I’ll warn you now, this interview is epicly long. DJ Format loves talking about music and once he get’s going, he won’t shut up. The original interview document is 29 A4 pages long and that’s the trimmed down version. The original interview, which I recorded at his house, lasted around 6 hours, including a part where he stopped to eat beans on toast, but that’s another story. Enjoy…
Age: What’s the worst question you’ve ever been asked at interview?
Format: I don’t know what constitutes a bad question, but there was a time that all the information on what I’d been doing was readily available and you’d get someone who obviously hadn’t done their homework and would ask me a question that I’d just think ‘surely anyone that’s remotely interested in me would know that wouldn’t they?’ – but at the end of the day it’s not a bad thing. It’s been a while since I’ve been in the public eye to that degree. Back then it was like ‘oh my God, you’re still asking me about driving the tour bus for Jurassic 5?’
Age: If you weren’t DJ Format, what would your alternative DJ name be?
Format: I don’t know because when I started DJ’ing I was messing around with graffiti to a poor standard, so some of my DJ names before Format were just silly graffiti tags that I had – nothing that meant anything. It wasn’t until I’d done a mixtape – literally something I taped for my 3 mates that cared and my mate Jay did a little cover for it with DJ Format but with a number 4 – I don’t even think that he realised, but someone else said that DJ 4mat is like Matt J Ford and that was when it got cemented. I like it when someone has something that relates to their name, it means something, rather than just like ‘DJ Lobster Scratch’ or something – maybe there’s someone called ‘DJ Lobster Scratch’ who’s gonna be really offended now.
Age: So, the graffiti, was it just tags or proper art-work?
Format: Well, I did try to do pieces, but I’m happy to admit I was not a natural at it. I guess I realised that I didn’t have a flair for it. I used to do a lot of tagging. If we were out drinking on a Friday or Saturday, our journey home would be littered with the evidence of what way we went home – whether it was pens, permanent markers or that sort of thing. So I just concentrated on the music. You just go towards what you are more comfortable with, I just wasn’t good at graffiti and I was happy to admit that and just cracked on with the music.
Age: Did you try anything else then? Did you do any break dancing?
Format: No, I was always too awkward and gangly and I never felt natural doing that sort of thing. So no, no break dancing, apart from when I was like 10 and Herbie Hancock ‘Rocket’ was in the charts and that was when the first wave of break dancing reached the UK. There was an American kid who was in the year below me at school and he could break dance and he was trying to teach me. All I could ever do was the worm or caterpillar or whatever you call it. I didn’t pick up on hip-hop at that time, I was just a normal 10 year and I’d listen to Herbie Hancock then also listened to something bad, regular pop music like Spandau Ballet. I was just a normal kid. It wasn’t until ’86 or ’87 that I started to really focus on hip-hop.
Age: What caused that then?
Format: When you’re 13/14 I think you start to develop who you are.
Age: Is there any particular album that you can think of?
Format: Yeah, like the Beastie Boys – ‘Licensed to ill’, Run DMC’s first 3 albums, LL Cool J, Public Enemy – basically when all the Def Jam stuff exploded it was just like ‘Wow, this is the best thing ever’. Also we had the ‘Electro Albums’ which started with 1 and I think it went up to about 13, then they changed the name to ‘Hip-Hop’ although they tried to introduce it slowly with ‘Electro/Hip-Hop’ – they would be compilation albums where you’d get 3 or 4 songs mixed together by a DJ and it was a good way to hear stuff you wouldn’t otherwise have heard, especially growing up in Southampton and didn’t have a way to get import records. When I grew up, Hip-Hop was really something you had to seek out, now it’s like everywhere, it’s in adverts and it didn’t used to be like that.
I really enjoyed things like Dougie Fresh and occasionally there would be a cross-over track in the chart like Run DMC ‘Walk This Way’ – things like that, even though it’s not hard core rap or hip-hop it is still an influential thing for me in a way. It’s easy to conveniently say ‘yes I was into the most credible records that now have been remember more kindly’ but at the time I loved ‘Walk this way’ and ‘You be illin’ – the fun, commercial tracks that got me into hip-hop. I remember Dougie Fresh and Slick Rick being on Top of the pops and performing ‘The Show’ and I loved it.
Age: Who are your influences?
Format: They were my early influences, but then once I started to really get the bug for hip-hop and I realised that this stuff was speaking to me like nothing before. I’d hear someone on the Electro compliations and get a copy of their album – MC Shann, Boogie Down Productions, people like that. Back then I didn’t have the money to just go out and buy the records myself or even be able to get to the shops that might sell them. So I’d maybe find someone at school whose older brother had some records or tapes and just dubbed things on tape – just tape-to-tape. My entire record collection was just bootlegged tapes when I was still at school.
Still to this day my favourite hip-hop album of all time is ‘Critical beatdown’ by Ultra-Magnetic MCs. That stuff was really influential on me and so were things like Tribe Called Quest and Main Source, but they came later. But the earlier stuff was Public Enemy, Schoolly D, Stetsasonic , Big Daddy Kane, Mantronics, people like that.
Age: What influenced you to start making music of your own?
Format: That would come a little bit later. DJ’ing came before making music.
Age: How did you get into DJ’ing?
Format: I tried writing rhymes and instantly realised that it wasn’t for me. I felt that I could kind of do it, but I didn’t have the voice for it and I didn’t really want to be brag-a-docious egotistical front man. The scratching just appealed to me more a little bit more and I can tell you the record that actually made me want to scratch. It was a record that will be laughed at by some people it was called ‘Throw the D’ by 2LiveCrew – it was a corny record about a dance involving grabbing your dick. The DJ was Mister Mixx and the scratching in that song was the most exciting thing I’d ever heard. I loved the heavy base and drum machine programming and to a certain extent the raps but especially the scratching. I remember turning up the scratching as loud as I could get on my stereo and when the scratching came in I’d get goose bumps and I used to think ‘Shit, I wanna do that!’. And that was what made me really want to do it. I had my Dad’s old stereo on top of an old wardrobe that I had and I remember I had a bit of A4 paper that I’d taken from school and had torn the corners off to form a slipmat and put on a record and tried to scratch it, but of course that sort of turntable wasn’t built for that sort of thing so of course it was a complete disaster and I think my Dad came in one time when I was doing it and took the record player off me because he thought I was going to ruin it.
On my 16th birthday, me and a friend chipped in together – I think maybe £30 each to buy an old all in one unit which was two turntables and a mixer but proper old school style where someone had built the box to have it as a unit that you take out and we clubbed in a bought that together but kept it at his house because my parents were so against the stuff they heard coming out of my room. They thought hip-hop was awful.
Age: So it was all about the scratching back at that time?
Format: Yeah, that was what it was all about for me. An old friend of ours called Ian, he was already a bit ahead of us and he already had turntables and tried to teach us the basics of mixing and scratching. ‘When you do the scratch movement, basically if you break it down into slow-motion, the fader goes up, but then it comes down again, slightly quicker before the record drags back so you don’t heard the record drag back.’
And he taught us the basics and that was how we started. I just practiced more and it wasn’t long before I decided that it was what I wanted to do, I’d tried it and it wasn’t going to be a fad. So I had to get some proper turntables because these things we’d bought were rubbish. So I bought some Technics 1200’s and a Phonic MRT60 mixer which at the time was the latest mixer that had a special button on it where you could do really good transformer scratches on it.
I’d come in from work and I’d be scratching all night and I couldn’t keep my hands of the turntables. Just learning the basics, doing little mixes, recording myself scratching. The next step from there was getting a 4-track recorder, so you could literally record your mix, then have another channel recording yourself doing scratching over the top.
It wasn’t until a friend of a friend had an Amiga computer and they used it to sample a beat from one record, a bass line from another and a scratch from another and put them all together. It was very uncreative realistically speaking, but to us it was amazing. They’d made their own song! So I had to do it – I got myself an Amiga computer in probably 1991. Then shortly after that our friend Ian had an AKAI S950 and a Atari ST computer to do the sequencing and instantly opened up our world – showing us what he was doing with that. At that time I was training to be a carpenter, so I bought myself the AKAI sampler and the computer and Ian taught my friend Ben and Ben taught me and then we went off and did our own thing. That’s how it kind of started I guess. Just messing around and sampling other Hip-Hop records and thinking we were clever.
I’ve probably talked about this in interview before and said different things, but this is how my brain is remembering it today.
That was the starting point. That was when I realised I needed to find my own things to sample. I realised I couldn’t just keep looping up bits of other peoples records. That was when I started finding breaks and discovering breaks.
By this time I was working in a maintenance department of this leisure centre because the carpentry thing hadn’t really panned out. So there I was, just doing general maintenance jobs and I used to go and chat with the cleaning ladies and just sweet talk them:
‘Hey, has your husband got any records?’
‘Yeah, he’s got loads.’
‘Oh, sweet, can you just bring them in so I can borrow them?’
So these cleaning ladies were just bringing bags of their husbands records in for me and mostly they were just crap, but this one lady – Verna, who I’m still in touch with to this day, bought in her husband’s record, a UK pressing of ‘The Meters’ album and everything on the album was a classic break that had already been sampled by everyone else. It took the magic away from hip-hop for a while because I realised that every record that I loved had essentially taken a sample from this album. But then I went out to record shops and trying to find things to sample.
Back then I didn’t even have a portable record player, so I’d literally have to judge a record by its cover. ‘Ok, so there are some black guys on this record so it’s going to be funky’. But of course, anyone with a brain would realise that’s not always the case. But back then, I didn’t know. It wasn’t a bit ‘til a bit later when I got a portable record player that I started checking stuff out before I was buying.
Then my mate Diggs dragged me to a car boot sale. I remember saying ‘I don’t want to go to a car boot sale, people just selling their old crap’ and sure enough, we went there and picked up a few good albums and it was an instant success. It was like ‘Oh my God, people are just selling great records for like 50p. Are they crazy?’
Age: How do you feel about the DJ being overshadowed by the MC?
Format: I don’t have a problem with the MC being the star and the focal point, that’s just the way that hip-hop evolved. What I’m not too happy with is the way the DJ just got wiped out of the occasion. You go and see rappers perform now and they don’t even have a DJ with them, they’ll just press play on a CD turntable and start their show.
Some of the hip-hop I loved the most was groups where it was a DJ and MC in perfect harmony. Something like RUN DMC – they were the two focal characters, but when you see them perform, they were getting their energy from Jam Master Jay and they wouldn’t have been the same otherwise. I’m talking about the hip-hop I love, that is where it all came from.
The way it started was obviously DJs playing records, rocking parties, getting two copies, trying to extend the breaks and then getting the MCs to big up the DJs. But then rap as an art-form evolved to a point where it all became about the MC.
Age: On a personal level though, you like to be behind the scenes though don’t you?
Format: My happiest time was with Abdominal when we first came out supporting Jurassic 5 and Ugly Duckling, we were very underground. When we were on tour, I would DJ for like half an hour and we’d stretch out the material between us and there was a chemistry between us. Abs was the front man and the focal point, but the way we’d perform sometimes was I’d be on the turntables by the side of him and it would be a little bit more interactive. I had no ambitions to get out from behind the decks and rap, but I like the idea that when you go to a show you’re supposed to be entertained. Unfortunately now, when you go to see a show a lot of rappers just shout their songs at you. I’d rather have the proper energy of a DJ and MC bouncing off each other. Me and Abs would have routines where he’d ask me questions and I’d scratch the answers. It was in a light-hearted way but it kept the crowd engaged and made people aware that we were a team.
Later on, when it was Abdominal and D-sissive on the stage commanding the crowd and me in the background, I was happy with that too, but it felt like they were competing to be the dominant MC on the stage and it felt like it took away from the team element.
Age: Would you say you prefer performing with an MC or would you rather do it on your own?
Format: Well, it is very different. When it comes to doing a live show with an MC you are just restricted to playing your own songs again and again, which I find incredibly boring. I understand that people go to a show to be entertained and hear the songs that they know. It’s the same for me when I go to a show, but when the shoe is on the other foot and I’m on the stage I think ‘Surely the people in the audience want to hear something different. Newer, fresher and interesting?’ So when I’m just performing as a DJ, the freedom is great, so I can play anything I like, I’m just playing other peoples records in a way that I think and hope people will enjoy.
I don’t plan on doing any new shows with MCs in the future. Because the people that I’ve worked with on my new album it’s not going to be easy to get them together on the same stage so I’ve got to find other ways to present my new album without getting MCs on the stage.
Age: What’s your favourite part of being a DJ?
Format: I think my favorite part of being a DJ is the fact that I can go dig and discover a record and instantly visualise and think ‘I can’t wait to play that at a party’ or realise that no ones heard it before or no one in the room on that particular night will have heard it. I like to play something that will be different to what other DJs are playing. A lot of people like to operate by playing the latest promos and saying those are things that other people don’t have, but I go the other way, go back and dig for records that have been overlooked and are waiting to be re-discovered by people like me and then play them now, today and get people to enjoy them – bringing something new to people’s ears.
Age: Do you expect a certain reaction from the audience that if you don’t get you’re not happy?
Format: Obviously people walking out is not a good thing. If everyone is dancing, then it’s obvious that it’s going well. But personally, if I’m at a club listening to someone’s music, it’s very rare that I would dance because dancing is not a natural thing to me. The only time I’d dance is if I’m quite drunk and really letting go of my inhibitions. It’s not that I’m too uptight to dance, it’s just that I find it unnatural. So I have to remember that when I’m DJ’ing. Some people might just be standing there nodding their heads or sat in a corner quietly, but they might be having the time of their life. It’s easier to know that they are enjoying themselves if they are up and dancing, but you just have to gauge if people are enjoying it. A lot of times I’ve done gigs and there was a lot of people just stood around and not really dancing, maybe they didn’t enjoy it or they were expecting something different to what I gave them and they were disappointed, but at the end they’ll come up and be really enthusiastic, telling me how much they enjoyed the music. So I have to remind myself, those guys are just like me, they aren’t natural dancers, but they had a great time.
Age: What do you hate about being a DJ?
Format: I hate it when people come up and ask for a really commercial record that is just something that I’d never play. Like when they come up to me at a party where I’m playing hip-hop and funk and ask for a Lady Gaga record. If I was at a club and I heard a DJ playing music I didn’t like then I’d just assume that he/she had tastes different to mine and me going up and saying ‘Hey, can you play so-and-so’s record’ is not going to change them into a DJ that I instantly like, I’m just in the wrong place. Just forget it.
Age: What would you say in those circumstances?
Format: I’m usually polite. There’s no point in being ignorant about it, we’re both entitled to our own opinions. I just say that I’m playing hip-hop, funk, latin, things of that nature and it might not be their cup of tea, if they like Lady Gaga, but sorry, this is what it’s going to be for the next hour or two. I’m usually so nice about it that they are actually apologetic to me. Sometimes they get angry that I don’t have Lady Gaga, but that’s normally how I’d handle it.
Age: What’s the best venue you’ve ever played at?
Format: As a venue, if we’re being specific, I love playing at the Jazz Cafe because it’s small and intimate enough that you’re really kinda there amongst the people. Even if you’re on the stage it’s still small and intimate enough that it’s enjoyable. I don’t really enjoy being the supposed ‘centre of attention’ on the stage, but at the Jazz Cafe the sound is really good and the people that go there are really good music lovers – choosy music lovers that are there because they know roughly what to expect from you and they won’t come up and ask for stupid records. They’re just there to enjoy what they’re given. By the side of the stage they’ve built a DJ booth and it’s the perfect booth – the turntables, the mixer, everything is setup at the right height, the equipment works perfectly, the monitor speakers in there are crystal clear and you can hear what you’re doing without blasting your ears. As a DJ it’s just a pleasure to play there for all those reasons. The atmosphere is great and the customers that are there are generally great.
Age: What was your favourite gig?
Format: When me and Abdominal supported Jurrassic 5 in 2003, the final two gigs of the tour were 2 nights in Brixton Academy. And while I wouldn’t describe Brixton Academy as my favourite venue – because it’s too big for me, it scared the shit out of me. That was probably one of my proudest moments, because there were 5,000 people, 2 nights in a row going crazy to our music, when half an hour before they might not have heard of us. We won over Jurrassic 5′s audience and it was incredible to get that many people getting what we were doing almost instantly. But it wouldn’t be my choice to play somewhere that big but it was great playing to that many people with that amazing atmosphere. Also Glastonbury and Leeds and Reading festivals on various occasions that have been amazing. I’ve played as a DJ at the Big Chill festival and that’s been good. Sometimes at festivals like that, I might follow another DJ that I feel is so far removed musically from what I do that I just feel like I almost don’t want to go out there and play my music because I feel how can the audience like what this person has just played and also be open to the kind of music that I’m going to play? And I swear nearly every time I think that I’m just completely wrong. People are just more open than I realise. One of the most shocking was at the Big Chill festival about 4 or 5 years ago and before me it was really cheesy dance music and I was thinking it was just a mistake – how could anyone like my music after listening to that. But it was the total opposite, I went out there and started playing my funk and hip-hop and the whole place was just with me and by the end of it I was playing anything and everything, even psychedelic blues records at one point. Festivals have been really kind to me.
Age: If you were playing somewhere as DJ Format would you rather have a small audience or play somewhere large like Brixton.
Format: That’s a tough question because obviously the more people I’m playing to then the bigger of a success I might feel, whereas I’m most comfortable somewhere like the Jazz Cafe where I’m at the same height as the audience and maybe they can’t see me and it’s not all just about me – I’m just providing the music that all these like-minded people are enjoying. That’s probably more me. That’s me in my comfort zone at my happiest.
A few years ago I toured around Australia with ZTrip, Swollen Members and The Jungle Brothers. Some of those shows were quite big and I was there trying to do my intimate club DJ set. I really underestimated the size of what it was and it made me realise that maybe I’m just not cut out for a giant stage, I’m not the kind of DJ that’s going to get on the mic and really hype the crowd up and then play a massive anthem that’s just going to make them go wild. That kind of stuff is cool and it has its place, but it’s not just me. I’m not the guy to be doing that sort of stuff. I’m the guy who drops the unknown gems discretely from behind the turntables and hopefully the majority of people are dancing and enjoying it but there are a few nerds like me standing around thinking ‘wow, what the hell is this record? I’ve never heard it before but it sounds awesome.’ That’s the stuff I get a kick out of. I’m not cut out for the big time and it’s just not for me. I just love the idea of having a small, enthusiastic, loyal fan base who will come and see me play with an open mind. They know I’m not going to play a big anthem. Anyone can do that and I’m not knocking it but it’s not for me.
Age: Who have you enjoyed collaborating with the most?
Format: I’ve genuinely enjoyed collaborating with all the guys I’ve worked with. I’ve been really lucky, I haven’t chosen egotistical dick-heads. I’ve been fortunate that I’ve hooked up with down-to-earth people like myself. Sure you could say that Charli Tuna and Akil are big stars, but they’re the nicest people you’d ever want to meet. I’ve toured with Ugly Duckling, Little Barry and people like that who are just lovely.
When it comes to making records, I’ve enjoyed working with all the people I’ve worked with. Abs was a pleasure to work with particularly, but since I’ve hooked up with Sure Shot La Rock…I know it’s easy to big up the person you’re working with now, but honestly, the partnership I’ve got now with Sure Shot is something that I’ve never quite had before. I just wish we lived in the same damn Country. But, the working relationship we have is just incredible – the mutual respect and trust of each other’s opinions – like for example, Sure Shot will completely respect and be open to my opinion when it comes to his rhymes and at the same time I’m completely open to his opinion when it comes to my production and the beats or the scratches or whatever. The key is wanting to make the best records possible and having no ego about it – just whatever is best for the record and we both have that. We want to go in the same direction.
Working with Abdominal, he was just off and write a good song and I’d never need to have any input in it, he would write the lyrics and the hook. Obviously there was still a level of collaboration, but I would never say anything about the rhymes because he just didn’t have that particular relationship. Usually, rappers wanna do their thing and you can’t tell them anything. I’m the same to a certain extent, I don’t want someone telling me ‘Yeah you should change that bass line’. But that’s the funny thing, with Sure Shot we’re never treading on each other’s toes, we just make suggestions on each other’s work and we just compliment each other perfectly. With Sure Shot, we’re on exactly the same wavelength.
Age: What happens with making a track, do you start off making the beats and then the rapper writes the rhymes?
Format: Yeah, 9 times out of 10 that’s what happens. I’ll make the beat and then give it to a rapper to do their thing. When I’m doing a remix with someone, it’s very different because I’ve already got the track, so it’s very different to creating a song from nothing. But sometimes it doesn’t work like that.
Originally Dope Pusher was a much faster song but that song actually ended up becoming something different – a song called ‘Here Comes the Dope Pusher’ a song I turned into a weird instrumental/spoken word/crazy hip-hop meets psyche with lots of scratches and samples about ‘dope’. I’d accidentally made something different. Hearing the one of the original songs I sampled, I don’t want to name it but it was a Bill Crosby song, and it made me want to do a throw back song about dope.
There have been other times where it’s been different. There’s a song I did for Abdominals album called ‘Breathe Later’ which was a completely different approach for me, yet I’m so proud for the outcome as I never would have made that song if we’d have done it the normal way, I would have just given him a beat that I thought was right and he would have performed the raps over it. But this was raps that he had written years ago and you might have seen him perform them on stage at shows – he would take one breath and then rap as many bars as he could just on one breath. He would do that on stage and it got to the point that he knew he wanted that to be an epic song, but he didn’t know what the music was going to be and eventually he just went in the studio and recorded it to a metronome. He chose a tempo that he felt comfortable with and recorded it to a click track then just sent me the a capella. Then I ended up fitting the music around what he was saying and I got really adventurous using all these samples around breathing and human beat-boxing and scratching breathing sounds and totally having fun with it.
Another example of when I worked a different way comes from my new album. There’s a song with Sure Shot called ‘A Quick Ego Trip‘ – he wrote those rhymes because he was inspired by a beat he heard by the Daily Diggers that particularly inspired him and he started writing this rap and I got inspired by that. So it got to the point where I got a drum break that was the right tempo for the rhymes he’d written, I think it was 85bpm and I knew I wanted to keep it basic and rap but it had to also be kinda funky to fit the whole mood of his raps. It got to the point where he’d recorded the song and so many different versions of it and I hadn’t settled on the right beat for this track and it wasn’t until quite a long time afterwards that I actually found a break that I thought was right for that song. And so that was again working backwards to the way I normally work.
Age: You’re obviously a big fan of digging in the crates, do you have any secret spots like DJ Shadow reveals in ‘Scratch’.
Format: I wouldn’t say I have any ‘secret’ spots, but if I do find a good record shop I’m not going to shout my mouth off about it to too many people because it’s getting harder and harder to find good record shops so I don’t want to cut my nose off to spite my face. It’s a dilemma for me because record shops find it hard to stay in business and I find it frustrating that so many times you walk in record shops and just see the same old crap because people have put the interesting stuff on the internet, on Ebay, because they think they’re going to get more money that way. So when I find a good record shop, I want to shout about it to help the record shop owner to help keep that shop in business, but from a selfish point of view I want to keep that quiet so when I go back there there might be some good records again.
There aren’t any real secrets spots. This Country is not such a big place. In America you can have places like that, like where Shadow goes – record shops with basements full of 50,000 records but it’s not like that in this Country. I’m not saying it’s not possible, but I can’t think of many places like that here.
I definitely love digging when I’m touring or away and I don’t mind talking about those spots because I’m less likely to go back to them. If I’ve got a friend like Mr Thing who’s going to a certain city and I know there’s a good record shop there then of course I’m going to tell them but I wouldn’t start shouting about it on the internet.
Age: How do you go about finding the perfect break?
Format: I’ve got loads of different portable record players but really the one I take digging these days is the ‘Sound Burger‘ because it’s kind of the smallest and most convenient and it is also a really good quality player. I used to take my Fisher Price kids record player everywhere but some record shops owners get a little freaked out by kids records players and don’t wanna let you play their valuable records on a kids record player. But I’ve found that with the Sound Burger you’re more likely to be able to gain the trust of a record dealer because it is a quality bit of equipment. With the Sound Burger, you can hear the sound in stereo. While with the Fisher Price player they didn’t have stereo, they just came with a mono speaker and the wiring inside is very simple. And so when you hook up a headphone socket into it, it just puts it into mono. Some things admittedly sound better in mono but in some cases I might miss something. If I’m listening with the Sound Burger I might find that the drums are in the right channel and the bass line is in the left and when I get home I could just separate them and sample it, but on the Fisher Price I might have missed out on that. Especially with late 60s records, they were still experimenting with stereo sound and they were literally panning the drums over to the left and the guitar over to the right, it was as crude as that. It wasn’t very subtle and you can do some clever work with the sampler if you know what you’re doing.
So I just look for little signs on the record. Personally I’m digging for late 60s records, rock and stuff like that. A lot of records will tell you the instruments that are played on the album on the back of the sleeve and I could work out what the record might be like – if they’re playing banjos and steel guitars it might not be any good to me. I’ll also look out for producers that I know make good music and other telltale signs. For a novice it all sounds a bit vague, but for people like me it will make sense. It’s just something you figure out for yourself, even if no one ever tells you, it’s just common sense, it’s instinct.
Age: I see some Battle Breaks in your collection. Do you have many of those?
Format: I’ve only got a couple. For me, that’s the best one, the first one that came out. They put so many good things in there. But then it just got exhausted, people were just making records with the scratches and all the sounds. But there are nice little intricate things to scratch on and use in a track.
Age: What’s your favourite bit of equipment?
Format: The portable record player. Without that I’d have missed a lot of records. But when I get home the AKAI is good for sampling but now with computers I can easily get the sounds that I want. For me it’s all about the sample source. Some people can take a mediocre sound or break and make it sound better through studio wizardry, but personally I’m all about finding that incredible record to begin with and putting it together with something that works perfectly. Finding the right scratches, drum break with the right bass line that compliment each other and putting it all together. I like to think that my technical skills are not really where the magic is – I’m not great with that stuff. I know my way around a sampler, I’ve been using them since ’92/’93 but computers not so much. But in most instances if I can’t use one bit of equipment I can use another. But it’s all about the beats and how do I find them? With a Sound Burger and a bit of common sense.
Age: What’s a typical day in the life of DJ Format?
Format: Ha! A typical day in my life will depend on what day of the week it is. If we’re talking about a typical Friday or a typical Saturday, it’s going to involve a lot of travelling, a lot of time on my own going to a venue, hopefully a bit of digging when I get there and a lot of waiting around. It’s not al glamorous. I spend a lot of time waiting around. Then DJ’ing, having a few drinks and playing the music that I love. That’s a good typical Friday or Saturday, while a bad one is a lot of travelling and a lot of boring time spent on my own with no good record shops to look at and a situation where the promoter of the venue loves my music but he’s misjudged his audience and there’s no way that my music is going to go down well because it’s full of young kids who want to hear loads of commercial music. So I might spend a quite frustrating night playing records that I know people don’t really want but I’m not going to compromise and play music that I don’t like.
A typical weekday would be…get up, feed the cat, have a shower, normal every day things that everyone does. Then spend a lot of time in my studio messing around with ideas and just working on music. But I do get distracted by everyday stuff like having to do the washing. Because I’m doing something that I love I can do it all day and night. Mostly I’m just in the studio working.
It’s funny because I spend so much time on my own. People think that my life must be exciting and yeah, I really enjoy it, but it’s not what you think. I spend a lot of time on my own just pleasing myself and making music, with not much contact with the outside world. I’m not drinking champagne and hanging out with super models, I’m just doing regular stuff and spending hours and hours with music.
Age: How do you feel about the manufactured garbage caused by X-Factor and Pop Idol?
Format: I have really mixed feelings about it…well, not that mixed, it’s all negative. But some days it makes me angry, while other days it makes me sad. Ultimately I think it’s sad that people are just force-fed that this is ‘good’ music and this is a judge of whether this is good music or not – according to a nob like Simon Cowell. All they are looking for is commercial potential and that’s not a measure of talent. Basically they’re just trying to decide if they can make money from these people. That’s just a different world to what I live in. So yeah, I think it’s disturbing but it is a lot of people’s idea of music and the whole quest for fame. People think ‘I want to be famous’ – why? Why do you want to be famous? Do you even have any idea of what that would entail? Do you really want to be recognised everywhere you go and hounded by people? Why would anyone want that? Ultimately it’s entertainment but it’s all about a handful of people making a shit-load of money out of other people. It’s not a part of the world I live in so I try not to let it bother me too much.
Age: What’s the last cassette tape that you bought?
Format: At a car boot sale a few weeks ago I bought the cassette version of the original ‘League of Gentleman‘ Radio 4 comedy series from before it was on TV. On that same day I got an album by James Brown called ‘Hell‘ and LL Cool J’s ‘Bad’ album. I bought those cassettes because I was at this car boot trying to find records and I couldn’t find anything and so it was kind of out of desperation with me thinking ‘Bloody hell I’ve to buy something.’ and because I’ve still got a tape cassette player in my car I thought it might be fun to listen to while I’m driving round.
Age: What do you think about the prominence of DJ culture in modern advertising?
Format: I try not to let it bother me too much. Hip-hop culture has just become such a part of everyday life that you’ll see all this stuff in adverts. I would say that the scene that I know and love is dying and has been dying for a long time but that doesn’t make me hate seeing hip-hop elements in adverts. I’d feel happier if there was a healthier scene of authentic hip-hop that was still alive. If there were a few more of us doing the right thing and making some proper music without constantly worrying about money, fame and nonsense like that but just for the sake of making good music or putting on good shows and having a bit of unity – like the original values of hip-hop ‘peace, unity and having fun’ – if there was a bit more of that then I wouldn’t worry about anything else. It’s just the way things of gone. Advertisers latch onto anything they think is trendy and fashionable.
Age: Would you ever get involved in making music for advertising or computer games?
Format: I don’t like the idea of making music to order. I know it’s a cliché, but I really do just want to make the music for myself – the music that I want to hear. I wish other people made it, so I just get on and do it myself the way I want to hear it done. I can’t say I’d definitely not want to do it, but it would depend on the circumstances.
I had a friend that was doing some art design work, I think it was for DJ Hero and he offered to put my name forward to do some music for it and I told him not to. I didn’t like the idea of it. I don’t want them to come back to me and tell me to make changes to my music. If I’ve made something the way I want it and someone comes along and asks if they can use it for a certain purpose then I can consider that, if it’s suitable and something I want to do. Some people make music to order, but that’s something I really don’t want to do, I’d rather just get a regular job that was soul-destroying in its own ways. For me it would be far more soul-destroying to make music that I didn’t want to make, than do a job that I didn’t want to do because music is my passion and I take it very personally. So to do stuff I knew was shit, I’d find that hard.
But it depends how much freedom I’ve got, depending on the circumstances. Unfortunately, there’s very little hope of making much money from the sort of music that I want to make. So it might be acceptable if I had to do it in order to keep myself afloat.
When it comes to having my music used on adverts. It hasn’t happened yet, but I have turned stuff down. It was for something really cheesy that I didn’t want my music associated with. It’s also because the way that I make music a lot of the time is using samples. Most of the time, it’s using samples. There’s a couple of tracks on the new album with musicians but generally speaking the majority of what I do is working with samples. So, I have to be careful putting my music in a place where it’s going to be heard by a lot of people and people know that you’re going to be making a lot of money off of it. Because then the people that you’ve sampled might start coming after you. I need to be respectful of that fact. I creatively borrow and however you want to look at it, I ultimately steal other people’s music without asking. If you break it down in the most truthful way, that’s what I’m doing. I like to think I’m doing something artistic with it that has a purpose, but maybe the artist that I’ve sampled wouldn’t agree with that and wouldn’t approve, so I’ve got to be respectful of the fact that this is how I choose to make music, I can’t start bitching about how I’m not making money from it because ultimately if these other people hadn’t made it in the first place I wouldn’t be regurgitating it and doing my thing with it.
Age: But someone like DJ Shadow samples other people and his stuff gets used in all sorts of advertising.
Format: Yeah, but he’s at a different end of the spectrum. He’s making so much money that he can afford to clear his samples and do that sort of stuff, where, the level that I’m at I’ve gotta just do what I’m doing and hope no one notices and if they do, hopefully they’ll notice I’m not doing much and obviously not making much money and therefore aren’t worth pursuing legally. Whereas anyone that looks at Shadow’s business affairs are going to realise that he’s very successful and is making a lot of money, selling a lot of records and is obviously an easier target to sue. I like to be realistic about my situation.
Age: What happened with PIAS?
Format: Wall of Sound merged with PIAS and unfortunately PIAS became PIAS/Wall of Sound and lost all its staff and artists. I don’t want to sound bitter about it, it’s just a shame.
Check back in again soon for part 2, 3, 4….
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