Justin Robertson Talks
After dropping off last week's Alfresco Jacking Excursion Ransom Note Mix, we pinned down Mr Robertson for a little longer than we probably should have to talk about everything from keeping relevant in today's ever-changing musical world to favourite hats via the growth of the Adriatica into the new Balearia and Walton-on-Thames.
Introduce yourself if you so please…
Hello, my name is Justin Robertson.
Where are you?
In The Solitary Cyclist Studio
What are you?
A Rave Pilot
In the past few years I’ve seen you tear apart the mammoth main room of Victoria Warehouse at WHP, then look equally at home in sun-kissed outdoors on an Adriatic coast at Electric Elephant and then back to our beloved intimate stage at Farr. It’s what sets a great selector out from someone who merely calls themselves a DJ. How do you still stay so relevant and what drives your interest in such a wide range of music?
Hmmm, hard to answer, I never really think about it too much, I remain a fan first and foremost, as long as people are making fantastic new music I’ll keep listening to it and inflicting it on anyone who’ll listen! I mean I’ve definitely experienced times when I’ve not been surfing the zeitgeist, but hey that's showbiz for you. I’ve been lucky really that there has been a consistent stream of great music to play, and be inspired by. In terms of my breadth of taste, that’s sometimes quite deceptive, I don’t like everything but all the stuff I really dig I see as being somehow connected, whether it's a Terry Riley piece, an Arabic Psych record or A Clouded Vision promo, they all have a shared aesthetic, in my mind anyway.
I guess I’m fascinated by the lineage of music, where its roots come from, so hearing a Derrick May record as a furrowed browed Youth made me dig into disco and european electronic music, in the same way buying Led Zeppelin 3 as a spotty boy lead me into checking Robert Johnson and Trippy Folk. Once you start you can never stop, it's like peeling back endless layers to reveal an evermore tantalising puzzle.
But the kind of backstory I guess is that there definitely was a time probably in the early 2000’s where I felt that even though I was playing a lot and doing some decent gigs and having a good time I wasn’t really making anything music-wise that was really exciting enough and was also probably a little bit out of step with what was going on at the time. So there are times when you step out of it and you can’t always be popular. Part of that was also me, instead of using an engineer, just setting everything up at home and getting everything right so that I’m happy with it. Regrouping the desktop thing for me, as I’d tried a few bits and bobs before that that were vaguely an albums worth of material and my desktop thing wasn’t really up to it, so getting the home studio sorted was really important. For about 4 years I’ve just been here!
And Deadstock, what was the reason?
Um, I suppose… I never think about things too much… But you know there was a time probably where, it’s easy to talk about times when things weren’t in that noisey techno phase, when electro house wasn’t such a dirty word and the tail end of electro clash. I felt it wasn’t really my thing. I’ve always probably had this slightly more and more analogue sound or something that’s a bit more organic. I dunno, it’s just not really my thing. I just wasn’t really making anything that would have fit in with that sort of time.
Did you see it as a way to distance yourself from it or…?
No, not really. I’m not sure if it’s a reaction to it or what, but you know in the same way that you’d never describe yourself as playing electro house anymore, you never hear people describe ‘nu-disco’ anymore, that scene – people ike In Flagranti and Chicken Lips and things like that, those records that were taking an old sound but updating it to the psychedelic end of disco. I just found a lot of the records exciting because they’re so raw and quite live but they had an energy to them that didn’t have too much speed or heaviness. They were just really raw and madly put together and that kinda inspired me to do the deadstock thing really. There were similarities between stuff I was doing in Linerock or Revtone, they’re still a similar approach, but it just felt great to be doing that raw organic kinda thing. A primitive sound you know?
Yeah completely. So that is what this is.
Yeah, and obviously because I was hearing those records there’s obviously other like-minded people into that kinda thing so you find yourself kind of coming together. I did a thing for DJ Mag, that I haven’t seen yet actually…
Yeah I saw it. That whole kinda neo-primitive "scene", I totally agree there's something very interesting happening at the moment. It’s a bit unfortunate that it's been labelled a scene but it is what it is and it’s just the nature of journalism I guess…
It’s got to have a way about it otherwise no-one would be writing about anything would they! (Laughs)
I haven’t seen the article so I don’t know what it says, but I think the whole kind of undercurrent of it is that it’s a really broad church and there is some sort of thing going on, but it’s probably almost so broad that it’s meaningless in a sense. There’s a coalescence of people that like to be visceral and kind of have that raw edge to it that isn’t over-produced.
Thinking about it in a way, made me think about the label Big Beat, which has become such a dirty word but the premise behind it was great, taking bits and pieces from different genres and collectives of people. The whole Heavenly Social thing was about putting techno records next to guitar records wasn’t it. Then there were things like Trash with similar undercurrents…etc etc.
Yeah I mean, I suppose arguably its been doing the same thing you know. We’ve just been ploughing the same furrow with different records and it’s the same kind of ethos.
I think in a way it’s quite good to label it because I guess it’s just a reaction to the mundane-ity and middle ground that is 'tech-house' at the moment – for want of a better phrase.
I don’t know if it’s consciously a reaction to anything, I think it’s just what people are into. I think more that people have started to gravitate towards it because they want something else, something that’s a bit different. So I guess that’s why it's become popular. It’s just this broad thing that can go from 100bpm disco to heavy techno. Whether it constitutes as a scene I don’t really know.
I think it’s just something exciting that happens as it always does. It always happens from the left of the center. Whatever thing that’s going on, there’s always a reaction to it. Not a ‘reaction’ but there’s always something going on to the left of it, which I think is great and really important, but it’s always the side that’s interested me.
You were talking about Chicken Lips and that sound is still so relevant isn’t it. Those records still keep getting picked up over and over again and they sound so amazing even now.
I think it goes back to the first question you asked me about… The essential thing for any of this really is that I’ve been doing it for so long now that I’ve never really consciously been part of a scene. Well I have but I’ve never really consciously done it and gone like ‘Oh this Big Beat track looks exciting because I’m well into neo-primitive whatever…’ I still approach everything as like a fan and look at records that excite me that come from whatever genre – and those are the records I play. So basically all the scene is, is that there are quite a lot of records that I like that happen to be in that style because they all sit together in a set. I mean, some of that stuff that’s coming out of Holland, which is basically like new-old-school house is acid house that is done now but has a very old-school feel to it, whether they would see themselves as being part of scene is very doubtful but yet those records still get played alongside disco records and stuff.
Maybe it’s like the continuation of I dunno, Balearic… Haha!
I think it is, but just without needing to label it that. Someone like Young Marco, you hear his records and you can hear he’s worked at Rush Hour all this time and he knows all these records inside out, his music sounds almost ethereal. But he pulls in the elements that you can sort of hear… are just reflecting influences in your life really. And you have to have them to write about stuff in a way. But maybe this brings us back to the question about Adriatica, which is more sort of like a hold-all term…
Yeah, it’s a funny thing though because again I suppose it’s just a way that people have to write about stuff. Especially people that are specialiseing in things that aren’t dance music, because everyone goes for shorthand. Everyone talks about EDM or whatever phrase people want to come in and see. Otherwise, everytime you wrote an article explaining about Croatia, you’d have to go through the history of dance music that no-one else is really interested in that’s reading the metro or something like that. ‘But it’s not really like amnesia in 1985 when he was dropping Code 61 next to the wodden tops is it..’ They just want to know where the parties are going on. So my thing about that is that the comparison between Croatia and Ibiza is the same as people dancing to music in a beautiful place where it’s a very pleasurable experience. My thing is that Ibiza started off as the whole history of the place as a culture and the whole hippy thing and the whole kind of freakish element of the people that used to hang out there in the 80’s – your Bowies, your Freddie Mercuries, it’s got a different sort of lineage to it. Whereas Croatia has its own unique thing is that it’s, it’s own really and got its own vibe. I don’t see people really copying it really other than the fact it’s people dancing in a pleasant warm climate.
And the fact that you can dance outside until it gets light…. the thing with Ibiza is that it gets shut down so early now, things finish at 11 or midnight outdoors. You’re playing Electric Elephant and again at Barbarellas later in the summer out in Tisno, Croatia. Now that Ibiza has pretty much eaten itself whole there’s the argument that Adriatica is the new Balearia…
The heartening thing that I like about Croatia is that it’s been really high quality of events and music that have been put on. It’s not, to my knowledge anyway, seen a big influx of cheesey kind of supermarket dance music there. It's all been, by in large, pretty quality! It’s good to see that the people have flocked there, especially to something like Electric Elephant where it is very Balearic or Adriatic in its outlook musically,but it doesn’t pull any punters. It’s not there for pissed up holiday makers. It’s there for heads.
I guess it can be pulled back to this whole neo-primitive label. It’s a similar musical school of thought essentially, if you like.
I don’t know all the events that go on there but the ones that I’ve either seen of played at have all been pretty high quality and pretty left field in terms of programming as well so…
There are a few shockers that go on but I think in Ibiza it’s difficult to avoid those shockers. You really have to search out the non-shockers. And I think now in Croatia I think it’s the reverse of that…
So, song writer, creator of cosmic disco dub, Balearic love and bespoke techno. What makes you so musically mobile?
They all feed off each other really, I can’t separate out the different strands too easily, and I have no real wish to. In fact they are all the same thing in many ways, plus the fact I’m quite schizophrenic.
What is a Deadstock 33?
Its particular cut of vintage Levi’s jean that I once favoured… [now it's the 67]
Are you still resident at the Magazine club in Lille? Residencies are ‘well in’ again, though they’ve never really gone away. How important is a resident in this day and age to guide people through the absurd abundance of music available?
Sadly I’m not, but yes a resident is massively important. I like the way they can really stamp an identity on a night, I love it when you get certain tunes associated with a particular night, big end of night anthems or classic warm up numbers, its really what memories are made of. I guess it goes back to me as an annoying trainspotter at the Hacienda, I’d always associate certain tunes with certain djs, it gave them and the club a real definition, an acid house statement of intent.
Similarly, how do you source music in the age of the online?
I embrace all formats! Which has led me to a situation of near destitution, as I need some kind of parental control button to stop me accessing records of an ever spiralling price tag. I still buzz off digging for tunes in the dust and mire though, nothing quite beats the feeling of finding something ‘’in the field’’ as Balearic Mike puts it, so yeah I’m no luddite, but I still pay homage to the noble record store, it's the pillar of civilisation after all.
Your first recorded entry under ‘Justin Robertson’ is Justin Robertson vs The Shamen’s Boss Drum. Correct?
No thats actually some way into my recording working life, the first studio thing I did was a remix for a band called The Mad Jacks, the number was called ‘’Feel The Hit’’.
Care to tell us about your most recent entry?
That would be my remix for the Klaxons, a number called ‘’ Show Me’". I offered up a rather sprightly acid house interpretation .
My prime goal when picking universities – back when you could get such a thing as a grant – was to get to London or Manchester as quickly as possible… when I got here (London), The Heavenly Social and dancing changed my life permanently for the greater good. I don’t think I’ve ever really used my degree though it did teach me how to – just about – construct a sentence. Which finally brings me round to my question, Philosophy – ever used it in a practical sense? Has studying it benefited you?
I suppose it teaches you to cast a critical eye over things? And when things get sticky, I just prove I don’t exist and leg it. It also taught me the most important philosophical stance must be backed up by a decent jumper.
You’re also joining us at Farr this year again. Enjoy it last year? You’re playing the sundowner set this year as opposed the later slot so plenty of space explore other avenues.
Yeah, I really enjoyed it. It’s so hard to talk about things without falling into horrific clichés but it had a real family, intimate feel. It felt like being at an alfresco house party. It was high on quality and thin on pretention which I think is good.
That was the only real point of us putting our stage on there. We just booked a load of people that we wanted to have play and made sure that everyone had a good time. It was just about having a rave in a field until it got light. It’s a very simple tried and tested premise!
Yeah, and I suppose it’s just about attracting like-minded people. You didn’t see too many steroided up, furrow-browed youths wandering about. It wasn’t corporate in any particular way and I think all those things tend to lead to good times.
What were the first and last records you bought?
First, I’ll admit to that was Oliver’s army by Elvis Costello, but I'm not sure on the last.
What was the music of your teenage rebellion?
A swift change from Tangerine Dream and the Grateful Dead
to The Fall and New Order with a healthy underpinning of roots reggae throughout… I was an inconsistent youth.
What was the first electronic record you heard, how did it make you feel?
Probably something by Kraftwerk? But I remember hearing Rhythm is Rhythm in the Hacienda for the first time, and thinking this is future music that was irresistibly relentless, it felt refreshing.
What’s your favourite hat?
Currently a battered Straw number from Locke and Co that I though I’d lost, but found to my joy in the dark hinterland of my wardrobe. Its got festival written all over it, rakish but with some dignity attached.
Do you still read a lot? Do you find it hard with all the distractions of the online world?
Yeah man, I always make time everyday for some literature, got to be done, not that online isn’t informative and entertaining. I don’t think online = dumb, books = clever as I’ve read some work of great enlightenment online, and read some harrowingly stupid books.
What was working with Ernest Ranglin’ like? Was there always in the back of your head: “Can’t we just do a cover of Surfin’”?
Ha! He was AMAZING, a real gentleman, and a faultless player, we did two takes just so I could hear him play it again. He didn’t drop a note, the studio was packed with a hushed reverence like a holy communion. He played on a track I’d written that afternoon which the lovely Nadine Sutherland sang on, I had to show him the chords on my guitar, me all fingers and thumbs, it was a lifetime highlight for me for sure.
What happens in Walton-On-Thames apart from you being born there?
Not much that I can recall. I left when i was 6 months old, my mate Johnny Dropjaw lives there, that’s a very high accolade I can assure you.
Where was last week's mix recorded?
Solitary Cyclist Studio [fancy name for my house]
What would be the ideal setting to listen to the mix?
Right here, right now.
What should we be wearing?
An exuberant cumber band
Which track in the mix is your current favourite?
Well, I dig them all, but I’m going to shamelessly plug my new track that's coming out as a part of a 5 track ep on Clouded Vision in July, for shame, for shame, also the two Gerd tracks are happy jackers, oh and the Lauer mix of Morgan Hammer is splendid. I played that in a field to happy faces on Sunday.
If it was an animal what would it be?
A Kensal Green cemetery parrot… Bright plumage amongst the gothic splendour.
If you could go back to back with any DJ from throughout history, who would it be and why?
I’m not really into this back to back thing. It’s just a mad craze isn’t it? Everyone's gone back to back with everyone else. It’s crazy. I mean, some of it’s great, but I dunno… It just seem like a bit of a weird thing. Maybe it’s just because no-one's asked me!
What was your first DJ set up at home and what is it now?
Two ‘’music centres’’ – I mixed between them turning the volume up and down on each one, I guess it was weirdly quadraphonic…. Nowadays it's the usual fancy CDJs and record players
Justin plays Electric Elephant once again this year – 10th-11th July 2014
And The Ransom Note Loves SOCIETY stage at Farr Festival on 19th July.
You can find Justin Robertson here and Soundcloud here and on Twitter here.
Joining The Circus
What to do for British politics?
Solidarity with Ukraine
URL vs. IRL
Do DJs Today Need Social Media to Be Heard?
I Hear (Borusiade Remix)
Mother of MarsShop Now
Hologram TeenShop Now