The other mystery about Jimmy Van M in 2007 is that he’s back. There’s a touch of Rip Van Winkle to his story: At the turn of the century he was the hottest American name in progressive - bigged up by John Digweed, buddies with Sasha, the lynchpin of the American scene, mixing on Bedrock – and touted as the great white hope of the genre. But then suddenly in 2002…silence. Jimmy Van M disappeared. No artist album, no GU, no Renaissance, no bona fide progressive anthems. So where has he been? And what is he doing back on the decks again?
I meet up with Van M in a café just around the corner from his house. No, we're not in Orlando – strangely enough, he’s actually been living in Barcelona for years. In the flesh, Van M looks nothing like the angular guy the cover of his Bedrock CD. In fact I had trouble recognising him at all. So what happened, Jimmy? Where have you been for the last four years? "When the Bedrock CD came out, I felt like I had a huge opportunity to do something else,” he explains wearily, perhaps a bit sick of the question. “But Delta Heavy sort of burst that idea.” Delta Heavy was the stadium prog house tour he masterminded back in 2002, and while it created megastars out of its headline DJs, the scale and success of it led Van M down the road to fully-fledged businessman. It was a workload that essentially siphoned off his DJ career, but Van M has no regrets. “Delta Heavy was real exciting to work on. Even though there wasn't a lot of sort of input on the frontburner of my DJ career, there was still creativity happening."
Perhaps that ‘M’ stands for ‘mogul’ then. Read Van M's bio and it's more a description of what he's done for other DJs and for progressive than his own DJ career. But business, or more precisely, the business of clubbing, has always been in his blood. His uncle ran a club when he was a teenager, sneaking him in the back entrance when he could, and his first job as a travel agent booking dream vacations for retired couples meant that it was a short leap to setting up his own DJ agency. Nowadays The Collective Agency is one of North America’s largest bookers, representing everyone from Erol Alkan to Basement Jaxx. But Van M sees it all as part of the same gameplan: "Mixing music is certainly one type of creativity and developing ideas and strategy is another, but it all lies within the same passion. And that's the music."
He might be still wheeling and dealing, but that’s not the reason he’s back in the magazines. Jimmy Van M returned as a DJ with ‘Balance 10’ at the end of last year, his first mix in five years. But the Van M of 2007 is not the Van M of old. Those heading out to his gigs expecting to hear late-nineties progressive should take a rain check; the tracklist for 'Balance 10' hints at his new agenda: Out with Moshic, Quivver and Junkie XL and in with Ellen Allien, Booka Shade and Roman Flugel. In fact, save for the 16 Bit Lolitas tracks, there is little to connect the dots between now and then. So what happened to the prog, Jimmy? "Does progressive house even exist anymore?" he laughs. Then the diplomat takes over: "My definition of progressive is music that you don't know why but it always makes you feel good in a certain way. I think that's happening in a lot of music right now. To me, that's all progressive music. It doesn't have to be arpeggiated synths with a droned out bassline."
So does Van M feel any conflict between his business pursuits and his DJing? Did he hanker to get back into DJing while he was busy turning America onto prog? "No. Never at any point did I feel like I was trapped or frustrated. I think it just came to a point where I was like okay, cool. I had a lot of fun doing that but now I'm going to do this." To the casual observer, this sounds like a safe answer, but it has a ring of truth to it: Van M was always wary of the superstar DJ tag back in the day, and the same is true for today. I tell him about the hands-in-the-air crowd at a recent Digweed gig in Barcelona. "DJ worshipping?" he says, mockingly. You sense he is not in this for the red carpet and champagne. "I feel like I'm at a point where I want to enjoy life. And to me DJing is enjoying life so I'm just going to do that."
Maybe that ‘M’ stood for ‘musician’ all along? When talk turns to producing and mixing, his eyes light up. "I think a good DJ is someone who can play the same records that everyone else has in a way that no one else will. At the end of the day it's about creating that moment with a certain record that characterises you. Only certain people can do it.” Maybe it was all those years as an understudy that have given Van M a new sense of dedication to the craft. If so, it seems to be paying off. People are paying attention to the new Van M. "I feel like I've come across a lot of new music", he enthuses. "Even compared to the stuff on the third Balance disc, the stuff I play in a club is much more intense and powerful."
Yet it's actually not the club mix on his latest compilation that Van M is most proud of; it’s the two discs of ambient/IDM/downtempo that mix up names such as Brian Eno, Autechre and Bill Laswell. "The music on the previous albums were actually stuff you'd play out, " explains Van M. "But with this CD, I'm pleased for people to be able to hear the music I've been able to appreciate over the years. What we're still considering is creating some music that would segue all three CDs together so it's just one long journey. So the first one starts off a lot more ambient, then beats develop and it turns into house music and then it goes into full on club music."
The bill arrives and it’s time to let Van M disappear back into his Barcelona studio, where he’s recently been cooking up tracks with Nick Warren and new collaborator Steve T. Time to go, but nosey old me can't help but ask a final question. How does an American get a residency visa for Europe these days? Van M proudly whips out his red passport, opens it and shows me his place of birth: Belgium. So what does the ‘M’ really stand for officially? Turns out it is ‘Malleghem’.