Here’s an interview I did a few weeks ago for a German music magazine called Soundcheck.
Hope it’s an interesting read for you 🙂
The English version is at the bottom…
Some of our Readers may not know you already. Can you just give us a short introduction how you started with DJing?
I’m a UK-based party-rocking DJ, turntablist, and producer known for my versatile, creative, and technical style of performing. I’m also highly active in all aspects of DJ culture including teaching the artform, developing DJ products, and being an ambassador for DJ brands. A lot of my work and live shows can be seen on my YouTube channel where I have built a loyal international following which has lead to tours and appearances all over the world.
Have you worked with music before you started as a DJ, like playing an instrument or singing? Or was DJing your first contact with doing music by yourself?
I grew up surrounded by music so naturally, I experimented with instruments as a child. I used to fiddle with guitars, keyboards, and I was even once in a school choir but I didn’t stick at anything until I discovered DJing. As a fan of music and technology, DJing seemed like the perfect fit for me and I became fascinated by how the sounds on a vinyl could be manipulated whilst playing on a turntable. I guess you could say that the turntable was the instrument I was looking for.
Who were your idols when you started? And how did you learn to DJ, have you used books or videos or have you tried to copy other DJs? Or did you just learn everything step by step?
I’m completely self-taught and as a DJ tutor myself, I strongly encourage beginners to explore and be curious like I was as this will always be the best way to discover and learn about something. DJing was something I found so compelling that I had to find the answers myself. I think everyone needs heroes or role models and for me, I got a lot of technical inspiration from watching DMC DJ battles on VHS with world champion turntablists such as Q-Bert, Craze and later Kentaro and C2C. And on the flipside, I was interested in club culture and listened to a lot of dance music in my teens so a lot of the big house DJs at the time inspired me to learn how to mix and build sets.
What would you say how your musical style has changed/evolved over the years? Are you doing different kinds of DJing (like battles, Performances, maybe producing) and what is your favourite?
When I started DJing, I was playing mainly house music as this was what my friends and I were into, and at the time, youth culture was very much about “tribes” defined by musical tastes. I didn’t realise until I got a bit older that it was ok to enjoy more than one genre of music and to be an individual. As a DJ, I always had a burning desire to be able to scratch and control audio with my hands so when I saw what was possible on turntables by watching DMC videos, something inside me was ignited. From this moment on, I knew I had to explore hip hop culture further and this was how I developed my skills and learned to appreciate diversity. As music evolves, my style is always evolving and that’s my intention but at the same time, I strive to always stay true to what I believe as an artist and to follow music that moves me. From playing house parties, clubs, festivals, DJ battles, performing with other musicians, producing, teaching, and starring in corporate DJ videos – I’ve done it all and every experience has taught me something new. My goal has always been to be a well-rounded DJ and to reach my potential as an artist. Of all the things I do, entertaining people and rocking a party will always be my favourite thing to do!
Have you started your DJ career with using vinyl or have you always used digital devices? And if you use both where are the advantages and disadvantages of the different techniques?
I started on vinyl as it was really the only option at the time. CD players for DJs were in their infancy but they never appealed to me as they didn’t offer the same “hands-on” feel. What I love so much about vinyl is that it’s so primitive but yet the technology of a needle translating grooves on a record into music still amazes me. And because of the manual and anologue nature of vinyl, it requires the highest level of human skill and accuracy to perform well with turntables. The downsides of course is that vinyl is brittle, heavy, and not commonly used as a medium to carry new music anymore. So inevitably, digital solutions would have always had to be introduced. I embrace new technology but strive to preserve my original way of performing, and the digital vinyl systems (DVS’s) of today such as Serato and Traktor allow me to do exactly that. The added bonuses for DVS’s is that I can still use turntables and perform the exact same techniques as with regular vinyl but now I have even more creative possibilities, not to mention I can carry my entire music collection on just 1 laptop. This is crucial for when I go on tour. The downsides with digital DJing is possibily the sound quality as you’re playing mainly MP3 files, and you are also dependant on computers to not fail you in a live situation!
How do you get the sounds you are working with? Are you using parts of other songs, libraries or are you developing complete new sounds by your own?
A lot of DJ culture, turntablism culture, and music production is based on digging for and working with samples. Hip hop culture in general was built on the foundation of sampling old jazz, soul, and motown records, so this tradition of recycling sounds continues today but with many other genres in the pool to choose from. My ears are always open for interesting pieces of audio that I can play in my DJ sets or use in other creative ways. I usually trust my instincts and let my natural emotions dictate what sounds feel right for me. The same goes for when I produce new sounds through synthesis and effects in programs such as Ableton Live. Samples can come from anywhere – other pieces of music, TV commercials, spoken word, or even just noises. And sometimes just 1 sample is all it takes to lead to the production of a whole track or an entire turntablism composition.
Can you give us a short overview of your equipment live and in the studio? Is it changing for different issues? An how much are you using software – and if so, which one?
Although I love technology, I believe there’s much more to DJing than your choice of equipment, and I also don’t believe technology should ever be a substitute for real human skill. My main tools haven’t changed since I first began – 2 turntables and a scratch mixer. As I mentioned previously, I also use Digital Vinyl Systems (usually Serato) which perfectly fuses analogue and digital technology, and in recent times, I’ve introduced midi controllers to my live setup. With midi, I’m able to add another dimension to my performances by triggering effects, loops, and generally having more direct control over my libraries of music. In the studio, I recently made the switch to using Ableton Live which is a very powerful piece of software for music production and I use it regularly to remix and re-edit tracks for my live sets, and also to arrange the audio pieces for my turntablism and controller routines. Before this, I used Sony Acid which I still love for it’s quick workflow but it’s PC only (I work primarily with a MacBook) and has it’s limitations in comparison to Ableton. Whatever you use, there’s no right or wrong and it’s more of a case of mastering your tools.
You’re using the Terminal Mix controllers of Reloop. What would you say are the advantages of these controllers? And what does a good controller absolutely need in your opinion?
I started exploring controllers and the art of comtrollerism only a few months ago. Initially I wasn’t really interested as I’m a DJ of many years experience and have found the tools that best suit my style of performing. But as an ambassador of DJ culture and a tutor to a new generation of DJs, I decided that I should keep an open mind towards developments in my industry. Reloop’s Terminal Mix controllers got my attention because of the uncommonly large and responsive jog wheels, which for me as a turntablist, allow me to expressive myself better than any other controllers I’ve used. I think my most obvious discovery was just how all-inclusive and convenient controllers are. Having just one unit to essentially perform the same purpose of 2 (or more) decks, a mixer, an effects unit and much more is definitely worth a look. Furthermore, controllers that are light and USB powered (like the Reloop Terminal Mix) offer portability and can lead to some fun DJing experiences in spaces where a full turntable set up isn’t practical. For example, I recently toured the U.S. and kept a Terminal Mix with me for jamming on the road and in my hotel rooms! I still have more to explore although I’ll always be a turntable artist to the core. As fun as controllers can be, until they feel and perform exactly like full-sized turntables, I won’t be making the switch any time soon.
What is the most important thing for you when you are performing live, where is your focus? And do you prefer to work with an exact plan or do you like it to be flexible to react to the audience?
The most important thing to me when I perform live is to entertain my audience to the best of my ability and to be true to myself as an artist. It’s not always an easy thing to do and all scenarios vary but that’s what makes DJing an artform and I enjoy undertaking this challenge every time. As I’m an artist that performs for a dancefloor and also for spectators, I try and encompass something for everyone in my sets. I like to tune into the mood and tastes of my audience and create energy and positive vibes through the music I play. I think a good DJ feeds off the crowd but ultimately has the responsibility to lead the crowd to a destination where everyone is satisfied, triggering all manner of emotions along the way. In terms of preparation, I keep on top of the music I represent and always try to find moments in my set to play certain tracks that I really want the crowd to hear. Having said that, I like to keep a large percentage of my set unplanned and allow it to develop organically in relation to the response from the crowd. Of course when it comes to performing complex turntablism pieces during a live set, every moment takes a serious amount of planning and practice.
What are your plans for the near future, what can we expect from you? And where are the best addresses to find you on the internet?
2012 has already been a great year for me having toured several countries, performed to thousands of people, as well as releasing my very own Turntable Training Tool. For the remainder of the year, I have some new tours planned for Poland, Netherlands, Japan, Korea, and Taiwan as well as my own productions and new showcase video(s) for Reloop. Follow me to stay tuned!