The growth of Dave Lee’s extensive career in dance music echoes the development of the genre itself. The UK-born and based DJ/producer developed his love for dance music in the 1970’s, first honoring his infatuation by beginning to collect funk, disco, and soul records. When he decided to pursue his interest professionally, his involvement started small—in a store called Smithers & Leigh. When the store closed down, though, Lee made a big step by joining the team at legacy record label Rough Trade at the helm of their new dance division, Demix. After growing Demix into a powerhouse through his passionate championing of dance music in the wider industry, Lee made the move to mint his own label, Republic Records.
Republic became home to some of Lee’s first releases, many of which were in partnership with fellow artists Mark Ryder and Mike Cheal. In those early days, the trio released a variety of acid house tracks that sampled disco in their production—some of the first to do so. In 1989, the group—under the name Raven Maize—broke beyond their underground following to the mainstream club scene with the hit track, “Together Forever.”
Over the course of his long and storied career, Lee has released music under a variety of names including Jakatta, Abaku, Doug Willis, and Z Factor. His most recnognized moniker, however, is Joey Negro, which the artist retired following the protests responding to the murder of George Floyd in 2020. Under Joey Negro, Lee charted many top 40 hits, including “Do What You Feel,” and “Love Fantasy.” Lee has also been asked to produce for and/or remix some of music’s music legendary names, like Bob Marley, Diana Ross, and Mariah Carey.
Even today, Lee’s releases draw on his early influences and origin story. Inextricably connected to the growth of house music in the UK, Lee is a living piece of history, reminding us where house music came from, while still playing an active role in where it is going.