Harris, Steve Smith and Ben Harris aka Dirty Vegas have released their
fantastic debut album including “Days Go By” and “Ghosts”,
which you maybe already have heard on the radio, TV or in the clubs. They
have just done a brilliant remix of Madonna’s 007 theme; “Die Another
Day”, which was premiered at their gig at Okyo in the beginning of
known Paul for 10 years and I had a record shop where Paul used to come in
and get records, we decided to work together and see what we could come up
with. The first few things we did were signed to underground labels and we
were working under various names.
talked about getting some percussion into our tracks, Paul said that he
knew this guy that was a great percussion player and that was Steve”. Ben
explains and Paul continues “In the start we used the name of Dirty
Harry, we put out “Musica”, but Time Warner weren’t happy so we
changed to Hydrogen
The things we did with Steve went bigger and bigger, so we had to change
that to Dirty Vegas”.
Rockers is a club remix production team, coming from the DJ background”.
Ben moves on; “Dirty Vegas is
a band with real song writing and it’s self-contained with the three of
us as a band, it doesn’t change as if we were a production team working
with different vocalists and remixers. That’s the difference, but this
is the main thing, we have a whole live side to us and Dirty Vegas is
about an album. It’s about creating an album like a band would do; as
opposed to a production team would do one off singles. We approach the
album as a journey, with songs that go for it and some that chill, it has
that vibe to it and also has the same vibe as a DJ set would have, you got
the intro and the build up”. Steve
cuts in, “It’s good for the band, because we came together from
club music, it keeps that underground stuff filtering up and coming
through in our music. That is where we come from”.
“Days Go By” first came out, it did very well with the DJs and at the
Miami Music Conference and then it went on to be the record for the Mitsubishi
commercial”. Paul continues, “It charted very well and what has happened in the
US now filters back to Europe. Now Scumfrog, Paul Oakenfold and Brancaccio
& Asisher have remixed it, and it has become a huge record in Ibiza
again-it has been given a second chance, and it’s doing well. The next
single will be “Simple Things” it will be out next month”.
let's talk Dirty. Let's talk about three club faces who went into the
studio just to see what they could do together and came up with 'Days Go
By', a lush song about love and loss they thought might have underground
potential, but little more: 'No one was playing tracks with vocals then.'
So it came as a surprise when Pete Tong played it on his Radio One show
for 12 weeks running. When Parlophone not only signed up the single but
wanted an album to follow. When the song crashed the UK top 30 in May
2001. When Mitsubishi Cars picked up the track for their influential
advertising campaign in the US and suddenly it was being played on every
TV channel, every local radio station across America. It's a fairytale
story of overnight success. It's every band's dream. Except, at first,
Dirty Vegas weren't really a band at all.
Harris, Steve Smith and Ben Harris are three lads from Kent and the South
London suburbs with very different musical backgrounds, united by a shared
passion for house music and for that brief, heady time after the acid
house explosion when all the old barriers came down and musically, almost
anything seemed possible.
started clubbing in his early teens. He built up his record collection,
bought some decks, and taught himself how to mix when that was still a
rare skill in British clubs. In the early 90s he met DJ/promoter Nicky
Holloway talked himself into a residency at Nicky's infamous Milk Bar,
playing alongside Pete Tong, Dave Dorrell, Paul Oakenfold and Danny
Rampling. Paul was 17. 'It was just before the whole thing exploded. DJs
were just starting to earn more than £25 a night. I played the Milk Bar
and the rest of the "Balearic network" - clubs like Venus in
Nottingham, Most Excellent and the Hacienda in Manchester. It was the best
of times.' He gradually began spending more time mixing and making records
than playing them, but has continued to be successful as a DJ, playing at
Ministry and Cream, at the parties organised by his friends Meg Mathews
and Fran Cutler, and more recently at the kind of small, word-of-mouth
events where grown men who should know better end up dancing on top of the
Smith had played percussion at school, competing with Alan White (later of
Oasis) for the only drum kit and often ending up on the bongos instead.
After the rave explosion, he began playing live percussion in clubs,
earning more in a weekend than he did the rest of the week in his job in
the print trade. 'It was great. I was in a club with my mates, I had a
guest list - and that was all that mattered really.' By the mid-90s he was
playing in a band called Higher Ground. When the singer left he
reluctantly stepped in, discovering with some surprise that he had a fine
voice. The band fell apart in 1999, around the same time Steve split with
his girlfriend, so he went to Ibiza and began writing songs on his
acoustic guitar, exploring new directions. Soon after returning to the UK,
he was booked to play an event in Switzerland and bumped into his old
friend Paul Harris at the airport - also bound for the same event. 'We
went out there and we had a right old ding-dong,' recalls Steve. 'Paul
said, "When we get back, we've got to make some records." He
told me he was working with this bloke by Tower Bridge who's a wizard in
the studio, and it turned out to be Ben.'
Harris always wanted to be a guitar hero. Until his indie rock band Fluid
did their first studio demo, and he saw the engineer behind the mixing
desk. He began working as a tape op in a Camden studio, 'got bitten by the
dance bug', and as the technology advanced, realised that he no longer
needed a big studio to make the music he loved. For a while he and his
brother ran a specialist dance record shop in Bromley, using the profits
to build up a studio set-up of their own and starting to produce records.
'It was mad. The first thing we did, under the name Bullitt, started a
bidding war and got signed to Virgin.' After a few years of success as a
producer and remixer, he approached Paul and they began together as
Hydrogen Rockers. A few weeks later Steve came in to play some percussion:
'And once we met, it all happened quite quickly.'
quickly that, the night before they were due to sign their deal, the band
didn't even have a name. They were going to be Dirty Harry, but Time
Warner made it clear that it wouldn't make their day at all if these punks
took the name of their film franchise in vain. In the early hours they
ended up drunk in a West End casino (this is nothing out of the ordinary
for these boys; what was unusual, they say, is that for once Paul was
winning). They wanted to stay Dirty by name as well as nature, and as they
stood watching the wheel spinning, one of them came up with Vegas. They
all agreed it had a suitable sleazy glamour, and Dirty Vegas signed their
contract the next day.
came the hard part. 'It wasn't like we were a band who'd been together for
years,' says Ben. 'We'd been thrown together by the success of one song.
We had to find out if we could actually work together.' At first, they
began churning out a by-numbers set of 'Days Go By' soundalikes. With all
of them pulling in different directions - and two of them partying rather
hard - tensions mounted, eventually culminating in an angry afternoon when
'we were pretty much going to kill each other'. They were barely talking
let alone working, yet somehow created 'Lost, Not Found', a furious rant
against party excesses set to a softly seductive beat that surprised them
all. It was a turning point.
that track, we were on fire,' says Paul. 'We bonded, and it all went off.'
They stopped fighting, stopped trying to make clones of the single or even
dance records, and instead began blending all their influences into heady
new cocktails. The end result is a nightclub confessional, an album about
getting messy and coming clean, about making mistakes and losing the one
you love. Music made from the heart. 'Everything there is something that
happened to one of us or to someone near and dear to us,' says Steve. 'It's
about us, our emotions. All of our personalities have come out within the
sound of the album. Paul's underground club stuff, Ben's rock guitar thing,
my love of songwriters like Neil Young or James Taylor.'
are straightforward club tracks on the eponymous album, sonic sculptures
you long to hear thumping out over a serious sound system. But there are
also strong, well-crafted songs and a genre-bending list of influences
ranging from Pink Floyd and Santana to Kraftwerk and Turin Brakes. 'One of
us will pull out an old album from like 10 years ago, and one of the
others will go, "I've got that! I love it!"' says Paul. 'We
tried to bring all those influences into it. That's why we've hopefully
got something a little bit different. It's not your usual dance record.'
Vegas are a proper band now, a tight unit looking forward to touring their
music live. 'We can't wait to do it!' says Steve. 'They're our songs. And
the idea that there might be some kid on a skateboard in Arkansaw right
now hearing "Days Go By". How great is that?'
and live photos: Christian Almind
Interview published: Clubbing Magazine October -November 2002
Go By" was misprinted as "Days Gone By" in the magazine.
More live pictures of Dirty Vegas at BIPATH