We sat down with renowned house DJ and founder of Freerange Records, Jimpster to talk about his background, producing, favorite records, and his recent EP release One EP with Wajeed and Casamena. Check it out below!
Can you tell us where you are from? Where are you based?
I’m from Essex in the UK and although I’ve lived in both Manchester and London for long periods of time, I gravitated back here when starting a family. It’s a fairly rural area but I can get to the airport in ten minutes and it was a great area growing up due to its strong electronic music heritage with the likes of Depeche Mode, Prodigy and Nitzer Ebb coming from nearby towns. It was also pretty much the epicentre of the rave explosion in the early 90’s with many of the legendary open air events such as Rain Dance, Elevation and Global Dance all being on my doorstep. Apart from a certain reputation for loose women, fake tans and white high heels, I prefer the fact that Essex is also the birthplace of radio with Marconi having his factory in the town of Chelmsford which, according to a quick Google search, was the capital of England for a few days about six hundred years ago!
How long have you been involved in music? When did you first DJ?
I would say I got heavily into music around 1983 when the breakdance explosion started to sweep across the UK. I was instantly hooked on the music - mainly through the Steetsounds Electro compilations which were compiling the big club hits from the US and I guess it was these comps that kick-started my passion for collecting and playing music for me and my crew. In the late 80’s I started to make ‘pause-button mixtapes’ and eventually progressed to cheap vinyl decks with a pitch control. My first gigs came in the very early 90’s playing back rooms and chill-out areas at some of the raves I mentioned. I was always drawn to the deeper, more musical sounds of NYC labels such as Strictly Rhythm, Nu Groove and Emotive which were kind of at odds with what everyone else was playing at the big raves of the time. I also started making tracks properly at this time and had my first releases on a label called Jumpin’ & Pumpin’ which was also home to artists like Future Sound Of London and Humanoid.
Some people call you the nicest man in House music, is this true?
Definitely not! I’m just a good actor and will happily stab anyone in the back once they’ve left the room!
You’ve just released your 250th release on Freerange Records that’s quite a feat. What’s your secret to getting projects done?
Well I’m nowhere nearly as prolific as I was before having kids but with the label we’ve always managed to keep up momentum and our partnership works well with clearly defined job roles and my partner Tom’s amazing organizational and management skills which I would most certainly be lost without. When working on remixes I normally try to set a deadline for myself which helps keep me focused. I used to flit between projects and also switch up my jobs between the label, remixing and dj prep throughout the day but I now I try and set each day aside for a particular project and stick to that in order to avoid getting distracted and procrastinating. Which I’m really good at!
You started the label with your old school friend Tom Roberts. You must be very good friends to work together for so long. How does that relationship work with the label?
We aren’t lovers but I think you could say we’re a bit like a really old married couple. We’re very respectful of each other, loyal and committed but ultimately take each other for granted and bore each other with the same jokes we’ve been repeating for 25 years. I think we’re very similar and having grown up together we find the same things funny and share similar tastes in films, food, art, clothes and occasionally music! Tom has a lifelong aversion to anything with guitars in it whereas I’ve mellowed in my old age and can now enjoy a bit of Nick Drake or John Martyn without prejudice.
Delusions of Grandeur – how does that differ from Freerange Records?
Delusions is the naughtier, more rebellious sister to Freerange. A bit grubbier and with no respect for authority, she likes hanging out in dark, smokey basements and has got in with the wrong crowd. She’s a bit more difficult to pin down, changes her direction frequently and can be at times, quite contrary.
How do you prep for a gig? Any packing tips?
After many years travelling both solo as a DJ but also with live bands, I think I’ve become pretty OCD when it comes to packing. I’ve got slightly different bag/case configurations depending on whether it’s one, two or more than two nights away. As the saying goes, DJ’s get paid for the travel and play the gigs for free and it’s definitely important for me to feel prepared and confident, not only about the actual gig, but also for the travelling side of things. Prep normally starts with making sure I’m up to date on my promo’s and spending time buying some new music so I’ve always got a selection of fresh stuff for my next gig. I buy quite a lot of older vinyl records from Discogs so I digitise those and dig through older bits in my collection for other things to digitise. Once I’m happy with my music I’ll make sure I’ve got some movies on my phone to watch on flights and at the airport and charge up my different devices. Best travel accessory? Apart from my Tucker & Bloom bag?! That would have to be my Bose Quiet Comfort headphones which transport you away from your actual environment into a warm, comforting, cocoon of sound and music. Obviously all this has changed since March due to Covid-19 so no flights or trips away from home and nothing for the foreseeable future but I now have a weekly residency at Studio338 in London so at least I’m getting out to play to a crowd again, albeit no dancing.
How would you describe your style of music when you play out?
It depends on the event I’m playing but ideally I like to be able to cover a fairly broad range of house from deep through to electronic and Afro-influenced, sometimes a bit of funky Detroit techno, sometimes some old Chicago Trax classics, some disco and maybe even some jazz and Latin.... I love playing longer sets which affords you the luxury of enough time to try out new music, go a little deeper and control the warm up and wind down. Variety is the spice of life for me and I normally like to keep things mixed up and dynamic as possible.
What gets you excited in a DJ set?
You mean when listening to other DJ sets? I love discovering old tracks that are new to me and that are played in context with new releases so it is impossible to know whether they’re contemporary tracks or vintage. It’s very hard to pinpoint what makes a great DJ set as there’s definitely a bit of alchemy involved. I’m a firm believer that two different DJ’s could basically play the same set of tracks and one could have a significantly better vibe than the other depending on how they connected with the crowd and other factors that remain a mystery to me. I also love it when I hear a track that I might personally be playing quite often but that seems to create a totally different atmosphere when being played by another DJ.
Is your taste the same for your productions?
I’m not sure I quite understand the question but I think that similar influences inform both my DJ sets and my productions. But.... It’s definitely much harder for me to push outside of ‘my sound’ when in the studio, compared to playing a DJ set in a club. I often go into the studio with a deliberate intention to create something that doesn’t sound like me, but I usually fail. That’s a blessing and a curse really. It’s obviously a nice thing to have a fairly distinctive ‘trademark’ sound that people know and can recognise but can also be a bit frustrating that I struggle to produce a dark, oppressive techno track or fierce drum and bass cut, no matter how hard I try.
Most people have someone in their life who turned them on to music. Who was it for you?
I come from a musical family with both parents being musicians - my dad is a drummer for a jazz/funk/soul band called Shakatak who had some hits in the 80’s and my mum is a jazz vocalist. I was lucky enough to grow up surrounded by music, spending a lot of time hanging out in studios and at soundcheck and gigs. But apart from this extremely blessed upbringing I grew up in a village which had a lot of older kids that were obsessed with new music and I tapped into their knowledge and obsessed over their mixtapes and discoveries. One guy named Peter White went on to found the Space Kat Records label which had some killer output from the likes of Quentin Harris and Franck Roger. Well his sister worked at Mute Records, I think she might have been Daniel Miller’s assistant, and she was getting hold of all these demos and upfront releases which she would bring home and give to Peter who would then introduce to us lot. It was like Jesus and his disciples! This was how I first heard Renegade Soundwave who would be a huge inspiration for all of us. I distinctly remember hearing Cocaine Sex blaring out of his car stereo in our pretty little rural village with old people walking past looking on disapprovingly. This would have been about 1987.
Do you still buy records? Frequent any particular shops?
I still live out in the countryside so tend to rely on buying online most of the time. I do buy vinyl but tends to be second hand stuff from Discogs and only normally if something isn’t available digitally. I buy music from Bandcamp too as it’s a great way of discovering new music and I also find a lot of vinyl only labels release digitally through Bandcamp. I do miss going into record shops and grabbing a pile or having some recommendations to check out on the listening decks but those days of having a few spare hours here and there are pretty much over so I tend to focus on listening online at home.
Are you precious about what format you play? Does that matter in 2020?
I’m one of those annoying people who loves playing vinyl, appreciates the art, believes in the fidelity and dynamics that playing from vinyl can bring to a set, but that still doesn’t do it on a regular basis! Every time I play a vinyl set I promise myself to do more but then when it comes to the logistics of extra checked bags, worrying about badly maintained or set up decks and also the worry of having records lost or stolen by baggage handlers, which incidentally has happened to me three times back in the day, I end up playing it safe and sticking with digital.
Can you tell us a couple of records that mean something to you?
Sandy Rivera/Kings Of Tomorrow - Float
I first heard this around 2003 when Dave Taylor (Solid Groove/Switch) played it at WMC, Miami. I think it was the first time we were there and it was exciting time getting caught up in the atmosphere of the Winter Music Conference at its peak. This track first dropped in 1996 but it tased me by so I’m really grateful to have discovered it later on. It pretty much perfectly sums up deep, dubby, minimal house music for me... completely hypnotic, emotional and just makes you want to move. An absolute masterpiece which I will never get tired of.
Vincenzo & Duffer Swift - Got To Be (Herbert Remix)
Not sure where or when I first heard this but it’s another one of those tracks which slowly unfolds and I just never get bored of. Obviously there are hundreds of records that as soon as I hear them bring certain memories flooding back and that have a special place in my heart but I find that with vocal tracks, or more ‘proper songs’ it’s easier to get bored or over-familiar with them if overplayed. Quite often if I rediscover a song I’ll deliberately hold back on playing it too much to try and keep it special to my ears.
When you’re not DJing, what do you listen to at home to relax?
Mostly jazz, funk, soul, boogie... I follow Rainer Truby’s Soulgliding Facebook group and I’m constantly finding new discoveries through that page which I add to a Spotify playlist for when I’m travelling. He also compiled a brilliant Soulgliding compilation which has just been released on BBE so I picked up the vinyl from the launch party and that still hasn’t left my home listening deck. It’s amazing!
What are your thoughts on the ever-changing music industry right now? How do you keep with the changes?
I try not to give to much thought to how the industry is changing. There’s not enough hours in the day to speculate or try to second guess where things are going and I’m not really the strategist type. I’m happy to just get my head down, trust my instincts and see where the tide takes me.
What’s the story behind this release with Casamena and Waajeed? How did the creative process begin?
I had the basic idea for the track bubbling and had been chatting via email to Casamena about this and that. He was sending me some of his label Ocha’s releases and we chatted about maybe working on something together at some point. I absolutely loved his vocal on Hallex M’s Oggun track and originally had visions of trying to work on a more afro-influenced track. But I played Carlos the demo I had been working on and he suggested doing more of an old school hip house thing and sent a very rough sketch over and I thought it worked great so we sent some more ideas back and forth until we got the track in a pretty much finished state. I like the way the vocal has a distinct NYC flavour and referencing NYC culture but the track itself is very UK sounding. So a nice coming together of different styles by two different artists to make something new and I’m really happy that people are digging it. We produced a video featuring a local house dancer which we shot around a local provincial town near to where I live. Basically, you couldn’t be further from the excitement and cultural heritage of New York, but I really like this juxtaposition and in a way it highlights the profound influence and impact that NYC music and b-boy culture had throughout the world. Waajeed is a producer that I’ve been admiring for many years, probably first discovering him through his Platinum Pied Pipers releases on Ubiquity as well as his contributions to Slum Village and more recently his releases on Sound Signature and his Dirt Tech Reck label. He’s currently working on a new solo LP and getting some remixes made so we worked out a remix swap. I can’t wait to get started on my remix for him now and I owe him a good one!
You’ve been in the industry so long. What advice would you give to young producers in the industry right now?
It’s an interesting time for new producers right now. In some ways it’s easier than ever to get set up making and releasing music and being able to shout about it using social media. But then this has also led to a complete saturation of the market so it also means having to do something extra special to make your voice heard above the noise. My advice has actually remained the same for the last 20 years. Go for the DIY approach to start with. Set up your own label, start your own club night, try and create a family of like-minded people around you with a common goal and if you’re not enjoying the process then it could well not be for you. If you’re good enough to start getting some recognition for your music you will probably start to get offers from labels, or at least, you’ll be able to get labels to listen to your demos, and maybe there will come a point where an established label could help you grow to the next level.
Has Djing changed your relationship with music? Any advice you can give to help younger DJs stay the course?
DJing has bought me closer and more involved with music than I could ever have imagined. As a DJ you are always listening to music with a certain kind of attention and focus on whether the piece will create an emotional impact and connection on the dancefloor. In a way this sometimes feels like a bit of a trap or a curse. For example, my wife will often say to stick the Gilles Peterson 6Music show on the radio but I know that if I turn that show on I’m going to be bugging out for the next three hours trying get track ID’s, hunting stuff down or at the very least, listening far too intently to the show and disappearing into my own world. As a kid I used to love listening to the radio to go to sleep to but I find it impossible to do now as I can’t NOT focus on it. In terms of advice for younger DJ’s I would say use the tools that you have available now to your advantage. There are amazing Facebook groups - the new World Of Echoes set up by Francois K for example - which are an absolute treasure trove of musical delights. Imagine having a platform where some of the worlds best producers and DJ’s share their secret weapons along with some amazing stories which helps give you an insight into where, when, how, why the music came about. It’s a black hole in terms of time but a serious education which can only help a young DJ’s knowledge of quality music and history of club culture grow.
What’s up next for Jimpster? Where can we keep up with you?
The worldwide lockdown has meant having more time in the studio so right now I’m spending some time focusing on a new hardware based solo live project. It’s been 20 years since I played live as Jimpster and I’m really excited about it. It’s a big learning curve though as I need to master a couple of new pieces of equipment - an Akai MPC One and Roland TR8S - but it’s going well so far and I’ll be ready to start with the live shows from 2021. I’ve just finished a new Jimpster release called Smile For A While which will be coming out on Freerange in September as well as remixes for Razor n Tape, Z Records and Unknown Seasons.
Where can we catch you soon?
Unfortunately I had a lot of U.S dates cancelled due to the lockdown but these should be rescheduled once it’s safe to travel and venues start to reopen. For now I’m playing every Friday and Saturday at my wife’s bar and restaurant called Acanteen in Essex and every Monday at Studio338 in South East London. I’ll be continuing my Friday night Sofa Session Livestream for a while and hopefully I’ll get to come and visit you guys in Nashville sometime soon!
How has quarantine affected your outlook as a producer? Are you still making songs with the club in mind?
All the music I’ve been making and listening to has totally shifted to non-‘dance’ music since the lockdown. I’ve always considered myself fairly eclectic in my dj sets but I’d still be buying music with a view to satisfying the Dancefloor on a Saturday night at 4am. I’ve rediscovered my vinyl collection, finding tracks for my livestream and other guest mixes as well as seated gigs and it’s obviously a different discipline completely. The Studio338 terrace party for example is around 300 people, seated in groups of 5-10, no dancing allowed. The energy levels need to be kept high and the vibe must be warm but as soon as people get up and start to dance you have to be straight on it with an ambient track to calm things down. I think it’s an interesting concept and feel like I’m learning a lot about creating moods without the pressure of having to fill a Dancefloor. And that has had a knock on effect on my productions and remixes too. I feel I can free things up a bit, experiment, go deeper or jazzier… and you get the sense that this is a global shift in people’s listening habits so hopefully it’s the case that everyone is opening their ears that little bit more and club music as we know it may take a turn for the more creative.
The Keo Project is currently bootstrapping on Indiegogo where, as of this writing, you can get a painting, a black book piece, or have a chat with the man over a vegan meal in Brooklyn (schedule permitting). Go support over here.