It’s 2001 and a young Canadian producer named John Rolodex has realised a dream he’d been working towards since he first heard jungle on the radio six years before. He’d been signed to Ray Keith’s seminal Dread Recordings imprint.
The signing launched with the gnarled, raw breakbeat horsepower grit of the Dragon EP. It led to a series of EPs on Dread, appearances on Metalheadz and a UK tour that stirred up so much hype he had thread dedicated to him on Dogs On Acid. These are just select highlights from a career take-off that was life throughout a great deal of the 2000s.
Fast forward to 2010. He sets up Machinist Music with kindred North American jungle spirit Dioptrics. Early releases came from Rolodex himself, Loxy and fellow Canadian Rene LaVice who was just a year or two away from realising his own seminal label signing dream with Ram Records.
10 years – and an extensive break from Rolodex – later, Machinist Music commences its 10th anniversary year with John’s Fingerprints EP. Taking off where his comeback EP Dreamcypher left us, it comprises three more examples of John’s brutalist signature. Grizzly, gritty timeless darkness… It’s set to be followed by three more Machinist EPs and, as Goldie revealed in his Instagram a few weeks back, a return to the mothership ‘Headz.
20 years deep into his craft as a recording artist, John explains how he still feels he has unfinished business… And you get the strong impression that the business that’s about to follow could be his best yet. Time for some history and time for some future.
Take me back to your earliest jungle roots…
I first heard drum & bass when I was 14 on a CBC Radio Show called Brave New Waves. They played everything; hip-hop, post-punk, house music but it was the jungle that really grabbed me. I spoke to a friend who had become a DJ and I knew from that point I had to be involved in that world.
Which records hit you the hardest?
Dillinja’s Jah Know Ya Big and Source Direct’s Snake Style spring to mind but the whole sound and energy of it all hit me hard. By the time I was 17 I convinced a local record store to let me start ordering D&B records for me and my friends and it went from there. They didn’t know anything about the genre but people were buying the stuff so they let me do it.
You started a local movement!
We were the first in Edmonton to regularly stock drum & bass. Then a few months later a streetwear store started selling vinyl and I started DJing. I did it for a year, they paid me $10 an hour, but that barely scratched the surface because I came out with piles of vinyl every week. I remember managing to get Dillinja’s Test 2 – Hard Noize. I’d seen it on the top 10 lists, I knew it was big, but I didn’t know how it sounded. I still grabbed it but then had to sit through my other normal work shift just looking at that vinyl until I could get home and play it. It’s an incredible record anyway but that added longing for it and the anticipation made it extra special to me.
Fast forward a few years to when the DJing was building up and you moved to Toronto. That city has a huge history in D&B. It was infamous for its popping vibes…
It was man. It was popping here in Edmonton, too. I played some pretty big raves when I signed to Dread and got a name, playing to 1500 people fairly regularly, so I moved there. But the jump up sound came in and my sound didn’t fit in so much so that didn’t work out quite so well but it was popping at the time for sure.
Tell us about the Dread connection…
I got signed in 2001 and the Dragon EP dropped in 2002, I did a few remixes then I got involved with Metalheadz and was on MDZ 04 so I rolled with them for a while during that time.
That was a classic era when, here in the UK, people realised the world was making D&B. Pendulum being the obvious example but guys like Teebee and Marky bashing down the doors too…
Actually Vault had just come out at the same time. That first summer I was signed, I spent a lot of time in the studio and listened to Vault every day. I tried to work out how they’d made it sound like that… But I didn’t get very far! Funnily enough when I came to London I stayed at Dylan’s where one of Pendulum boys had stayed a few weeks before and slept on the same couch so I was a few weeks behind them.
I’ve seen an interview with El Hornet about that trip. It was a real eye-opener. Did you do the same and go to nights like Renegade at The End?
I didn’t have enough time because I was touring. We made a few tunes, I did a ‘Headz show with Skitty and a few others. That was the first Headz event in a long time, I’d heard. It was great. Then we went to check Dylan on the Valve system. The last tune of the night was the last tune we’d worked on. Being kicked in the chest with my own tune through the Valve was something else!
Welcome to the UK!
For a simple country boy like me it was quite an eye opener, for sure. It was more than I ever expected from this. I also got to play at Herbal for Therapy. I was on early before Gridlok, Loxy and Dylan and a lot of people had come to see my set. There was thread about it on DOA and a real buzz. My first tune got four or five rewinds. It was a good feeling.
That’s great. You’ve taken some breaks between then, right?
Yeah I’ve been on again / off again all the time. I put out some rarities and reissues before. There’s been murmurings of me here and there. But I did take three years out completely and worked on something entirely different which I might reveal at some point for people to have a chuckle.
I’m almost ready to show people what I was up to. The objective was to have as much fun as I possibly could. I did some vocals, quite a few myself, which was new to me. I did a fairly elaborate music video and made all the costumes for it. I did the filming and editing. It was a real labour of love.
Sounds like it!
I needed to do it. I’d spent a long time figuring out what I wanted to do. I’d given Dioptrics control of Machinist and took a huge step back and re-evaluated my life. I felt I was slogging it out and not getting the right people to even listen to the stuff I was sending them. But sometimes you’ve got to chin up and carry on, which is what I’ve been doing.
You do man. Are you a very technical man? Do you like to get into the nuts and bolts of things? Sounds like you do with that previous project you mentioned…
To an extent. I’ve learnt to pick and choose how far I get into something because it’s a slippery slope. T Power is a close friend and he’s got so into wine. I’m getting text messages about certain wines and some of them are indecipherable!
D&B heads are naturally inclined to niches, I find…
You’re right. This type of music attracts people who are easily given to obsession.
Ha! So Dreamcypher was the comeback EP in 2018. What caused or inspired the return?
My work isn’t done. I felt incomplete with it. I really wanted to work more with ‘Headz, I didn’t feel I’d chiselled my name on the stone. So I started working on that. As luck would have it Goldie and I got back in touch and, as he recently announced on Instagram, I’ll be releasing on the label later this year.
Amazing. In the meantime, it’s all about Machinist…
Well life has its funny twists. So Dustin Dioptrics is also a world class tattoo artist and he’s opened his own shop. He’s been busy getting that off the ground so I’ve been doing most the label stuff over the last year or so. It’s a team effort. We can take the helm at different times. The release schedule has been quite quiet because I’ve been working on the stuff for ‘Headz but the Fingerprints EP is the first of a four part series. Dustin is wrapping up an ep. I’ve got a few artists we’re talking to. It’s our 10th year so we’ll be doing some anniversary stuff as well.
Awesome. I noticed it’s also the label where Rene Lavice had one of his earliest releases!
Absolutely. For a brief period, he was a partner in this. He did Headlock which was a huge tune. I sent that out to everyone. Andy really wanted him so that led to big things for Rene.
Nice. Back to your EP, I’m getting strong gritty Bad Company influences in there… Dillinja too!
Oh definitely, there are a lot of Bad Company influences in there. Get Off My Lawn has a nod to Dillinja with the 808 subs, too. You’re right with the grit. I don’t think I’ll ever sound like an ultra-modern producer, I’ll always have the sound I came through with when things first blew up. That’s my sound.
You never want to chase the hype anyway…
It’s like chasing a moving target. You can’t try and sound fresh because labels have long release schedules, so you’ll sound out of date by the time it’s out anyway. You need to do your own thing and make music you believe in or love and that’s what I want to do when I sit down to make something.
Amen! It sounds like you’re sitting on a lot of tunes at the moment?
Not as well armed as I used to be! My goal was to try and reduce the amount of stuff I was sitting on and get it out there. There are 10 tracks all scheduled for release and about 8 or 9 that aren’t finished but people are playing.
Guessing some of them are scheduled on Headz. I often ask artists about Goldie’s middle-of-the-night feedback phonecalls. Did you get them back in the day when you rolled with Headz before?
I’ve heard about them but I’m many time zones away from him. When I got signed I still lived at home and I remember getting an answerphone message off him saying his CD got wrecked and he needed another one. He does love a phonecall, that’s for sure. But for me it’s been emails. I have a hard time with insomnia so I keep my phone is on silent at night.
Insomnia is brutal
It really is. It’s been going on for five or six years. The biggest problem is that I don’t feel as sharp and my memory isn’t good. That’s why sleeplessness and broken sleep is a torture technique, right?
It is man but you sound sharp on the radio. That’s a new thing for 2020, too…
Thanks man, I’m enjoying being back on the air. When I came back from Toronto the scene here had kinda drifted apart so as a rallying cry I got us a Bassdrive Radio show with another local DJ John Ohms. We did a show together for a bit, then we did our own shows… But now I’m back and feeling good.