Justin Roberston: chameleon of the club scene
Reported by HarderFaster
Submitted 28-09-06 23:56
Justin Robertson is without doubt one of the most diverse names in the music scene today. How many artists do you know who can dj techno, soulful house, reggae and dub in between producing tunes for the likes of Fatboy Slim while singing in bands and writing songs? Although the man himself was very quick to tell me he doesn’t actually do this all at once, such eclectic talent is indeed rare in today’s sub-genred days.
On top of all this, Mr Roberston has had past lives as a successful pop star and promoter, having appeared on Top of the Pops and founded some of Manchester’s legendary clubs in the crucial days of acid house. Unlike many artists with discographies a third of the size however, he certainly isn’t content to rest on his laurels, with more current projects up his sleeve than most djs have in their record bags. Fortunately, rather than making him a complete boffin, he’s happy to speak about his experiences in the music industry over the years. With the man in the hat playing at Breakneck meets PunchFunk at the South Parade Pier this Friday 29 September then heading back to London for Together at Turnmills on Saturday night, we figured it was high time he was introduced to the HF massive.
For those that don’t know you, how did it all start for you in the music industry? Did you always plan on being a dj and producer or was it something that evolved over the years?
Basically I’ve never planned anything in my life ever! It’s all been a bit of an accident. I went to uni in Manchester, but I’ve always been a veracious record collector of various sorts of music: reggae, dub, pop, you name it. Anyway I moved the Manchester and started going to the Hacienda, and loved Detroit soulful house. I started playing it a lot at people’s house parties, then got a job in a record store, left uni and from there opportunities just kept coming up. It was a long time ago, so there wasn’t the established club culture there is now and I just fell into it all.
The production side of things was the same. The shop, Mad Jacks, had its own label and a band wanted a dance mix done, so I said I’d do it. I’d never been in a studio in my life before! It turned out well, then it had a snowball effect. I got involved with a band called Yargo and met a lot of new people, then within six months I did an Erasure remix! It was quite a rollercoaster… but that’s often the way it works in the dj remix world! People are hot at a certain time. For me, it was half accident and half design.
Your clubs, Spice and Most Excellent, were fundamental in the beginning of the dance movement. Why did you move into running clubs rather than just playing at them? You must have some great stories about the birth of the club scene, are there any you can share with HF readers?
Things were very different then, and part of the way I progressed was doing it myself. In the early ‘90s there just wasn’t the same club culture there is today. There was no such thing as ‘guest djs’, no culture of that existed! The Hacienda started to occasionally get guests like Danny Rampling, but it certainly wasn’t like clubs are now, it just didn’t exist, so if you wanted to do something you have to do it yourself.
With Spice I was trying to do something a bit different from the other Manchester clubs. I wanted to put on parties for my friends and the people with the same tastes as us, and the only way to do that was to do it ourselves.
As for the second part of the question, it was an exciting time! It’s quite hard to describe, it was all so new going into the Hacienda and hearing tracks like Rhythm Is Rhythm’s ‘The Dance’, it was like a road to Damascus moment, hearing this alien music! I was used to hearing three minute pop records, so the structure of house music was completely new and alien. Phuture’s ‘Acid Trax’ still sounds weirder than any record ever made! It was a time of new drugs and new clubs, as before clubs had been elitist places. It’s hard to explain as it was such a unique time, but I don’t have any real anecdotes.
You started writing songs at an early age. Where do you get your inspiration from? What, in your opinion, makes a good tune?
As regards writing actual lyrical songs, I grew up listening to The Fall, The Smiths, Joy Division and find the records I like most are songs about ordinary everyday things. I get inspiration from that; I can’t stand fantasy records! I get a lot of mileage from everyday events, the mundane can be inspiring, especially if you live in a city. So I use existing life really!
What makes a good tune? I’ve got no idea! If I knew that, I’d be on a yacht somewhere on the Bahamas. There’s different moods for different times. A song that sounds like the writer means it, that’s what it is! Some sort of passion… but I like disposable records, sometimes my favourite records are just disposable. But I can’t really answer the question, I don’t know what it is… passion, heart and soul?
You play everything from techno, reggae, house, northern soul and pop; as well as producing your own tunes. How would you define the Justin Roberston sound?
Well when I say I play all those sorts of music I don’t usually play them all at the same time! One general thread through things I like is that they’re dynamic passionate party records, there’s nothing cheesy! Like at Together at Turnmills I play very acidy, wiggly, electronic records, but they’re all quite up and dynamic. I like an energy to my music. Wiggly energy, how’s that?”
Who were your key musical influences growing up? And now?
The Fall, The Smiths, Joy Division when I was in my late teens. Derrick May for early Chicago house. DJ-wise, Andy Weatherall and Mike Pickering.
Writing-wise, The Fall were and still are a big influence. A lot of reggae, soul, I’m a big collector of Studio 1 reggae. Producers like King Tubby, Lee Scratch Perry. I’ve always loved the sparseness of dub.
Do you like some of the stuff coming out of New Zealand, like Salmonella Dub and Fat Freddy’s Drop then?
Yeah I love it! I’ve just got the new Fat Freddy’s Drop album.
The dub thing and reggae method of production so influenced pre-acid house disco. A lot of records were influenced by that sound. I draw on that heritage — disco, dub, anything alien!
You’re renowned for your funky hats. Do you have a favourite? Where do you get them all from?
My favourite I’ve only worn once, I keep it in a hat box and only bring it out on special occasions. I got it in Japan from a place called CA4LA. They’ve just got a new shop in Hoxton Square, I bought a new one from them the other day. I also got one of my favourites from M&S for only £20!
What up and coming musos, be they djs, producers, or rock musicians, do you rate at the moment?
Henry Rippon, Paul Woolford, Trent Moeller, Steve Bug. There’s a band called The Little Ones. I also really like Midlake, they sound like the 60s. The new Chemical Brothers record is incredible! I like all sorts of things…
Your career spans over 20 years and in that time you must’ve seen a lot of changes in the dance music scene. What changes would you like to see in the future?
It’s quite a healthy place at the moment! There’s a lot of diversity, a lot of new fresh blood, new djs and producers, it’s a whole new generation, not just us old folk hanging on by the skin of our teeth! ‘Dance music’ has become a nebulous term, as it can include anything from Block Party to some hardcore trance record.
Is there such a thing as a ‘dance music scene’ any more? I dunno… electronic music is so widespread, with guitar bands using the same techniques, for example, Peter Bjorn and John. They’ve done a track called ‘Young Folks’, a jaunty pop record, that Erol Alkan has done a mix of. I’ve heard djs play that in the middle of an electro set!
There’s a kind of Balearic spirit from back in the old days. People have grown up as happy to see indie bands as go to a warehouse party in the East End. So ‘dance music scene’ is a meaningless term! It’s just people doing their thing and long may it continue! There’s so much good music around and I feel really passionate about it.
There must be few people in the music industry who play in areas as diverse as acoustic guitar, house, techno and dance hall. How on earth do you stay on top of so many different scenes and projects? Are you naturally eclectic or does your love of so many kinds of music drive you on?
I don’t really do much else! I’m quite a voracious reader and I like a lot of films. But I spend a lot of time, as most of my friends are involved in the music scene and we just spend a lot of time absorbing it. For example, with reggae and northern soul, I’m just a dabbler when I know people who are heavy collectors.
Dance music-wise, I’m just amongst it really! It just happens all the time. In this digital age, music is arriving constantly: I’m constantly getting new music and it’s constantly there! It’s something I just do all day — that’s how, I guess!
As part of this eclecticism, you were once part of a group called Lionrock, which had a couple of top 40 hits in the 90s. Why didn’t you stick with the pop thing? Do you still ever dream of such commercial success for your own tracks?
It’s a long boring story really! There were practical things, like the label we were signed to went bust. We felt it had run its course. We’d done all we could do and had started to lose interest. I new century came into view, I moved to London and the band was based in Manchester, another practical reason. It had just run its course, in my view.
You once appeared on Top of the Pops in a purple suit. How did this come about? Were you sad to see the demise of the British institution or did you feel it had finally had its day?
A purple suit is just a suit — which I was fond of and still have in fact! We just had a record in the charts so we went on there. To be honest, Top of the Pops didn’t mean a lot to me as a kid. I was with The Clash — it’s the work of the devil!
The best bit was when we were shown around the Eastenders set! So I guess it was quite a major thing to do! But it wasn’t a big feature of my youth and I had to move on.
You only started releasing material under your own name in 2001. Why the change? Does it change the way you write music if you know it’s going out in your name or does it make no difference to the final product?
Basically I’m schizophrenic in the way I do things. I’ll give you a quick run down on what’s coming out. I’ve got my own label, ‘Never Work’ that’s mainly for my own stuff. Then on the sub-label, List of Ballads, with Tim Burgess of the The Charletons there’s a track called ‘Yes It Is’. There’s a label releasing some dance floor material, then I also sing in a band called Thee Earls. We’ve just finished an album and will be touring and playing gigs.
I’ll tell you a bit more about a couple of the projects. I’m involved with Kidscience with a guy from Thee Earls, Gez Dewar. Then there’s Revtone, where I’m working on a second album with a guy called Mark Ralph, he’s working with the Brand New Heavies and The Filthy Dukes. We do lots of stuff together.
So I’ve got all those projects going on! I suppose the stuff people release under their own name and dj, then the rest is schizophrenic stuff. I’ve spent the last couple of years writing so hopefully a lot of that will start filtering through. I’ve had a couple of years of writing and trying to decide what I wanted to do and now I’ve got stuff coming out again.
After writing Norman Cook aka Fatboy Slim a track for his 40th birthday he asked you to write a tune for his new album. Was this difficult? Do you and Fatboy have any collaborations lined up?
No it wasn’t particularly! I did a track called ‘Push & Shove’ on an album of his that came out last year. I’m supposed to be doing another track but he’s been very busy, so hope it comes out. I was just pissed on his birthday and wrote a song.
Who do you think deserves to win the dj Mag top 100 djs? Can you list the top five you voted for?
I’ve no interest in it at all! Djing isn’t a competition, like the Eurovison song contest. It doesn’t seem relevant. I suppose you get reader’s polls in Smash Hits! I guess in terms of people who’ve influenced me I’d vote for Andy Weatherall, Mike Pickering and Noel Watson. Who’s a good dj at the moment? Erol Alkan and Paul Woodford. I just find the dj Mag Top 100 a bit strange and a bit odd. How do you judge who’s the number 1 band in the world? It’s like a popularity contest. I always thought it wasn’t very acid house, but there you go.
What are your favourite dance tracks of all time?
Rhythm Is Rhythm’s ‘The Dance’ is my favourite track of all time.
You’ve got a great site on MySpace (www.myspace.com/djjustinrobertson), do you manage it yourself? What are your views on their copyright policies?
Yes, but I don’t let people nick stuff. It’s a good way for people to see and hear music, especially stuff that has not been signed. I’m all for it.
This Saturday you’re gracing the Turnmills main room for Together, the Chemical Bros night. You and the Chemical Bros go way back, with them citing you as a mentor. Does this mean you pull out all stops at their parties?
Yes, I love playing anyway, so it’s always guaranteed to go off! I always try my hardest wherever I am, even with a hangover. It’s always fun!
Finally, what advice would you give the many wannabe djs and producers reading this?
I think my biggest thing would be, always play the music you love to play and always make the music you love to make and believe in. If you play for some sort of marketing thing then you’re on hold.
For more info on Justin Roberston check out: www.myspace.com/djjustinrobertson
For more info on Together see: www.together-club.co.uk and www.myspace.com/togetherclub
All photos courtesy of Justin Roberston and Together. Not to be reproduced without permission.
Saturday 30th September 2006
10pm - 6am
£12 in Advance / £15 on the door / £12 Members
Ticketweb: 08700 600100
Click here to buy tickets
Well I’m sure you’d all agree that it’s been a pretty wretched summer for British Sport? A wonky World Cup, a wish-washy Wimbledon and some considerably corrupt cricket… honestly, the only success was that bloke off the telly who swam the English Channel (and he’s not even a sportsman… he’s a laydee!!). Anyway, Together is back to lift the sporting gloom here in London town. Having taken a well-earned summer break, the Together crew regroup this month to bring YOU the “Sports Casualties Party” – loosely based around our love for all things sporty. With fitness levels rising, we ask YOU to get into the spirit of things by donning your favourite pumps, sweatbands, head wear, tennis shorts, old skool footy shirts, rugby socks, boxing gloves, cricket bats and speedo’s… and head over to Turnmills for a rather splendid Sports-themed Bonanza on Saturday 30th September.
Dress Code: Retro Sportwear
** Prizes will be Awarded to the Best Dressed Sports Men & Women **
On a DJ tip, the 1st Quarter / main room (see what we did there?!) will be eclectic to the extreme as we welcome UK hip hop guru Roots Manuva and Mr Jedi Knight Tom Middleton to the decks. Roots Manuva hit the big time in 1998, when his debut LP “Brand New Second Hand”, landed him a MOBO Award for Best Hip Hop Act and secured his place in history. He followed that up in 2001 with a Mercury Music Prize nomination for “Run Come Save Me”, which spawned the all-time classic “Witness” (voted the greatest UK hip hop tune of all time by the readers of Hip Hop Connection). Making a rare appearance at Turnmills, Roots Manuva will encompass all things dub, raga, funk and hip hop, backed up by MC Ricky Ranking on the mic. Tom Middleton is another pioneering DJ/Producer. With more aliases than Howard Marks, Tom has produced a plethora of singles/albums/compilations under guises like Cosmos, Jedi Knights, Amba, Spiritcatcher and more. He’s also one half the Cosmic Twins with Fred Deakin (Lemon Jelly) and Tom ‘used the force’ to mix that legendary ‘Star Wars’ Essential Mix for Radio 1 a while back. Tom is the perfect choice for this month’s musical approach and will join all the dots accordingly before handing the reigns over to Together resident rocker and purveyor of all things acid and house… Justin Robertson, that cool dude in the hat!! Completing this month’s epic sporting affair will be Black Grass, those catz from Catskills Records on the south coast. Since Carl’s exit, Mex is now flying solo and the bona fide vinyl junkie has just followed up the cult self-titled album with new longplayer “100 Days in One”. Watch this space…
Next on the team sheet is London’s Tirk Records who’ll be your hosts in the intimate T2 (2nd Quarter) space for a one-off label showcase. Mish-mashing between styles and sounds, Tirk will be representing their label to the fullest with a rare UK DJ Set from leading band The Bees (fresh from a headline slot at Bestival) and a proper underground workout from the majestic Maurice Fulton. Tirk also unleash their secret weapon in Fujiya & Miyagi – Together’s favourite new band who’ll play an exclusive live set. Described by the media as somewhere between Kraftwerk and Talking Heads, Fujiya & Miyagi produce sublime kraut rock influenced pop that will make you wanna dance. Fans include Tiga, Andrew Weatherall and Trevor Jackson and their new album ‘Transparent Things’ is one of the freshest sounding albums which heard for donkeys. The Tirk Residents fill in the gaps between the above.
The 3rd Quarter (the Live Lounge) sees the return of X-FM’s John Kennedy to host his bi-monthly Midnight Ramble and as ever he’s pulled out all the stops. Having already brought you some of the most exciting bands of 2006; namely - Lethal Bizzle, WhoMadeWho, Shit Disco, Metronomy and The Presets at previous events, John’s pulled another dancefloor gem out of his box – in the shape of Goose – one of this year’s most hotly-tipped new acts. Signed to Skint Records, Goose have been making a lot of noise of late, most notably with ‘British Mode’ – the stand up track from their new album 'This Ain't No Heart Attack'. The Belgium/UK band have also been globe hopping with 2ManyDJ’s and they’ve just scored the theme to Heineken's new Champions League campaign – which is rather apt for this month’s Sporting Spectacular!! Output Records artist George Demure joins the ‘live’ ranks this month, plus look out for DJ sets from man about town Jeff Automatic, scenester Kissy SellOut and of course John himself.
At Half Time, head upstairs to Topfloor for The Sports Club Society. From the people that you brought you the Village Fete, Andy & Ed’s Legendary Swap Shop and the retro computer inspired Pass The Joypad in recent months, for September they bring YOU Subbuteo, Retro Football Shirts, Kevin Keegan Haircuts, Table Skittles, Sports Themed Fancy Dress, Half Time Substitutions, a Running Commentary, Action Replays, Random Drug Testing & Urine Samples...!!! DJing as they go will be The Scarlet Pimp, Mannequin Doll, 10:4 Rubber Duckie & Electric Cars on Mars. Oh, and before the final whistle blows, make sure you visit our laughing gas pals Fishseeksbicycle in the Extra Time room, as they return for more mischief and mayhem in the Cinema Lounge. They think it’s all over… mate, it ain’t even begun!
House. Deep House. Funky Techno. Techno. Breaks.
Roots Manuva (DJ Set)
Black Grass (DJ Set)
Hosted by Tirk Records
The Bees (DJ Set)
Fujiya & Miyagi (Live)
Tirk Records Residents
Hosted by The Midnight Ramble
Programmed, Compered and mixed by John Kennedy (X-FM)
George Demure (Live)
Jeff Automatic (Transmission)
Hosted by The Sports Club Society
Subbuteo, Retro Football Shirts, Kevin Keegan Haircuts, Table Skittles, Sports Themed Fancy Dress, Half Time Substitutions, A Running Commentary, Action Replays, Random Drug Testing & Urine Samples...
** DJs **
10:4 Rubber Duckie / The Scarlet Pimp / Mannequin Doll / Electric Cars on Mars
Hosted by Fishseeksbicycle
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