Monday, 10 November 2008

CJ Macintosh Interview

He's been in the industry over twenty years, and City Limits, his current residency at Turnmills is becoming legendary. Meet the one and only, CJ Macintosh.

You started DJing when you were 15. Did you always want to be in the music industry?

I wanted to be a DJ from the age of 11. I had no idea why, I was just really into music. When I went to secondary school that's all I wanted to do.

Who was your first music hero?

Roy Ayres. My brother got me into his music when he was buying his stuff in the late 70's, then I made it my job to buy every album he's ever made. Musically, as a musician playing the vibes, he's just amazing.

Tell us about your first residency at Film Flam?

Film Flam was in New Cross, and it was 1985 when I first got that residency. Jonathan More from Coldcut used to run the club. They had a guy scratching but I knew I could do better, so I hassled Jonathan for about a month and in the end he gave in, gave me a slot, and realised what I did. Einstein, a local guy used to rap over my stuff, getting everyone up and dancing, and from then on Jonathan booked us in every Friday.

Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S was a ground breaking track. How did you get involved?

Basically I met Dave Dorrell in '87 and he started managing me. He knew Martyn and Steve Young, the brothers who were Colour Box, and AR Kane who made up the group M/A/R/R/S. He knew Martyn and Steve because he used to go to school with them. They had that instrumental thing going but they didn't know what else to do with it, so they asked Dave and myself to come down with some records, do some scratching and try and get some ideas going, and that's how it came about.

The first mix we did was very basic; it was just a bit of scratching with the sample Pump Up The Volume. Then we went onto remixing it, adding everything else on there and loads of other samples. We never really saw it as a groundbreaking track, we just got loads of samples and made a tune out of them. We were just experimenting, messing about and getting some ideas going. We never expected it to do anything to be honest with you!

You went on to remix tracks by Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston and De La Soul – there are some big names there.

Yeah, I did remixes for them in the late 80s, early 90s. When I first started, I used to do everything with Dave Dorrell who was my manager stroke remix partner. I think we were the first UK guys to remix a Janet Jackson track and at the time we were doing hip hop, house and a mixture of stuff.

We also did a remake of Tina Turner's Nutbush City Limits. Dave went to LA to record the vocals but I didn't actually get to go because I had to do a remix back here which was gutting at the time.

How has the music industry changed over the last twenty years?

There's less money. The whole CD and download thing has become the problem and people aren't buying as many records as they were back then, so there's not as much money in it. I suppose if you have bands with huge hits there's money, but with the dance thing, I think it’s pretty difficult out there.

I think music downloads are good and bad. They are good if you are doing it legally and most tracks are only 99p to download, but lots of people are sharing things and that has absolutely killed it, especially dance music because people just aren't buying records anymore. I did get into it for a while, but most of the time I already had the tracks and the quality is just awful. I don't particularly like MP3s because I can hear the sound difference.

You DJ'd at Ministry of Sound for seven years, three of which you were resident. What was it that kept you there so long?

I DJ'd there from when it first opened, up to '97. It was just so new and the sound system definitely kept me there; playing on that system!

In the early 90s all the music that was coming out was so fresh, the house scene was moving on so quickly, but now its gone into a bit of a stale mate, it's stuck. Every kind of dance style is stuck there, or that is how it seems to me. But back then it was just new things, people experimenting musically, instruments coming out with new sounds, so it was always moving on. The crowd there was great back then, and definitely that system always helped. You could play a lot of stuff you wouldn't ever play anywhere else, and if you did, it wouldn't sound that great but at Ministry it always sounded brilliant.

Tell us about City Lounge, your regular night at Turnmills.

City Lounge is on every two months now. We are in its fourth year now; it had its third birthday last October which was when we decided to change it to every two months. It's definitely peaking but we didn't want to kill it, so we decided to space it out.

I just did last Saturday actually with Bob Sinclair, David Yasser and Martin Solveig. It was absolutely packed, a great night and that's probably because we've put it every two months. If we'd kept it monthly these things can get a bit stale. I think a lot of people are surprised its been going on that long because not a lot of nights last as long as that, but I feel we're very lucky with what we've got and the crowd we get down there are regulars, and we always try and keep it fresh and interesting.

You turning 40 later this year, have you a big night planned?

Yeah, don't mention it! My plans were to just go away, maybe Australia. I've been to Perth once, but I'd like to do Sydney. It would be better to go away I think, rather than everyone asking; 'What you doing? Where are you going out?'

Do you still see DJing as your future?

I always said, I can't be doing this when I'm nearly 40, but here I am, still getting the gigs and still enjoying it. Age is less irrelevant these days when you look at some of the American DJ's - Humphrey, Tenaglia and all those guys who inspired me have been doing it a lot longer than I have, so they must be hitting the 50 mark.

It must get to you in the end though. Now I've got two kids I do find it hard sometimes. I don't sleep as much as I used to and I do find it harder during the late sets. Saturday was 12 'til 2 which is perfect but sometimes I do 4 to 6 and it’s hard to stay up. I've tried the bed thing but that never works. I just wake up feeling rubbish, and you've got to go to a banging club, it's smoky and you've got to play music loud! It can get tough, but no, I'm still enjoying it although I don't know how long it will last. Maybe another 5 years.

What music do you describe yourself playing?

I suppose vocal house but it depends where I play. If I go to Italy I have to play a bit tougher. In certain parts they love the vocals, in other parts they don't, so you have to be quite diverse now.

I suppose with the whole CD thing now you can take a lot with you, but you've got to cover yourself and read the crowd. I hate playing fast, I never play fast and I tend to play more vocals. If I had the choice id definitely play more vocals.

When did you really feel you had made it as a DJ?

I suppose it was probably when I got the residency at Ministry of Sound in '94, but before that I played hip hop so then it was probably in '87 when I won the DMC Mix Championship, but I didn't want to scratch for the rest of my life because it was something I found easy to do. I could just do it. Obviously it got more complicated but then I was offered remixes in the studio so I decided to do the studio stuff instead.

Then at Ministry I was playing with Masters At Work and Tony Humphreys, so playing along those guys, I thought blimey; this is it!

You are DJing at Park Live this year. Who are you most looking forward to seeing there yourself?

Obviously Joey Negro, and I'm good friends with Dave Lee so I always look forward Dave's set. And Tony Humphries, I think he is on after me. I always look forward to hearing Tony because he was such an inspiration to me in the early 90s. Listening to him, getting his mixes from America, going to America and listening to him play at his club Zanzibar, in New Jersey.

When he was resident at Ministry for a while I became quite close to him, so I always look forward to hearing Tony because of the way he plays music, especially house music. He can play records that I actually don't like, but he can make them sound good. I'll be listening to his set and think; this is good, what's this track? I'll have look and realise I threw that one out last week, but it sounds good tonight!

How many records do you own?

Now, probably about 50,000, but I've sold quite a lot. I've been selling stuff on Ebay because obviously it has moved over to CD, so I've recorded a lot onto CD and don't really need the vinyl anymore.

I've probably got rid of about 50,000 over the years too. My friend used to run a record shop, Time Is Right records in Chapel Market, he lives in Ibiza now, but I just used to give him all the promos and everything and he used to give me stuff for free when I went into his shop!

It's a nightmare. I've got one room and it is just packed. There's boxes everywhere, in every corner, here and there. But that's what I've been trying to do over the last few years, just sort them out!

What's the best advice anyone has ever given you?

Just never stop trying really, to get bigger and keep going. Sometimes I feel that I've given myself the best advice. I've never been too big headed and I've always tried to compromise on what people want to hear when I play out.

You know, people want to hear something they know and if you play it, it gets them going. Even Tony [Humphreys] told me that. Every half an hour, or if it's a two hour set then maybe every 15 minutes, play something the crowd know. Then play what you want to play, then play something they know. That's the way of keeping them there, and I took that advice and it always works.

Also, I've always tried to be reasonable with my fee. I've never tried to out price myself like some DJs do, that probably aren't around anymore because people didn't want to pay that sort of money. You've got to do people favours. With little clubs, you've got to play for what they want to pay you, and then the people who come down appreciate it as well, which is nice for the punters.

Considering you've been in the music industry for over twenty years you tend to keep yourself to yourself a bit more than other DJs. People know your name but they don't know an awful lot about you. Would you agree?

Yeah. Always. I did the magazine interviews when I had to do them, but I'm more interested in what I do when I DJ, and people can see what I do. It's the same when I do remixes, people know what I can do.

In some ways I'm shy, but I'm not that shy, I just wanted to get on with it. I'm not interested in the fame side at all, I'd much rather be unknown and get on with it than be all over the place. Some of the big guys get hassled all the time but a lot of people still think I'm black and American! I still get it now, they'll ask me; 'How long you in town for?'

I'm looking forward to Park Live. It's the first big thing I've done for a while and generally, I'm not into big events, but when I saw the line up I thought, that makes a change.

Usually, at these sort of things you see the bigger names like Digweed, but here you've got all the soulful house DJs playing together which makes a difference and never really happens. You hardly ever see any soulful house DJs or US house DJs playing at these festivals anymore. Maybe ten years ago but not now, so I'm really looking forward to it.

Rachael Hannan: Interview 2005

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