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Justin Robertson: Rave New World

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It was reported not long ago that the number of clubs in the UK have halved in the past decade. This hasn’t stopped Manchester thriving, as can be seen with new venue Hidden, where you’ll be playing later on in the month. However, Sankeys announced they will be holding large-scale events at Victoria Warehouse over the next five years, arguably in competition with WHP. As a veteran of clubbing and having started a few of your own nights, do you worry for the smaller promoters?

A lot these stories are based on experiences around certain areas of London where properties are worth so much that property developers are forcing out tenants and building apartments in places where there never used to be anything, that are now near clubs. Land has become so valuable in central London that people are selling places off to developers and they’re voraciously buying anything they can lay their hands on in a free-for-all snatch. I don’t think it’s a ‘club’ thing. It’s certainly not a case of people being less enthusiastic about music or not wanting to go out. Articles I’ve read have insinuated those are the reasons, but if you go out to a club or an event, or a festival, there’s still total love for the music. The energy levels are, if anything, more exciting than it has been for years. It’s a new generation, the music’s refreshing itself all the time. I wouldn’t worry about it in the sense of ‘no one’s into going out or listening to music anymore’ , that’s definitely not the case but there is a question about whether this unfettered land grab is allowed to go on; not just to do with nightclubs, but with affordable housing, the way our cities are and the people living in them. If we just keep driving house prices up and building more and more flats which are sold off to people who don’t live in them, it’ll drive creative people away and ruin the diversity of the city, and that is a worry, in terms of clubs.

Places close and new places open. I started the night Spice with Greg Fenton because we wanted to do something for our mates who wanted to listen to slightly different music to what we were hearing in other clubs. People find room to express themselves and do what they want to do. I don’t worry that human ingenuity will not find the space or the enthusiasm to do things, it’s just whether the powers that be will let them have anywhere do it. That’s the only worry! I’m certainly not downhearted about the state of club land or its future. People want to listen to music, to go out, to meet people. You can’t just sit at home on your laptop all day, you’ve got to go out and meet people and touch each other and dance about and drink! So, I am optimistic.

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You’ve said you wouldn’t be where you are now if it wasn’t for Eastern Bloc. Are you still quite connected to those guys now?

Yes, I actually saw Mark Turner who used to work there the other week. I still see a lot of people who used to work at the shop and I’ve been conversing with John Berry (the owner) about maybe doing some stuff with them next year so yeah, still keep in contact.

You’ve mentioned your drive comes from being a fanboy at heart. How do you normally access new music?

I live quite near Rough Trade West so I go there quite often. When I’m in Manchester I always pop into Piccadilly Records or Eastern Bloc, so I very much still use the traditional method of going to a record shop but I trawl about through the various digital places and luckily I get sent quite a lot of stuff as well. I like to be quite active in online communities and keep an eye out when people recommend records, and I’ll also recommend tracks to people. I could probably play a four hour set from the records I bought in the last 5 days. There’s so much good stuff out there. It’s a brilliant place to be, I don’t like the thought of having to scrape about for stuff.

Some people seem to express the opinion that the digital age has taken some of the adventure out of getting new music because it’s so easy but in actual fact it throws up a lot more challenges. Because there is so much stuff out there, you have to filter it yourself but it also gives you the opportunity to discover music that you’ve never heard of and whole new areas you never knew existed. In the ’90s I used to buy loads of records and thought I had a reasonably good knowledge of music and suddenly there’s music from eastern parts of Europe or Africa that I’d never heard before. I’ll find that there’s music from the past you’re just unaware of and suddenly that whole area’s been opened up; I think it’s fascinating. I wish there were a few more hours in the day to listen to it all.

You and us both! How is a remix born? Do you normally listen to something you just have to work your magic on, or do a lot of artists approach you?

A bit of both. I get approached a fair amount and I’m actually getting some of my own stuff remixed – my brief is just do what you want! I think people will come to you if they want your sound and confident you can do something interesting with it. Occasionally I get the groups that ask me to do a remix but they don’t really want a remix doing, if you know what I mean. They’ll give me a brief and ask me to do such and such and I’ll go “I’ll have to pass on that…”, but luckily that doesn’t happen too often. A remix should be someone taking it off in a new direction and using the original as a compliment rather than a dance version of a song that already exists. 

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The art you’ve recently exhibited, sharing the same title as your new album, is reminiscent of a cover of a sci-fi novel from the 1950s. What was the idea behind the album cover, and if you were yet to find a cover, what piece of historical art or book cover would best reflect Everything is Turbulence, given its overarching feel?

The album cover is a photo by a friend called Nick Ball who’s a photographer and it’s a tombstone in Kensal Green Cemetery where I live next to. I always walk past it and whenever I do I always think “that would be such a brilliant record cover”. The album cover was decided before I’d even made a single note of it! I’m fairly happy with the image I’ve got, that pretty much does sum it up! The title is just resolutely anti-deterministic and anti-scientific reduction of human life, or to equations or single theories of anything. It’s a celebration of uncertainty.

Are you doing more art?

Yeah, I’m constantly doing stuff. I’ve got a few more pieces that will make up the last of the Everything is Turbulence show, which I think we might do a small exhibition for at the end of the year. I’ve got quite a lot of new work but it’s more pencil drawing. I’d say it’s got the feel of a psychedelic Victorian explorer returning from a mission in strange lands. A bit like the discovery of a long-lost botanist’s work.

You used record stiffeners on your recent art pieces. Will you be continuing to exercise your artistic flair and if so, will you be using other music-influenced mediums?

No, I mean there’s two reasons why I used them: one, it’s cheap and two, they’re readily available. I also like the way oil goes on the card, it dries a lot quicker and it has this more mattifying look to it which I quite like.

Sweden’s loppis are a hoarder’s heaven and last year you spent hours flicking through the vinyl selection of Veddige’s loppi. What treasures did you find there?

They’re just bric-a-brac stores but there seem to be a real culture of second hand shops. They seem to be very good at it in Sweden! The place I was talking about in particular is this mad little hut on the side of the road just full of records.

Finally, are there any dark secrets from the Solitary Cyclist Studio that you’d be willing to share with readers of DT?

Not really, not that I’ll ever admit to it! But the clue’s in the name: solitary cyclist. I’m usually here on my own! Only good things and pure thoughts and nothing untoward happens.

A gentleman to his core, we’ll have to take his word for it. Justin plays at Hidden with Greg Wilson on 26th September (tickets available here) and his new album Everything is Turbulence is out 25th September on Skint Records. Check out album cut ‘I Am Automatic’ below.

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