Saturday Mass: an interview series that tips its hat to Larry Levan and explores the art of the resident with some of the best in the business. For more in the series, browse through the archive.
Remember when you were growing up and there was that packet of sweets at the supermarket, or a completely useless accessory at Toys-R-Us, you wanted to buy and your parents shot you down? It felt like the world was caving in; you were isolated, alone, and nobody in the world cared what you wanted. For Jasper James, that must-have item was a Paul Oakenfold CD in the 90s, ripped from the CD player and snapped in front of him. Understandable when you’re raised by a Subculture resident (Harri from Harri & Domenic).
With such a learned scholar of dance music as your guiding light, and easy access to Sub Club every week, it’s easy to see why he’s followed a similar path. Inspirations are one thing, but it’s not without his own hard work that he was offered a spot as Phonox’s first Saturday resident when they opened in 2015. A year on, and after he’s decided to draw a line under his residency, we caught up to put it all in context.
Catch Jasper James playing The Social Festival (8th and 9th Sep) in London.
First a few icebreakers…what are some of the qualities you think makes a good residency?
The club itself, a good sound system, making sure the room is acoustically set up for the sound. The lighting is very important and the person who controls the lighting is also very important. You’ve also got to recognise the impact that the bar staff, the door staff and the punters have on making sure that it is a good environment to be in.
As an extension, what do you think makes a good resident?
I think that a good resident is someone who keeps the night fresh I suppose, keeping on top of new music whether it’s new or just old stuff you find. Always keeping the dancefloor moving and being able to pick up the energy of the crowd. Not being too self-indulgent with your music and always making sure it’s a good party and creating the correct moment at the perfect time. Beyond the music itself, maybe acknowledging your regulars and punters that come and see you week in and week out, being friendly with the crowd to keep that family vibe within the club.
Who have been some of your favourite resident DJs over the years?
My favourite resident DJs are (and I’m not being biased) Harri and Domenic. I would go and see them religiously every Saturday. I have always aspired to do something like what they do; have my own music hub and I fortunately got a chance to be the resident at Phonox and they kind of trained me up I guess. To see them every Saturday educated me, musically, as it would be rare for me to go to Sub Club and hear them play the same track twice. I mean you would get certain big tunes that I associate with my dad or Domenic, but for the most part it would be something fresh, new and interesting. It wouldn’t be a regurgitation of the previous week. Also Optimo – Keith and Johnny are both amazing DJs. I would go and see them on the Sunday and they were a completely different style to my dad and Domenic – more eclectic, I suppose. One minute they could be playing a punk-rock track and the next minute a dancehall tune, on top of that electronic music as well. Oh and of course Craig Richards. But apart from those three, I haven’t been able to see that many residencies. Obviously I would love to have seen people like Larry Levan, Ron Hardy and Frankie Knuckles but unfortunately I was too young.
While most DJs would cringe at their dad’s music taste, yours has offered a pretty good example. What have you learned from your dad’s residency at Sub Club, both through being there on the night, and through general father-to-son life lessons?
Growing up, I wasn’t always into what my dad played and to be honest I didn’t understand house music or electronic music until I was about 13 or 14 when I properly heard a big system at T in the Park. Until then I was into hip-hop: De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest and DJ Premiere. I would always be going into my dad’s room and he would be sorting out music for Saturday night and I would just start quizzing him on certain tracks. I would go down on a Saturday and hear these tracks played on a big sound system and I would be blown away at how different it sounded played in a house and a club. None of his musical tastes were forced upon me though. I remember once I begged my mum to buy me a Paul Oakenfold CD because I really liked trance and happy hardcore at the time. My Dad wouldn’t have any of it and I remember him walking through to my room one day hearing this CD and taking it out of the CD player and snapping it across his leg, saying he wouldn’t let me listen to any of that garbage in this house. I always said I would thank him for it one day and I have thanked him for it but at the time I was in floods of tears.
How did your residency at Phonox first come about, and why did the opportunity appeal?
It first came about after playing at XOYO a couple of times for Jackmaster’s residency. I think it was one night in particular, the Moodymann night, both Jack and Moodymann were late so my set, which was supposed to be a warm up, ended up being three or four hours long. I think Andy Peyton liked what I did and approached me a couple of weeks later after giving me a couple of other gigs at XOYO and asked how I’d feel about having my own night at a club they’d be opening in London. Immediately I said I would fucking love that. For me, being a resident has always been a dream growing up, seeing my Dad and Domenic and Optimo, play week in, week out. To be honest I took it with a pinch of salt, I didn’t think it would actually happen. But now I am stood here a year later and it came to fruition, so it was a dream come true for me.
Can you remember what your first set was like there? Were you nervous?
I was with Jack and Disclosure (above) and I had a gig earlier that night for Elrow with Jack so I had quite a few drinks you could say, so that calmed my nerves a bit. I remember getting to the club and hearing the soundsystem properly for the first time and the punters went absolutely wild and I couldn’t wait to get in there myself.
Are there certain records that are inextricably linked to your time at Phonox?
One of them would be a track by Trevino ‘Backtracking’ that was a big track for me for a while. Carl Craig – ‘Brain Freeze’, Sebastian Habben – ‘Inner City Soul’, Slam – ‘Azure’, that is a massive track for me. DJ Juk – ‘D2 D2’, and then I’ve got big ending tracks that I could mention like Diana Ross – ‘The Boss’ and another one that is a big last tune for me is Out Of My Hands – ‘Unfinished Business’.
Away from the actual music, what other moments will live long in the memory from your time there?
This is another difficult one, I don’t really know how to answer it so I’m just going to say some of the lock ins we had but I can’t really tell you too much about that!
Space is all-important for a good party. What makes Phonox (below) so special as a space and how does this have an impact on the way you play, compared to parties elsewhere?
This is a difficult question. I think the room holds about 500 to 600 people, but it’s a very dark club, you can’t really see a lot. It’s minimal lighting apart from the big lasers that you have going across the top of your head. In terms of playing differently there to other venues, I play differently wherever it is. So if it’s at a festival – especially a big stage or tent, you will to play upbeat/uplifting tracks, but I suppose not everyone does. I know I want to create a party vibe at a festival but at Phonox – because I’m in a dark, dingy room – I can take it quite trippy, deep and I can go all over the place. I feel free to play whatever I feel is right at that time. I don’t feel restricted at all.
At a time when DJs are getting booked different places every weekend to reach new audiences and expand their profile, some might argue that committing every Saturday to the same club could limit a DJ in the early stages of their career. Was this ever a concern?
Nowadays most DJs are travelling DJs and residencies are a dying breed, but for me now it’s not really a concern because I grew up thinking that resident DJs were the norm coming from Glasglow and the Sub Club. So, for me, it was a dream job, having a residency. Obviously touring is equally as amazing as well, but I think I was fortunate enough to tour on the Friday and maybe the Sunday, or sometimes do a double up on the Saturday so I had the best of both worlds. So for me it was never really a concern but now it has come up to a year of my residency I think it is time to spread my wings and get out there a bit more.
Also, being at the other end of the UK, it must’ve been a considerable life change for you. Was it easy to adapt? How did you make the most of the long journeys?
Yeah it was easy to adapt. I mean if you want a career as a DJ you have to be well into travel, so the journey from Glasgow to London isn’t too bad at all, an hour and a half flight or 4 hours on a train, so it was absolutely fine. Growing up actually I watched my dad do it as he held down a residency at Plastic People for five and a half years with Kenny Hawkes on the Friday night and used to come back to Glasgow on the Saturday.
When I first moved to London I was like a lost puppy, I didn’t know what the fuck I was doing. I needed someone to hold my hand getting on the underground to Brixton and getting back from the club and everything. Saying that I have absolutely loved London as a place and feels like home. It is an amazing feeling. Before this I had never stepped out of Glasgow and had only been on holiday for a couple of weeks but I love London and I feel like it could be somewhere that I could live in the future. I guess I have kind of lived there for the past year or so and I feel right at home.
Did you hold down residencies anywhere else before Phonox? If so, did the experience teach you any dos and don’ts that you took with you?
Well I don’t know if you could call it a residency but I played in a bar in Glasgow for four years, every Saturday night with my best friend Josh. His dad runs a club called Bier Halle and we would play there from 8pm to midnight every Saturday for four years when we were around 16. We weren’t even old enough to be in the pub, but because it was Josh’s dad, he gave us our first gig and we absolutely loved it. It must have taught me some the dos and don’ts. I realised that you pick up something new every time you DJ and you play a record. You observe people at the bar drinking their drink, thinking maybe that’s a bit too hard to play, or you just observe the situation and the people around you. That’s how I have done it anyway and judged the vibe of the room. I guess that’s a key part of being a DJ for me – being able to pick the right tune at the right moment.
Bookending that, now you’ve decided to move on from your Phonox residency, what are some of the most important lessons you’ll take away from it?
I guess one of the most important things I will take away from my residency is work ethic. Having to play for six hours, every Saturday, I wanted to keep it fresh as I know I have regular punters there, whether it’s people coming to rave or the staff. Week in week out, I know a lot of people will be coming every weekend so I want to be on top of things music wise and making sure that I have new music to play, so it’s fresh not only for them but for myself as well and my own sanity. I don’t want to listen to the same tracks all the time, it would drive me insane. I suppose as a touring DJ you do get away with playing the same sets around the world and nobody is going to care or know, but taking that away from the residency is a big thing. Also being able to have the experience of DJing that many hours week in, week out is a great way to learn your craft.
A shout out to the other residents out there…when you’ve been booked for other parties, have there been any residents warming up for you who have impressed?
You know there definitely has been but I’m terrible with names, which is really bad. But one I can remember is Krysko from Warehouse Project who always plays a fantastic warm-up set. Other than that, I am really struggling to remember. Sorry!
Finally, what’s coming up for you in the rest of 2016, and beyond? It seems like it’s an exciting new phase in your life!
I will be releasing tracks on Seth’s label later this year and I will be getting in the studio a lot more and touring. I’ve got The Warehouse Project that is coming up and a couple of more dates in Ibiza at DC-10. Yeah I guess it’s just a lot more touring for me now with dates around Europe and hopefully South America too.