WHP FEATURE 029
“I’m trying to peel myself away from the table,” he’s finally able to reveal “cos I’m meant to meet Armand van Helden for dinner and I don’t want to show up with a full belly
Jackmaster is coughing his guts up, a busy restaurant clattering in the background. “I’m, sorry.” He’s apologising, “I’ve just eaten too many of these hot Szechuan balls and they’re killing me.” He’s in a dim sung restaurant in Brooklyn, and it takes us a few minutes to negotiate communication difficulties that include a dodgy Skype connection, weird delays on a transatlantic phone line, and, now, an unexpected hot sauce coughing fit. It’s a weird start to an interview, but also an example of how speaking to Jackmaster is as informal as speaking to one of your mates- albeit one of your mates who’s doing very well for themselves…
“I’m trying to peel myself away from the table,” he’s finally able to reveal “cos I’m meant to meet Armand van Helden for dinner and I don’t want to show up with a full belly. If you’d spoken to thirteen year old Jack and told him he’d be going for dinner at Armand Van Helden’s house he’d be like ‘nahhh!!’… When we play together we don’t normally get to hang out and he’s always on at me to, so I’m gonna go there later. Then after that I go to DJ after Georgio Moroder in a big warehouse in Brooklyn.”
This is all delivered with the sense of enthusiasm that has defined Jackmaster’s career. Whether delivering his energy heavy sets from behind the decks – Jack’s booth often so packed with his raving mates that it looks like a mini-club within a club- or breaking new artists on his Numbers label, he’s an artist who’s always maintained and imparted that first rush of passion for dance music. He’s currently living out a dream life that sees him play everywhere from Brooklyn to Ibiza to Croatia and back again, but has lost none of that excitement along the way. When he talks about Van Helden and Moroder, it’s not as a social climber dropping names, more a fan counting blessings. Does his friendship with Van Helden seem surreal?
“When I check myself, yeah. A situation like this, where I’m actually talking about it, it’s kinda mental. Just talking about going to Armand Van Helden’s house makes me a bit scared.”
It’s unexpected to hear someone who’s become a global headliner in their own right talking of feeling starstruck, but Jack’s quite honest about how he still get the jitters at an important gig, testimony to how much this all still matters to him. He brings up a set from earlier this year as an example;
“Most times now it’s quite easy – well easy is the wrong word, but I guess I’m conditioned for it, but I still get nervous if I’m playing on a platform I really respect. Sometimes it makes you perform better – when I played at Sonar in the summer, I was fucking nervous – I’ve been there 14 times and I’ve played there before, but they got me to close one of the outdoor stages of Sonar by Night. I was shitting myself man. There was a ten minute gap between me and Boyz Noise who played before me, and I was like, everyone’s leaving! Then they slowly built back up again and I was happy with it. Playing for the first time with Armand I was pretty nervous. It was right good though... It’s crazy – guys like him soundtracked my childhood in a big, big way. When I was first getting into house there were probably about 5 or 6 acts that defined it – I’d go on Napster and set my alarm for a time when Americans were still online and I’d search for Armand Van Helden, Daft Punk, Alan Braxe, Basement Jaxx and Bob Sinclair…. I wasn’t hugely knowledgeable back then – and I’m not now – but anything French or anything influenced by French house was for me.”
Ibiza Uncovered was on when I was 13/14 and my hormones were going mental – it came as kind of a catalyst as I was changing my musical outlook- I was probably watching it and thinking I was gonna go out to Ibiza and become David Guetta or something.. hehehe..”
The claim ‘not to be knowledgeable’ is something of an undersell – one of the key features of Jackmaster’s ascendency has been his ability to dig out new, underground material, and to shy away from the obvious. Honed from his years working in Glasgow’s iconic RubaDub Records (where he was “almost bullied into not being into anything overground”), Jack has a knowledge that has allowed him to slip between genres, from his early days supporting grime, dubstep and Baltimore Club, to his current status as a selector who is as happy weaving long lost 90s techno with wonky house as he is playing a set of sleazy 80s funk. To explain how dance became an integral part of his identity, he points out that he grew up in a time when rave culture had taken over the mainstream, and “you were getting Alice Deejay on prime time TV, or Armand Van Helden on prime time TV. Ibiza Uncovered was on when I was 13/14 and my hormones were going mental – it came as kind of a catalyst as I was changing my musical outlook- I was probably watching it and thinking I was gonna go out to Ibiza and become David Guetta or something.. hehehe..”
As it is, the teenage Jack wasn’t too far off the mark. This year has seen him complete another season at DC-10, with a regular slot at Circoloco. For some DJs – and many ravers- the White Island is a divisive place, loved by the thousands who flock there year in year out, but held in contempt by those who think it represents the commercialised worst of the house and techno scenes. To his credit Jack is willing to give a fair hearing to both opinions, pointing out that its relevance might even show itself in unexpected ways-
“What is wrong with a certain space can also be what influences people to go off in other directions. What a place is stigmatised with can also affect your choices in music. I think Ibiza’s got a wee bit of a bad name, in some circles it’s a dirty word – some underground kids who follow certain labels and get all their info from Discogs, for them Ibiza’s a dirty term.”
but you know it’s for you and your mates, it’s like sitting next to your mate at a house party and going ‘I’ve got this wee tune mate and you’re gonna fucking love it’,
This is something he could have once sympathised with- but experience changed that dramatically. Now he cites the island as having had a profound impact on his mixing style. “When I first started going there, I wasn’t sold on the place either, but once I went inside DC-10 as a punter, I can almost recount the night moment for moment. It really resonated with me. Me and Joy Orbison went to see Dixon and Ben Klock at DC-10 and it was an eye opener. I’d never seen anything like it. At that time I was DJing in a certain way, probably because I’d got into dubstep and grime, where you’d only get an hour set, so I was mixing really quickly. The notion of mixing through tracks for 3 or 4 minutes wasn’t a new thing for me, but seeing them do it in DC-10 was a reminder that you could. Also, you got to remember that a lot of the people in these clubs, they’re on holiday and they are absolutely going for it hell for leather. The way they were going for it reminded me of the way people in Glasgow go for it, but Glasgow license hours are 11 til 3, so everyone only has a few hours to really go for it – in Ibiza the the club opens til 6, so they’re going crazy for 5, 6 hours at a time. As soon as I saw that I knew I had to DJ there.”
Still, anyone expecting Jack to have spent the summer playing big room ‘beefa bangers is going to be disappointed – he remains zealous about breaking new tunes, the lessons he learned in RubaDub about steering clear of anything to obvious have stuck – even to the point where he won’t play tunes he’s released himself via Numbers if he feels their time is up.
“If a tune’s getting overly played in the scene, I’ve always been bought up to shy away from it. With the Numbers tunes it’s a weird one. I’ll get sent the tracks, and be like, right this is for us – there’s a certain sound that when I hear it I know it’s a Numbers sound – it’s impossible to quantify, but you know it’s for you and your mates, it’s like sitting next to your mate at a house party and going ‘I’ve got this wee tune mate and you’re gonna fucking love it’, it’s the same ideology. So I’ll get sent a tune, and I’ll hammer it for ages, and by the time it comes out on vinyl I probably won’t be playing it as much. I don’t really believe in playing the record again to drive sales – I’d never play a tune on any platform to drive sales towards my record label. That goes against everything I believe.”
This desire to constantly refresh his playlist with the unexpected has him currently, somewhat paradoxically, looking back into the past. Other than name checking Dennis Sulta as someone who he always looks out for at the moment, Jack’s as excited about digging up 90s obscurities as he is hearing new productions, mostly because of a malaise he’s perceiving in the dance world, noting that at the moment “I think everyone is trying to copy the last big thing. There was an era when everyone copied Joy Orbison, then when everyone copied Floating Points, then you got this deep house thing where everyone is trying to be the next Disclosure. It’s not really benefitting the scene much… Now I find it a lot more rewarding to go into the past.”
Inevitably, talk of the scene being in trouble brings us round to Fabric’s recent closure. Jack has as much reason to feel aggrieved as anyone – the club has played an instrumental role in his career.
“Growing up as a DJ and not making any tunes,” he remembers “there are very few platforms you can really display you’re craft on – one was the Essential Mix and one was Fabric – no one else in Glasgow other than Slam and maybe a couple of other Soma artists had done a Fabric CD. I got asked to do one in the same few months as I won breakthrough DJ in the DJ Mag Awards. When it came out, I went from the DJ at the end of a Glasgow bar to a DJ playing every Thursday, Friday and Saturday. That’s probably 6 years ago, since then it’s been nonstop. Fabrics such a huge taste maker, the whole of the club scene looks to Fabric to define what’s happening in our club culture; it’s not just a club, they have the label, the mix CDs, the press, the publishing. When I was asked to do it, it changed my life completely. They could afford stylistically to take chances on people –that made a big difference, not just on UK music but music worldwide. Without fabric the UK music, bass music, dubstep would not be the same. I think with the appeal coming there’s a chance of what’s happened being over turned. At the moment it stinks. Fabric did so, so much for UK music and it’s such a shame.”
But before he can get too melancholy about it, his mates are shouting in the background, and he’s laughing over some joke they’ve made. He makes his goodbyes and signs off- he has, after all, a childhood hero to go and visit…