Interview: Winston Hazel

23 May 2019


It’s no exaggeration to call Winston Hazel a true legend of Sheffield’s music scene. From promoting and DJing at some of the city’s landmark club nights (Jive Turkey, Kabal), to helping form the innovative Bleep techno sound as one third of Forgemasters, Hazel has been a vital player in the local scene for over three decades. Ahead of his appearance at Derbyshire’s Camp Disco this summer, we caught up with the main man to discuss everything from his groundbreaking Jive Turkey night, his production style and club culture’s role in furthering social change…  

A good place to start would be the Jive Turkey party you were involved with during the 1980s, could you give us a rundown of what it was all about?

So Jive Turkey became a monthly event at the City Hall Ballroom, off the back of a night at a venue called Occasions. At Occasions we were playing Electro, Jazz, Go-go and a good mixture of Soul and Funk. At the time, around 1983/84, there was a lot of disenfranchisement in terms of the clubbing experience. You could only get in to clubs if you looked and dressed a certain way, it was very difficult as a black male to get into a lot of venues. So Jive Turkey was set up, it filled a void for my network, my black friends. When I got the opportunity to DJ at the night, I brought all those people along with me. It was an opportunity for me to play the music that I liked, Parrot (aka Richard Barratt) played what he liked and together it was a good concoction. And you had the dancers there, the bands, the artists - from across the whole artistic network.

The start of Jive Turkey coincided with the end of the predominately black, Funk all-dayer scene. The jazz-funk fraternity would come together for one of these 12-hour events – they happened all across the country. But they gradually became less popular, they had a competitive edge with things like the break-dance battles, which pushed the girls away and it gradually petered out. At this time Jive Turkey was establishing itself, and crucially it had a Jazz room which attracted the all-dayer heads.

Jive Turkey became the go-to place for all these people who were missing the All dayer scene and the camaraderie it involved. This was the period when there was this influx of people from all over the country – there is that classic clip from Channel 4’s Behind The Beat, where they’d ask people in the queue “where are you from?” and you’d get “Doncaster”, “Derby”, “Leicester” and so on. People came from all over the country.                   

You’ve spoken before about Jive Turkey’s important role both socially and politically, how far can club culture still offer a force for social change?

Yeh it still can provide that, but it often doesn’t anymore, not to the scale we saw with Jive Turkey. I work with a lot of young people now, and I’ve noticed that when music gets adopted by a certain demographic at a young age, it can propel another cultural demographic away from that group of people. You rarely see a mass of different cultures coming together in a party, unless it’s something like Sharrow Festival, which is based on integration.

But I don’t think that is necessarily a change in attitudes of the people, I just think that the clubbing landscape now has got so much to offer, there are very few niche elements to it, so everyone now has their own gospel of music, everyone has their own scene. One of the reasons that so many different people from different cultures came together at that time (of Jive Turkey), is because there were so few options for people to gather in a nice environment, and listen to good music. But it’s widespread now and far more accessible.

The general view of Sheffield’s dance music and party scene is that it’s quite understated and under-the-radar. Do you think this trend is changing now?

I think that’s still what it is. I think one of the reasons its understated is because the city is only the fourth or fifth largest in the UK. Traditionally it’s always been about 10 years behind everywhere else, that’s where the view comes from, it was never intentional. We’ve come up in a very left-wing, socialist environment here and we have always been something of an underdog city. We don’t have the commercial infrastructure that a lot of the typical, metropolis cities like Leeds and Manchester have got.

Also the community can be quite insular here. One of the things I always heard musicians say when they heard new music was, “that’s alright, but we can do better than that” – that was very common when I was growing up. There wasn’t much interest in what was happening elsewhere, and as a result Sheffield has always been behind the rest of the UK. But in its own special way, that is what has become its USP, it doesn’t go with the flow.

There’s always been a DIY culture here, looking out for others, looking out for yourself. And quietly in the background, the deindustrialisation of the city gave lots of young people a reason to express themselves differently. The money wasn’t there for the kids that wanted to join bands, so they got resourceful, it was all very chucked together. This history means that I don’t think it can ever be anything different that what it is – whenever people come in and try to change the landscape in Sheffield, boasting airs and graces, it never works. It’s not about being the biggest and best here and that’s what makes it special.

Would you say you are a DJ or Producer first?

I’m a DJ first, I do make my own music but I have very limited ability in actually creating music from scratch and putting different bits of kit together. But I like to go into the studio, and slowly learn how to use different bits and pieces to create and finish something. But I’ve been lucky to have known people like Rob Gordon for example, who was a genius in the studio and could interpret my ideas and deliver them. That’s often what I’ll do, sit with a good engineer or producer and get them to interpret my ideas and input. But I’m a DJ first, so when I’m making music I’m always thinking about it from a DJ’s perspective rather than a musicians. This means that I don’t always have the traditional structure to my tracks.

I love the hardware element, but I can get quite bored of twiddling knobs to try and get the right sound. If I find something and I like it, then that’s it I just want to get it down and move onto the next thing. I like to work quite quickly and just get things down.

Yeh I heard ‘Track With No Name” was made in just one evening..

Yeh it took about 4 hours. It was the first official release on Warp – the reason for Warp coming into existence was to put that record out, off the back of getting a massive response when we played it on my pirate station. We made the track, recorded it onto cassette and played it the next day and people just went ballistic about it. So we got 500 copies pressed up, and sat in the shop and hand wrote on the labels, and the name of the new label was decided upon – We Are Reasonable People aka Warp. And the first lot flew out, sold really quickly and that’s how it all started.


As a DJ, are you interested in playing your own productions during sets?

Yeh I always play my own music in my sets, because I don’t have a defined style of playing, I play to what I see in front of me. Unless I’m booked to represent a themed night, like just recently I played a night that celebrated carnival music with Don Letts at Yellow Arch Studios – and my interpretation of that was to play really lively, jump up, Soca-esque, percussive music. But all the other DJs on the bill that night played D&B and Reggae, so I was doing something completely different. But people seem to allow me to do that.

Thanks for the chat Winston..

By: Arthur Dickinson