|Jackmaster: Dress to Sweat
In advance of his appearance at Warehouse Project, we talk to the quick-fire Glaswegian selector.
"I don't like being 26, man," Jackmaster tells me, half joking, over Skype.
"Whenever I used to go out in Glasgow, me and my friends were always the youngest. And I'd love it when people would ask me how old I was, like. 'Yo, I'm only 17! Aren't I so cool?!' And now when I meet kids and they're coming out and they're like 18 and stuff, I feel really old actually. A lot of my friends in Glasgow are a good few years younger than me and it sickens me to be honest." He thinks about that for a minute. "They still find it hard to keep up with me though, so I guess I'm not doing too bad."
Jack Revill is not the kind of person who would suffer from a quarter-life crisis—as anyone who's ever spoken with him could tell you, he's much too energetic and down-to-earth for that. All the same, it's easy to see why adulthood might seem like a threat to him. Revill owes a lot of his success to his restless, youthful spirit. Over the years this has allowed him to pursue any number of projects at one time—four labels, a club night, a day job, DJ gigs, etc.—and has kept his taste for club life fresh. After more than a decade of DJing, he still gets goosebumps from the little things; the satisfaction of finding great records, say, or the simple rush of being on a dance floor that's really popping off.
"Or when you get these mixes every so often that, like, make the hairs on your neck stand up because they sound so good. That's one of the best parts of the job for me." He stops himself on this one. "I will refer to this as my job in conversation, but I still do not see it as work. I mean I think I've definitely got the best job in the world. I mean, other than maybe being a footballer, though they definitely don't get to go out and party like I do."
Revill's journey toward the best job in the world began with what was already a pretty good job: at the age of 14, he started working at Rubadub, one of Glasgow's finest record shops and, as a distributor, one of the UK's main channels for imports from North America and Europe. "I was really lucky," he says. "That was never a conscious choice, I started working for them when I was still in school. I just fucking loved music so much and it was all I was ever doing, I mean people would have a go at me in school because that's really all I was into. So it was just a logical choice for me to try and get a job in a record shop. I never worked for money. It was always just like, you would take a record per hour, so an import from Detroit or Chicago or New York was £7.50, which I guess you could say was quite a good wage."
A good wage in real terms, but for an aspiring DJ it was much more than that. "I never had to buy any records again. So that was an obvious perk. It was just little things like when promos would come in and you would have first dibs on them. You'd maybe have to argue about it with one of the older buyers or whatever but you knew you could at least borrow it for a gig or borrow it for the weekend, and that for me was really invaluable. I used to love it, even like the smell of the place, I was just obsessed with that shop. I might not have shown it, you know, turning up like two hours late, but I really did love it."
Working at Rubadub was essential both to Revill's sound and his career. In a very practical sense, it gave him connections that would help him enormously later on, not least on his 2011 Fabriclive mix. "There was stuff for the Fabric mix that I would have never got if not for Rubadub, like the Underground Resistance stuff. Rubadub always had a really good relationship with people in Detroit and especially Underground Resistance, they're almost like best buddies really, so I was able to have direct emails for people like Mad Mike and Cornelius who does the licensing, and if it really came down to the wire I would ask one of my bosses."
"The two times I saw Seth Troxler...he was just
letting everything ride out. I remembered
that you don't need to play a
new track every two minutes."
Perhaps more importantly, hearing all the records that passed through the shop gave him an incredibly vast knowledge of music. By the time he hit his early 20s, Revill knew the best records from every corner of the spectrum: Detroit techno, disco, grime, house, bass music, even the mash-up stuff Diplo was releasing on Hollertronix. Rather than honing in on one or two or three of these sounds, he soaked them in all at once, and it showed.
First there were his DJ sets, which, prodded along by the energetic crowds and short opening hours of Glasgow clubs, seemed to barrel through as many eras and genres as possible ("that might have been kind of an ADD thing"). Then there were the labels he ran with his friends: Wireblock and Dress 2 Sweat. "We actually also had like a faceless, mysterious kind of techno label, which did really well at the time. That was around the same time stuff MDR Records was starting to come out." (Unfortunately his partner in the label, who also works on Numbers, isn't letting him spill the beans on that one).
Each of these labels had its own sound, but eventually they all merged under the umbrella of Numbers, the label and club night Revill and his cohorts had been putting on at Glasgow's Club 69. A description on the crew's MySpace account summed up their approach nicely: "Our music policy swaggers from techno to hip-hop, via '80s R&B screamers, house, electro, UK funky, dubstep—really anything that excites us and makes a party, providing it's programmed in the right order." They still have pretty much the same MO today.
Revill devoted himself to all of these projects completely, but eventually it was the DJ gigs that started to take over. "I'm not sure if there was a particular moment," he says. "I used to DJ around Glasgow—I would DJ a pub on a Friday and then a club on a Saturday on some weekends. I wasn't making any money, but I was doing loads of gigs and I got kind of a reputation as a young DJ that was pretty good. People started telling me that I was good. And I remember thinking, 'you know, not all of these people can be wrong, maybe I actually am pretty good at this.' And I guess when you're young, once you get that confidence, you become better as a DJ. From there I kind of just wound up one day realizing, 'I'm making a good living out of this, and I don't need to be in my nine to five anymore, I think could do this as a career for a few years.'" The Fabriclive mix sealed the deal. "When that came out things just went absolutely bonkers," he says.
When Revill was first playing gigs in foreign cities, he always brought a bit of Glasgow with him. The fast and eclectic style that was becoming his trademark was, to some extent, a product of his environment: clubs in Glasgow are only open for about four hours per night, and their crowds often prefer party-friendly DJ sets, which explains a lot about his mixing technique at the time. "With that crowd, you're always going for the drop, sometimes you're dropping a tune once every minute even, and it's very gratifying. People are cheering and whistling every minute. Then when you need to hold it down for periods of, I don't know, 20 minutes, half an hour at a time, there's no real noise from the crowd and it's a lot more difficult. Being from Glasgow, it's such a vocal, up-for-it crowd that when you drop certain things and there's no big reaction, people might be feeling it fine, but if there's not a big enough reaction you start to panic."
Like any good DJ, Revill tweaked his sound to better suit the party on the night, but he mostly stayed loyal to the rapid-fire style that first made him famous. That's changing—these days he's dishing out a lot of straight-up house and techno, and letting each record play out more than he once would. "I started out as a house and techno DJ, and I did kind of develop a different style after that," he says. "I maybe fell out of love with techno for a bit, it became really stagnant for me. But I'm getting a lot more back into it, fully back into it. You need to be a lot more patient, but it can be a lot more rewarding."
Hanging out at parties around the world has also had an impact on his sound. Revill is a firm believer that, as a professional DJ, you can't lose touch with the experience of the punter. "If you're in the industry it's too easy to just hang around the booth or hang around backstage, but for me it's really important to get the experience properly—like actually going in the crowd and getting involved," he says.
"Ibiza this summer was an eye-opener." Why? "DC-10 I loved. Just watching everyone and appreciating the fact that everyone has their own style, you know? The two times I saw Seth Troxler, he had so much style and he was just letting everything ride out. I remembered that you don't need to play a new track every two minutes. You can let stuff ride out and it can be just as effective as playing quickly."
Part of what's made Jackmaster a success so far is his proximity to the crowd: just like them, he's young, up-for-it and here to party. But that was bound to change at some point, even if only by the inevitable fact that we all get older sooner or later.
"I've learned a lot," Revill says. "I used to just go to the club as soon as it opened and hang out with the promoters and just drink. When you're a bit younger and you're not as confident, you try and drink the confidence into yourself, because a good part of the job is socializing and making small talk and stuff. When I was starting out doing gigs when I was like 21, I was a bit more timid than I am now. I would go in and drink until I reached the stage where I was drunk enough to socialize properly with all these German people and Italian people or French people I didn't know, and who didn't really understand me anyway. Now I tend to chill in the hotel and maybe come out an hour or so before my set. Doing it that way is a lot better on your liver."
Meanwhile, in his DJ sets, he's aiming for the back of the crowd more and more, regardless of how the people in front react. "Certain gigs I can tell people are waiting for like 'the drop' as other people call it, but sometimes you just need to dig your heels in and do what you want to do. It's something I've learned, well, something I've always known, but something I would have been a lot more scared to do in the past... It's tough, but this is the game and that's why we love it."