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He made disco cool when they said “Disco is dead” and is widely regarded as one of the founding faces of the UK garage and house music scene. With more aliases than Smith and Jones, who on earth is the real Dave Lee?
As a youngster growing up on England’ sunny South Coast, Dave was glued to local radio stations, listening to the sounds of Earth, Wind & Fire and The Jacksons. Fed up with the lack of good quality music available locally, Dave made regular pilgrimages to London’ vinyl mecca to buy the latest tunes and imports that were not being played in local nightclubs or mainstream radio at the time.
Eventually, Dave landed a job in London vinyl store, Smithers & Leigh, where he first heard the revered house classics “Jack Your Body” and “I Can Feel It” that were later to become a major inspiration for him to produce his own records. It didn’t take long for Dave to make an impression on Rough Trade who offered him the opportunity to set up their dance arm, D-Mix. His first accounts included Rhythm King, who spawned such acts such as Bomb The Bass, S-Express, Cookie Crew and Beatmasters, and 4AD who had a hit with “Pump Up The Volume” by MARRS.
Rough Trade gave Dave the chance to fulfil his ambition of working in the studio – his first release was called “Get Busy” under the moniker MDEMM and reached number 18 in the club charts. This was enough to convince Dave that the time was right to start up his own label and, in 1988, Republic Records was born, introducing ‘garage’ as a genre of music in its own right. Notable successes in the UK market were Phase II’ “Reachin’” and Turntable Orchestra’ “You’re Gonna Miss Me”.
It was around this time that the idea of Joey Negro was born. Dave felt that this name sounded New York Hispanic and would appear more exotic to the UK market as well as getting credibility Stateside. His thinking was bang on the mark as his first tunes as Joey Negro, “Do It, Believe It” and “Do What You Feel”, met with great acclaim on both sides of the pond, the latter scoring him an album deal with Virgin. Dave also took this time to enhance his reputation as a remixer and producer working with the likes of M-People, Diana Ross, Pet Shop Boys and Simply Red.
Setting up Z Records as a subsidiary of Republic, Dave now has an outlet for his own work; championing all things funky and soulful with a consistently high level of quality underground releases. The label has showcased the remix and production work of other such luminaries as Blaze, Basement Jaxx, Bini & Martini and Seamus Haji’ Big Bang Theory. As if that wasn’t enough, such is his reputation for injecting disco back into the 21st century, he was drafted in to work with Take That, producing “Relight My Fire”. Well, even Dave Lee has to cross the lines of taste occasionally!
An accomplished and highly respected producer/remixer who never fails to delight the underground dance music scene with his classic records, Dave is one of the dance music’ best kept secrets – modest, hugely talented and more than a little quirky. Ten years on and Dave Lee aka Joey Negro, the Hed Boys, Doug Willis, Raven Maize and now Jakatta is still at the forefront of the global scene even if he still hasn’t decided what name to go by!