Exclusive Interview With Jackmaster
With Jackmaster, what you are guaranteed to get is a master selector’s instinct for creating and riding the energy of a crowd. As his star has risen over the past few years, this has been on perfect display at parties from Glasgow to Berlin to New York, and from superclubs such as Berghain and Fabric to legendary underground warehouse parties. At the heart of Jackmaster’s wide-ranging sensibility is a fundamental honesty: he believes in neither following trends nor the concept of guilty pleasures. His commitment to both honesty and energy encapsulates what can make dance culture life-changingly thrilling: it’s about the clubber on the dancefloor reacting instantaneously and truthfully to the music. Few cater to that dancer as effectively as Jackmaster – no mere “crowd-pleaser”, but someone always guaranteed to please the crowd.
Jackmaster has also proven that populist tendencies can have longevity, if done right: unbelievably, it’s now 10 years since the Numbers club night was founded, forging a tight-knit and loyal scene in which Jackmaster and like-minded Glaswegian’s could hone their skills. Now, the world can’t get enough of their sounds: the Numbers influence has spread across clubs and into the mainstream, with names such as Jessie Ware, SBTRKT, Rustie, Hudson Mohawke and Jamie xx all having released material with the label.
We caught up with Jackmaster in anticipation of his Amsterdam Open Air performance on 7 June. In this extensive conversation, we cover everything from his Amsterdam experiences, Frankie Knuckles tributes, his rising star, and much more. Jackmaster will be headlining Amsterdam Open Air’s Straf_Werk stage with Tensnake, Catz N’ Dogz, De Sluwe Vos, Gerb b2b Serge, and Wouter S. Amsterdam Open Air takes place 6 & 7 June at Amsterdam’s Gaasperpark.
“In Glasgow they do not fuck about! You know if you’re doing a bad job within 1 or 2 tracks.”
Do you feel you have a responsibility to share your musical knowledge and dance music’s heritage with the public as opposed to simply showing people “a good time”?
The only responsibility or weight I feel on my shoulders is to play great music. When I’m in the booth, the heritage of a track doesn’t really enter my psyche. If I’m playing an old Chicago record that I bought on Discogs for £100 then I’m playing it because it’s good and because I feel like it fits the moment. Not because it’s rare or expensive or no one else has it. Likewise if I play Womack and Womack it’s for the same reason. Not just so that the crowd can sing along. I try not to play music to tick boxes. That’s what a jukebox is for. Too many DJs are playing music because they think it’s what they should be playing, or because they want to sound like someone else. That’s not for me. It never has been. It’s easy to emulate people. Being yourself and being honest in front of a crowd is, for some reason, harder. I guess because if you fail it’s much more personal. Although sometimes I do turn all the lights off in my bedroom, play Purpose Maker records and old UR rapid at +6 for a couple of hours and pretend I’m Jeff Mills. But I think everyone does that, right?
How do you view the vinyl resurgence? Is it more of a hype or here to stay? (When taking into account things like the digital remastering of classic records as is happening now)
It feels bad to say it since I worked at a record shop for so many years but I don’t pay too much attention to it. Again, a lot of people play vinyl because it’s cool at the moment or because their favourite DJ does so. I still enjoy buying records – there aren’t many better ways for me to spend their time – and I do respect a DJ more for their skill if they’re just playing vinyl, but I’m not too precious about formats.
In the RA Origins doc you describe the Glasgow crowd as a relatively easy to please, especially since opening hours are so limited. For you as a DJ, it resulted in doing quick mixes, as time was scarce.
Yeah my style evolved into a pretty rapid-fire technique. I’m still trying to slow down a bit in some situations. But also I’m a very impatient person so it was a mixture of the conditions at home and my own personality. If I made out it was easy to play in Glasgow then maybe I miscommunicated it a little. It’s just a very immediate and gratifying crowd to play to. What is easy in my home town is realizing if you’re doing something wrong or not. In Glasgow they do not fuck about! You know if youre doing a bad job within 1 or 2 tracks. Then you have to adjust and make sure you do it right. Or you ain’t being asked back. It’s the best crowd in the world if you know what you’re doing.
How did you adapt yourself once you started getting bookings abroad and time slots were more lenient?
I’m still learning. I think as a DJ you have to be learning all the time. Anyone who claims to have it licked is talking shit, and will eventually be surpassed by the kids coming through who are prepared to evolve.
You have a career in music based mostly on your merits as a DJ. Do you feel that it was harder for you to get where you are now as solely a DJ, then compared to somebody who has had a few successful releases?
Of course. But the fact that I ran a few record labels gave me an upper hand or a head start if you will. I think it’s easier to have longevity when you are known more for your DJing that your productions. You don’t get typecast with one sound or scene. Adapting is more “acceptable”, even though I think that attitude wrong.
Do you and the other members of the JESuS collaboration try to complement each other when playing together, or is it more of a friendly competition?
A: There’s absolutely no competition. It’s four mates having a laugh. I think you can see that when you watch us play. It took a bit of time to gel, but now we are there. It’s so much fun playing with those guys. My face hurts from smiling afterwards.
What’s your take on Seth Troxler’s (amongst others) outspokenness on EDM culture and what it stands for? Do you agree with his philosophy?
The whole EDM thing doesn’t really bother me too much. I don’t like the music but I don’t get too worked up about it. I respect that Seth has spoken out about it, but I blame the people pulling the strings behind those producers and DJs rather than the actual front men themselves. Skream shared his theory with me that at some stage all these kids dancing to Steve Aoki are gonna realize it’s bullshit when they grow up and hopefully explore further into the electronic music spectrum and find the good shit. I agree with that and I’ve noticed it’s happening during my last couple of US tours. Bands like Disclosure are definitely helping.
Do gadgets (smartphones, selfie sticks and the lot) hurt the purity of dance music and what it stands for, in your opinion?
If it was down to me everyone’s phones would be taken off of them at the door. I’ve not noticed it so bad in The Netherlands but in the UK it’s really a problem for me. Especially when the crowd is near enough to the booth for people to thrust their phone in your face every 2 seconds. Asking for track IDs or requests is one thing but I;ve had people recently typing stuff like“Where did you get your T shirt”. You’re here to dance are you not?