There’s a fine line between taking DJing seriously and taking yourself seriously as a DJ. Leeds-via-York selector Sam Jeffries knows the difference and doesn’t shy away from asserting which side he’s in. “As soon as you start taking it too seriously you lose that joy that got you into it in the first place”, he tells us, downplaying the role of the DJ as “just a person curating other peoples’ tunes.” This doesn’t just account for Sam’s mentality, who spins under the Yuri moniker, but also what he plays. Playing rare and obscure takes diligence, but to Sam “knowing when to play something everyone knows”, is just fine an art. His priority it to create an environment for having fun, in the booth and in front of it, whether it’s through the hard-hitting political content of Underground Resistance or Amerie ‘1 Thing’. His Rhumboogie parties, run with Fil and Anthony prioritise the same principals, without leaning on headliners and keeping a charitable aspect at the fore. A visual artist and producer with a debut release coming out later this year, Sam’s artistic exploits reach further than the dance floor, as does his awareness for the power and morality of music.
As part of a series profiling the 2018 recruits for Dimensions Festival’s DJ Directory, we speak to Sam about what’s moving and motivating him, alongside a first listen to a six – YES SIX – hour mix that collects Marcellus Pittman, hip-hop, the Sugarbabes, Drexciya and Basement Jaxx. For more info on last year’s Directory DJ’s check our Frequently Asked Questions feature.
You mum first introduced you to new wave at 13. How much would you say she has informed your tastes and early interaction with music?
So much. She introduced me to the starter pack of everything mint I’ve ever listened to. Synths, disco, pretty much anything with a groove. She was always dead keen to give me tunes and at 13 I just soaked it up. Bless ya mum <3
Can you think back to a key moment that made you want to take music seriously?
Hmmm difficult, not really tbh, I don’t think I’ve ever thought about taking music seriously, I just like tunes and I like playing them for people. If anything I think people take it too seriously. At the end of the day what is a DJ? Literally it’s just a person curating other peoples’ tunes. It’s not very difficult, it’s just fun and I think as soon as you start taking it too seriously you lose that joy that got you into it in the first place.
Rather than focusing on a specific sound, are there a key principle or philosophy that drives you as a DJ?
Just playing stuff I like and playing it when I want to play it. That might sound like a weird concept but I love playing curve balls. Weird techno out of jazz, stopping records and bringing hip-hop out. It’s all very messy but that’s the way I love to play. It’s all about the tunes and not about the mixing. Yeah I mix stuff together but at the end of the day I’m using what I think is pretty ace source material so I want to give it the credence it deserves. Fuck delicate mixing, if I want to play ‘Dusty Cabinets’ by Theo out of ‘All Over My Face’ by Loose Joints I will. Bringing shit out of nowhere keeps dancers on their toes. It stops people getting bored, myself included. There’s nothing I hate more than going out and hearing the same genre for six hours. Mix it up, be a bit daring!! And most of all, don’t neglect the classics. I think because of discogs you’ve got DJs who spend their lives trying to out do each other by playing the rarest most obscure records they can find. Knowing when to play something everyone knows is an art and I’m not saying play em all the time but you pick that moment to play Amerie ‘1 Thing’ and that’s it, fuckin hole in one.
Have there been any people or collectives who have empowered you or helped you find your feet as a DJ?
Definitely my mates, Fil and Anthony who I run Rhumboogie with have always been proper steadfast encouragement. My mate Mark Turner as well is an absolute rock as well. Apart from being the best DJ I know (maybe apart from Theo Parrish) he’s always molded me even if he’s not realised he’s doing it. His whole philosophy is not taking the DJing aspect too seriously, good crack and being brought together by good music. There are elements to the music though that are worth taking seriously. UR are pretty much my cornerstone when it comes to techno, I can’t remember the last time I played a gig and didn’t play something by Mike Banks. It’s not just about how wicked the tunes are though. It’s the fact they actually stand for something and I think that’s something dance music is missing when you get these massive fuck off comercialised warehouse raves, which ignores the morals that dance music started with: equity, treating people with respect and challenging and fighting unfairness around us within dance music and outside.
What’s the biggest challenge you face as a DJ?
Not becoming a cynical knobhead. Seeing the commercialisation of dance music is genuinely heartbreaking. I remember seeing a meme with two pictures something like ‘how did this become this’ with a picture of some old party compared to one of these carnival attraction shitstorms, you know dancers, firebreathers, all that shite and just thinking the answer’s obvious: capitalism. As soon as the money men realised there was a big profit to be made it was always gonna happen but it’s the reason I tend to avoid big clubs as a general rule.
And what’s your biggest source of optimism or inner strength?
Seeing mates of mine who are approaching 50 who are still going out and staying up later than all us mid 20’s without any drugs.
What’s your greatest musical achievement to date?
What goals have you set yourself this year?
Pretty much just playing out more. I’ve got an album I’ve been working on over the past year that needs some serious work as well but that’s long game shit.
What’s your favourite party to dance at?
Easy. Cosmic Slop (And anything Theo’s playing at)
What’s your perfect party to play at?
Well if this was a hypothetical ‘if’ question it’d be Slop or Freero. But tbh Rhumboogie before we lost the studio was easily the most fun I’ve ever had playing tunes to people because it was just mates and there were no barriers to what and when I could play tunes. It made me realise I could just play whatever the fuck I wanted when I wanted.
Where do you get your inspiration from outside of music?
Mates, Yuri Gagarin and John Carpenter films.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve made for us? Shame you couldn’t make it a nice round 8 hours.
Haha well I’ve got some crates and I emptied it out and went though literally all my records putting stuff in. I reckon I probably had about 150 records in the there and each one I was like I gotta play this in this mix and obviously that didn’t happen. I sort of ordered them into where I thought they’d fit. I ordered certain tunes that I knew went well together and then I just started playing. I had some sarnies made up (PB & J If you wanna know) and I just recorded. It all came together quite nicely. I ended up skipping through other racks looking for other tunes when I realised something wasn’t gonna work. I wanted it to be like what I’d play in a club if I was given six hours. Weird Pittman records out of nowhere, hip-hop, the Sugarbabes, Drexciya and Basement Jaxx. It’s just stuff I like, I didn’t want it to feel too forced which is why I didn’t want to order it too much. It all felt super hectic while I was recording it.
Starting life as a locals party with Fil and Anthony, your Rhumboogie sessions have developed a reputation that competes with the best in the north. Could you tell us a bit about the philosophy – both musical and charitable – behind it and what plans you have to develop in the coming months.
So it’s came out of a conversation Fil and I saw on Facebook where a major music retailer had refused to give some free cables to a disabled youth club (choose2) and we wanted to help. So we decided to use my art studio, invite our pals down and sell tickets to make some money for them. Tbh I couldn’t really believe it when the amount of people came down. I thought it’d be a slow burner but from the beginning we just kept selling all our tickets for every event.
Choose2 do some incredible work with disadvantaged disabled children who often have little help due to funding cuts. They’re whole philosophy is making the kids feel more independent and empowering them so that when they do become 18 they might be able to take a bus on their own or cook or have a hobby that makes them happy. Because there were kids with multiple and varying disabilities, the youth club needs quite a bit of funding to look after them. But apart from that they wanted there to be a wide variety of activities for them to enjoy. They had DJing lessons, cookery, art classes, loads of sport, it was proper mint. We went down a few times and it was smiles the whole time. Children who were told couldn’t run were bobbing around playing basketball or riding round on specialist bike attachments for wheelchair users. From what I could see it was all about making them feel they could do anything and it was really great to know we were doing something for such an amazing organisation. The people running it are genuine heroes and local cuts to these kinds of organisations are criminal. They lost 60% of their local authority funding the year we started fund raising for them. Tax breaks for the rich, taking money from disabled youth clubs. It’s all fun and games being a Tory councilor.
Musically it was all scoped on stuff I’ve mentioned above. Just tunes we like, no rules. Unfortunately last year we lost use of the studio because of a change of hands, I’m not gonna lie it was pretty devastating. We’ve been looking for a venue for a year but after the space we had at Bar Lane we’ve all said that we wouldn’t want it anywhere that didn’t feel right. A club is out of the question. We want somewhere that feels our own, preferably in Leeds now that I’ve moved. There’s something special about having a space that only you play in, it sounds selfish but it made those parties.
Your Rhumboogie parties were held at Bar Lane Studios where you do plenty of painting. How would you describe your approach to the visual arts, and what have some of your recent commissions been?
Well my painting all centres around a story ive been working on about Yuri Gagarin who’s one of my absolute heroes, mostly because he was a mega guy who was the first man in space but also because he was a bit of a tragic antihero as well. He came back to earth, was told he could never go into space again because of his friendship with Khrushchev the outsted former leader of the USSR and became an alcoholic and majorly depressed. Yuri was a worldwide hero, even the Americans loved him, He was interviewed on BBC 1. He had a wicked smile and was genuine and modest and friendly person by all accounts. The whole story centres on an alternate universe where he escapes earth in a plot via a rescheduled space mission and ends up going through a worm whole to have some pretty mental childish adventures. They’re pretty much fairy stories about a real life person. But it’s a story I don’t know the ending of and tbh I don’t think I ever will. It’s indefinitely ongoing. Not that many commissions really but I did have done the album art for a recent Orlando Voorn album that has left me with a poor taste in my mouth. I’ve never been paid for the artwork and as much as I respect Orlando as a producer I just feel let down by the whole process. I tried to get the artwork pulled after finding out Orlando had been defrauding people for remix fees and when I realised I wasn’t going to be paid. More than anything If I’d know it was going to be such a nightmare I would’ve kept the image for myself for my own releases but the whole experience has taught me not to take things at face value and to be more direct with people. All a bit gutting really.
Last time we spoke you were playing around in the studio on some solo productions. Any plans to release any?
Yeah I’ve got 2 separate releases coming out on Few and Far Between from Bristol run by my good pal Sam Hall hopefully before the end of this year. 3 of the tunes are in this mix at 1:49:00, 4:03:00 and the very last tune. My music is way more structured than my DJing and tbh I think id like to have them almost as separate entities, I think Yuri suits my tunes but I think Tony Neptune (my alias) suits my DJing. Both Ep’s have artwork I’ve made for them and they all continue and compliment the story that’s unfolding within my painting practice. Its pretty much just all one big blob of playdough story all mixed together.
What else is coming up this year for you that you’re excited about?
Well… I’m playing at Dimensions doing a Dance Mania b2b With Mark Tuner in the courtyard on the Sunday. I know ive just given this whole speal about how its boring to play one kind of music but Dance Manias’ just a different ballgame mate. Any amount of DM is fine by me and Turner’s got one of the most extensive DM collections I’ve ever seen. He got me hooked with them and apart from UR it’s the only record label I collect obsessively. Its just fun tunes made by people with limited hardware and no pretentiousness. Some of it’s pretty indecent, risqué shit but mate they get people dancing every time.
And finally, turning back the clock, what advice would you give to your younger self before you started pursuing music properly?
1) Don’t take yourself too seriously.
2) Sitting in someone’s living room when you’re all k holing does not constitute an after party.
3) Genuinely listen to what your mates show you because half the time it’s mint and you wouldn’t have found it otherwise.
4) 3 pills on a night does not constitute Breakfast, Dinner and Tea