John Heckle is one of our favourite producers, with a style that takes the rawness of early detroit, the visceral feeling of industrial music and the funk of the oddest eighties boogie and wraps it up in a package all his own – he's got the chops. Not only that, but he's a fantastic DJ to boot – regularly using three decks and a drum machine or two in his set up, he makes a lot of these whey faced laptop djs look as foolish and lazy as they are. Ahead of his set at Secretsundaze this Sunday, we caught up with him for a chat, taking in the Millsian aesthetic, the techno scene in Liverpool and the difference between crowds up north and down south…….
Hello John. Listening to your music is like being transported through time into some old Detroit or Chicago underground bunker – I’ve read in previous interviews that you mix up old analogue hardware with modern digital hardware to create your particular sound. What specific bits of gear are you talking?
The first piece of hardware I got hold of was a Juno-G workstation keyboard, which I purchased with my brother. It is still the centerpiece of my set up, live and in-studio. It has a 16-channel midi sequencer, so I can run up all my analogue gear through that. (such as a Juno-106 and most recently a Juno-6). I have a lot of digital stuff as well such as the Waldorf Blofeld and the Kawai K4. I think any machine can be molded to make new and interesting sounds, or at least can be used in interesting ways.
Obviously, the aesthetic is raw (in the best possible sense) but some of the composition and harmonic structure is pretty accomplished – did you learn to play an instrument while growing up, or are you self taught?
No not at all. I started playing keys on the Juno-G at around 19. I’m still pretty clumsy on it now when I play live, but in the studio I have a lot more time to record and re-record in order to get it right.
The influence of early Chicago and Detroit stands tall in your music, but I also hear traces of 80s boogie and even jazz influences in there, how would you say your record collection breaks down, percentage wise?
Wow, hard to say really. I grew up buying Birmingham and Detroit techno, so a whole lot of my collection is dedicated to that. But over the past few years I have amounted a large collection of classic house, disco, italo, industrial, synth and all sorts of other stuff. It is pretty varied.
You’ve said before that your style of djing is heavily influenced by Jeff Mills, dropping tunes in and out within a minute or two and working on three decks. Are you consistent in this approach or do you sometimes play sets where the pace is less intense?
Yeah I can play any sort of set that my collection allows now. Nowadays I stick more to 2 decks, as playing house isn’t as straight forward in a 3 deck format as techno can be. Though I still prefer that classic Millsian aesthetic of high-energy sets. Personally, I think that even if it gets messy then it’s still a hell of a lot more inventive and exciting than the run of the mill 2 deck workout. But I like to play a lot deeper when I can as well, for instance at the upcoming sundaze party.
As well as using three decks, you also sometimes add a bit of hardware to your DJ set up too, is that right? What kind of set up can we expect you to be using when you play at Secretsundaze closing party on 30th September?
I take my 707 to every peak-time DJ set I can in order to do drum solos in amongst the records (again influenced heavily by the Mills aesthetic with his 909), but a set such as the one this Sunday will not require it. It’s a daytime set so it won’t be as intense!
What were the first parties that really had an effect on your musical preferences when growing up in Liverpool?
Voodoo in Liverpool was a huge influence for me. I was too young to go in its heyday in the 90’s, but I was lucky enough to go in the last decade, and even had the good fortune of playing a few. Had some of the best nights of my life there, including seeing Galaxy 2 Galaxy live which was particularly awe-inspiring.
Is there much of a scene in Liverpool of like minded djs and musicians, or has your interest developed more in isolation?
There is a hell of a lot of talented DJs and producers in Liverpool, a silly amount really. Over the past few years though I haven’t been out much to clubs in Liverpool, partly because I have been away a lot, and partly because the artists I would want to go out and see don’t get booked in Liverpool much any more. There a lot of cool small nights however, and a lot of people doing their own things which is cool.
You’re playing in London alongside Martyn and Two Armadillos at Secretsundaze, have you spent much time playing at clubs in the capital and if so, do you think the crowds differ from those up north?
I love playing in London, it has a great scene. If I had to pinpoint a difference, I’d say the crowds up north go for it at the club at a hell of a lot more, which is a great deal more fun as a DJ. I love to see punters screaming and having a proper dance – getting a sweat on!
It’s great that you’ve found such a suitable home for your releases as Mathematics, have you got any plans for another album with them lined up in the future?
That is something I’d love to do at some point. I’m actually working on a double LP project for Tabernacle at the moment, which I guess you could say is my other home. I’d love to be releasing stuff for Jamal and for the Tabernacle boys for years to come if things were to happen that way.
You recently put out the Muscle Patrol EP as part of The Planet Patrol Outlaws with Binny and Mark Foreshaw, do you intend on doing more stuff as a trio and are there any other collaborations you’ve got lined up in the future?
Yeah absolutely. Those guys are really close friends so when there is time when we are all available then it is simply a case of driving round for a jam session (which hasn’t happened enough recently for me!). They both have solo projects coming out soon, Mark with Tabernacle and Binny with Orbis Records. I am really happy to see the Liverpool house/techno scene beginning to be recognized, and hopefully this is just the beginning. There are some more talented producers (and Outlaws!) making great music at the moment that I hope will see releases soon.
Finally, What are your plans for the rest of the year and beyond?
I am really excited about some projects coming up. Due out in the coming months, I have a remix on StayUndergroundItPays for Violence FM, an EP for Crème Organization, an EP for Tabernacle, a remix on Signals for Myriadd, 2 remixes on Cosmic Boogie for a local artist called Bantam Lions, a remix on Burek for Toby Tobias, a track on an Altered Moods offshoot and a remix on Throne of Blood for Call Super. Gig-wise I have a trip to Romania scheduled for Halloween weekend (!), a Live Show @ Movement festival in Italy (alongside some heroes of mine), plus shows many more UK shows, including aA Boiler Room Live Show. Exciting times.
John Heckle plays the secretsundaze season closing party on Sunday 30th September at the Oval Space. More info and tickets here