Can You Smell What The Rock Is Cooking? Jonny Rock Talks
Walking into Jonny Rock's home hidden away down an unassuming pathway on an industrial estate in East London is like walking into one of the greatest treasure troves of records you could ever lay eyes on. Two opposing walls are filled floor to ceiling with shelves upon shelves of records. In the middle of the room that he shares with his photographer partner sits his most prized possession- a custom built Condessa mixing desk and his beloved 1210s that are steadily spinning the sounds of The Grateful Dead's 'Europe '72' album and a guitar propped up against the exposed brick work of the walls.
It's definitely the home of someone who's fanatical about music. "I would say there's about 6 or 7,000 records [there]. I probably started collecting them in the late 90s, when I started going out." Jonny tells us how he began his vinyl love affair playing records to friends at house parties. One of the first records he recalls buying was on the classic imprint Strictly Rhythm, a Masters At Work dub. He never actually listened to it until about four or five years later when he was listening to a Kenny Hawkes tape, heard a familiar beat and then spent another four or five years trying to find out what the track was before realising "that it was actually one of those first 30 records that I owned".
It's unsurprising that Rock forgets which records are in his collection. It's aweinspiringly vast. Jonny was a regular attendee of Hawkes night 'Space' at Bar Rumba that was located on Shaftesbury Avenue in the West Endm, as well as the original Plastic People on Oxford Street. Nights that Rock recalls fondly, where some of dance music's finest selectors from Sub Club's DJ Harri to Kenny Hawkes played each and every Friday.
"I don't think I missed a night there. It was so inspirational. The last night before they closed I said to the owner Ade "dude, open up an hour early I wanna play" so I actually got to play there for an hour on the last night."
The first Freaks'- the live project from Luke Solomon and Justin Harris, featuring Jonny on guitar- gig was at the Shoreditch Plastic People (sadly, also now closed)- "a high school dream come-true". Jonny recalls, chuckling, how he had a "tuning block" that left him unable to tune his guitar for the first 30 minutes of the show. This relationship with Solomon and Harris developed through Bar Rumba, where they'd play every Wednesday, gifting Jonny with all of their new records. Aside from the DJs, Rock was the third regular there. In fact, he would be there without fail so much so that they would put his name down on the list each and every Wednesday as 'Turkish Jon plus one'. He even had the accolade printed on one of the Space CDs. Would he say that the live experience more preferrable to Djing? "It's a different voyage," he says of DJing. "You go on your own little journey and try to get your message across."
Coming from Turkey, a country far less liberalised than the UK, it was hard for Jonny to consider that a career in music was more than just a pipe dream. It was only after moving to the UK in 1991 that music was a career he realised he could pursue after gaining an "education", as he graciously puts it, from watching some of his peers, such as Solomon and Harris, in action. Growing up in the captial city of Ankara Jonny's first night life encounters where of the city's rock bars. It was in Instanbul where the more underground clubs thrived. One particular one that Jonny recalls was held in the middle of an old scrap yard. One of the main ones in the city today is MiniMüzikhol, a tiny club that's "in a flat almost". Now however, the government are doing their best to shut down the parties.
Jonny's current output draws upon the sounds of his country, releasing records on the labels Disco Hamam and Hamam House. He tells me that this music that has a Turkish, middle-eastern vibe with an electronic twist seems to be garnering a lot of attention from record collectors and discerned clubbers alike. I point out that there has been a rise in people taking an interest in world music, which has likely been spurred on through music becoming digitalised and the 'sharing culture' that abounds on the echo chamber of Facebook and other social channels. As well as dedicated radio stations such as Giles Peterson's Worldwide FM, which Jonny now has a monthly show on.
"I guess also the guys at Red Light [radio in Amsterdam] made it accessible. Now you can play an African record in the middle of a house or techno set. Whenever Kenny or Luke played, they'd always play a real 'lefty' or a Yello record or a disco record."
One of Jonny's favourite places to do some deep digging for these kind of records is Alan's in East Finchely. "That's always satisfying," he tells me. "[Alan] is always a gentlemen…..he's got all sorts from house to disco to rock, pop, jazz, weird reggae. Then for digital digging I go to Vinyl Pimp in Hackney Wick, fill up my basket on Discogs first then go to the shop and check them out."
I'm curious if his thousands of records have been arranged into any kind of order? He shakes his head, laughing. "No. No. Definitely not in any order. I have a current pile which is around there," he gestures towards two shelves in the middle section of the left-hand unit. "I have a couple of rows of house, some floor stuff, some disco….I don't like to change the bag constantly." Instead, preferring to get to know or 'learn' his records as he plays them out. For Houghton Festival in August he'll "probably sift through them a few times. There's going to be a lot of heat there. I'm looking forward to hanign out with Rob Mello, Ivan (Smagghe). I'm really looking forward to it actually."
If it wasn't for the music, what other career path might Jonny have taken? "I'm not ruling out a little four tabel restaurant in Brazil, in a little town with good music playing in the background," he tells me without hesitation. "I love cooking so I could do that." As with his music selection his food selection also embraces a fusion of different cultures. He's become famous amongst his circle of friends for his Turkish meatballs, having cooked 450 of them for Jonny Nash's wedding with a little help from his good friend and fellow crate digger, Dea. "That's when I knew he was a good brother."
Does this mean he's thinking of giving it all up and heading to the sun, sea and sand of somewhere more exotic pretty soon?
"I don't think I'll ever leave music, maybe find a gentler way of doing it. [Free] my nights up. There has to be a balance I think. I love flip flop beats on the beach as well as underground, dark room….I'm a hippy at heart."
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Photography- Jennifer Wallis