Dj Nature: The “Wednesday Alternative” Mix
Today's mix comes from the one and only, the inimitable Milo Johnson aka DJ Nature, whose release history spans all the way back to the early '90s when he went by the name Natureboy. Out 26th May on Bristol institution Futureboogie, DJ Nature's new release is the four track Ultimate Delusion EP, and it's a right cracker. He's put together an amazing mix for us, accompanied by the transcript of an illuminating conversation between himself and Futureboogie head honcho Dave Harvey. Get stuck in below:
Hey Milo – thanks for coming to see us and have a chat.
Thanks for asking me.
So – the idea to do this kinda came about after we were just having a chat about your early days in NYC and some of the stories you were coming out with that I thought were great! Plus of course we have lots of stuff upcoming with you gig wise – Love Saves The Day this weekend, Glastonbury and of course Love International – plus you've been busy on the release front as well. Your recent Natureboy release has been hype and the Ultimate Delusion EP for the label is out this week so I thought it would be great to put it into a bit of context for some people who might not know your history. So, I'll stop talking and let's start with when did you go to New York and what sort of clubs did you visit?
I went there in 1989 and I used to frequent clubs like Sound Factory where David Morales used to play. There was Better Days (Bruce Forrest), Choice (Larry Levan), Sound Factory Bar (Lil Louie Vega) Save the Robots, World.
So when you went to New York in '89 did you hit the clubs straight away?
Yeah, because my job then was buying records for a store in Tokyo called DJ's Choice. So I had to go around and see what was hot at the time. Records weren't the whole deal so to speak as what we were doing was selling the complete culture of dance, hip hop and house in one store. This included a lot of clothing, items that were on the street in New York. We had loads of mix tapes, hip hop videos and of course loads of records. We were one of the first ones to do it in Japan and it was doing well.
Did you know anyone in the New York scene at this point?
I didn't, I just went there a completely blank slate. I had known of people before going over there like Tony Humphries, as we used to get the Kiss FM tapes back in the UK, but personally I didn't know anybody.
The first contact I made there was probably the Nu Groove guys, particularly owner Frank Mendez. He just knew everybody, so he hit me off with connections to different NYC record labels, stores and distributors. At that time because the economy in Japan was really good, everybody would send you everything. They just wanted to get thier product out there. So obviously that put me in a really good position.
Did you ever meet Tony Humphries?
Frank Mendez took me to Zanzibar as I told him Tony Humphries was my hero and he said "Let's go to Zanzibar next weekend and I'll introduce you."
You are playing at Love International this year, on the same day as Tony Humphries. Would he remember you if you approached him now?
Probably not, it was a long time ago. But you never know. However, I did a tour with Public Enemy back in '88 in Japan. Later on when I had moved to New York, I'm out one night and I get a tap on the shoulder and it was Chuck D like, "Hey man, how you doing?" I was just so shocked that he remembered me. So Tony Humphries, I don't know. You can never underestimate people's memory.
There is quite a bit of hype around the Natureboy project. Are you aware of how it's been received? I know you tend to almost intentionally keep away from what's hype and so on.
Some people tell me or they post that they bought the last copy in this shop or that shop, so I guess its doing OK. I'm just glad that its out there. It stops people from bugging me or calling me saying "I wanna re-release this, I mean c'mon dude, I dont have the DATs. But you know what, I should feel happy that there is still interest in all honesty and I appreciate it really."
You mentioned you had a lot of old material on DATs still as well?
It could be a lot of fucking junk on there to be honest with you but I have about 300 DAT tapes. Unmarked and shit, a lot of it might be hip hop or some of it might be rough, half done tracks or just ideas.
Would you put out hip hop now?
Of course, once I get settled wherever I'm settling. It's all part of my journey, it probably won't be hip hop but certainly downtempo kind of vibes. But who knows what will happen down the road, never say never they say.
We chatted about the drama of having to move your record collection – how many records do you have??
It's not a great amount in terms of other people's collections, but there is a lot of good shit in there. I was getting white labels from all the pressing plants, a lot of it I realized I didn't listen to as I had a ton of stuff on at that time and if a name didn't ring a bell then I would overlook it. I just collected loads of white labels.
When I was packing them I went through them just in case, It was ridiculous dude. Stuff from Chicago, Glenn Underground, loads of obscure Chicago stuff that I was getting from a place called Music Doctor and other plants. A lot of the Chicago stuff used to get pressed in that place and he would just send it my way, lovely bloke Dave was.
So, how many records do you have?
About 10,000-12,000 in NY and the old Wild Bunch collection in Bristol.
I like the fact you said that was not that many…
But some people have like 40,000 records. I carried all of them myself to the storage, my legs were like jelly by the end of the day. It was rough work mate.
What do you think about the whole revitalised digger culture?
To be honest with you, before I started going through these records about a year ago I was oblivious to all the Discogs stuff, I really was. I'm not fucking loaded by any means, I dont have much money, I had to help put two kids through good colleges, that will skint anybody out in my socio-economic background. But if I would have known back then what I know now, what I was sitting on. I may have sold my collection to ease some of the stress of college tuition.
If you ever did sell them would you do individual sales or sell them as a whole collection?
It just takes too much time, I don't have time for that shit, I'd rather concentrate on creating music than thinking about posting stuff. I stopped buying records hard around '95 as I had stopped working for the Japanese record store but I picked up buying records again around 2000. Even prior to that I wasn't really buying them I was just getting them sent to me anyway. So I think I would sell the lot as one collection.
Going back to playing in Japan, you did that tour with Public Enemy. Was that the start of you playing there?
I played there first with the Buffalo crew of Face Magazine fame. They took a bunch of guys out there including a me and another DJ called JP and we did a couple of fashion shows where we were DJing and few other events over there. That was around '83/'84.
I also toured with the Jungle Brothers, Flavor Unit , DJ Cash Money, a bunch of other people. I was out there every year pretty much. I did a residency in a Tokyo club called The Bank in '87 for a year which was really really good.
Around the time of the Public Enemy tour in '89 you started the Natureboy stuff?
Technically it was 1991, I had moved to NYC in '89 and my reason to move there was partially to do the store but also to do independent music on my own label. So once I got the equipment and learned how to use it, that's when Natureboy happened.
Was Natureboy a success when it dropped?
For me it was a success, as all I wanted to do was press 500 copies of a record and make sure I didnt have any left and that is what happened. For me getting my stuff played by Tony Humphries on Kiss FM and on the WBLS dance party every weekend was more than I could ever imagine. For me it was a perfect time to put it on hold.
Where were you living in New York at that time, and what was it like, as I know it could be a bit dicey at that time?
I was in East Village. It was rugged, it was rough as fuck, rats everywhere, lots of drug dealers. Nobody wanted to live there, especially in the Alphabet area of the village. Night time came there were rats the size of cats running all over the place, but it had soul at that time.
Were you playing a lot in New York at the time or were you playing more in Japan?
I wasn't really playing in New York at all and to be honest with you and I didn't even want to play because im thinking you got some of the best around here. At that time and I still would rather learn while I was there and the scene was in its golden era.
I was playing in Japan intermitently as I was going back and forth for business and doing a few gigs while I was there. At the time I quite liked DJing in my room and making mix tapes for myself, I wasn't looking at Natureboy as an artist as such it was just a release. A creative release.
I stopped doing the Natureboy stuff around '93 when I had my first son. Obviously your priorities change, you get yourself a proper job and the kids take up the rest of your time. So I shelved it. However, I was working making money and buying equipment every time I went to Japan and bringing it back and just building my studio and learning.
So, you had quite a big hiatus?
I was doing a lot of production inbetween, some hip hop and other genres. I was putting out underground hip hop with some guys from Harlem, real underground shit.
How did you hook up with the Harlem guys?
There is a story that goes with that. I had friends in the fashion industry in Japan and a couple of them came over here and did some shooting for the next season. They went back and the next season they wanted some dancers from New York, so I went to the clubs and picked out the best dancers and took them to Japan.
They included a crew of guys who had never been out of the country before from Harlem, it was brilliant. It just opened thier eyes, a couple came back and formed a group called Zhigge. That word you hear Biggie Smalls say all the time "Zhigge" that came from them. "Zhigge" meant dressing really well. That is one of the crew I used to work with at that time. I produced some tracks for them with Salaam Remi back then on an album.
I've had some amazing comments about the Natureboy material, particularly from people I wouldn't necessarily expect to be in to it, like bass and dubstep artists and fans. I guess it has a similar energy and vibe?
You couldn't take the Bristol out of me, put it that way and it's definitely reflected in the Natureboy stuff. From my roots in Bristol, it's what I grew up with and all I know is how to produce in that way.
You can hear the eclectisism in your music across both Natureboy or DJ Nature. When you played for us at the Love Inn in Bristol, you started with real slow mo gear, and by the end it was really jacking 125 bpm.
It's a struggle for me trying to just play one tempo, I like to play everything. But there are only so many hours in the night. Also, people want to dance, in a way that they are used to. That was the real killer thing about Plastic People closing, that was my outlet to really take it across the board. I played there several times, it really was an incredible place.
Would you say Natureboy has a cult following?
I dont know about that.
I love the fact that you are not really engaged with that, because I can tell you it does!
I probably should be, but then again I love the surpise when somebody comes up from Bulgaria who says "Man I got the Natureboy album from back then", I'm like "What! How did it get over there. That's crazy."
Are you doing many Natureboy sets?
I'm playing Concrete in Paris next month. I've played before, it's a nice room and it's good to be able to go back a second time because the first time you don't know. I've never been a punter at any of these clubs so you don't see what the people are into and what they vibe to, you're basically going in blind. At Concrete I will be doing a Natureboy set. The guys who are putting out the reissue have some plans down the road I think also. I let them deal with that.
You are also playing for us at Love International this year, what can we expect?
What I'm playing at Love International is not going to be the same as what I'm playing at Concrete. I don't think I could get away with playing a garagey set of New York, New Jersey house from back then in Holland for example and some parts of Europe but I can play more Chicago or Detroit from back then. It depends where I am, the only criteria is that it's all records from before '94 but other than that it could be anything. I think at Love International it will be more of a vocal garage set.
What can we expect at Love Saves The Day Festival?
It will be more of a DJ Nature set for that. Some great new releases, really excited about that.
We should also talk about the DJ Nature release for Futureboogie…
There are some surpises on there for some people. A track maybe people would think no way is that DJ Nature if they heard it out or on the radio LOL. It was what I was feeling at the time, so I had to let it out. Even I was like "Wow, this isn't me is it' and people are going to be surprised maybe. There are the obvious crunchers on there too, of course. But everything on there is from the heart rather than what I think will sell best, just unfiltered vibes that I thought would fit the Futureboogie label.
The amount of love across the board for this release has been amazing actually, from techno people to jazzers, really varied but all loving it.
That's nice to hear, really appreciate the positivity. It helps to know people get it the first time around.
Is there anything you want to mention that you have coming up or are excited about?
I got a bunch of things that I'm working on that I'm really excited about, just material where I can't wait to hit the studio. It's a more up tempo vibe that I've been working on different vibe again from the Ultimate Delusion EP, but again it's not planned it's just where I was at that point in time and how far along that particular material was in regards to when it comes out. It's probably the biggest ting holding me back is that I am all over the place and not really stuck in one vibe for very long. There is no major rush however, I just want to get it right.
Lead image: Jeanette Beckman