Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do life and creativity feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I split my time between New York and Europe and the lifestyles I live in each city are completely different. NY is mostly based around my social life and living the ‘NY Dream’ sort of speak - walking round in a leather coat with Travolta hair pretending I’m going to the Paradise Garage later.
I rarely make music when I’m there and I often try to soak up as much hunger and influence as I can so that when I come back to Europe I can explode with excitement about DJing or Studio time.
Back in Europe, my focus is generally surrounded with work so If I am not gigging then I am in the studio. I try to keep to more of a regime than a schedule. I like to work out at least once a day. I am also plagued with annoying injuries so I do rehabilitation most mornings and once all that stuff is done I usually head to the studio. I tend to treat the studio like a 9-5 … or an 11-7 in my case. I believe that the more hours I put into the studio (or anything) will achieve results. Making tunes is a numbers game for me in that for every 5 tunes maybe only 1 will be worth finishing so it’s important to keep ideas circulating.
Living something of a duality has created the perfect balance for me. Before I would spend all my time thinking about music, gigs and studio and it dragged the life out of it for me. I started to lose the “funk”. Having the balance of both makes me really appreciate my time away from music and it seriously keeps any industry related mental health demons at bay which is seriously important to me.
Let's say you have a gig coming up tonight. What does your approach look like – from selecting the material and preparing for, opening and then building a set?
I like to spend at least 2 hours preparing for a gig. I feel this is only fair considering the effort the promoters are making to get me to their club and to the people who have spent their hard earned money to come and see me.
I usually do this in transit or in the hotel room beforehand. I tend to do a little bit of research on the club I am playing - big or small, my set time - early, late or graveyard and the ethos of that spots audience. Although I never ‘plan sets’ I just find knowing these things can often remind me of certain tunes in my hard drive that I should play and perhaps often forget to.
I really just aim to have a crate of music that a) is appropriate for what I think the audience will like b) represents me to the fullest and c) has enough strong fodder to create some interesting moments when the times present themselves. I love curve balls and adore playing the odd big random cheese boat out of nowhere. So as long as the above 3 boxes are ticked … I’m good.
Can you describe your state of mind during a DJ set? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Yes … Happily …
“Ok…opening track…do we go continue the vibe or reset”
“Hard or soft option” - shouts to Neil Tennant & Chris Lowe.
“Are they dancing?”
“Look up from the CDJ”
“Are they enjoying themselves?”
“Look up from the CDJ”
“Bollox was that tune a clanger”
“Jesus at least dance and look like you are enjoying yourself”
“Look up from the CDJ”
“Did I stop the vibe?!”
“Might be time for a drink”
“Ok no…its cool”
“Ok great. Now we are cooking”
“Right they trust me now”
“Phew now I can relax”
“Hey man…can I get a drink when you have a chance”
“Think it’s time for a KINK banger”
“Right let’s pump the fuck out of it”
“Oh shit…only 30 mins left…fuck it was only getting heated”
“Right…end on a high but don’t be a prick…WWGJD”
“Everyone’s happy….thank fuck…happy days”
It’s generally something like that haha. It kind of all depends, to be honest. I think ‘belief’ is the key to DJing regularly. Every crowd is extremely different and if you base yesterday’s gig on how you should play today then you will get a hard kick up the arse very quickly. Believe in the music you love and believe in your strategy towards how you want to play. I think if you affirm these things and avoid the ‘mental ghoulies’ that try to distract you in the dance then you’ll be able to do your thing without any issues. There is no greater feeling than when you build a floor perfectly. When you take the time to slowly, slowly, slowly get that crowd going mental … that really is the best feeling.
A strategy to avoid distraction is to be confident and to have fun. I believe if you apply those two things to most things in life then you will get the desired results.
What are some of the considerations that go into deciding which track to play next? What makes two tracks a good fit? How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
I like to be 3/4 tracks ahead of the track that’s playing and to have 2/3 options within that in case I decide to take a sharp turn. Answering your question is like “how long is a piece of string” in that it really all depends. Generally, I like to bring things up and down quite a lot for the first half of my set and then the second half just build, build, build until the energy is really nice. I come from the Running Back school of mixing (lol) so I love tracks that are measured sequentially, meaning that every 16bars something significant happens. If I know this with a particular track then I can time things a little better and it allows the OCD part of my brain to smile for a minute.
Consideration wise, I would often ask myself is this next track going to build the vibe or level it. If I chose to level it then it is with the intention of either moving direction or going even bigger next track, almost creating a few minutes of respite/suspense.
Would you say you see DJing as improvisation? As composition in the moment? Or as something entirely different from these terms?
I hate speaking about DJing as if it requires that much thought because it’s not brain surgery … but … I have always said that DJing is a conversation between you and the audience and it’s up to you to keep the convo flowing.
(using your best anecdotes, fun facts, memes, YouTube, rubbish pick-up lines, emojis, funny stories or flirty banter.)
How does playing music at home and presenting it in the club compare and relate? What can be achieved through them, respectively, and what do you personally draw from both?
Massive difference. In the studio when I’m noodling on the decks I sometimes don’t see the value in certain tracks because they really require an audience or a crowd to show that. More times than not, I will hear something on my studio speakers and think “nah” and then hear someone else play it out and think “fuck, that really works”. So I try to really REALLY think about if a track will work and if so, how, when and why and usually that helps.
Playing music at home or in the studio really just opens the boundaries of discovery. When you are playing to an audience, the window of experimentation can be somewhat limited so I always take time to go through my records in the studio, try to think of cool or unique ideas that will work well with an audience.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? How does this relationship manifest itself during a performance and how do you concretely tap into it?
It’s probably on a level of 20% my goals and 80% feeding the expectations of the audience. I still stand by the idea that I am being paid to make people dance and have a good time. This isn’t about me playing some UBER over sensationalised noodle record so I can look like some genius to a dead room … this isn’t about me … it’s about the audience, the club, the promoters and the staff having a memorable experience. OF COURSE, I want to employ some ideas and things that represent me, sure, but that’s not the core incentive. For me, the goal is to get their trust and to musically represent myself as far and wide as I can while making sure the people dance.
Especially thanks to the storage facilities of digital media, DJ sets could potentially go on forever. Other than closing time, what marks the end of a DJ performance for you? What are the most satisfying conclusions to a set?
A full room of smiling happy people still wanting more! Nothing can beat that! When the lights go on and the room is still full, cheering, smiling and clapping for one more track … that really is the nicest feeling!
I’ve always said that you should end on a high rather than just wading it out until the bitter end. Sometimes it’s best leaving the crowd wanting more. I love playing long sets, so the longer I can play the better. But I think you can tell when it’s time to start playing the soft favourites and creating that nice ‘end of the night’ vibe.
I think it’s somewhat of a universal satisfaction when you know you have played a huge variety of music you love, managed to get in a nice balance of curveballs, bangers, emotional deep ones and “hands in the air” is when you step back after a set and feel pure satisfaction.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Rarely do I let politics enter my world as an artist. I understand the importance of politics to some peoples art forms but I’m not Bob Dylan and I’m not trying to change the world. I spend so much time outside of the studio thinking, worrying and hating the world we currently live in that for me, the dance floor and studio is solstice from those things.
My approach is expression. I try my best with the tools I have to produce something that represents emotion … heartbreak, love, anger, euphoria, sex etc. All these things enter your mind on a daily basis and for me, they can be the perfect fuel for creation. Often, I like to set a scene in my mind. An image or perhaps place in time and create something that fits that moment to my taste. It might seem crazy but that’s just how I have always worked.