For over 30 years, Steve Barker has been one of the most influential voices in the UK in underground and new music, curating the influential "On The Wire" radio show for BBC Radio Lancashire. Although he's most closely associated with the genres of dub and reggae, his career as a music journalist has seen him interview and interact with a slew of seminal acts from the last three decades, including Adrian Sherwood, Lee Perry, Jimi Hendrix, The Clash, Ian Curtis, Mark E. Smith, REM, and more.
Currently, Barker is based in Beijing where he continues to record the radio show in China, as well as contribute to the UK-based bible of avant garde music, The Wire.
In addition to that, Barker also plays out in the clubs sometimes, which he is doing this Saturday at The Shelter as part of Uprooted Sunshine's weekend-long five-year anniversary.
SmartShanghai talked to Steve Barker about music in China, interviewing famous people, and classic old stuff.
Barker: Basically doing the same old stuff -- that's recording radio shows and also writing my monthly dub column for the Wire.
Barker: I first started visiting Shanghai to gig with my mate James aka Daddy Vegas -- a funk king! -- though he's now back in the UK running a reggae sound system in Bristol.
But I have always enjoyed playing in Shanghai because of the open crowd who are accepting of new and different forms of music -- as well as the old classic stuff!
Barker: People in Beijing seem to take a long time to get over one phase and into another. Cui Jian is still referred to like the Beatles are talked about in the UK. Beijing now has no clubs playing new music, just the same old hip hop, house, and techno.
Even two of the clubs playing techno have just closed down -- it's a bit depressing actually.
On the live side, it's taking a while to get over the "No Beijing" post punk scene. Not much of what might be called "maverick" musics, except in the experimental scene which is now fairly international.
Barker: I have always liked Sulumi because he's willing to experiment and has a sense of humour. Huan Qing, who produced some of my favourite music out of China in the past ten years seems to have retired...
Barker: Well, I met Yoko Ono at Indica Gallery where she was showing her latest art work. She was alone in the gallery and we had a chat. I interviewed her later whilst at University. It was around the time of her "Bottoms" movie so it was a bit tedious.
Jimi Hendrix was a really nice guy who I interviewed twice and he remembered me from one interview to the next. The first time he was relatively unknown and the second was when he had achieved "rock god" status in super quick time.
The interview is available in the "Time Out Book of Interviews", which they published without my permission.
We may put it on our website soon.
Barker: Back in the day I did interviews every week -- seen more sound checks than most! Perhaps one of the most famous we did was with Ian Curtis of Joy Division just three months before he committed suicide.
Also we arranged a meeting between the Clash and local punk heroes (from NW England) the Not Sensibles, which ended up in a fight.
Most memorable though, were the two live shows we did with Lee "Scratch" Perry in the mid Eighties, some of which were captured on the Pressure Sounds CD Divine Madness... Definitely.
Barker: Well, the writers/ rock critics who I most respected are all dead. I can still read Lester Bangs reviews for a good laugh and some education. Most these days just seem to regurgitate promotional copy.
As far as the blogosphere is concerned, there is more interesting writing out there but there's just too damn much of it -- you need a personal guide, like a Blog-jay!
Barker: On the positive side we can get free access to the great freeform station wfmu.org and listen to the best gospel show on the air -- Kevin Nutt's "Sinners' Crossroads" -- or check Dave the Spazz's show. On the negative side, everybody can be a DJ. Yawn!!!
Barker: Those two words are not necessarily contrary, there has been a democratization of the means of production, certainly, but you just need check out the regular releases via an outlet like boomkat.com to discover worlds of wonderful music.
So, there's just more stuff -- good and bad.
Barker: Spinoff started in 1980, I was playing lots of post punk stuff and always reggae and dub. Around about the time Spinoff became On the Wire we had started playing what was called 'electro' from the West Coast of the US and hip hop from the East, then house and techno from Chicago and Detroit.
There were only a handful, maybe two or three shows doing this. As usual in the South/London they were more interested in rare groove. In the North West we usually went for the newer, more edgy stuff coming out of the States.
Barker: I have never really been a 'club DJ' as such -- just played out on invite over the years so I’m enjoying it rather than seeing it as 'work'.
Started in the '80s playing in clubs around North-West, festivals. Once did a great gig supporting the Manic Street Preachers and I was playing beats to Phillip Glass material, and surging ethno-beat.
Barker: Rare these days. I play free-style dubs and dancehall, roots reggae and new UK music when I get the chance.
Barker: I always like to have a few new tunes whether it's old revival dub or some strange new music that's only distantly related to what others call house or techno.
Two or three, like Lord Tanamo's "I'm in the Mood for Love" or the Abyssinians, "This Land is for Everyone". If I was invited to DJ an acid house gig it would always be Terry "Housemaster" and Baldwin's "Delta House" and Dancer's "Am a Dog"...
Steve Barker is on the decks this Saturday at The Shelter. And here's On the Wire on the internet: BBC page is here and main homepage here (VPN needed).
Photo by Benoit Florencen.