In Conversation With… Jaguar Skills

Features
Leeds Festival

A ninja (忍者) or shinobi (忍び) was a covert agent or mercenary in feudal Japan who specialized in unorthodox warfare. The functions of the ninja included espionage, sabotage, infiltration, and assassination, and open combat in certain situations. Their covert methods of waging war contrasted the ninja with the samurai, who observed strict rules about honor and combat. These days ninjas have moved with the times and unlike his blood thirsty brethren 21st century ninja Jaguar Skills uses his dexterity to chop tracks rather than adversaries as he shows off his famed dexterity on the turntables.

Honing his craft and love of music for the last 20 years Jaguar Skills is one of the UK’s most singular music talents. Peerless behind the decks and yet with his anonymity still intact, he is a constituently impressive presence on the club and festival circuit, delighting ravers with his faultless technical sets and encyclopedic knowledge of drum and bass, hip-hop and everything in between, while in the studio, Jags continues his evolution into a producer of A-list quality.

As Data Transmission readers will know, we are huge fans of Jag, so as he prepares for a big summer starting this weekend at The Nest in London and including gigs at Glastonbury, Latitude, Y Not Festival and Reading & Leeds Festival (check here for the schedule), we grabbed some time with him to chat about music, festivals and more. 

Hey man, Just wanted to say a big thanks for taking the time out of your day to chat to us today, I know you’ve been ill so I appreciate it a lot!

Yeah its cool man, I think I had some sort of allergic reaction to something it was crazy, my stomach swelled up like shit but I’m all good now I’ve had the baby!

I wanted to kick things off by talking about production, you have recently produced and released your new track entitled ‘Fly’ featuring WiDE AWAKE, what can you tell us about your recent move to production?

Well you know it’s kind of in its infancy because I spent so long DJing and trying to learn how to really do that and now it’s only in the last year or so that I’ve felt like yeah we can make a professional sounding full on banger and you know because I play so many different styles of music I’ve been seeing what kind of works. It’s taken a minute for me just to see what I want to make and I’m still in the process where I’m thinking, Oh I kinda want to put out some Hip-Hop tunes and oh I kinda want to put out some soul records, haha. So it’s just kind of been that situation where I’m saying, would you want to hear a Jaguar Skills house record or would you want to hear a Jaguar Skills mad festival demolisher because you know me as an artist I like so many different things so it’s a process of me trying to pigeon down what people want to hear from me. It’s only really been in the last year that I’ve been testing the waters, I’ve released a couple of Drum & Bass tunes, a couple of grime records, a kind of bass house tune and now theres been ‘Fly’ which is a kind of Diplo style record if you get what I mean and you know in all the mainstream clubs they’ve all been doing great and I’m so pleased with all the support. So mainly that’s what I’ve been doing in terms of production but I think now with all the new stuff I have coming out, I have kinda nailed on a sound and we’ve got some really exciting tunes in the machine right now.

Yeah, I completely get what you’re saying. When people see your name on a festival lineup it’s not one of those names where you can say “oh this is going to be a DnB set or oh this is going to be a house set” you love to switch it up and its easy to see that in your sets.

Yeah exactly so can you imagine now if you were Jaguar Skills and someone says to you to make a tune. You’re going to be like, ‘fuck, what the hell am I going to make’. You know I could turn round and make a disco record haha. You know if you’re a DJ you have more freedom but as an artist it’s hard, for example one of my Drum & Bass tracks ‘Riot Squad’ has gone down really well, you know like it’s turned into a bit of an anthem, so do I keep making a load of those? You know If someone heard that and then they heard ‘Fly’ would that freak them out too much? What would the Drum & Bass guys think? They’d want more tunes like ‘Riot Squad’ and then they hear ‘Reload That’ or ‘Fly’ and then be like ‘what the fuck’. You know I don’t want people to have heard ‘Riot Squad’ and then have heard ‘Fly’ to tell me to go and fuck myself you know I’d rather they got to know me because if you don’t know me as a DJ you’re going to be a bit freaked out if you know me as just the artist.

Your mixing style is very much reflected by your ninja style appearance, its very fast paced and you love to chop and change between genre all the time. Where did you get the inspiration for your style of DJing?

There was a bit of an epiphany for me as a person music wise, you know of course when we grow up we’re always into one thing, so that’s the first thing you like and if you like music you get really into it and when you pick it up at 16 and you’re still doing it come 25 you like to think you’ve nailed it after all those years and I was like a massive Hip-Hop dude and there was a DJ called ‘Kid Capri’ and he was like the best Hip-Hop DJ in the world man, he was fucking great and he’s really good at parties and you know growing up around all the American Hip-Hop I wasn’t really checking Drum & Bass and other stuff. My dad was a DJ, he was a reggae DJ and they play records really fast man, reggae sound clashes it’s like 3 or 4 bars and then it rewinds, boom, that’s it. You know it could be the biggest tune of the night and they’ll play like the first bar, spin it back and you’ve won, done you’ll never hear that tune again and so I never grew up in the world of long DJ mixes or house music or anything like that where is like a kind of progression. I was more into the chopping and changing, for example Kid Capri he might play like 8 bars of one Hip-Hop record and then he’ll just do the chorus or verse of another record and then half way through do another verse and everyone knows the words so I was like, shit that’s fucking clever man. In those days with Hip-Hop you could play the sample of a big Hip-Hop tune, for example Jump Around, you could play the sample of Jump Around and then you play the vocals over the top of it and it’s just clever if you know what I mean. It was a mixture of DJs getting breaks together, old samples together and mixing them with the original and doing it at a really high super fast paced and so I was doing that whole turntablist thing and then I just thought, what If I play a house record like that or I play a funk record like that. I remember playing this house party once in Ibiza and it was fucking mental, I DJ’d for like 10 hours and I realised I could play anything, any tune you can think of and everyone was loving it, you know I had full on gangsters dancing to Madonna records and it was just a proper party. I used to call the style edgy wedding haha, you know it was like a proper pissed wedding DJ playing proper tunes, proper corny shit. But you know for me there was guilty pleasure music that everyone liked and I guess for me it was about embracing that kind of music, when I was playing at smaller places, and just throwing a massive party like a proper selector. Playing something like the intro to Michael Jackson’s ‘Billy Jean’ and then bringing in some Rap or something that everyone knew. It wasn’t until I started playing festivals that I realised I could take that style and present some really gnarly shit in the spirit of someone like The Prodigy or some mad rock band and then all of a sudden switch into a House track or switch it into a Drum & Bass track and you’re still bopping along. It all comes from the Hip-Hop background using samples, its all about bits of the record rather than the tune itself. I’m not interested in playing a tune, it’s far more advanced now. When I’m at a festival it’s all about performing and throwing a show but I’m aware of that being marmite material, you know some people might not like it but I don’t give a fuck really like I’m happy that I do something that no one really does. People aren’t going to come to one of my gigs and leave without an opinion, people will either love it or absolutely hate it.

Like you said your dad was a DJ which clearly meant you were brought up around music, would you say he was a big inspiration for you?

Yeah absolutely, he was amazing man, he was a real librarian of music. He had all types of different music and when I was growing up I was exposed to so many different types of music. I was sampling music from such a young age, I found out there was a Star Wars lazor gun sound and I was going back and forth on the record with it all day. It was all very visual for me, when you listen to a cop show theme tune or the Rocky theme tune or good old school theme tunes they all make you wanna run 100 miles an hour, roll across your sofa and pull out your sword or jump into your car like it’s Nightrider or something. I was really into that sort of music and it really made me imagine different superhero intros or ninja intros and when I was making my stuff that was such a massive inspiration for me. I wanted a character in a world of action and adventure, he’s like a computer game playing, DJ, stoner ninja who’s just shit. The very first thing I made was the soundtrack to Jaguar Skills as if it was a TV show and this is what it said on the vinyl; “ The Jaguar Skills was a TV show from the 70s and this is the first time the soundtrack has ever been released and it’s been remastered for your listening pleasure.” We designed the cover like an old record and that is what Jaguar Skills was to begin with, it was just a concept.

You’re recent music video to ‘FLY’ is very visual, would you say your interest in B-Movies played a part in influencing this?

It’s all a creative process, you know I guess it comes down to the visual thing. For example comics, my dad was a comic book collector so I grew up around tons of comics, so you put records and comics together you’re going to get Jaguar Skills I guess. I would look at a comic book cover whilst listening to these mad funk records and I would really get into it thinking how cool it was. Then I would see Bruce Lee or watch a ninja movie and be like, shit that’s cool, like a proper nerd. So you know all I’ve done really is put it all together and it all plays a massive influence in the music I produce.

Does all of that also lead onto the reason behind your anonymity with the mask?

Yeah you know it’s quite funny, there isn’t any pictures of me online without the mask, theres like some people but that’s not me, theres a picture of Danny Byrd and someone else but that’s not me. It’s quite mad in this day and age to go 10 years without a single photo reaching the internet. It’s funny because it’s like being invisible, when you’re with people and they’re talking about you and they have no clue. I’ve been locked outside of my own club once because the bouncers didn’t believe it was me and I had to get my manager down to sort it out. I guess as well with putting on a mask to perform you definitely become someone else and you know no one can really say they put on a mask to do their job.

You’ve recently been announced on the Glastonbury lineup, how does that feel and what else do you have in store for the rest of 2017?

It’s great man, its just so great. I love doing big festivals with everyone and it’s definitely something I cant wait to do. As for the rest of 2017, I have another EP coming out soon. We’ve got a bunch of new tunes coming, a VIP of ‘Riot Squad’ and just loads of music. On top of that I’ve just got a bunch of cool festivals man, I’ve got Reading and Leeds and Bestival so it’s all going to be sick!