, Violent Femmes, New Order, B-52's etc. Then when house music arrived, I realised I'\d have to get some decks and learn how to mix if I was going to do it seriously, so that's what I did. If there was a eureka moment, it would have been in the summer of 1989, when an ex-girlfriend took me to a gay acid house club, Troll, one night. 

Your book "Last Night a DJ Saved My Life" is a seminal work in DJ culture. What drove you to write it, and how do you think the landscape of DJing has changed since its publication?

I met Frank Broughton after I moved to New York, almost exactly 30 years ago today. We hit it off straight and started hanging out a lot with each other. I think within the first few weeks we'd talk about maybe writing a book together, but nothing really happened until we both moved back to the UK at the end of 1996. Our original idea was to write about disco, from Stonewall up to Aids, but our editor at Headline Books suggested we write the history of the DJ. So we did. We'd both always felt frustrated at how badly served dance music was with literature so that was what drove and inspired us, really. 

There have been quite a few changes. Firstly, we wanted to put up a defence of disco, because it had a dirty reputation and had been maligned constantly in the rock and mainstream press and we felt that was completely unwarranted, given how many amazing records had come out during its heyday. So we were very evangelical in our approach in the first edition. Also, there are now many more opportunities for women DJs than there had been. The BLM movement, I think, made us examine ourselves more (I'm talking about the industry generally rather than only myself sndf Frank) and it's brought changes for the better. And I think the gatekeepers of entry into the industry can be bypassed now, there's a more DIY ethos among younger generations of DJs, which can only be a good thing.

You've been involved in music journalism as well. How do you navigate the balance between being a critic and being a fan when writing about music?

I don't regard myself as a music critic. I'm firstly a record collector, more than a critic, so almost everything I have done – and still do – springs from searching for music, rather than wanting to analyse and critique it. That doesn't interest me at all and there are loads of people better than me that do it that really well. I don't want to write nasty stuff about records I don't like. I just don't see the point in that at all. If I don't like something, I prefer to concentrate on the music that I do like. I want to approach music with positivity. So I've never found my work as a music writer to work anything other than in tandem with how I approach DJing. Almost everything I do is related to music discovery (and its promotion), whether that's in a nightclub, on the radio or the written page. 

We meet in the summer sun of Ibiza. What's your go-to spot for hanging out between beach-hopping and DJing in Ibiza?

I'll be honest, I don't come anywhere near often enough to have a super informed opinion, but I like hanging out mainly at nice restaurants (I'm an ex-chef, it's in my blood) with a nice view, atmosphere and music. Hostal La Torre and Amantem are both regular haunts when I'm there. 

What’s your most memorable anecdotal Late Night Tale in Ibiza?

One of the absolute weirdest was when Rockstar launched DJ Hero and brought me over to Ibiza to interview Tiesto and we spent the night club hopping from one place to another, we saw everyone from Tiesto who was playing at Privilege to what looked like 10,000 people stood at a bus stop waiting for a bus that never arrived, to the Ritalin-charged activities of Swedish House Mafia at Pacha, who seemed to be letting off confetti cannons and explosion every 16 bars. It was frankly exhausting and I was so grateful that I didn't have to do that too often. Ibiza is so weird sometimes. 

Share a compilation of 3 tracks that summarises Ibiza to you?

Mike Francis - Survivor
Tullio de Piscopo - Stop Bajon
Elkin & Nelson - Jibaro 

Book a table at UP & hear Bill Brewster play on 23 July


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