AN INTERVIEW WITH LONDON-BASED DJ “JB”
Jon Barnett (AKA “JB”) is a well-known name on the London club circuit in light of his residency in a couple of the city’s top clubs. Having first immersed his ears in the joys of House music back in the late eighties, it wasn’t long before Jon began to experiment for himself, going on to earn the respect of his contemporaries in the thrilling process.
As well as playing to crowds in London, Jon regularly wows huge audiences with sets at international festivals.
Here, in an exclusive interview with Steve, JB discusses how he first got into House music, the music-scene in London, an unforgettable set at Glastonbury, the madness of playing on the party island of Ibiza, the necessity of indulging in extra-late nights, and the difficulty that up-and-coming DJs are facing in terms of creating distinctive sounds for themselves…
HEY JON, HOW YOU DOING?
I am very well thank you; it’s all good!
YOU ARE A LONDON-BASED DJ WHO HAS BUILT UP AN ENVIABLE REPUTATION FOR YOUR HIGHLY ACCLAIMED CLUB NIGHTS. IN WHICH LONDON CLUBS HAVE YOU PLAYED, AND HOW DID YOU INITIALLY SCORE SUCH ‘GIGS’?
My favourite residences are Supernova at Sosho near Old Street which used to be called Retox. We did four years every week, and it was regarded by those in the know as the best night in London for three of those years. There are always amazing international guests like Claude von Stroke, DJ Rolando and Luciano, as well as the cream of UK talent like Terry Francis and Lee Burridge. The other is Family Affair at various venues, but it’s a free party mostly. A guy called Gerald, Dan Curtain, Ziggi Kinder (who have, incidentally, all just produced tracks on my new album), Kenny Hawkes, Terry Francis, Rob Mellow and Claude von Stroke have turned up and just played amongst others: it’s always a great party! I also play regularly at Fabric, The Egg, and many other places around Shoreditch.
YOU STARTED DJ-ING AS A TEENAGER IN THE LATE EIGHTIES. DID YOU KNOW EVEN BACK THEN THAT SPINNING DECKS WAS MORE THAN JUST A PASSING INTEREST FOR YOU, AND THAT IT WAS SOMETHING YOU ASPIRED TO DO NOT PURELY FOR FUN, BUT TO MAKE A LIVING FROM AS WELL?
Since I got my first Technics 1210 turntable, I wanted to do it for a job; I saw a guy mixing records and said I want to be able to do that, so I set out to learn. I tried for years and seemed to be getting nowhere fast. I was getting good gigs but they hardly paid, if at all, but it was a love thing, so I went and got a job in the City for about six years, saved up enough money to knock that on the head, and started promoting parties to get myself re-established in the game, so – in essence – it was never a passing interest. A love: yes. And now a living.
WHAT WAS IT THAT FIRST ATTRACTED YOU TO HOUSE MUSIC, AND HAVE YOU BEEN SURPRISED BY THE EXTENT TO WHICH THE SUB-GENRE OF DANCE MUSIC HAS EVOLVED SINCE IT FIRST TOOK RIOTOUS ROOT IN THE EIGHTIES?
I think it was when we were playing the old Electro and early House at parties that I noticed how such music kept people going, so I just started buying more and more House until that was all I was playing. Hip-Hop flew out the window. Addicted is a word that springs to mind. I guess I kind of knew that this wasn’t going away. Much like Hip-Hop, House is a lifestyle choice: you live for the weekend, and go to clubs where everybody knows each other. To use the name of one of my residencies, it’s one big Family Affair.
HOW OLD WERE YOU WHEN YOU FIRST GOT YOUR OWN CLUB NIGHT, AND DID NERVES EVER GET THE BETTER OF YOU?
I used to do House parties at 17 where we would charge people three quid to get in, then we got a wine bar in Croydon that lost its license, so the owners turned it into a private members club to get around the laws of the time. It was open all night, and it was our party. It got raided quite a few times by the police, but they could not shut it down. We didn’t do too badly at the door either, and that’s where I cut my teeth in the promoting game. It’s tough work; you can make a small fortune on a night, or lose one. It’s always a risk, and if you don’t put enough work into promotion, then you pay the price. It’s definitely not for the weak-hearted, but it’s mucho fun.
AS WELL AS PLAYING CLUB NIGHTS IN LONDON, YOUR NAME REGULARLY TAKES PRIDE OF PLACE ON FESTIVAL LINE-UPS BOTH IN THE UK AND MUCH FURTHER AFIELD. DO YOU HAVE TO ADAPT THE TYPE OF SETS YOU PLAY IN CLUBS WHEN YOU’RE PLAYING TO FESTIVAL CROWDS?
Depends where they put you on, which stage, and where you are. A big tent means big tunes because, generally, you only play for an hour, two max, so you have to adapt, but if I am playing in a VIP area, as I sometimes do, and I am on for four hours, then I just do my thing. That’s what people want in those areas… deep, dark and dirty! I like to play anywhere, and I like to see if I can push people’s boundaries, so I will always play something unexpected where I can. That said, I played at Glastonbury‘s closing set from eleven at night until four in the morning. The first hour there was nobody in front of me, maybe fifty people, but as soon as Basement Jaxx finished the closing set on the Other Stage, everyone seemed drawn to the Radio One stage which was the only music on in the whole festival. Soon, there were people as far as I could see. I played whatever I wanted that night: the maddest, twisted House music that I had at the time mixed with Techno and a few classics thrown in. It was one of the best sets of my life; I felt I had landed on my feet that day… amazing!
In 1999, I played at a great festival in Oxford called Out to Graze… it was only small, about a thousand people, but the weather was beautiful, and I played the headline slot at the Microclimate arena, midnight until three in the morning, and I did what I would do at Fabric. It was the busiest tent and a great party. I met most of the attendees as we hung out for a while… even the undercover Oxfordshire constabulary who had no idea they had been rumbled. We had a great time asking them if they could get us any weed! It’s on again next year, and it’s well worth a visit!
YOU HAVE WOWED CROWDS WITH YOUR TALENTS FROM COUNTRIES IN EASTERN EUROPE TO COUNTRIES IN SOUTH AMERICA. DO YOU PLAY CERTAIN FESTIVALS ON AN ANNUAL BASIS, AND DOES PLAYING AT FESTIVALS ON AN INTERNATIONAL SCALE MEAN THAT YOU GET TO DO MUCH SIGHTSEEING IN SUCH PLACES WHEN YOU’RE NOT DJ-ING?
I have a few regular gigs abroad that get us the flight over to wherever it may be, but I always try to hang out for a while to soak up the local scene and get in the studio with new people. I do do the tourist thing where possible, if even for a moment. I made a promoter drive me past the Leaning Tower of Pisa once; that was enough… I have seen it. Stuck my head into Red Square also, just to check out the Kremlin. Job done… now can someone take me to my hotel? I am knackered, been up all night playing records. It’s enough just to view these iconic buildings so you know where you have been.
YOU HAVE ALSO PLAYED SETS IN IBIZA IN THE PAST. WHAT KIND OF EXPERIENCES DID YOU HAVE OVER THERE?
Too many to choose from. I have had some mad times in Ibiza and have got up to all sorts of shenanigans that are probably best left untold. One of my most memorable gigs was playing for ten hours at Bora Bora at the La Troya after-party with loads of mad Europeans on the tables all day, drag queens, models, the lot. Great day; rocked the socks off the place.
GIVEN THAT THERE ARE SO MANY HOUSE DJ’S ON THE SCENE RIGHT NOW, DO YOU THINK IT IS BECOMING INCREASINGLY DIFFICULT FOR YOUNG DJ’S EDGING UP THROUGH THE RANKS TO CREATE AN INDIVIDUAL SOUND AND TO ATTRACT DUE ATTENTION?
It’s always going to be hard work, that never stops. You have to play the game so-to-speak, but it’s just as important to define your own style and sound, and search out music that every one else has missed and serve that up. Dig deep… that’s half the battle; that’s what makes someone stand out from the rest. I would much rather go out and hear someone as long as they are good at playing a set of records that I have never heard before and are making me wonder where the hell they got that music from, rather than hearing the same thirty records that all the generic DJ’s are playing because they are deemed ‘hot’. If you are good, people will want to experience it again, and soon you develop a fan base that will start coming to the clubs or parties you play at, and you build it from there.
IF YOUR CAREER AS A DJ HADN’T PANNED OUT AS PLANNED, WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU MIGHT HAVE BEEN DOING IN ORDER TO EARN A CRUST INSTEAD? DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD STILL BE INVOLVED IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY, ALBEIT IN A DIFFERENT CAPACITY?
I think I would still be working in IT in the City: boring, but easy once you know what you are doing. For me, DJ-ing is the crux of things. I have had various labels over the years and promoted parties, but I would much prefer to spend my time either hunting down or producing music!
WHAT IS THE BEST THING ABOUT BEING A HOUSE DJ OF YOUR CALIBRE?
Just doing what I love. I feel very privileged to say that I really love my job, and it’s a great feeling playing week-in and week-out at a successful party where the trust is in place and you can just let off the best music you have and see happy faces all around you dancing and having fun. For me, it’s “the best job in the world”, and hopefully long may it continue.
FINALLY, FOR PEOPLE WHO WOULD LIKE TO FIND OUT MORE ABOUT YOU, YOUR MUSIC, AND YOUR LIVE SCHEDULE, WHERE ARE THE BEST PLACES FOR THEM TO VISIT IN CYBERLAND?
Well, my website is a good place to start… there are mixes on there, pictures, articles from DJ Mag, my Bio tracks, and it’s a fun and quirky website.
The URL is www.therealjb.com
You can also check out my MySpace page at www.myspace.com/jb_dj
www.wildlife-am.com by DJ Colin Dale does some of my bookings, and they have info on me and many other worthwhile DJ’s.
(Questions by Steve Rudd; Answers by “JB”)