If, like me, you first discovered the joy of mixing vinyl in the early 90s – bottle of Becks wedged between the hand-cut foam under the 1210s and the mixer with no fader knobs, wiping golden tobacco dust off the brushed black plates on the side of your t-shirt, trying to work out if an un-labelled promo was jungle at 45rpm or something else from Bristol at 33rpm – then you’ll most likely have come across DJ Food with their Jazz Breaks series.
There was a time when, armed with a couple of DJ Food albums, some Jeep Grrlz DJ tools 12s, an acapella or two and a lot of front, you could pull off a whole night with half a dozen records and a kill switch.
Then again, perhaps you first heard the – now 25 year old – Ninja Tune collective in a back room somewhere, or collapsed on a sofa in the early hours, being transported to darker, deeper places by seminal tracks like ‘Consciousness’, ‘Dark Lady’ or ‘The Crow’.
Either way, whether you know it or not, rather like friends of friends of friends, or rats in London, you’re never more than 6 steps away from a DJ Food tune, largely because in the last quarter of a century DJ Food – in it’s various incarnations – has never been more than six steps away from club culture and the evolution of dance music.
In the run up to a brand new live show debuting at Rich Mix in London, with trademark state of the art visuals sharing centre stage with the music, DJ Foods Strictly Kev took a little time to talk to us about how it’s going, and how it’s been.
DJ Food by Martin LeSanto-Smith
Hi, how are you?
Pretty good, got lots to get done in the next 10 days so I’ll be brief.
What are you up to?
Making content for Videocrash, designing logos, going to gigs, mixing, writing and making artwork for an upcoming exhibition about The Rammellzee and preparing for a talk about Flexi discs the day after the Rich Mix gig.
You’re at Videocrash at Rich Mix in December premiering ‘FutureShock’, with more live shows to follow. Excited?
Kind of more worried that I’ll never get everything done in time, there are so many options but I’m really looking forward to seeing what Cheeba, Robin and Tom get up to, it’ll be a great excuse to get together.
Tell us a bit about what to expect?
A sci-fi-themed set, with a retro edge visually and a futuristic sound musically. I really like the way a lot of electronic music these days is harking back to 60s, 70s and 80s styles, modular synths coming back into fashion – that Shock of the New except with another 25 years worth of musical knowledge.
Are you streaming/broadcasting ‘FutureShock’?
Not unless you know something I don’t! 🙂
How do you see ‘live spaces’ changing with the proliferation of digital spaces and – next year – VR?
I’m wondering if, come the era of Oculus Rift, whether anyone will even go out over a certain age? Will we just have the gig streamed to our headsets/glasses? It would be cheaper at the bar for sure.
DJ Food by Will Cooper-Mitchell
Visuals and new media have always been a key part of your work. How come?
Probably because of my graphic design background, the two go together naturally for me. I was drawing way before I became interested in music and writing graffiti before learning to DJ, i can’t imagine one without the other and they can enhance each other obviously.
Do you write the music then add the visuals, or does it also work the other way around?
Usually yes but something visual can inspire the music, especially film. It’s funny how a lot of artists score to a moving image but you hear of few who will write music to accompany a still.
How did the Matt Johnson collaboration on The Search Engine come about?
I’d wanted to work with him for years, probably since the mid 90s, after being a fan since the 80s. I got a chance to meet up with him in 2003 I think, to work on a different project that never came to fruition. We kept in touch and I dropped the idea into the conversation and started sending him roughs – which were pretty rough to be honest. This is over several years, very sporadic and, eventually, I felt I nailed a version of ‘GIANT’ I was happy with which he then laid the vocals on.
I think that track took four years from beginning to end, it was the first thing I started and the last finished for the last album. I’m working on something non-musical with Matt at the moment and there’s still an officially unreleased version of the song which he’s going to put out on his Cineola label at some point. He’s great fun and it’s nice to meet one of your heroes and have them exceed expectations.
Who would you most like to work with who you haven’t worked with yet?
I’d really love to get Budgie from Siouxsie & The Banshees to do a drum session some time, I think he’s a vastly overlooked drummer. I’d love to have Barry Adamson do a vocal on something as he’s got such a rich baritone. I’d also like to work with a lot of modern day female vocalists, in fact I compiled a list just the other day but I’m keeping it to myself 🙂
Dance music, clubbing and the music industry have changed pretty massively since DJ Food started in 1990. What do you miss? What don’t you miss?
I don’t miss lugging heavy boxes of vinyl around the world (thank you Serato) although I do still play 45s out occasionally but digital DJing and the additional VJing as well really was a massive sea change.
I don’t miss smoking in clubs, or crappy mixers with faders that moved like syrup had been poured in them. I do miss a time before the mobile phone, which distracts people every 2 minutes, and before the growing ADD of some audiences.
Keeping a collective going for the best part of 25 years is no small trick. What’s the secret to collaborative happiness?
Be the boss! No, well, Food is less of a collective these days but collaboration is all about working out the respective strengths and weaknesses of those involved and moving out of the usual comfort zones to new places. I’m convinced that most of my collaborative work is better for the involvement of others because they push me to places I wouldn’t normally go.
With so many spin-off projects related to DJ Food, how do you decide which is which, what goes where?
I don’t, it’s kind of impossible as I have so many fingers in so many pies (pun intended). I kind of look at it like
DJ Food = music/DJing
Openmind = design/art
Strictly Kev = collecting in general
Kevin Foakes = writing.
I’ve been doing a bit of writing of late and putting my real name to it. There’s a sense of being able to order things in the chaos of the everyday by writing.
DJ Food by Martin LeSanto-Smith
If you could go back and change one thing, what would it be?
I really should have made an album between 2000 and 2012! Although I did produced multiple mix CDs, radio shows, remixes, reissues, record sleeves and two children amongst other things so I wasn’t idle but I shouldn’t have left it that long.
What’s exciting you musically at the moment?
So much, there’s a ridiculous amount of good music around right now: Cavern of Anti-Matter, The Comet Is Coming, Melt Yourself Down, Eagles of Death Metal, Divine Styler, Memory Man, Soundsci, Floating Points, House of Black Lanterns, Black Channels, Calibro 35, Markey Funk, Rodinia, Jane Weaver, Annabel (lee), The Buried Treasure, Ghost Box and Gamma Proforma labels.
What’s your favourite bit of tech, either studio or live?
I’m pretty low tech; the Rane TTm 62 does me fine when I’m DJing, I take it to any gig where I’m playing, I love the filters on it.
And personal tech?
I’m happiest sitting in front of the G5 studio desktop machine and dual monitors 🙂
What’s the best gig or night of someone else’s you’ve been to?
The Secret Cinema Star Wars gigs this summer are going to take some beating, being captured by stormtroopers, leading a prison breakout with my family, trading blueprints with Boba Fett for tickets off planet and then seeing a full size X-Wing fighter fly overhead.
Any weirdness on your rider?
What’s next for DJ Food?
A mix of The Rammellzee’s music for Solid Steel coming mid December to coincide with an art exhibition in London, design work on a box set for Belgium’s De:Tuned label, writing for The Quietus and Vinyl Factory sites and a couple of 45-only mixes for radio shows. Then seriously getting to some new music in 2016.
Tell us something we don’t know?
In 2007 I helped issue a lost album by a trio of brothers called The Dragons from the west coast called ‘B.F.I’. Still to this day I occasionally get calls from Doug Dragon, who now lives in Hawaii, asking how’s it going.
DJ Food premieres his FutureShock Live A/V show at Videocrash at Rich Mix on 4th December 2015, with Robin Hexstatic, DJ Cheeba & Keep Up!
You can buy tickets here , or to win a pair of tickets completely on the snatch, share this interview on the Twits, FaceyB and such and we’ll pick a winner at random, sometime soon.
Loads of DJ Food on iTunes here