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?
Like I said, trying to find a balance between touring and producing has been one of the things that have really been very difficult. I think that even harder has been to find a balance between a private life and a career. Especially now I've had children - three of them - it gets very difficult to keep the balance right.
I have very different typical days; a typical day on the road is different to a typical day when I'm at home being a dad. It's hard cause I work in different places. I’m so jealous of people that can be really disciplined and organised. Thank God we have Maren and Lydia around to help me organise my life, because I am pretty disorganised and I need help in terms of managing my time. I find it very hard to do that, I always tend to take on too much and spin too many plates at once. That's why I find that when I'm on the road, and I have down time it's actually a really useful commodity that I don't get a lot of at home.
Usually when I'm at home and I have a lot of work on, I will try and wake up at some ungodly hour; I'll wake up at 4AM and I'll try and get as much of my music creativity stuff done in that time before people start to wake up, and I have to get on with the stuff I have to do during the day. I find that time in the morning when everyone is at sleep to be a wonderful time, and I can get more done in 2 hours at that time than I would do in an entire day of trying to micro-manage lots of different things at once.
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?
On a show day, if I am not travelling (which I usually am), I like to filter through all that music I get uploaded every week, and finding a few new greats things throughout your set from the week before.
Some days are better than others, some days you'll have 20 things you want to play out and some other days you go through 200 pieces of music and find nothing. It depends what gig is coming up also; if you're doing an 1,5h festival set you're looking for completely different music than if you're playing at Fabric from 3-9AM. It's difficult cause sometimes when you're looking for one kind of music you can miss out something really great that would fit another set. So I am always going back through my old playlists and making sure I haven't missed something, listening to stuff, making playlists, trying to keep organised.
It's really just having your ears open and ready, it's really important to be listening to music on a gig day. I find that if I’m having to rush around or straight to the gig, you can feel underprepared and you kind of have to go into some sort of auto-pilot, looking at your playlist from the previous week - that's not my best way to prepare for a gig. It's much nicer to have a few hours in a hotel room or at home listening to music before you go in and play; it gets your ears zoned in.
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?
It's different with different shows; your mentality is very different when you're playing in a room and you've got a long set coming up. It's really about just settling down, and getting into a groove and not rushing into your set, not getting the crowd too over-excited at the beginning of your set. Focusing and trying to remember all that new music you've just listened to over the last 2-3 days, and work out how it's going to fit together. A lot of it is quieting your mind down, the problem sometimes is if you get nervous you can overthink things.
There are certain DJ booths that are just designed to immediately feel calm; Fabric is one of those booths. You walk into it and you're in the middle of the dance floor but you're surrounded by this little fence, and you're in your own world immediately within a couple of mixes. The sound system is so phenomenal and you can get lost in your music really quickly. I find in DJ booths that are very exposed - either on a big stage where you just feel completely open, or a booth that is very open to the crowd and they are on top of you - it can be harder to settle down quickly.
How do you cope with those situations?
Sometimes in these situations you will end up playing some things that you know first before you start experimenting. You just have to get comfortable with the technical side of things, get a couple of mixes under your belt, you might play a couple of mixes that you know work together, just to calm yourself down and get yourself into a zone. Then you can start playing around with your new music. Or you might have been in the studio that week and built a new intro, so you know how your first two/three records are going to go; and that always calms my nerves the most. For those big shows, if I know where I'm starting from, then it calms me down. It happens sometimes that I'm still struggling to work out what I’m going to be playing, cause I've got a load of new music, or I’m playing back to back with somebody I haven't played with before, and I’m not sure how the set is going to go, or maybe I get to a venue and the guy playing before me is playing very different music to what I was going to expect, then you have to rethink everything on the fly.
What I found more recently has been harder is when the DJs is being so respectful to me and he's really holding it back and playing really slow and really deep, and you can feel the crowd is already restless and he's missed his window to build the energy in the room, and then you almost have to start from scratch again. That can almost be harder than going after somebody who is just playing a lot of big records to be honest.
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?
A lot of the time it’s mixing things in key, which I do a lot. Things can just fit together. Finding those golden mixes where things just drop in and drop out at the right time and everything just fits perfectly; there are those kind of beautiful nuggets that you try and dig to find. When they happen in the booth and it's two records that you've never played before together, there are the things that really get you buzzing when you play.
You try and get as organised as you can, it's much harder than it used to be when it was all only vinyl. I think it's such an information overload these days, because there's so much volume of music, to try and remember everything that you've got and all your weapons. It's very hard to keep the memory open.
I think one of the key vows these days is just your memory and your filtering process that goes on, that is allowing you to dive into this database that you've got in your head. There's a lot of tools now you didn't used to be able to use. With vinyls I used to just look at covers and sleeves, and rips on sleeves and squiggles on records to remember what things were. Now we've got playlists where you can rate things, you can key things, you can put comments in; but it's almost like an information overload. I used to have a box of records that I used to tour with for say 6 weeks, I'd have between 200-300 records that i would carry around with me. Over the course of 6 weeks I would get to know those records inside out, every B side, everything. Then I would get home from touring and empty out maybe 2/3 of the record box and replace it with new records. But I would really get to know those records inside out.
I get set so much music, between 100-200 tracks a week; and that's already been filtered by people that work for me. It's very hard to remember everything that you've got at your disposal.
How far do you tend to plan ahead during a set?
Again it depends, if it's a long set I don't really plan things at all. I just get my music organised I see where it's going to take me. If it's an 1,5h festival set then it's probably something that I’ve thought a bit longer about; I would definitely think about how am I going to open, how I’m going to close, and then maybe in the middle of my set I’ll be trying some new things out. And getting that balance between the long sets and the festival sets is something that's really important as a DJ.
You've been on the road almost without fail for many, many years now. In terms of creativity, do you ever feel like you need to recharge? Where do you find the calm and energy to keep up this pace?
There's something also about that time when you sit on the plane, you've got some time to yourself, no-one can call you, you've got full charge on your laptop and you can just focus. It's one of the biggest challenges in life, trying to find those moments; they're like eyes of the storm. These just moments of quietness, where you can shut the noise out a little bit and meditate on the music.