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Goat Shed writer Martin Doyle speaks to Southampton based Drum & Bass DJ and Influence Records label manager J:Skeptik…

Let’s start off with your musical background growing up, before discovering Drum & Bass, what were you listening to?

That’s a really good question and I say that because it was only yesterday when I was thinking about my teens and my musical influences. I was born in ’82 and I think back to some of the music my mum was playing in the house growing up things like the Eurythrmics, Tears for Fears, Kraftwerk… my mum had a massive influence on me with that ground-breaking 80’s electronic synthetic sound. Going into the 90’s I was listening to bands like Primal Scream, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Metallica, Offspring, Nirvana; just some bands to reel off which I discovered through having an older sister.  By the mid to late 90’s hip-hop had started to grab my attention with the likes of Dre, Snoop and Wu-Tang Clan.

You could be describing my childhood! Having an older sister lead me to listening to the likes of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, The Pixies… big influences.

Absolutely… amazing musicians. Also, around that time I got into surfing and skateboarding and the links with the music I was listening to was very apparent. A lot of people say, ‘You play Drum & Bass and that’s all you listen to’, but it’s actually not the case; my taste and influences are probably very different to what you’d expect.

What was your introduction to electronic or dance music culture?

It would have to be groups like early Prodigy, Orbital and Massive Attack. Hearing what Liam (Howlett) was doing on albums like ‘Experience’ back then, all the experimental breakbeats, I was like WTF this is mental. A real education. This takes me into the early 90’s and in terms of Drum & Bass I was discovering tape packs at school, recordings of raves like Desire, Telepathy, Roast, One Nation, Dreamscape and Helter Skelter. The tapes would have sets from Kenny Ken, JJ Frost, Mickey Finn and I was hearing these breakbeats everywhere with ragga and techno vibes and I was blown away. A real melting pot of intense, forward-thinking music.

Was there a defining moment or track that made you realise that this was the music for you, a culture you wanted to be a part of?

For sure. A friend played to me ‘Circles’ by Adam-F around 1995. Again, I loved the breakbeats, but I was really into that cool, chilled out groove the track has. For me it was just a bit different to everything else at the time. Tape packs were great and had a lot of the classic ‘bangers’ from back in the day, but this was just more soulful, more melodic. A lot of this style of Drum & Bass was going under the radar at the time. I soon picked up Adam-F’s LP which led me to discover other similar releases and I got a bug from it from there. But whenever anyone asks what tune got me into Drum & Bass it has to be that one. Seminal track.

When did you make the transition from a listener of Drum & Bass to a DJ?

I had a mate at school, Bobby, who later went by the DJ name of Bobby Flex. He did a lot of stuff with Gerra and Stone for their Release nights in Southampton. Anyway, he said for me to go to his house to see him mixing Drum & Bass. I didn’t really get the concept and was eager to check it out and I couldn’t believe it. The guy was mixing on DAT tapes… not turntables… DAT tapes! I’ve never witnessed anything like it! He soon after got his first pair of Technics but that was my first introduction to mixing. Around that time, I was buying a lot of music on CD and when it came to getting decks, I got a really early pair of Synergy CDJ’s with a crappy Citronic mixer and was probably one of the first to own a pair. I had invested so much money in CD’s I felt it would be crazy to buy it all again on vinyl, although there was a lot of stigma attached to digital mixing back then. ‘Real DJ’s use vinyl’ and all that.

I actually got into collecting vinyl and getting my first pair of decks a few years later around early 2000’s, right around the time that the ‘Liquid Funk’ era was really hitting hard. There were some absolute tunes floating around that I was not getting hold of and I needed to get them on vinyl. Hearing what people like Marcus, RIP, and Calibre were doing on Soul:R was just next level. My pockets were getting rinsed! My record collection is just stupid, it’s got be over 3000 records. There are some gems in there! I look at a Calibre track on Discogs I paid a fiver for back in the day and I’m like ‘What? 100+ quid??’

How did Influence Records  come about and how did you eventually become affiliated with the label?

Aaron Jay set up the label in 2008, and it was ultimately set up off the back of securing a residency at Fabio’s legendary Swerve night in London from around 2002 onwards. That time was the pinnacle of Liquid Funk and at events like Swerve you’d hear the best of what was around. As a result of his residency Aaron was hit up by new and established producers with a lot of unsigned music. Fabio was running Creative Source which was putting out a lot of quality liquid Drum & Bass and this drove Aaron to set up his own imprint with the music he was being sent, and Influence was born. Someone once commented to Aaron that the label was like a hybrid between Good Lookin’, Soul:R and Creative Source which I think is spot on.

Around 2015 Influence was relaunching, and Aaron literally just put a message out on social media asking if anyone would be interested in assisting with the label. I responded and we had several chats about it and ultimately, I was on board as label manager! A surreal moment and I feel very privileged to be a part of it.

The label really does represent that deep, soulful liquid funk sound. The early releases featured artists like Data, Sinistarr, Eveson, Soul Intent and Dave Owen and are all established now but back then they were relatively new talent. I discovered the label and its back catalogue through hearing ‘The Causeway’ by Data on the outstanding Fabriclive mix by Commix. You might say Influence has a knack for discovering artists with a unique twist on the music?

Definitely. Primarily the label is there to discover fresh, upcoming talent and going back to our earlier releases they featured producers who were just cutting their teeth and were relatively unheard of but if you look over the back catalogue now and see who Aaron was signing he absolutely does have a clear idea of what is fresh and forward thinking.

Easy & Geeks – ‘Natural’ E.P is the latest release on the label at the time of writing and is an absolute pearler. How did that release come together?

Easy and Geeks are both from Belgium. I’ll never forget the day I opened my inbox and there were 5 tunes sent to me from Easy out of the blue. I listened to a track entitled ‘Cold Way of Thinking’, which reminded me of the intro of ‘Deadline’ by Digital, and when the track dropped, I phoned Aaron and was like ‘Mate, have you heard some of these demos from that guy Easy?’ He said, ‘ Yeah and we need to sign that dude straight away’! This is what I mean about discovering new talent. Producers hear about the label and its ethos, send us stuff through and Aaron is on it straight away.

From there we struck up a really good relationship with Easy and Geeks; those guys are seriously talented – they sent us four tracks which went on to form the Natural EP. We have a forthcoming bit from Easy called ‘Tunnel Vision’ which reminds me of stuff Marcus (Intalex) would put out from his studio, and the flip is ‘Get it Together’ which reminds me of ‘Inner Disbelief’ by dBridge. It’s going to be a strong release. They’ll get tracks snapped up by some other big labels in the future, I’m sure of it.

Influence Recordings was going strong from its inception in 2008 to around 2012 when things went a bit quiet and then the label returned in 2016 when you joined as Manager with the killer Fort Knox E.P series from Specific, Atom, Flaco, Aaron J and Lynx. What was the reason for the hiatus?

It was just basically life stuff really. Nothing to do with lack of love in the music or anything; Aaron got married and started a family and took a bit of a backstep and focused on other things. When I joined in 2015, we looked at some music Aaron signed back in 2012 which never saw the light of day and these became our first three releases under the titles Fort Knox Volumes 1,2 and 3 featuring  Specific, Atom, Aaron J, Lynx and Flaco. We try and do four or five releases a year but sometimes things behind the scene, such as talking to the artist about aspects of the release, can hold things up which in turn can delay a release but this is all part of the process.

The communication back and forth, is that largely to do with certain aesthetics of the tracks themselves? For example, e.q or arrangement adjustments?

Exactly that. Aaron is very much the one to say we love the track but this or that needs changing. It could be taking things away or switching up arrangements. It can also be issues with contracts and all the paperwork that comes with it. ‘Natural’ by Easy & Geeks is a perfect example. When we got that demo, it had a vocal on it and we felt it wasn’t doing anything for the tune and asked if they would be happy sending another version without the vocal. To be honest they were good as gold and did it right away.  It’s about finding compromise so all parties are happy.

What elements do you look for in a track when listening through demo submissions that could be potential signings?

Ultimately Aaron is the chief A&R. Its his label and has the most invested and he has the last say in what is signed although he appreciates and takes on board my feedback. We try and uncover stuff that no one else is really doing already. We are that deep liquid style label and I guess we don’t stray too far from that but if it’s good music and we believe in it we will put it out. For example, we have a forthcoming Conrad Subs E.P that wouldn’t necessarily be classed as Influence ‘sounding’, but they’re bad, bad tunes. We’ve been sent stuff before which I’m straight away to Aaron saying we need to sign but he’s not feeling it. He’s quite brave in his selection and is looking for a specific thing and that approach has served him well so far.

What advice would you give to new producers when submitting tracks to the label?

I would say be happy in yourself with what you’re submitting and get feedback from peers and other producers who are into Drum & Bass.  Make sure the track is pretty much complete.  Don’t send WIPs and make sure the track is full length.  We like to have demos that are in wav or at least 320 mp3 that are ready for download but other labels work in different ways.  Also research the label you’re submitting music to! We’ve had some hardcore Gabba Techno sent to us which clearly shows they did not research the back catalogue! Don’t be worried about doing something a bit different or quirky, you’ll stand out that way.  Be prepared for labels to not want to sign your music.  Don’t be offended and take on board any feedback.  Most importantly, keep sending the label your music in the future.   They may not have wanted to sign previous demos but that does not mean they’re not interested in hearing more from you.  You don’t have to have been to music college for years to make a quality track – just an enthusiasm and knowing what you want to represent your sound.

What other releases does Influence have forthcoming?

Next up we’ve got Sergio Manifesto with ‘Ancient / Give Away’. Give Away has been getting great support from the likes of Fabio, Silent Dust, Stunna and Physics to name a few. We then have Easy & Geeks back with us with the single ‘Be There / Fine’, then we have an artist called Jay Dubz from Shrewsbury who helps run the massive Perception nights with a single ‘Lily Louisa / Forever Dream’. Great producer, this reminds me of early Good Lookin’ releases; soulful pads and wicked breaks. After that, Easy returns with ‘Tunnel Vision / Get it Together’. Solid release, I’ve been starting my sets with Tunnel Vision for some time now and always gets a great response.

That probably takes us up to the end of 2019. Early next year we have an amazing release from a producer called KMTR from Tokyo which sounds a lot like early Revolve:R releases. Real Detroit Techno influences on there and running vibes. Following that is Conrad Subs with the ‘Primitive Technology’ E.P, a real nice selection of tracks on that E.P which I feel is a nod to classic Calibre, Photek, Spirit and Total Science. I can’t wait to get the masters back for those. Dave Owen returns after that with ‘Still on It’ and we are still awaiting the flip for this. We also have a forthcoming remix project of Still Waters by Dave Owen which will  involve some legendary Drum & Bass artists but that’s all I can say about that for now!

What are your thoughts on how Drum & Bass is represented in Southampton?

I’ve been DJing in Southampton of over 20 years. I would visit Tripp 2 Records in Southampton which was run by my mate Anil, he would keep all the cheeky white labels and test presses for me under the counter. The days of Tripp 2 Records were a real hive of activity and I really miss that now, not just in Southampton but the scene itself. I’d walk into Tripp 2 and Keaton from Usual Suspects would be behind the counter and Raiden would be there listening through tunes.

Nowadays, the rave scene in the city is strong.  There is a big love for the jump up sound that people like Justin at On A Mission are absolutely smashing it.  Big props to Justin as he has given me some amazing opportunities to DJ in the city for the likes of Hospitality, On A Mission, Soundclash,  OAM In The Park and Switch/Rebel to name a few and I will always appreciate this and other promoters that have booked me over the years!

That’s wicked. I didn’t realise until very recently that Keaton is from Southampton.

Yeah, he is, and Raiden is from Portsmouth as well as Lynx. You’d have all these amazing producers hanging around the shop. I remember going to Raiden’s studio and watching him finish off a tune that would later be released as ‘Falling’ on Renegade Hardware, which for me is one of his biggest tunes. Southampton and the surrounding areas have some serious talent. Gerra & Stone, Big Bud, DJ Red have been or still are Southampton based.

Anil from Tripp 2 gave me some of my first breaks at his Paradox events which he ran in the city, the best of which was held at the Guildhall with 1500 people! Paradox was basically monopolizing the south coast back then. Can you imagine putting on a Drum & Bass event at the Guildhall now? It wouldn’t happen. Eventually Paradox was being held at the Square Balloon which is now Switch. I have to say Southampton has a prominent Jump Up following and doesn’t really get the deep liquid sound. The only night that I can see that made anything of it (deep/liquid vibes) was Gerra/Stone/Visionobi and Matt Freeman’s ‘Release’ night they held at the Soul Cellar. They had it locked down and had a real good mix of DJ’s. Techier ones like DLR, Amoss, Ant TC1 but also Calibre, Lynx and Marcus Intalex. More recently Riddm was launched as a night in the city by my good friend Luke. I’m a resident there and played alongside such DJ’s as Doc Scott, Gerra & Stone, Big Bud, Zero T, Bryan G, A-Sides, Furney, PFM and Aaron Jay to name a few. We’ve had some really successful nights and some car crashes to be honest! Sometimes I get deflated by that as Southampton is difficult to work out.

Imagine you’re introducing Drum & Bass to someone that has never heard it before. What would you choose to play them?

It might be a cliché, but I’d have to choose Musique Concrete LP by Calibre. Also, High Contrasts first LP, True Colours. Those tracks ‘Return of Forever’, ‘Make it Tonight’ and ‘Mermaid Scar’ are incredible. I know its nearly 20 years old now but its something special. My musical taste is so varied in Drum & Bass though that artists like Ed rush & Optical and Bad Company have to be worth a mention. Immense artists. Ed Rush & Optical’s ‘Wormhole’ LP is 21 years old and if it came out today it would still be ahead of its time.

Okay to wrap up then, what is your Desert Island Disc? One track that you could not be without?

Oh man… this is difficult to choose just one! Ah wow. This wouldn’t just change every day I think it would change every 15 minutes! You know what, it has to be Adam-F – ‘Circles’. I absolutely love that tune!

And can you give us your top 10 Liquid Drum & Bass tracks…

This is really difficult, so here’s a top 15! In no particular order:

1. LK – Marky & XRS – V Records
2. Mr Majestic – Calibre & High Contrast – Signature
3. Sincere – MJ Cole (Marcus Intalex & ST Files Remix) – Mercury
4. Vice – Calibre – Creative Source
5. Together – Logistics – Hospital
6. How You Gonna Feel – Commix & Steve Spacek – Metalheadz
7. Since We’ve Been Apart – dBridge – Shogun Audio
8. Still Waters – Dave Owen – Influence
9. Supergrass – Carlito & Addiction – Defunked
10. Golden Girl – Makoto & Conrad – Good Looking
11. Open Page – Lenzman & Riya – Metalheadz
12. It’s On The Way – Dkay – Soul:r
13. Solitary Native – Alix Perez & Sabre – SGN:LTD
14. Forever – Influx Datum – Formation
15. Late Night Special – Eveson – Samurai Music

We have added Jays tracks to our Liquid Drum & Bass Spotify playlist, check it out below…

You can catch J:Skepik on Goat Shed Radio, the labels ‘Influenced’ night in November, On A Mission in the Park next May, forthcoming Riddm events in Southampton and look out for his Data Transmission mix alongside Aaron Jay out now.

Check out our Manual guest mix HERE

Don’t be a sheep.