Insider Interviews #004: Jaguar Skills & Chords

jag chords

And the award for the most intriguing production partnership this year goes to… Jaguar Skills & Chords.

For no other reason bar the fact that Jaguar Skills has only really started making an impact as a producer this year… To suddenly appear on D&B mega-label Ram with a sugar-sweet drum & bass number seems rather sudden.

“We’re actually both ninjas,” states Jaguar matter-of-factly. “We were training in the temple together 20 years ago. It’s a pretty logical partnership if you ask me.”

They weren’t, though. Chords would have been about three or four years old if that was the case. They actually hooked up through a mutual friend Unknown Error. Jag had been working on an old Matti Roots acapella, felt he had a good groove going so asked Error for his opinion who sent it to Chords for his opinion…

“I really liked the main hook of the chorus and I knew it had something,” says Chords. “I added my melodies and it just evolved from there.”

It eventually evolved into this

Released this week, we felt it was high time we called both artists on a conference flex and forced them to interview each other.

The end result is less of an interview and more of a really cool conversation between two DJs from two totally different scenes sharing similarities and differences. And we get to eavesdrop on it. Pretty cool, right?

Chords: Are you planning on making more music? Maybe an album?

Jaguar Skills: Good question! This is why I don’t make lots of music… I have a creative bandwidth and anything over that just kills me. I do a lot of mixes. LOADS of mixes. And it takes up all of my studio time. It’s only this year where I’ve thought ‘right, I’m making more music.’ I’m doing alright. I’ve got about 60 odd sketches in progress now. Are you the same with that type of workflow?

Chords: Yeah, there are different stages of sketches. There are the really rough little ideas. There are ones that are half done. And there are ones that are kind of close to completion.

Jaguar Skills: Do you go back over them?

Chords: All the time! My first release on Ram was Biting Point, which began as a sketch I wrote five years ago. It was just a little chord progression. But I didn’t know what to do with that so I left it shelved. By the time I came back to it I knew more about production and could move forward with it. That’s what I’ve found; if I’ve hit a brick wall with something I come back to it when I know I’ve progressed technically.

Jaguar Skills: Do you sometimes sit in the studio and think ‘this is a wicked beat!’ then the next day listen to it and think ‘oh wait, this is terrible!’

Chords: That never goes away! Ask anyone, no matter how great they are, they will tell you the same thing. Some producers I know go into 100s of mixdown versions.

Jaguar Skills: Hundreds?

Chords:  It’s easy to end up with that many versions. And often you’ll go back to one of the first.

Jaguar Skills:  Wow.

Chords: So where do you want to go with your live set?

Jaguar Skills:  I come from the hip-hop background where it’s very basic – just one DJ, turntables and a mic to hype the crowd. I love that. And that’s what I took and applied more electronic music to it. I find encroaching on other people’s scenes really interesting. Like drum & bass… I didn’t know everyone had their own MC! I feel a bit naked on a D&B line-up because I’m on my own!

Chords: Some DJs have their own MC but it’s more often that they’ll tour together a little and the MC will know their set and their style so they work well together. A good MC can complement any DJ’s set straight off. Going back to your live set, though…?

Jaguar Skills:  Oh yeah. Well I kind of want to pare it down a little. DJing has been taken to the most ridiculous point lately so I’m keen to strip things back and take it back to the roots of it all. It’s not the big presentations, or the silliness; it’s about what you do. So I won’t be going over the top any time soon. I’m just happy people want to come and see me play!

Chords: Yeah definitely. I think DJing is the last pure art; it happens in that one moment. It will never happen again at that place and at that time.

Jaguar Skills: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve played?

Chords: I don’t know about weird, but what I find mad is that dancefloors have different personalities in different countries. Every country has a different reaction to things. So in Italy if they don’t like the song then they just don’t dance. Then as soon as a tune they like comes in that they like, they’ll kick off again. And I’ve found in Belgium the crowd you either get crowds that are completely up for it but others who just not their heads and vibe very subtly.

Jaguar Skills: You just play straight drum & bass, right?

Chords: Yeah

Jaguar Skills: So what do you do if you’ve got some really difficult people in the crowd? Do you try and drop some other styles and sounds?

Chords:  I’ll play maybe a different type of drum & bass but always within the genre. Crowds are never difficult, they just behave differently around the world…

Jaguar Skills: How do you know if you’re doing a good job, then?

Chords:  You just know, don’t you? I learnt a great trick from one of the original ninjas – Andy C… Target different groups of the crowd who are the most responsive. So if you see some people are really into a certain sound then keep tailoring the set to them. They’ll start dancing harder and getting more and more into it, and that energy rubs off on everyone in the crowd.

Jaguar Skills: Yeah I know that one! I used to play straight up disco stuff and I would always concentrate on the women. If the girls are dancing then you’re smashing it. There’s always a danger of feeling of like a wedding DJ if you do that too much, though! Do you take it personally when they’re not going bananas? I do!

Chords:  If there’s a bad reaction to one of my own tracks then yeah that affects me a little.

Jaguar Skills: Do you get many bad reactions?

Chords:  Fortunately not. But you know what I mean… It’s more like an energy drop, you know?

Jaguar Skills: You can physically feel the energy of the crowd can’t you?

Chords:  It’s like when you’re talking to someone and they suddenly go a bit funny or a bit off on you mid conversation. But with 1000 people at the same time.

Jaguar Skills: Yes! Sometimes, because I play so many records, I feel like I’m going ‘do you like this? Do you like this? Do you like this? Do you like this?’ And they haven’t had time to even consider an opinion on the first record, but I can feel they’re not into it… Before they even know it themselves!

Chords: Yeah it’s weird. Technically a DJ set is a complete one-off every time. I won’t be in that space, in that time, in front of those people ever again. So I’ll try and do something I won’t do again or they won’t hear again.

Jaguar Skills: Like a Dire Straits record?

Chords: Ha! More like a mix that I’ve never done before. Do you do fresh mixes live or is everything practiced and rehearsed?

Jaguar Skills:  I do go through a lot of routines in my sets but the most exciting times are when you’re hearing a mix for the first time yourself.

Chords: It feels a lot more natural and flowing that way doesn’t it? I’ll often have different sections where I know a few tracks that work together but I won’t know how to go there until I’m playing and it’s happening.

Jaguar Skills:  Do you drink when you DJ?

Chords: Yes. I get really nervous!

Jaguar Skills:  The last half hour of the guy’s set before you is the weirdest feeling, right?

Chords: It’s like I suddenly realise what’s happening. I’m going up on a big stage and there’ll be my manager and my agent and promoters and technicians and all these people with me. Then suddenly they leave.

Jaguar Skills:  And you’re naked!

Chords: Pretty much. It’s like ‘shit!’ I’ve got to make this happen.

Jaguar Skills:  That’s why I wear my mask… it’s a bit less scarier in my own ninja world. Do you ever stop and think ‘all these people are here and judging me?’

Chords: There are definitely lots of chin strokers out there…

Jaguar Skills:  You must get them all the time! You make very stylish drum & bass, you’re on Ram, you’ve got the scene’s most nerdiest fans watching you. Do you get lots of chin strokers?

Chords: It depends on the venue. Somewhere like Fabric, sure. Not just chin strokers but writers and bloggers and people with a critical eye. People who know their stuff, I guess. But I try not to think about them.

Jaguar Skills:  Even though they’re there to potentially tear into you?

Chords: I try not to think about that. You’re not helping… It’s going to sound soppy but there is a piece of you in every set you play and every track you write. It’s hard not to be affected by reactions…

Jaguar Skills:  Sometimes you want to go. ‘Come on guys! This is a belter!’

Chords: Yeah it’s like ‘trust me on this people…’

Jaguar Skills:  My dad was a DJ in the 70s. And he told me this story once that if a DJ was convinced a track was a belter, even if the crowd weren’t, they would play it again and again. Even if people were booing. It’s like ‘I’m going to play this until you’re all dancing!’ And eventually, after a few plays, people are dancing. By the end of the night, the DJ plays it again and it’s the tune of the night. Smashed it! Sometimes I wish I could go back to that, too…”