In Conversation With…Timmy Stewart and JMX
We caught up with Belfast based DJs and producers Timmy Stewart and JMX (John), before their appearance at this year’s AVA Festival. Timmy & JMX have played AVA every year since it’s beginning in 2014, and have helped in setting up AVA’s Emerging Talent contest. Timmy and John have also co-founded label Extended Play, boasting all Irish talent.
Hi Timmy, John, How are you both?
Timmy: Hey Jodie, we’re good, how are you?
Good, glad to hear it. So, tell me a bit about your label that you run together, a bit of background on you both, who you are, what you do, how long you’ve been going for?
Timmy: Yeah, so I’ve been DJing in Belfast for 25 years. I started out as a teenager in the whole acid house boom in Belfast, where you have guys like David Holmes and Ian McCready running Sugar Sweet parties, (https://www.theguardian.com/music/2020/jan/01/sugar-sweet-rave-united-belfast-david-holmes-iain-mccready) and you have people like Andrew Weatherall, Slam, helping the techno scene in Belfast. I was like 19-20 when I went on to do my first gigs in Kelly’s, and in the art college, playing with people like Carl Cox and Dave Clarke, techno upstart I suppose. I’d been DJing for about three years when the demise of the art college happened, and then I started my own parties in Belfast called Digital Boogie. John (JMX) is a wee bit younger than me, he was coming to my club nights. He’d also been going to things in the Ulster Hall.
JMX: Yeah I’d been going to things like Hellraiser, Charlie Heggarty’s in Bangor and then ended up DJing in Shine.
Timmy: Yeah, I think that was the thing, both of us were residents in Shine at around the same time. It was when Shine had opened the Stiff Kitten, so I was kind of brought in. I’d been running various nights in Belfast that got the attention of those guys when they were opening a sister club to shine, they approached me to say, you know, we’d like you to be one of the residents and be involved in the bookings. You know, so I brought the kind of house element into what they were doing. So I would have been booking people like Switch, the guys from Get Physical, Seth Troxler and people like that. It was when Shine started using their room two, more as a secondary room. There was John, John Craig, Terry Keeley, myself, and then from that, John (JMX) and I started DJing together a few times. We ended up playing together and then realised we had a very similar taste. John suggested we go into the studio together and see what we come up with. We started a studio project called the Jet Project and it was basically us working together and getting our ideas down. It was a mixture of both house and techno. We recorded a lot of stuff for Silicone Soul’s label, Darkroom Dubs a sister to Soma from Slam and all the Glasgow crew. We started putting out a lot of music as the Jet Project and then DJing all over the place. Switzerland, Barcelona London, everywhere. We started making a lot of music. When you made music and signed it, there was a huge delay to when it actually came out. So we started having all these tracks piling up around us. We then said really, we should probably have our own label because you really felt those delays at times as you were signing something, and you were moving into a line-up of releases, and that something might not come out for a year. We thought this would be the perfect opportunity for us to create a label of our own. We started it with a friend of ours called Chris from Sheffield, and it was a straight up digital label, and we thought let’s give it a go, see how it pans out, and at the start, it was just literally to release our music.
JMX: We also met some other DJs, some of the younger DJs, who began to send us demos as well. Cromby is one of them.
Timmy: We were the first people to release tracks by Cromby. We actually named Cromby, because he had a terrible name, he had a name that we just went “no, we can’t release music with someone called that.”
JMX: Ejeca as well, we put out one of Ejeca’s early releases.
Timmy: We became, I suppose, an exclusively Irish label. We always wanted to put music out and help people on the homefront. But the truth was we weren’t getting enough demos that were the right quality at that time. We started mentoring people quite a lot , people like Chris McCormick (Cromby), were sending us music and we were listening and giving advice.
JMX: We felt like it was a turning point. We could turn this label into a showcase of Irish talent.
Timmy: We started getting enough demos that we said, actually, we want to turn this into a platform for Irish music. Running record labels these days is a bit of a labour of love. No one is running a record label as a standalone business model, people have other things they’re doing to bring in income. For John and I, it’s pretty much been a mentoring project. If you went to someone with a business plan that was a record label to release only Irish music, some artists that no one has ever heard of, they would just laugh you out of the room. I suppose for us, it created an opportunity, where your door was open and people could send you music and you could help them to the finish line.
JMX: And we also did do a few 12-inches as well, which were good.
Timmy: To be honest, the biggest turning point for me with extended play was EP 50. It was a bit of a milestone for the label, as we were also able to put out a release that was completely Irish music.
JMX: It featured Chris Hanna, who now goes by Carlton Doom.
Timmy: Yeah, Chris Hanna was on there, JC Williams was on there, Ejeca was on there. It felt really nice, it felt like that was the point that everybody’s music was properly world-class. It’s very hard to get into artist management for people, it takes an awful lot of time. I think our role, is to try and get people off the starter blocks. We’ve released a lot of people, maybe put out their first music, and then we have helped them to get on the other labels and secure other things. I think in a fate way, we kinda turned into this label into something that’s become a help, stepping-stone block for Irish music, mostly Belfast artists. Then, we started getting demos in Dublin, when we started the competition with AVA, to try and find new talent, to discover people who hadn’t had their music released.
JMX: There was Quinton Campbell in that first wave of Dublin artists.
Timmy: Yeah, instead of it just being a Belfast focussed label it’s become an all Ireland label. It is nice, because it’s very hard for people to get their first material signed these days. So I kind of like the fact that people can knock our door.
JMX: There’s also loads!
Timmy: It’s crazy the amount of music we hear, we pretty much have a release a month for the rest this year, and it’s all Irish music. Funny story, when John and I were residents in Shine in this room called the Bunatee. We were one of the first people to play a lot of house music in there, and people used to come up to the booth and absolutely torture the life out of us for track IDs. And it was often the Feel My Bicep blog lads. So then, it was a really nice ripple effect, and when Sarah McBriar (AVA founder) started thinking of having a festival here, Matt McBriar (Sarah’s brother) from Bicep, said: “I think you should speak to these guys, they will be helpful.” AVA have given such huge platforms to artists. They focus attention on local people, and we love the values of the festival.
And have you played AVA every year since the beginning?
Timmy: Yeah, we’ve now actually played more times than Bicep! We ended up getting our own label stage one year, and we were basically able to work with AVA and select the people from the label to do a full lineup across the day. There was Cromby, Swoose, Bobby Analog, Brien ourselves, and then we had some nice headliners, we had Job Jobse and Fatima Yamaha. That was probably my favourite year. We’ve played a big integral part of working with the guys through DJing every year, hosting stages, hosting the competition. I do a bit on the conference side too. Yeah, it’s amazing. Definitely the best thing in Belfast.
Yeah, I’ve been there every year apart from the first year, I’m a big fan of AVA! So Timmy, you’re actually playing AVA in London on 14th March. Are you looking forward to it, have you got your setlist?
Timmy: No! I’m one of those DJs that really prepare sets at all. I listen to music every single day, so I suppose I’m mentally preparing, and listening to things and putting things in folders. I go into a gig armed with a couple of thousand tracks and then I’ll work it out, it’s always the way I DJ. It’s really reactionary to what’s happening infront of me. I’m really looking forward to printworks, it looks like such a great venue, it looks like something out of Bladerunner! The size, the scale etc. I’ve played for AVA at the Warehouse Project twice, I’ve played for them at the All Together Now festival down south, and every time I play for them I always have a good time. I really love the attention to detail the guys put into everything. You know you’re not going to be playing on shoddy equipment, you know the line-ups are going to be good. The people that they attract to their events are the right kind of people. So, it just creates for a really good party, so I am really looking forward to it. I’m really sad because actually, my wife and I are going over to London for the weekend and we booked early to go along and hear Andrew Weatherall speak. So that’s just been a really sad one. It has hit Belfast very, very hard, to be honest, you know, because he had such a rich history here. I think he played Belfast more times than most other countries, he played here a lot since the 90s. So, yeah, that’s going to be very sad that that has ended now. But yeah I’m really looking forward to being over and representing AVA in London.
So Timmy your “armed with thousands of tracks on the day approach” I take it you didn’t do that for your AVA Boiler Room in 2015?
Timmy: Considering you have less than an hour, no! I probably didn’t practice my set enough and as much as I could have, but I did create a folder that was all Northern Irish music. And so my set, the first time on Boiler Room, was pretty much a nod to Belfast; past, present and future. It had some stuff that would’ve been played in the Art College, some unreleased stuff, some of our own label stuff. I actually don’t think I played one of my own tracks, but I played everybody else’s! It was very much a showcase of what Northern Ireland was, is, and where it was headed.
JMX: It’s great to see, from our point of view, the likes of Cromby and all doing so well, and Chris Hanna and all doing the Carlton Doom stuff, Jordan as well.
Timmy: It’s amazing! I think that Belfast is a proper, internationally recognized scene, which is lovely. It’s something that we’ve seen grow, from only one or two well known acts known outside of Northern Ireland to the industry now, it’s incredible.
JMX: The good thing about AVA as well, everyone gets to see each other again.
Timmy: It’s like a homecoming, for a lot of people.
What are you most excited about for AVA this year?
JMX: The new layout!
Timmy: I think they’re raising the bar. AVA have always had to work with the landscape of whatever is there within the venue. So T13 had obviously given them certain areas that they can use as the stage, I think S13 upped that a wee bit because you had the loading bay stage.
JMX: AVA always do put a lot of work into it.
Timmy: The attention to detail is amazing. I think I’m excited because for the first time ever, they’re building the venue from the ground up. They’re going to have a lot more control of certain things, so I’m very excited to walk into that environmemt for the first time.
And what does the future look like for you both?
Timmy: We are excited about the releases that we have coming out this year. John and I have one coming out on the label, and it will probably come out around the time of AVA. We have actually done the track together, we’re going to release it with a solo track that we’ve done each, so a wee three track EP. We’ve also got Ron Elliott’s release, another new artist which people haven’t really heard of before. I think we’re really excited about opening the door to the next wave of artists from Belfast and Dublin. As I said, the level of music that we’re getting sent now is absolutely incredible. We’re excited about where AVA is headed, and that for the first time they’re building the new site from the ground up.
Thank you so much! It’s been great speaking to you both.
This years AVA Festival and conference takes place between 28th and 31st May 2020. Secure tickets by CLICKING HERE