An interview with Il Bosco

If you’ve managed to stumble upon one of Christian Wood’s all-vinyl sets at some point over the last few years, you’ll know about it. He’s a lively Mancunian with a bold, fiery presence behind the decks, offering selections as broad as his various monikers – Il Bosco, The Nudge, DJ Absolutely Shit, or just plain Woody. He’s been described as one of the stalwarts of the burgeoning Manchester scene of late, after over three decades of partying across the North West, and now regularly DJs at festivals as big as Dimensions, Love International, We Out Here & Gottwood, whilst frequently smashing it amongst the moonstruck crowds of Salford’s infamous White Hotel. 

As the boss of Red Laser Records, he’s one of the leading brains behind the colourful ‘Manctalo’ movement – a tongue-in-cheek play on italo-disco – which provides underrated local producers with a platform to deliver pounding, synth-laden cuts and a general wealth of 80s-inspired ‘edit-not-edit tackle’. The slang is strong amongst the Red Laser squad. He’s also involved with the team behind Hidden’s fittingly hidden record hangout – Hi-Tackle – and has left his mark on the city in years gone by through his excellent collaborative work on events like Eyes Down, Friends & Family and the Pomona parties. 

As a youth, his family would watch Top of The Pops religiously on a large rig in the front room, which was also commonly used for house parties by his young parents. Inspired by new wave and synth-pop bands like Yazoo, The Human League, Eurythmics and New Order, young Christian and his friends eventually took to the rig at said parties themselves to get the crowd moving. Fast-forward 30-odd years: he’s now the happy father of two, and a lauded local selector, producer and promoter that’s busy raising his profile on the international circuit, whilst still finding spare time to blog comical reviews about cigarettes and wine.

After catching his tremendous performance at We Out Here this summer with MC Kwasi and a few other Red Laser friends, we thought we’d reach out to Il Bosco to ask him about a few things… 

Hey Christian. How’s it going? Any exciting plans for Xmas & NYE this year?

I’m doin’ nowt. I just wanna chill with the Mrs and kids, drink Whiskey all night in front of the fire, smash a cheese board and a bottle of port, watch some blockbuster film and crawl into bed.

As a father of two, do you ever find it difficult to balance full-time work and family life with life as a DJ, label-boss and promoter? What do you do to unwind in your spare time aside from digging and reviewing cigs and wine?

It’s both mentally and physically challenging. But having a family, supporting them and them supporting me is hugely rewarding in many ways. When I didn’t have a family I had loads of spare time, but didn’t know I had loads of spare time, so I did less with it. When we had our kids it really made me efficient. You value spare time and are productive with it… that mind set bled into the label too. Essentially the label is what I do to wind down along with going diggin’ for vinyl and watching shit programs like ‘Celeb Juice’, ‘Take Me Out’, ‘First Dates’ and ‘Masterchef’. Also I like to go to proper snide malls to people-watch, eat Greggs, drink Costa and buy Nike Air’s.

You’ve mentioned in the past that your young son has shown an interest in your line of work, and that there’s a bit of crossover between your music tastes. Do you think we expect to see a Busby Wood release on Red Laser in future?

If he makes a banger I’ll put it out. But if he’s making music his Dad likes then he’s doing it wrong.

What’s your thought-process like when you sit down to produce a track? Do you have a favourite synth, or piece of gear that always features?

There’s no Il Bosco formula really. I listen to some music, get excited and then go and make something while I’m feeling buzzed up. Sometimes I’ll hear a drum break on a record and just sample it, loop it, then start jamming on the synths and effects. I don’t have a computer so tracks are all built into my MPC2000Xl’s. I’ll build the track and a loose arrangement and then play it through the desk and dub it live. I’ll record the live takes and pick the best one, which will still have mistakes in, but I don’t care about them being perfect. Perfect is for turds, ha. Other times I’ll go into the studio with Metrodome so that we can put an undeveloped take that I’ve jammed onto the computer, and we will spend a few sessions chopping it up and overdubbing it with other stuff to finish.

Anyway, for the nerds here’s the studio setup: MPC2000XL (2 of) Oberheim OB8, Memory Moog, Korg MS2000, Roland 808, BOSS RE_20 Space Echo, Roland TB-3, ECHOMAN space echo, Yamaha O1V Desk, a Sony CD burner and a shit load of records to sample.

You often talk fondly of the break-hardcore and rave scene of the late ‘80s and early ‘90s in the north-west, when you and your friends would travel far and wide to get to raves and events all over the place. Are there any strikingly memorable parties, sets, euphoric moments or funny stories that stand out for you from that period? Or is it all just a blur?

Yep, it is a bit of a blur, but highlights include DJ Welly at Bowlers 92 – 93. I remember when NJOY played at Wigan Pier and the club had been taken over by new management the week before. There was 400 people queuing outside before the club even opened. The new owner came out and shouted at the top of his voice “You will not be given entry if you are wearing trainers, please stand to the side so others can get in” and about 395 people started to walk away ha ha. He fuckin’ started shouting “Please come back. No problem, trainers are fine!!”. NJOY were sick.

Did you ever venture over to the Leeds/Yorkshire area for parties during that time?

Yeah, we used come over for ‘Hard Times’ and later ‘Up Your Ronson’, when the scene went really funky house. I didn’t like house music by this time but would go anyway ‘cos the majority of my mates were into it. While the whole superstar DJ thing kicked off and every wanker in Britain was now takin E’s and buying cocktails at raves, I went back underground. That’s when I got into hip-hop, funk, soul and jazz nights in small venues, midweek, including The Faversham in Leeds. They championed alternative music promoters, rather than the bullshit big-house bulbs. That’s when it got really good for me. I was inspired by residents from nights at the Faversham, HeadFunk @ Time in Manchester, Scratch @ Scala in London, Sub Tub, Mr. Scruff and Electric Chair in Manchester, and special big props to No Fakin, the Liverpool night that’s still goin’ 20 years later because of the passion and great taste those gees have.

You’ve mentioned how initially discovering hip-hop felt like finding a gateway into tonnes of other genres like funk, soul and jazz. Do you recall your first memories of those hip-hop jams that really struck a chord with you?

My pride and joy are my italo, break hardcore and hip-hop records. I started to write a list and stopped as I’m just gonna do a mixtape instead. But if I was gonna recommend to watch one thing today (very loud) it’s got to be something that still makes the hairs stand up on my arms every time I see it. So check Percee P and Lord Finesse ‘The Patterson Projects Re-Match’ from 2003. It’s on Youtube. Percee P’s rap in this is the pinnacle of hip hop for me (He’s the second guy to rap in the video). It’s his style. He’s un-fukin-real. Lord Finesse is sick in this too (I had a bit of a scrap with Lord Finesse in the Roadhouse in Manchester when we put him on live, but that’s another story). You even see Lord Finesse paying his respects to Percee P – the underground hero and stuff of Brooklyn folklore – by walking away happily on his own, as the defeated rapper. It’s supposed to be a freestyle but I’m not sure it is, but still, it’s two of the best rappers to ever do it, at their best, on the same track.

Have you had any similar moments when discovering music more recently?

Every week, that’s why I’m still in the game. Addicted to inspiration. I recently revisited some old mixtapes and found one that Mr. Thing gave me years ago called ‘Things First’. He drops this jazz banger which I found out is by Eddie Gomez. ‘Down Stretch’ is the track. Check that shit. The Intro is like standard stuff, then the drums come, and bang! Bought one immediately (give thanks and praise to Discogs).

Given that you’ve lived in Salford and Manchester for as long as you have, seeing both cities move forward in terms of nightlife – and in many other ways – what would you say has changed most since your early days of partying here? Lots of people talk about how the IRA bomb of ’96 completely transformed the place, for example, or how the opening of the Hacienda was like a UFO landing amongst a wasteland. Are there any other key moments that you would say stand out, which perhaps flew under the radar?

Man you couldn’t go out in Salford in the 90s without getting your head stoved in. It was violent. We used to go to the Rainbow Rooms in Eccles, and Sangsters, and mass brawls would break out all the time – like wild west shit. Salford is still pretty nuts in parts, but has calmed down a lot and now has some of the best clubs in the UK, so it’s come a long way. Hidden is goin’ off and The White Hotel is possibly one of the best in Europe.

For me and many others around my age, Manchester was club wasteland for years through the 90s, until Electric Chair landed and became this home for people wanting more than superstar DJs playing to a meat-market of lads with permo hard-ons and girls out to suck as many bulbs as possible. By the way, I’ve lived in Stretford for the last 10 years.

In the past you’ve talked about how your parents were very sociable when you were young, having parties all the time – playing great music. Do you think this early exposure to inclusive, family-led parties was essential to creating such a wholesome, sought-after – and now infamous – event in ‘Friends & Family’. Is there a connection behind the name there in terms of ethos, or is that just a coincidence?

I’ve always been good at having a good time. I get this from my parents. They new how to have a good time, they had parties and played music. It was mainly pop music from the ’60s ’70s and ‘80s, but I liked it and still do. I’m not sure if pop was better then than now, but it feels like it was. It was one of the Grand Central Records team (Darren Laws) who came up with the name Friends & Family, as we wanted to do a night that just booked our own crew and friends of the labels Fat City and Grand Central. Mega parties they were.

Me and my fiancé caught your set at We Out Here this summer – which was outstanding by the way! My partner hadn’t heard of you before and I remember her saying that you seem to really care about your audience when you’re spinning, which I thought was a funny comment at the time, but you did just look like you were having a fucking great time! Haha. Do you ever get nervous before performing? How important do you think it is to connect with your crowd in that way, when so many other DJs don’t seem to?

Thanks dude. I never get nervous, I only ever get excited. I suppose I’ve been doing it for so long, I’m confident enough to make it happen and realistic enough to know you’re never always going to get it right. I’ll always watch what’s happening with the crowd ‘cos I want to share the enjoyment with them. If they don’t like it, I’ll enjoy myself anyway, haha. The best scenario for me is that I have a great time, me mates have a great time, the crowd has a great time, the staff have a great time and the promoters have a great time.

Finally, what does 2020 hold in store for Il Bosco and the Red Laser squad? Anything we should be keeping an eye out for?

Theres loads. DJ Absolutely Shit EP, Metrodome EP, Wet Play 4, EP11, Luca Del Orso EP, Starion EP, Kid Machine LP, Full Beam 3, More NTS shows, more parties, Love International, Red Laser with Starion Live, Red Laser with George Hysteric and Dave Harvey, Manctalo Social, Wine Reviews – the list goes on…