There were so many artists that were listened to when growing up, too many to list. My brother was a punk, my dad was an ex mod, my sister was into Madness and my mother loved all the golden oldies like Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra and Doris Day. I suppose it was these diverse influences that gave me the ability to appreciate all kinds of music. If I had to pick a few artists, I recall listening to UB40, Prodigy, ELO, Cypress Hill, The Shamen, and KLF; as well as lots of 90's dance music, including loads of happy hard-core, techno and Fantazia tapes in my early teens. I was constantly listening to music, even in my classes at school where a Sony Walkman was always on the go, hence my GCSE grades being garbage.
The first proper house music mix tape that I heard was a recording live from the Sugarshack (a 90’s institution) of DJ Disciple. What intrigued me was the way a long piece of music could be created from other peoples tracks within a live environment. Another early memory is hearing John Digweed and Pete Tong playing at Tall Trees Fright Night live on Radio One which I recorded. I was still listening to happy hardcore DJ's like Hixxy and Sharkey at school and they really did get me into dance music in a massive way... I can’t stand that music for more than a minute or so now but when you’re young you’re full of energy. Maybe one day I won’t be listening to house beats but be bang into Doris Day.
The main influences for me as a DJ in my late teens from the A list were Sasha, Digweed, Nick Warren, Dave Seaman, Satoshi Tommi, Hernan Cattaneo, and Sander Kleinenberg. There was also Scott Bradford from Shindig who mixes records perfectly and Peace Division, a DJ duo of Clive Henry and Justin Drake, who are up there with greatest house music producers of all time for their grooves. I'm honoured to say I've played with both Scott and Peace Division at my *riffraff parties.
On the production front I personally think Underworld are probably the best dance music producers. They hit everything perfectly on the technological front and are also very musical too, which gives them that slight edge over The Chemical Brothers, another immensely influential duo. Then of course there is Aphex Twin who is a massive inspiration to me.
Back at school there was none of this amazing DJ equipment that anybody can get their hands on now; people either had Technics or found other cheaper ways to mix music the hard way. So this will sound stupid but I first started doing mix tapes in school for friends by simply recording loops and creating mash ups using vinyl's, CD's and other tapes. This was done by pressing the record and pause buttons at the beginning and ends of bars on cassette. I also got two old record turntables with no pitch control and used to just play records and try to beat match by using my fingers to slow the vinyl down and play records of the same tempo, burning out the belts... the mixer used was from my dad’s camcorder!
Eventually after leaving school some Technics were purchased as well as a Numark 2 channel mixer by saving up wages, this then led me to start playing at friend’s house parties followed by a residency at Ku Bar in 2001. I would have to play mellow house music and breaks, slipping in some prog and techno wherever possible though. I got a few gigs here and there around Teesside but nobody was into underground house music and it was all just for fun.
I was always messing around with recording sounds to cassette from a very early age on my sister’s old Yamaha organ which I learned to play independently, but electronically myself and a friend, Rob Smith, first began producing music in 1995 at school. We used an old PC and Magix Music Maker ... all the equipment used was crap! We would sample other peoples tracks and manipulate them to create new productions. We didn’t get signed until 2002, which wasn’t surprising due to the lack of equipment.
The first signing was to Source of Gravity Records as Section 75, an alias that still occasionally gets used. The name was derived from a notice of disconnection from the water board saying they were cutting me off for not paying up, and it’s just to remind me of when times were hard. After being signed I then took things more seriously by quitting my job and attending college and subsequently university to study music technology, and it was then that a lot of my productions were being signed due to skills I was learning on the course.
To be honest the tracks I was producing were for my own DJ sets, getting them signed was an additional bonus. I like to produce tracks for my own DJ performances to try and make it unique; thankfully I am lucky enough to have labels that do like my creations and release them. It was by releasing tracks that I started getting recognition around the UK so gigs started rolling in outside of my hometown and eventually abroad, such as the tour around USA with Source of Gravity in 2006.
It was when me and my mates found ourselves increasingly travelling out of Middlesbrough to the likes of Shindig in Newcastle to see DJ's that we liked or ended up staying in on weekends and listening to DJ sets and playing our own music. We thought we needed to start a party of our own on Teesside as there was definitely a gap in the market for what we wanted to do. After my first record was signed I put on the first ever *riffraff party as a record launch. It was also tied in with an events management module at college so it killed two birds with one stone which was a bonus.
The demand for another party was enormous and almost nine years later the monthly *riffraff events are still going strong. *riffraff has been a great outlet for Teesside talent into the international underground house music as well as bringing artists to Teesside whom we think are cutting and it’s nice to throw some legends in there such as Marshall Jefferson and Xpress 2.
Another major reason was to have a house music party that was all about fun and no pretentiousness. This is why I also love Zoo Project so much, it’s proof you can have quality cool music with absolute mayhem and fun.
Jenny, my girlfriend (who was a friend at the time), rang me up from Ibiza to tell me that she had just been to a party in a Zoo that had the same fun element as *riffraff and said that I needed to go out there and be part of it. This was following a trip to Ibiza with *riffraff and a 60 plus following from Teesside where we had played various Ibiza venues. I sent a message to Ady and Lubka telling them all about *riffraff and asking if we could host an arena there the following season for one or two parties. Ady asked me to come and meet him and after discovering the ethos of both parties was very similar he offered *riffraff a permanent residency.
Part of the agreement was to show the same level of commitment to Zoo Project as our own event so it really needed us to take a full team out to Ibiza for the season. I couldn’t go out full time as someone was needed to help run *riffraff back at home, as well as do my own work in the studio, but I couldn’t have got any luckier as Graeme Stewart, who at the time was the event organiser for *riffraff, decided he would take a team to do the job. If it wasn’t for Graeme’s remarkable organisational skills that Ibiza season then I wouldn’t be part of this amazing party as it was thanks to Graeme and the entire Ibiza *riffraff team of ‘08 that Ady asked myself and Gow to be Zoo Project residents and gave Graeme a managerial role.
The reason I adore the Zoo Project so much is that it’s break from the norm clubbing and for me personally it’s just the *riffraff philosophy of clubbing on a much larger scale. It’s fun and the music isunderground. Everybody that works for the Zoo Project is one happy family because we all appreciate what we are involved with and want it to keep evolving and keep the happy party vibe alive. I have enormous respect for Ady and Lubka as well as everyone that’s been there from the beginning and dedicated their lives to it, not to mention the newer additions that have come along and slotted right in perfectly with their expertise, such as Jamie Fry and the bag of fun that is Evan Baggs.
Well from the feedback received in Teesside and on my travels – everybody is excited for this festival. Graeme and the team has worked wonders with the line up, making it appeal to everybody right across the board; there is no cheese involved whatsoever and it oozes with class. I can’t pick any one particular act out because they are all top notch. Sasha’s going to be special, or Ben Klock, or Chez Damier, or Margaret Dygas, the list goes on and on. I hope that this festival is the first of many and I am so thankful to be playing there.
The current state of dance music is very healthy as a whole compared to let’s say eight years ago when I first started *riffraff and the scene had nosedived. House and techno music is back on form again and nearly everyone is appreciating listening to electronic music. I like how Jamie Jones and his labels are hitting a more commercial audience, I mean that with no disrespect whatsoever because they created underground music that just so happened to appeal to the masses and this then brings these people into the underground house music realm - Jamie has the formula right for that. I think that Miguel Campbell’s music also does this, an exceptional artist, those boys have nailed what they are doing, it’s underground, but accessible.
My own personal favourite artists and DJ’s at the moment, and this may change tomorrow, are Matt Tolfrey, Tale of Us, Dana Ruh, Sam Russo, Catz'n'Dogz, Ryan Elliot, Terry Francis, Giles Smith and you can’t knock Xpress 2 who seem to be everywhere again and smashing it... I have a massive amount of respect for them. For the up and coming artists making lots of noise there’s Underground Paris, seriously check him out if you ever have chance, and not to forget YouandEwan, a smoggy in disguise.
There’s all the obvious choices like Fabric, Jaunt and Back to Basics. I actually don’t get to go clubbing much anymore as I am always working, it’s still clubbing in a way I suppose. I love playing for the Irish at any club or festival they are amazing party people and remind me so much of the Teesside *riffraff crowd which also go mental every month in a cellar and are not afraid to let themselves go.
Obviously the Zoo Project goes without saying as it’s completely different to anything else. An overseas venue that blew me away, and I think other artists who were with me would agree with was Ellui in Seoul, South Korea. It held 5000 and was beneath a hotel, so you got the elevator down into the middle of this crazy underground club. There was Funktion One everywhere, massive visuals, the booth set up was state of the art, they even had Funktion One’s installed with decks and IPod players in the backstage so when Michael James was playing I could put on my IPod so I didn’t have to hear him which was great! Some less obvious choices are Teknicolor at Mint Club Leeds which was great fun to play at and Citylove/FNR in Preston mainly for Citylove’s after party that I can’t speak about here but was off the scale.
The mix I have given you is the closing set from the Pool arena last year when a lot of friends were there to enjoy this with me and it was one of my favourite ever sets at the Zoo Project. I hope it will remind everyone who was there of a good day out when they hear it and get them and your readers excited for the summer. It also sums up my sound incorporating all the various elements that I like to play. A lot of the tracks are my own edits or my own productions but I hope that doesn’t put people off from hearing it! I’m looking forward to seeing everybody back at the Zoo Project as well as the *riffraff parties and anywhere else that I will be playing over the coming months... not to forget the Zoo Project Festival. Thanks to everyone and anyone supporting my music; I will keep putting records out so long as people keep enjoying it.