After one of the hottest sets at Straf_Werk Festival, I met up with Audiojack’s James and Richard at the Other Mainstage at Straf_Werk Festival. They wanted to do the interview right after the gig, so after walking around the other stages for a while we sat down on the grass near the entrance of the terrain to have a chat.
“My stepmoms father gave me a trumpet as a Christmas present and it felt like an obligation to start playing it, even though I had no fucking interest in it whatsoever”
J: James Rial
R: Richard Burkinshaw
First of all: Are you happy with your performance? What was the Straf_Werk crowd like?
J: Yeah man, we thought it went pretty well and the crowd was very nice. But we always love the public here in Amsterdam; we always have a lot of fun playing in this town. It’s really one of the forefronts of electronic music at the moment and all the people here always seem up for a party.
R: And it never seizes to amaze me how hot all the Dutch girls are!
Yeah, they are. So DJ Tiësto was in the news a little while ago. He’s decided to play deep house now. Is this a good or a bad thing in your opinion?
R: Well I first heard about this through Tube & Berger, who wrote on their Twitter account: “Tiësto is playing our records, does this mean we’re famous now?” But if this is truly music that he likes and his fans genuinely want to listen to it then why not? It would be a bit snobby to say: “He can’t play this music”. Anybody should be able to play whatever he likes. What do you think interviewer?
Well when the story broke, criticisms surfaced because deep house has become more popular and mainstream over the past years and now he wants to play it all of a sudden.
R: So you mean he’s trying to play popular music, rather than playing music that’s from his heart?
R: Well if that’s the case then he’s just a different sort of DJ than us maybe. It’s two different ends of a spectrum I think. But you know, live and let live. We don’t know his stuff that well, but he can play whatever he wants to if it makes him happy, for whatever reason, financially or creatively.
Your first hit, ‘Robot’, was released in 2006. Since then you’ve created music in a variety of electronic genres. Can you guide us through your musical evolvement up to where you are now?
R: Well Audiojack for us, right from the start, was always about making music that makes people dance and makes people happy.
J: Definitely. We started out making music that you would call electro back in 2006. But then we went to Spain a lot during that period, mainly Ibiza, and came in touch with minimal techno and that had a real influence on us back then. And this is typical for our whole career and for other artists as well I guess. You go and play in other places outside your hometown and come into contact with different styles of music and then you see the public getting more and more into those styles. And eventually that influences the music that you’re producing, intentionally or unintentionally. For instance, we played minimal for a really long period. Eventually the sample pack generation came about and everybody wanted to make the next Oxia or Dubfire track. That’s when the market was flooded with music that all sounded the same. At that point, somewhere around 2009, we were going to a lot of house parties in Leeds and that type of music sounded really good to our ears and we thought: “Well this is fresh, this is new!” and we went on to play and create more house music.
R: And we’re never going to be merely interested in what’s popular at the moment, but we try to find a balance between the popular and what we want to do as well. That’s really important to us and that’s how we come about playing and producing new sounds.
Interviews from back in 2008/2009 showed that you guys weren’t particular gearheads, and you liked working with digital plugins and sequencing software like Live and FL Studio far more. Has your setup changed since then?
J: Yeah it has changed a bit. We have bought lots of new tools for the job and created a more professional studio for ourselves. This is because we need more strings to our bow. So there will be a lot more interesting stuff that you can hear in the music that we’re making these days.
R: Also, we worked with samples more back then, and now we have grown our ability to make our own original sounds, built from scratch.
J: And we’re working more with loyal vocalists nowadays, like Kevin Knapp and Ria Moran, creating the vocal material for our tracks ourselves. But the DAW like Live and FL is still at the core of our process.
In an interview with Tom Trago a couple of weeks ago he told me he solely produces with analog equipment. He explained that he’s doing this in order to create some human error in electronic music. So that even though you’re producing, you can still hear a human touch to the music. What’s your take on this, since you produce more on the digital spectrum, working with DAW’s?
R: I really like that attitude. Our favourite producer at the moment is Kink. And he has that same mentality. A lot of his stuff is quite raw and sort of rough and ready, you know? Those kinds of tracks sound way better on the dance floor than something that is made with just a computer. At least to our ears, anyway.
J: Yeah, and we’re doing the best we can with our skills at the moment, but buying a load of analog gear right now wouldn’t be a natural choice for us. It wouldn’t be organic. The analog sound is definitely something that we like, but momentarily we’re working in a way that’s comfortable for us. But when the time comes we can start to buy a drum machine and some vintage synthesisers and other equipment to take our production scheme to the next level.
You have done a remix of ‘Plastic Dreams’ by Jaydee, a classic from 1993, way back in the day. Do you have a special relationship with this track?
R: Yeah totally!
J: Yeah man it’s one of the tracks that really introduced us to dance music! It’s one of our favourite tracks ever. We decided a couple of years back that we wanted to remake some of the tracks that were special to us from day one. ‘Plastic Dreams’ was one of those tracks. But when we made the remix we just played it in our sets and didn’t release it and people just kept asking and asking for it to be released. But we actually couldn’t because we didn’t have the license for it, and we needed that because we used samples from the original. So what we did is we had all the samples remade, so there wouldn’t be copyright infringement and we released it as a cover, to avoid any legal issues with the record label which now holds the rights to the track.
R: By the way, we had the full blessing of Jaydee himself, who really liked it. That meant a lot to us.
Who are your favourite artists at the moment? Preferably artists that are featured a lot in your sets right now.
R: There is an Italian group living in Berlin called Blackloops. You should keep an eye out for these guys. They have produced some really good material, which will be released on our own label Gruuv, later this year.
J: And we also love Kyle Watson. He’s been sending us demos for a long, long time and he’s been a big fan of the label. But although his tracks were well produced, it was never quite the sound that we we’re looking for. And then all of a sudden he sent us this track, and we were like: “You’ve hit the nail on the head there, mate!” And we told him we loved it, and right after that he sent us two more tracks that were just as good. So we decided we were going to let him do an EP for the label.
R: Detroit Swindle too! We love the music they make.
J: And Homework of course. We worked with them on several occasions. Really cool chaps.
Thugfucker told me about their weirdest gig, it involved a broom closet serving as a DJ booth, vomiting during the performance and a crowd consisting of a staggering fifteen people. What’s your strangest experience?
R: Well that sounds pretty strange, yeah. Have we had a stranger gig than that?
J: Well we played in a school canteen once in Barrow-in-Furness, a dodgy little town in Cumbria. And a guy in the audience told us to play a certain track. So we said that maybe we’d play it. So later on when we still hadn’t played it he made a gesture that he was gonna beat us up if we didn’t comply with his request.
R: And there was one gig in some strange club in Germany in 2008, during the period when we released our first album. And the cover of that album consists of a picture where we are dressed up in fifties BBC broadcaster style, suited up and our hair all gelled and neatly combed. So we turn up at this gig in Germany and the guy who booked us asked: “Where are your outfits?” So we said: “What outfits?” and he showed us the picture. This guy actually thought that we always wore suits to our gigs.
J: And we knew it was gonna go downhill from there haha. We got to play about ten or fifteen minutes before they asked us to leave.
J: We weren’t playing commercially enough.
R: That’s the only time we’ve been asked to leave the decks.
R: Well, let’s just say you should experience everything once.
I read that one of you played musical instruments before you started DJ’ing. What instruments were they?
J: My stepmoms father gave me a trumpet as a Christmas present and it felt like an obligation to start playing it, even though I had no interest in it whatsoever. So for four or five years I played the trumpet and I hated it. And after five years I’d finally plucked up the courage to say: “Fuck this, I’m not doing this shit anymore” Haha.
And I played the guitar for a while after that, but that was mainly because it’s just sort of cool to play the guitar.
So you could say that DJ’ing was your first love, musically speaking?
J: Oh yeah definitely!
What non-electronic music is playing on your iPods when you’re traveling?
J & R: None.
R: No, haha. I listen to jazz and chillout stuff, mostly.
J: I like to listen to hip-hop. Just bought the new Public Enemy album. I’ve been listening to that a lot.
Okay, so one last question, if you could live the life of any famous artist at any point in time for one day, from Mozart to Justin Bieber, who would it be?
R: Bill Withers.
R: This guy made the best records in his genre in a really short space in time, and then all of a sudden he went: “I’ve had enough”, and he just quit making music. Now he lives in a two-bedroom apartment in America and he’s all right with that. I think that that is really, really cool. To be able to create such a legacy for yourself and then just parting ways with it, not looking back. I’d love to be him for one day, to have a look inside the mind of a genius.
J: No one really, I respect and admire a lot of artists but I wouldn’t want to spend a day in anyone else’s shoes. The idea doesn’t really appeal to me.
Okay thanks a lot guys. Really liked talking to you. I hope to catch you playing here again soon.