Last week saw J Majik drop his first solo single release in over 10 years: Set Me Free / Give It Up on Viper.
After spending much of the 2000s producing with Wickaman, then several years exploring the worlds of house and other business ventures, plus settling into his life as a father, Majik – who came into the game on Lemon D’s Planet Earth in 1993 and amassed such a strong and influential body of work on Metalheadz and his own Infrared imprint that he’s been name-checked in an Irvine Welsh book – has been coerced back into the game by Futurebound who teased us with a return over 18 months ago with Drop It on the label’s Sound Of Drum & Bass 2016 annual.
Viper is the perfect place for Majik to make a comeback as he played a role in the label’s earliest stages with tracks such as Fleshwound. And UKF is the perfect place to find out where the hell he’s been…. His and Wickaman’s remix of Deadmau5’s I Remember was the very first UKF upload. Eight years later, this is where he’s at…
You’re back! Does it feel like a comeback?
No not really. I don’t have a plan. I’m not thinking ‘this is it now’ I’m just happy to be releasing music again and seeing how it goes.
It’s been quite slow and stealthy… You actually ‘came back’ with Drop It 18 months ago, right?
Yeah Brendan had a compilation coming and I’d sent over some bits to see what he thought about them. He liked Drop It and put it out but I didn’t have anything to follow it. To be honest that’s my main problem – I make something and then I lose confidence in it or I’m not happy with the mixdown. You become your biggest critic. Like a writer putting a pen down and saying ‘done’ I’ve always found that happy.
No creative person ever is though, you can tweak all your life but you have to draw a line
You do. And it’s harder to do that now digitally. You could go on forever. I think the problem with mixdowns is being around the music in clubs and hearing how it cut through the system. Like Dillinja’s mixdowns. It was like ‘how can I play my tunes against something that heavy?’ It was the same with Pendulum 10 years later. The power Rob Swire had in his mixdowns. The quality of that production dwarfed everything for a while. The minute you’re making music to be played in clubs at that level you have to step up to the levels being set by guys like Karl (Dillinja) and Rob.
Take us back to when you started producing. Long before you thought about playing in clubs.
That would be when made 6 Million Ways To Die/The Choice under the name Dexxtrous. I actually bought a mixing desk off L Double – he came down from Leeds with this massive thing in his car. I would have been no older than 15.
How does a 15 year old J Majik know L Double?
Through Dego and the Reinforced guys.
How does a 15 year old J Majik know 4 Hero??!
My sister worked with Marc Mac. I remember I was 13 and she said to me ‘there’s a guy in work who’s into your rave music’ I didn’t believe her then three months later she brings in a Reinforced jacket. At the time I was spending all my money on Reinforced 12”s – washing cars, saving pocket money whatever I had to do to get the records. It was like getting the technicolour dream coat. Then I met Marc and he got me in the studio with Dego. So at 14/15 I was hanging out down Reinforced with my heroes, playing table tennis.
I didn’t know you were that young to break through.
Yeah my first release was when I was 14 and a half. It came out on Lemon D’s label Planet Earth. Goldie heard it and I made a track for Metalheadz. The right place at the right time, basically. And back then I certainly wasn’t thinking about mixdowns.
Was anyone thinking that hard about mixdowns then? It was still very anything-goes / no-rules back then. A vibe thing.
It was. I made a lot of stuff on headphones back then and didn’t think about how it would sound in a club but much more in my head. Maybe that’s why it felt more layered and atmospheric. I experimented a lot more than I did maybe five/six years later.
By then you were on the merry-go-round, making tracks for DJ sets
Yeah I wasn’t DJing much at all. I was making music I wanted to hear. I made a lot of downtempo things at the time and was in a very experimental place. I wasn’t worried about which DJs would play it, what the mixdown would be like, where it fits in or anything. It was very free.
Mixdowns have a lot to answer for.
Totally. And I think since I stopped using hardware and went onto computers around the mid 2000s I was never really happy with them. I know Wickaman felt the same while we worked together. He showed me a completely different way of working because I was still on hardware at the time. I’d go out and spend £600 on a reverb unit and he had the same thing on his computer which was a fraction of the cost and could do loads more things. That and the speed he worked at blew my mind a bit.
But yeah there’s the whole authenticity of sound / texture with hardware, right?
Oh we learnt that later but it was a revolution at the time. It also meant I lost my own personal way for a while. Having two of you in the studio means less experimentation. There’s no time pressure when you’re on your own – you can spend hours on end just tweaking a loop and not worry if the guy next to you is losing the will to live! In the end we felt the creative part was taking 10 minutes and the logical mixdown part was taking three weeks.
So is this why we haven’t heard anything from you for years?
Ah there was contractual things which I won’t go into. It all got complicated and basically we couldn’t put any music out for two years. It was one of the most frustrating times in my life if I’m honest.
What did you do?
Moved the Canary Islands and set up a recruitment company. But I was always writing and playing around with ideas – when you love music so much you can’t turn your back on it completely. Another turning point was when my kids got old enough to watch YouTube and were able to Google J Majik. They were asking me why I wasn’t doing music and why I did a boring job.
Yeah. My decks and CDJs and dubplate collection is theirs. They fight over dubs all the time. They love the smell of them. They fight over who gets the Headz plates or Ram plates. They blast out drum & bass from 9am every day! They kept asking me why I don’t make music and why they can’t watch me DJ and it’s hard to say ‘well son, you have these things called publishers and contracts…’ Plus another thing is they’re playing these old dubs and 12s I’ve forgotten about. They’ll have a mix on and I’m like ‘what the hell is this?’ and it gets me digging out other old tunes.
This is really important for me to say… I’ve never fallen out of love with the music. I just had to take a break for a while and the timing was right so I could focus on being a dad, being at home for them and not touring all the time, leaving my wife to do everything.
When did your kids realise you weren’t the standard 9-5 dad?
Straight away I guess. I remember taking them on tour in America when they were both under two. The youngest was a fan of Skrillex since he was one. I got this video of him on the decks, aged one, doing rewinds and dancing along. Since they’ve walked and talked there’s always been decks. They’ve ruined so many needles and dubplates. They’ve always had their own CD pouches and fought over tunes. It’s very sweet and a huge inspiration to get more music out and put it at the forefront of my life again.
I love this. So besides occasional mixdown woe there’s nothing holding you back!
Yeah I guess social media does a bit. I’m just not from that generation. I feel uncomfortable blowing my own trumpet and the whole self promotion game. I grew up when Photek talked about Samurai warriors in his interviews. Dillinja wouldn’t give interviews at all. I like that. It’s the opposite of what’s going on now. It’s a shame.
But working with a label like Viper who are very active online must help? They can blow your trumpet!
Yeah Viper do work things very well like that. Plus Brendan is a good mate. He’s down to earth and what you see is what you get. His early releases were on my old label. I released some on Viper a lot when he launched the label. We go back and I feel very comfortable working with him. I trust him and his team. Plus they’re not going to pigeonhole me or try and direct me. They either sign the tracks or don’t. That’s important for me because I make a lot of different sounds.
You come from the original melting pot ideology
I did. I could go to a jump-up night tonight and I’ll get goosebumps. I could go to a Headz night and I’ll get goosebumps. Ram night, Hospital night… You get the idea. I love it all. And want to make it all. I’ve seen a lot of very talented guys either get pigeonholed by labels or pigeonhole themselves because they’re worried about losing bookings. It was like this for a while – you’d sign to a label and reinvent yourself with that label’s sound just to get bookings. It made no space for new DJs or new sounds for a while. But, fortunately and inevitably, it’s changing… Things have to. And it’s changing for the better. Line-ups are much more eclectic again, DJs are mixing it up again and there’s a lot of exciting ideas happening with newer and more established artists alike.
Like the disco sound on Viper which taps into one of the sounds you’re most known for…
That’s definitely the vibe I was feeling. Cammie has an amazing voice and is great to work with so we’ve done a few tracks in a similar style together. We’ve also done some house tracks as well as 78 Degrees.
Oh cool… House too?
Yeah, house was actually another thing that got me back into making drum & bass because I realised I’d been using a lot of the same ideas and sounds. So we’ve got 20 tracks of a lot of Chicago and Detroit influences.
How about any more drum & bass?
There’s a few things floating around. Lots I can’t quite confirm but I can tell you to look out for a remix of of KC Lights’ Sundown, a collaboration with Adam F and a collaboration with The Prototypes on Get Hype called Rock N Roll coming in the new year. Who knows what will happen after that? I’m just happy to be releasing the music I love again.