Book Club: John Loveless, Producer + Writer

Welcome to our Book Club series. Reading has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had a curiosity into what other people were reading, often questioning my family members about the books they had on their shelves or at the pool. Over the last few years, I’ve reconnected with that joy and it has become a constant with my friends, sharing our recent favourite reads, what we’ve taken away from them and what we are excited about exploring next. Bringing those conversations to 909, our Book Club series will delve deeper into other creative’s reading history from what they enjoyed when they were growing up, their most impactful read, quotes and more. In order to extend this community of readers, there is a bonus question for those who answer where they recommend a book(s) to next person who contributes to the club.

For this edition of Book Club we welcome Berlin-based DJ, writer, producer and label owner John Loveless. John is the founder of Hot Concept and works on creative across Phantasy Sound and Cooking With Palms Trax alongside regular shows on Berlin radio stations Cashmere Radio and Refuge Worldwide. Having started working with Erol Alkan’s Phantasy Sound in 2014, John curated and recorded ‘A Psychedelic Sensibility’ in 2020 – an acclaimed mix made in celebration of the label’s back catalogue to mark it’s 100th release – with the sequel ‘A Psychedelic Sensibility II: The Remixes’ following earlier this month. Also via Phantasy, John released a collaborative single ‘Highdive’ with Gramrcy which went on to soundtrack catwalks by Moschino and Hugo Boss. His own Hot Concept label focuses on the esoteric takes on club and experimental music with artists such as Bleaching Agent, Yr Lovely Dead Moon, Beigean & Pokies all releasing on the label and on occasion hosts events at Berlin’s listening bar kwia. Working across multi disciplines, John was previously a music writer and journalist with credits ranging from The Guardian and Bandcamp, Crack Magazine to Beatportal with DJing and production acting as an extension of his creative outputs.


your favourite childhood book?

Roald dahl’s ‘the witches’. owing to my precocious advanced reading skills as a six-year-old (applause here) i devoured this weird, misopedic fantasy in full before the appropriate age. the conclusion of the book, in which our nameless protagonist, magically transformed into a mouse, is doomed with the bittersweet fate of dying young at average rodent age but in unison with his elderly grandmother, remains an affecting empathy exercise for the malleable mind of a child. Or at least, it has stayed with me just as much as the book’s equally essential scary shit.

‘the witches’ has recently been cannon fodder for culture war pundits as its copyright owners have posthumously reprinted it with changes to the book’s language owing to perceived problematic content, a decision firmly against dahl’s wishes. Not being a child or having any children to enrich, i don’t have a particularly strong opinion on this either way, but even reading bell hooks’ ‘the will to change’ last year prompted me with a few “you wouldn’t get away with that these days!” moments. although admittedly bell hooks doesn’t suggest that women who wear wigs might possess evil supernatural powers. or at least not in the edition i own.

i otherwise just watched too much television, including bbc adaptations of gillian cross’s ‘the demon headmaster’ and malorie blackman’s ‘pigheart boy’, which i then scored in sweet paperback with christmas and birthday book tokens. Tellingly,  i picked up most of my passing literary knowledge from marathoning the simpsons (“i’m familiar with the works of pablo neruda…”) but the spin-off books ‘bart simpson’s guide to life’ and the travel guide parody ‘the simpsons guide to springfield’, are extremely funny and imaginative satire and surrealism in their own right. I have my copy of the latter here with me decades later in berlin and it is beautifully dog-eared, a prized possession.


most impactful/influential book you’ve read? 

‘Slaughterhouse five’ by kurt vonnegut, which was coincidentally also selected in the last edition of this feature by shawn reynaldo. He did a great job of summarizing its long-term impact, so please consult his contribution for further details. So it goes…


a quote that has stuck with you?

Not a quote, but a poem hopefully brief enough to meet the criteria, ‘separation’ by w.s. merwin

Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

A friend and english literature student i was in halls with at uni had this hand-written and pinned to the wall, a reminder of their boyfriend, who lived twenty-minutes down the railway line at another campus. Amusingly melodramatic in retrospect, but it went through me too, a perfect exercise in brevity that tends to drift into view fully-formed from time to time in life ever since.


favourite writer?

I’m not a completist or particularly devotional to any one writer, and don’t mind blowing hot and cold with authors, as long as their perspective is interesting and the quality doesn’t take an obvious nosedive. There were lots of candidates mulled over in the shower for this prestigious selection (joan didion, ben lerner, ian mcewan, jon ronson, maggie nelson), but i suppose the writer i have enjoyed most in recent years is patrick radden keefe. I probably read more non-fiction than otherwise, including the new yorker every week. They host lots of inspiring, technically brilliant writers – anthony lane, jia tolentino, hua hsu – but PRK is my favourite. His book ‘say nothing’, an in-depth and defiantly neutral study of the conflict in northern ireland leading to the good friday agreement, is an absolute masterpiece, and his rather more furious follow-up on the opioid crisis and the sackler dynasty ‘empire of pain’, hits like a slow freight train.


favourite genre?

I’ll read pretty much anything, but much prefer character based material and tend to gravitate to stories taking place on reliably fucked up Planet Earth, preferably within the not-so-distant past or future. I haven’t read much speculative science fiction, although I have huge respect for anyone who can flesh out metaphors on such an ambitious scale, and those with the inherent curiosity to stay invested in them. Unfortunately, if there’s somebody at an afterparty wondering aloud if we’re “living in a simulation”, I’m the person at the other side of the room desperate to talk about succession.


a book that you recommend everyone should read in their lifetime? 

‘We’re flying’ by peter stamm. Stamm is a prolific swiss writer, who has been nominated for the booker prize in the past and has won other high-profile accolades, but he seems to have slipped under the radar of many people i think would really appreciate him. ‘We’re flying’ is where i started with his work, twelve short stories of ennui and understated inner-turmoil delivered with crystal clear, sparse prose. To be honest, i wouldn’t say everyone should bother reading this. Stamm has also operated on the fringes of psychology and psychiatry and his work is defined by a perhaps unfashionable, undoubtedly white-european intellectual aloofness that generally poses more questions than it proposes answers. His last novel was actually called ‘the sweet indifference of the world’, for fucks sake. Still, there’s something about his writing that just neatly observes and sometimes quietly nails the process of living that i personally find reassuring, equivalent to john cheever or the sopranos at it’s best, as in this collection.


your favourite setting to read in?  

In my flat, on the sofa or in bed. I always love to read on a saturday or sunday morning through until the early afternoon. Repeatedly, this is proven to be of the best motivations not to stay out and get wrecked, although i have a few long audiobooks on file in case i am trying to lull myself back to sleep. Currently, alex ross’s ‘the rest is noise: listening to the 20th century’. All 23 hours of it.


are you someone who shares books with friends? if so, which book have you shared recently? 

Very much so. My favourite book this year, unlikely to be topped, has been ‘biography of x by catherine lacey’, which itself came as a recommendation from someone whose taste i trust. Essentially deep fictional non-fiction, it’s written from the perspective of a widow who is attempting to set the story straight on the life of her recently deceased wife, a provocative, nameless artist who found fame in the sixties and seventies. After a few chapters, it sinks in that although featuring real life figures such as david bowie and andy warhol, the book is set in an alternate version of contemporary america, one in which a fascist south seceded from a liberal north, only to be reformed in recent years, leaving an extreme societal gulf. It is wildly compelling as both a study of pop culture, grief and the limits of what we can know about those closest to us, but also as a suspenseful thriller with shades of films like tar and velvet goldmine, or phillip roth’s ‘the plot against america’.


what are you currently reading?

‘Terminal boredom’ by izumi suzuki, lent to me by a friend and very much science fiction, but also pitch black funny and more concerned with how humans will relate when furniture evolves to diss your love life, for example. And another friend just kindly imported me ‘the sullivanians’ by alexander stille over from the united states. I’ll usually sit patiently and await a european publication date for any new title, but the true story of a psychoanalysis driven sex cult in 1970s new york feels like a priority.


‘A Psychedelic Sensibility II: The Remixes’ mixed by John Loveless is out now via Phantasy Sound – buy here.

Photo credit: Mez Dumas