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Jackmaster on going back to his techno roots and why he's over being a party animal

Jackmaster has always been impossible to peg.

Depending on when you first came across one of his sets, you could have heard electro, disco, IDM, Baltimore club, Detroit techno, jackin’ house, that thing we used to call “bass music”, even cheesy sing-along pop and wedding reception classics – and usually a combination of a few of those together.

That eclecticism is what happens when you spend so many years completely immersed in tunes. He’s been DJing for half his life now, ever since the 14-year-old Jack Revill got a job stacking and sweeping at Glasgow record institution Rubadub. You never know what you’re going to hear when he’s at the controls – but at the core of it all, it always comes back to techno for Jackmaster. After all, it was hearing Model 500’s ‘The Chase’ during one of his first shifts at Rubadub that flipped the switch irreversibly, as he told FACT five years back.

Those formative years are the driving force behind Jackmaster’s entry into K7’s long-running DJ-Kicks series (out today, July 8), which finds him drawing from the key techno cities of Detroit, Berlin and, yes, Glasgow, placing heavyweights like Robert Hood, Ricardo Villalobos and Basic Channel alongside obscure gems from the vaults and bright sparks from the next generation, like Tessela and Numbers’ own Denis Sulta.

“When I was making the mix the guys at K7 said they usually do better if they’re eclectic and not that dance-y,” he says. “So I put an eight-minute ambient thing at the start to pretend. ‘This is deep, man! Jack’s really gone for it!’ And then I just banged it out.”

He’s not kidding. The mix is one of the most floor-focused DJ-Kicks releases yet, and made under extreme circumstances too, after he managed to lose not one but three of his laptops in quick succession. When FACT met with him to find out more, he’d only just downloaded the final version onto his new computer.

The candid conversation spanned his early (illegal) DJing years, how cocaine has ruined clubbing, why he’s fed up of his “party boy” reputation and lots more. Catch him playing at Lovebox in London next Saturday, July 16.

How many gigs do you think you play a year?

This year I would say, like, 200 or something.

Do you ever feel like it has become routine? How do you stop it becoming routine?

There’s been a few times recently when it felt like it was becoming like work a little bit. It’s mostly when I’m tired. Every DJ gets some shit gigs. Even your Ricardo Villaloboses and your Dixons, I’m sure they have crap gigs sometimes. You get a few of them in a run and you’re maybe over-indulging, shall we say, and it can become like that. But every so often you get one show where there’s a real what-the-fuck moment, a real reminder of why you do this in the first place ’cause it’s so good, and that kind of brings it all back.

What was the last one of those you had?

In Germany recently, after I’d been moaning to my management, “I can’t be arsed with this”. A lot of time it’s the opposite of what you’d expect – whenever you go in thinking “this is going to be rubbish,” it proves you wrong.

Do you find it’s dependent on the crowd?

I seem to have the best gigs in the UK. It’s probably quite obvious with where I come from and the way I DJ. A lot of times when I go over to Europe I’m dreading it, but it’s been getting a lot better recently.

Is there something about your style of DJing that’s less familiar in Europe?

I think so, and I think because of the scene I come from I’ve not got such a big name over there, especially in Germany and stuff. But the DJ-Kicks CD will hopefully change that. [Laughs]

Ha, was that the thinking, to boost your profile in Germany?

Actually there was no grand plan behind this, but the way it’s come out is… I thought I should set the record straight a little bit, in terms of people wrongly assuming I was a dubstep DJ. I love certain shades of dubstep, but never in my life have I ever played a set purely of one genre, let alone dubstep. And a lot of people believe I’m a kind of one-trick pony party DJ who just plays Fleetwood Mac and Prince.

A lot of people would have seen you doing that at festivals with your Tweak-A-Holic shows.

Certainly at festivals, but it’s not ever what I’ve been exclusively, and when I was doing this work on the CD it just came out like I was DJing the way I was when I was 17, 18 – playing straighter, more electronic sounding stuff, and ending with straight-down-the-line techno. But it just came out like that. I never had a grand plan. I don’t really believe in DJing to tick boxes. I think that’s probably why I’ve always been all over the place in terms of genres. Some people might look at the tracklist and think, “He’s gone down the cool route” – and I don’t like to use that phrase when talking about music ‘cause it’s just bullshit – but that’s just what happened.

Jackmaster by Carys Huws

“I listen to recordings from Seismic like, “Whew! I could learn a bit from my 17-year-old self!”

You’ve said the mix is influenced by how you used to DJ at your first party in Glasgow, Seismic.

Even back in those days I wouldn’t play stuff like Robert Hood or Ricardo Villalobos or Basic Channel – I would see that as too straight back then. It was an electro night – electro in terms of Kraftwerk, Drexciya, Underground Resistance… I probably shouldn’t reference Afrika Bambaataa. Two Lone Swordsmen, Keith Tenniswood, Andrew Weatherall when he was doing that stuff. They were my big heroes. That sound was kind of trendy, it was what we sold a lot of in Rubadub. We were directly influenced by Rubadub, and Rubadub’s Club 69 which, other than where we did Seismic, was the only club we could get into because we were too young. But the club was owned by [Numbers co-founder] Spencer’s dad, so that’s why we could put parties on there.

The night was electro stuff and a lot of ghetto stuff, like DJ Funk, DJ Assault, DJ Deeon, Dance Mania. House was a bit of a dirty word. We saw house as kind of a girly thing, big vocals. I would listen to Theo Parrish and Moodymann records and not really get them. But it’s weird, I contradict myself all the time, because the first thing I used to buy was house – like crap house, ‘Ibeefa’ house, Defected and things like that. That was before Rubadub, when I used to go to HMV. Then you start working in Rubadub and they’re like [mimes smashing a record] ‘Nah’. When the second Daft Punk album came in I was like, “Can I have that?” And it got smashed in half in front of me and put in the bin. It was like, “There’ll be none of that.”

Seismic started off as an outlet for booking our pals and local DJs, and we started booking some – well, I say international guests, pretty small time stuff. And we were pretty naive at the time, so someone would send an email or recommend a friend from London and we would just book them.

Did you book anyone who turned out to be a disaster?

Yeah. But I mean, we probably played the worst sets. [Laughs] No, in actual fact we were good, even for our age. And that’s how Numbers started, because Richard, one of the main guys that runs Numbers – we called him the old team, we were the young team, we used to get called the Blazin’ Squad, you remember that old band? Richard came up and was like, “I just came here kinda randomly and I’m really impressed. Can we do a label launch for my label?” Which was Stuffrecords, the label that first had Rustie and Slugabed and people like that. We did that and that night the plan was formed that we’d do Numbers, ‘cos there was so much of us competing for the same stuff and fighting for the same space within the Glasgow scene. So we were good – I’ve got recordings and I listen to them like, “Whew! I could learn a bit from my 17-year-old self!”

Does the DJ-Kicks mix go back to that style of DJing?

This goes more towards the Monox night. When I worked in Rubadub I used to turn up late a lot because I used to paint graffiti. I had to go late at night and I’d be up painting graffiti ’til about seven or eight in the morning. Once it got light that’s when we’d head in, so we wouldn’t get caught. I sometimes wouldn’t turn up at Rubadub, and one time I turned up after not going in for two weeks in a row and I’d been replaced by this big guy called Dan – who now runs Dixon Avenue Basement Jams. He’s the manager of the shop now. It was just like, “Aye, you’re sacked.”

But Dan had come to one of the Seismic nights and he obviously saw something in me. He ran this party called Monox, it was a hard techno, electro night. I was under 18. I used to DJ in a bar on Saturday when I was 17 and they didn’t know I was 17. I would go straight from there to Monox. I was in the bar one night and it was my birthday, and they sang happy birthday and the owner was like, “How old are you?” “I just turned 18.” “You’ve been DJing here for six months illegally?!” So I’d do that then I’d go down to Monox at Soundhaus.

The small room in Monox was house – Chicago stuff and booty music, ghetto house – and room two was hard-as-you-can techno and industrial stuff. I guess the end of the DJ-Kicks CD is like the harder Monox end, even though it’s nothing compared to what they played at Monox – it was harder than Berghain and that kind of vibe. It was the only club in Glasgow that would stay open ’til five in the morning, it was members only. I guess it was Glasgow’s Berghain. The start of the CD is a bit more house-y, so that’s more the room two vibe. They actually called it the “smut hut”, because they’d play a lot of music with sexual connotations.

Jackmaster by Carys Huws

“That feeling of unity in a club is a lot rarer than when I first started DJing”

Why do you think Glasgow is such a dance music city, a techno city?

I think it’s real escapism, man. There’s nothing to do in Glasgow except get out your nut.

You could probably say that about a lot of cities though.

Yeah, but the post-industrial thing with Glasgow is, like, there was such a depression in the city for so long, and then when dance music came along in the late ‘80s, and the free party scene, it was a real big thing for people.

So a bit like Detroit in terms of that post-industrial decline.

Yeah, exactly. When the guys from Detroit come over they draw a lot of comparisons. And there’s a very strong affinity between Glasgow and Detroit because of Rubadub. The guys from Rubadub used to go over to Detroit on record buying missions. They turned up unannounced to Submerge, Underground Resistance’s distribution and shop, and just got on famously with them. We were some of the only people in the UK to import directly from Moodymann, Theo Parrish, Carl Craig, and that goes back to the early ‘90s when the guys used to go over and buy directly, ‘cos there was no other way to get the records. A lot of American, especially black, techno producers don’t seem to trust the UK, because the UK and Europe kind of bastardised their art and stole it. So the only way to get stuff is to go over there.

Do you think clubbing has changed a lot since you were first going out and DJing? Are young people “safe and boring”, as Bloc’s George Hull thinks?

The smoking ban changed it a lot. The drugs have changed. When there was no smoking ban you just had a captive audience. More people take cocaine, which is not a good thing for a club. Dance music thrived because of ecstasy, it’s like a match made in heaven. With cocaine, people wanna fight. To get that feeling of unity in a club is a lot rarer than when I first started. Maybe we just all need to buck up our ideas and become better at DJing!

And also the internet of course, that’s so obvious, it’s changed everything. Everyone has such easy access to knowledge about music now, and it’s increasingly hard to have music that other people don’t have. But at the same time you can be sent a new track by your favourite producer 10 minutes before a party, put it on your personal hotspot, download it and put a stick on.

Looking through the tracklist, there are plenty of brand new tracks here, including Denis Sulta, who recently did a brilliant FACT mix.

Again, he works in Rubadub. He’s wicked, got high hopes for him. He gave me a track that was supposed to be [exclusively] for this CD, and then he put it in his FACT mix. But actually this is my VIP [of ‘Dubelle Oh XX’], ‘cos he did a version that had this really good bit in it and then he took it out, and I told him to put it back in. It’s a dubstep break in the middle of a house track. He went and played that version to test it out and he text me to say, “You were right, I’ll never doubt you again.” So it’s my VIP.

What other exclusives have you got?

The Tessela track [‘Up’] is exclusive. I’m a huge fan of Tessela, he’d been sending demos to Numbers and I fucking slept on them, and now he’s started his own label [Poly Kicks]. It’s wicked, it’s weird – I can hear a bit of Peverelist and the Idle Hands guys in there, I can also hear Jeff Mills and UK techno in it. It’s real interesting to me. So he sent his demos to Numbers and by the time I got round to listening to them he was like, “I’m releasing them on my own label” – but we’ve got an exclusive with this. The Eliphino thing [‘Isabella Road’], he sent us as a demo, it got lost. He gave me that exclusive, but since then he’s decided to release it on his own label. Didn’t have much luck with this one! [Laughs] The Playground Productionz thing, ‘Orgy’, is a really old DJ Deeon production on Dance Mania which is like a £150 record. I’m quite a believer in the fact that the best records are actually on Discogs for like £2, but in this case it’s not true.

I reckon the Overmow track, ‘Convulsions’, is going to be even more expensive on Discogs after this.

Yeah, I think so. That is a really huge tune at 69. We were talking about Seismic and Monox, but musically the biggest influence on me was 69, Rubadub’s club in Paisley, a 20-minute drive away. Paisley is a very hard place. It’s where all the guys from Rubadub are from, all the owners and the guys who started it. The Tomahawk thing [‘Forever Free’] is another really obscure Detroit thing on the same label as Overmow [Shockwave Records]. That’s a sublabel of Underground Resistance and nobody knows it – you never hear anyone playing that other than the guys at 69.

There’s a Robert Hood track on M-Plant called ‘The Pace’, but [the track on DJ-Kicks] is a completely different track. It was on the Minimal Nation double pack on Axis, so I was chuffed to get that. And then that Pom Pom track, nobody’s playing that. I didn’t even know what that was. My mate had had it in the wrong sleeve, he had it in a Plus 8 sleeve, Richie Hawtin’s label, and I had to put a clip up on Twitter and Facebook to try and find it. Eventually I read the inscription on the record and it was written as ‘PCM’, and another guy from Rubadub said it might be Pom Pom.

So even now the Rubadub hivemind is helping you out.

Totally. Rubadub and 69 are the single biggest influences on me.

Jackmaster by Carys Huws

“I wanna be known for the music I play rather than being this party guy”

Along with Robert Hood you’ve included some big techno figures too – Villalobos, Basic Channel. Is that you trying to represent an aspect of your taste you might not be so known for?

I guess it’s in the back of my mind this year to educate people on where I come from. There’s probably certain people, certain scenes that just write me off. Which doesn’t keep me up at night, but…

Is there somewhere you want to play that you haven’t yet?

I’ve played everywhere now that I wanna play. Concrete [in Paris] was one place I really wanted to play and Resident Advisor booked me there a few months ago. I’ve started playing at Panorama Bar again which is good, I didn’t play there for a while. We’d done Numbers parties and stuff there in the past.

A lot of people will have seen you playing gigs like Tweak-A-Holic or your B2B with Armand Van Helden on Boiler Room.

He’s the boy. When I lost my laptop in Miami recently he sent me a big super zip of all his VIPs and all his own edits of his old tunes, like two gigabytes.

Right, you lost loads of music during the making of this CD.

I’ve lost three laptops this year. One got stolen, one got lost and one got crushed. My mate fell off my sofa onto my laptop when he was drunk and it crushed the motherboard. That was two days before the opening of DC-10 and I lost all my tunes.

Surely after losing two laptops you were fully backed up?

Well, I’m backed up, but I’m backed up to the cloud, and to restore a laptop from the cloud is gonna take three or four days so I didn’t have time. So I went to a really old machine and got stuff from last year and then tried to remember tracks. I only today downloaded this mix, ‘cos I didn’t have it and I didn’t have any of the tunes that were on it. I got Lee from K7 to send me it and I downloaded it this morning off my hotspot on the way to the airport. [Laughs]

Do you keep everything catalogued?

Nah, I’m a mess. I never used to be like this, it’s because I’ve been so busy. I used to have all my records organised geographically – I had a Detroit section, New York, UK, random stuff in Germany, and disco was in one section.

What if something sounds like it’s from Detroit but it isn’t?

Then it goes in the Detroit section. [Laughs] But I’m not really a believer of this thing that something can sound like it’s from Detroit if it’s not. People used to say, like, if something had a pad in it then it sounds like it’s from Detroit. Shut up.

What makes it sound like it’s from Detroit, then?

If it’s made by Carl Craig. [Laughs]

There’s been some discussion recently about mental health in the music industry, with Benga talking about his bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. He actually said that the DJ lifestyle contributed to him having a breakdown. Is it hard to maintain a sense of normality when partying is your job?

I’ve always said that when I start calling it work I shouldn’t be doing it. But that’s not really true, is it – there are times that I do call it a job. I did read that Benga thing and I was a bit like, woah. There was a thing before that Prosumer wrote about social anxiety and stuff like that. People see me as this Jack the Lad, super confident, fucking party animal guy, but the truth is that I think everyone suffers from anxiety on different levels. Probably the reason I’ve got this party animal image is because when I first started DJing and I was scared going into these social situations – and I still do get like that, although I think I’m quite good at hiding it – I was probably using alcohol as a bit of a crutch.

And when you are touring you’ll have a drink and stuff to relax, ‘cos it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 people or 1000 people looking at you, it’s pretty difficult. I need a couple of drinks to settle me down. There’s a few people who don’t seem to need to do that, which seems alien to me – but then what’s happening is you’re hungover and it makes it worse, so you have a few more drinks to settle that. So recently, I mean the last few weekends, I’ve been doing it completely sober as an experiment. There’s a world exclusive for you.

Is that why you’re suddenly thinking, “It’s a little bit like work, this”?

Well, it’s gonna take a lot of getting used to, but you can’t just go into your job every day drunk.

Not if you want to do it forever.

And it’s going to be a real long transitional period. I think I’ll give it a couple of months of doing it and I’ll be relaxed enough. I need to be confident enough in my own skin and as a DJ to be able to do it. I wanna be known for the music I play rather than being this party guy. Sometimes you feel like people are booking you because of that, because they know you’re gonna be fun to hang out with after the club. It’s like I can’t win.

I won’t name any names but certain people at festivals over the last few weeks were like, “You’re drinking water?” And I’m like, “Well, yeah.” “Do you wanna drink?” And they’re standing there with a glass of champagne calling me a wanker or a pussy or whatever. These are the same people that’d say to me, “You know, you need to look after yourself, you can’t go on like this forever.” And I’m like, I cannae win, what do you want from me? I’m there to play music, I’m not there to entertain them because I’m pissed and I’m doing stupid stuff.

Yeah. But I don’t think it would be wrong to say that your personality has probably helped your career as well. People want to book DJs with personality.

No, I’m fully aware of that, of course. I mean if I book someone to play Numbers and they’re boring as people then I won’t have them back, ‘cos that’s just not our vibe. Our thing is a family thing and we hang out. I think if you can foresee a problem coming in the future… if I was to carry on the way I was going last summer, I would be an alcoholic. I don’t wanna be an alcoholic, I wanna be able to enjoy a glass of wine with my dinner when I’m 50, you know what I mean? And I wanna be still working, I wanna be DJing when I’m that age. You know, there’s a history of alcoholism in my family, and I can see that there would be a problem if I continued.

Do you think DJs are good at looking out for each other even if bookers and people around you aren’t?

Apparently not, judging by the last couple of weekends, but there are certain people, aye, that are like, “It was really great to see you over the weekend, you were on really great form even though you were off the bevs.” I did have a drink at the end of the weekend to celebrate not bevving but it was just a couple of beers in the house, you know what I mean? [Laughs] I know the first thing I did when I came in here was ask for a beer, wasn’t it? But it’s about not getting up out of bed and going to the airport and starting drinking right away. Just have a few beers through your set. I’m 30 years old and I’ve just learned that.

That’s a good thing to end on. A cheery note.

Yeah. Jack’s changed! Or at least that’s what he’s telling everybody!

Jackmaster’s DJ-Kicks is out now on !K7<. He plays Lovebox in London next Saturday, July 16.

Read next: Jackmaster’s top 10 Glasgow classics

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