Mark Treadwell on 3/9/12
Jay Shepheard by name, Shepheard by nature, though instead of smoking rolling tobacco and being surrounded by a heard of ‘bah’ing’, fleece covered, hoof bearing, primarily New Zealand dwelling mammals he has found himself smoking rolling tobacco whilst elbow deep in plaudits, bad boy tunes and a whole heap of gigs across the globe.
In a time when most people’s idea of the underground is taking the Northern Line on their way to the Ministry of Sound or ‘slumming’ it in Dalston, Jay Shepheard has been flying the flag for all those producers and DJs that simply love house music, whether it’s fashionable or the latest cuss word used by those voted at school as ‘most likely to incite a riot’ doesn’t matter. In 2012 when there are more genres than actual tracks and America is losing its shit to EDM, Jay Shepheard is on a mission to make you jack. It’s not simply nostalgia either as while there is an undoubted nod to the past, glories and all it is undoubtedly modern, undoubtedly danceable and indefinably good.
On the eve of his Pulse podcast Mark Treadwell caught up with Jay (or John as his mum, wife and mates call him) to discuss Juno, Norf’ London, house music, starting his own label and what’s better London or Berlin. Jay Shepheard, keeping it underground, even when playing a sunset gig on the beach.
(Scroll down for tracklisting and download link.)
Where did you grow up and what was it like? Originally I'm from a small village on an estuary called The Deben in Suffolk, but I grew up in North London between my Dad’s place in Tuffnel Park and my mums in Muswell Hill, so spent a lot of time around that whole area of Camden, Archway, Kentish Town etc too. After we left the village we had a little wooden hut on the river that we'd visit on school holidays. There was no electricity so no TV so looking back I guess I was really lucky to have a place like that while I was growing up.
Did you have a musical upbringing or come from a musical family? Not in a classical sense, my dad was into collecting records and used to have the odd strum on his Fender acoustic but that was about it. However my parents were pretty good at encouraging me to follow my interests so I did learn various instruments when I was younger.
What is your first memory of house music? When we lived in the village in Suffolk my next door neighbour had a gay uncle who moved to New York in the 80s. He would send tapes back to my mates dad and he'd play them while driving us in the car. We must have been about seven at the time, I remember being highly amused by the pitched down vocal "house".
What clubs did you first start going to? I think the first regular one was The Complex in Islighton. It had 4 floors and usually there would be Drum N Bass downstairs and UK garage one above. We'd also go to Movement run by V Recordings at Bar Rumba on Wednesdays and get crazy eyes from the rude boys if we went too close to their white trainers. Then there was the original Plastic People for Fridays Are Firing opposite Centre Point. After that main ones were The Key, The Cross, Bagleys, 333, The End etc. We also went through a phase of attending Escape From Samsara at The Fridge in Brixton, a 10 hour 150bpm acid techno thrapperthon - it was ten quid to get in or three if you brought a bongo or didgeridoo, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.
Who were your DJ heroes growing up? It’s funny but thinking about this question and looking back its pretty hard to say. There were certain mix CDs like for example FK's Essential Mix, Ben Watts first Lazy Dog compilation or Etienne De Crecy's Super Discount that were hugely influential and played big part in developing my musical tastes, but there weren’t specific DJs who I'd be going to see at every gig. I think as you get older you get more discerning about what you do when you go out, back then as mentioned above we used to go to all kinds of different nights and usually have a good time regardless who was playing.
Did you used to listen to the radio? Yes we used to listen to various pirates when we were younger during the hardcore and jungle faze. We'd get baked and call in absurd shout outs such as - "hold tight the strawberry laces crew, coming from the Woolworths massive" until the MC got pissed off and started ignoring our texts.
What impact did working at Juno have on your career? It had a huge impact, both directly - as in it was a fellow employee who first sent my demos to Compost (without telling me) which resulted in my first proper release the Black Label 19 EP - and indirectly as it was friends that I met while working there who were responsible for me first to moving to East London in about 2005 and getting involved in the warehouse scene that was just kicking off alongside the new wave of German techno / minimal a la Kompakt etc. Asides from that I was exposed to a lot new genres, artists and labels just through the day to day workings of the shop which also helped to influence a lot of what I'm onto now.
Can you remember your first DJ gig? The first ones were house parties; spending ages waiting for the previous guy to let me get near the decks, then spinning hardcore or jungle off the belt driven Soundlabs to a room full of teenagers on billy. But I think the first one in an actual venue that I got paid for was for a D&B night in Camden that a friend of mine ran called Swallow. It was in the bar near where the big Sainsbury is, I remember being terrified about fucking up as I'd never played on Technics before and all of my mates were gonna be there to see me fail.
Do you consider yourself primarily as a DJ or a Producer? Up until a year or so ago I would have said producer straight off the bat, but more and more I'm spending time on the road so I'd have to say that I'm pretty equal DJing and producing at the moment. Having said that its my releases that really started me being able to do music as a profession so for historical reasons I'll always consider myself a producer I think.
What does vinyl mean to you? I like vinyl. Playing it, collecting records etc. Of course its nice to have a wall of records at home - a physical embodiment of many years hunting down rare gems. However I'm not a format fascist. I like playing CDs too. I also like receiving tracks just finished by my friends, beamed across continents straight to my laptop in seconds and playing them out in the club an hour later. It’s all good basically, music first, format later.
Do you know when you've written a hit? I find it very hard to judge my own stuff, but sometimes when it’s been road tested I have an idea. Best test is if you a have a few gigs coming up and you end up reaching for the new track every time, seems pretty obvious I guess but if you're not playing it yourself quite unlikely others are going to!
What made you decide to start your own label? I wanted to run my own label for ages, since first being into collecting records I think. I really just liked the idea of being able to create something with its own identity from scratch, the way it looks, style of the music etc. From the start I was keen the label shouldn't be tied into any one genre but more to have an overall sound or vibe that all releases had to fit.
Where did the name Retrofit come from? It’s an engineering term, the dictionary definition of which is "the addition of new technology or features to older systems". Most people who know my releases and DJing will know I love classic electronic music genres, acid house, disco, vintage techno etc so the plan with the label has been to take these classic styles and present them in a modern context.
What inspires you musically? Can be anything from pop music to abstract electronica, just has to have that certain something. The x factor I believe they call it these days [Laughs]
You are living in Berlin again, has it changed much since you've been away? I know that long timers here say that its changing a lot - which I'm sure it has in the past decade. But to be honest in the two years I was back in London it feels like it hasn't changed at all, apart from the new roof over CDV which isn't exactly the one, apart from that its all good. A lot of the same friends of ours still live here and in fact I live in the flat above the one I use to live in, so really feels like we've hardly been away. There are some great new venues that have opened in my absence too such as Loftus Hall and Chalet.
Do you find that the music you make is affected differently by living in Berlin or London? Not so far this time, I spend quite a bit of time in both cities and am also travelling all over the place so I haven’t noticed any difference in approach. Having said that I haven’t actually set up my studio since moving a few months ago as have been busy with touring etc. so ask me again in six months and maybe will have a different answer for you!
Where is the best place you've played recently? There have been many good ones this summer but two highlights would have to be the Electric Minds boat party at the SMS festival in Croatia and the Kazantip festival in Ukraine where I played a beach bar at sunrise, lovely stuff.
Download Pulse.091 - Jay Shepheard here.
01. Session Victim "Cow Place" Delusions Of Grandeur
02. Maxxi Soundsystem "Inside The Count" Wolf Music US
03. Anthea "Distraction" (Dan Ghenacia remix) One Records
04. Two Armadillos "Theme" Two Armadillos
05. Nice7 "Time To Get Physical" Noir
06. Martin Dawson & Jay Shepheard "Cut A Hole" Retrofit
07. Greymatter "Give It To Me Slow" Wolf Music US
08. MANIK "Amber Knife" Ovum
09. Homeboy "Sound In D Air" Hypercolour
10. Azari & lll "Into The Night" (Nicolas Jaar remix) Turbo
11. Marcus Homm "Time Zero" Bangbang!
12. Grove Armada "Don't Take Your Love Away" Hypercolour
13. Pablo Bolivar "Last Change" (Jay Shepheard remix) Galaktika
14. Jay Shepheard"Add Arp" (Catz 'n Dogz remix) Retrofit
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