Nationality: British / Based in LA
Occupation: DJ / Producer / Label Owner and Teacher
Bands/Projects: Mr.C / The Shamen / Sycophant Slags / Indigo Kidz
Musical Recommendations: Xo Chic, David Scuba
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started DJing in the autumn of 1987 after releasing my first deep house record in August 1987 called "Page 76" by Myster-E on Eddie Richards’ Baad imprint. It was then that I realised I wanted to do more than just vocals and thought the best way to really learn about production was to become a DJ. My early passions in music were Elvis as a little kid and after he died when I was 11, I got into Abba for a short time (still a guilty pleasure), which soon led me onto Disco. Then the 2nd wave of Ska hit in the late 70’s so I was listening to bands like the Specials and Madness, which then got me into 1st wave Ska like Prince Buster, the Skatalites and the Harry J Allstars. Ska introduced me to Reggae and Soul and in the early 80s I got much more heavily into disco, rap and funk and then old school electro, which was probably my heaviest influence in becoming a rapper, which I did in 1982. I started clubbing in 1980 so I was a fan of all of the disco and electro that followed and house before it was called house. Things like Russ Brown on Jump Street, early Easy Street releases and the second wave of Disco and Italo Disco, which was very synth led like D-Train, Greg Henderson and Klein and MBO etc.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own style?
I was always into what was new and have always had a real hunger for fresh music although Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambaataa and the Soul Sonic Force, Jeckyll and Hyde, Newcleus and Egyptian Lover etc heavily influenced my rap. When house first started coming through in the mid 80s, I was already into it under its then-name “Dance Music” so was hooked immediately and in early 86 switched my rap style to House, rapping about Jackin' your body. As a DJ and producer, I was never interested in following the crowd or being like anyone else. I’ve never sampled and always been into writing my own rhythms, synth lines and music. Sounding like anyone else was always a turn off for me so emulating others was only in my formative years as a rapper when I was 13.
What were some of the main challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time? What is it about DJing, compared to, say, producing your own music that makes it interesting for you?
It’s always been difficult to break through as a DJ and it’s no different now to what it was 28 years ago. To break into the scene as a DJ, once you know about the music and have learned how to mix, you then need to get very much involved in your local dance music community. Get to know the local promoters and make lots of friends. Be a social butterfly. Then throw your own parties as no one is going to do it for you. You’ll have to make music, lots of good music, be original and maybe even start your own label. Being very sociable and having a strong image are both very important. You have to be the complete package these days, even more so today than in yesteryear.
I wasn’t given a leg up when I started out and had to break in the back door. In autumn 1987 I threw a couple of acid house parties in a friend's flat. They were proper little raves with banners, decent system, smoke machine and lights etc. After that I did my first club events in February 1988 called Fantasy at HQ in Camden Locke in London. I got my favourite DJs, Eddie Richards, Colin Faver and Kid Batchelor to play with me and Fantasy was an instant success, but I did have lots of mates who came and supported. It was only £2 to get in. These events were bi-weekly on Monday nights and only ran for about 3 months.
As soon as I’d played out a couple of times, I was hooked on helping people to celebrate life and have a great time, which drove me on from there. I’d say that I’m a DJ first and foremost, even though I have a discography as long as your arm. I love producing, but there’s nothing quite like getting involved and smashing the living granny out of a dance floor.
What was your first set-up as DJ like? How has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
My first DJ set up was two Technics SL1200 turntables and a cheap Phonic mixer in early 1988. I’d already learnt to mix playing disco at my mates house years before on crappy belt drive turntables with no pitch controls, cutting tunes in or pushing and slowing down disco tunes, which were of a similar speed, all very short mixes of course. When I first tried mixing electronic music on Technics, I was actually surprised how easy it was. As a rapper, I already knew the breaks and where to start a mix too. After that I got a Gemini MS 220 mixer and from there moved on to the first Pioneer products for home use using a DJM500 mixer and Technics SL2010s. I was always a vinyl DJ until just over a year ago following a serious back injury when I slipped a disk, but I did have one Pioneer CDJ500 when they first came out. I then got two Pioneer CDJ1000s when they first came out and upgraded to the mk 3s when they came out. When I moved to Los Angeles over 5 years ago I actually bought a pair of mk2s as I think they’re better built than the mk3s. Of course Technics SL1210 turntables are still and will always be industry standard for spinning vinyl.
For DJing now, Pioneer CDJ2000s are essential and for home use I use Pioneer products. Both the DJM900 Nexus and the DJM2000 Nexus rock.
How do you see the relationship between the tools you're using and the creative results – in which way do certain tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? Do you believe in the idea of progress in DJing from a technological perspective?
I’m a vinyl DJ at heart but technology is important. I’ve never used a laptop to spin, as I’ve never liked the sound. The compression in laptop systems had always put me off and the last thing I want to do is look like a numpty doing his emails when playing. I now play mostly digital but hate MP3s with a vengeance, they sound like crap. I only use full frequency WAV or AIFF files. I do really like what can be done with all of the new Pioneer Nexus Equipment and do use effects but very subtly. Too much FX sounds like show boating and for me, loses the groove.
Could you take me through the process of preparing for one of your gigs, please? How do you select the tracks you like to play, how do you prepare and how do you decide on the opening phase of your set?
I listen to new music and put the tunes into folders depending on what month I downloaded them. That is it. I usually travel with four or five 32 gig USB flash drives so that’s plenty of music. I upgrade these all the time. Of course I listen to new WAVs a couple of times before spinning them, in just the same way I’d listen too new vinyl before spinning it. I never prepare a set before hand and have no clue what I’m going to play or start off with until I hear the last tune of the DJ before me, unless I’m opening up and playing an extended set, in which case I’ll start very deep and beautiful to make people feel the love as they enter. I’d then build from there and have no clue where it’s going to go.
What constitutes great mixing from your point of view? What are some of the sets that have personally impressed you over the years?
Great mixing is when a DJ is one with the crowd, not separate from it and he or she feels what is needed in just the same way the dance floor feels what’s needed and that means great tune selection and dropping tunes at the right time in the right way. Of course the beat matching should be immaculate, that goes without saying, as there is no excuse for sloppy mixing.
There are many DJs that have impressed me over the years. Eddie Richards, Colin Faver and Danny Tanaglia in the early days, then the likes of Magda, Danny Daze, Lee Burridge, Alexi Delano, DJ Qu, Chloé, Steve Bug, Matthias Tanzmann, Davide Squillace and I love live sets by Mathew Jonson, Marc Houle, Dance Spirit and [a]pendics.shuffle and others. There are actually so many DJs I’ve loved over the years that I could go on forever.