Jacky interview: Jacky & Friends

Jacky talks to Marko Kutlesa about life in the Balearics, Basement Jaxx and beards...

Skiddle Staff

Last updated: 31st Oct 2017

Image: Jacky (source)

Having just finished a summer on Ibiza, where the DJ played as a resident for Defected and hosted three of his own Jacky & Friends parties, the success of Jacky aka Jacky Maughan is a testament to ambition, vision, determination and hard work.

His north east English accent belies the fact that he spent several of his formative years growing up in East Africa, but his friendly and enthusiastic manner confirm everything we've heard about him and attest to the genuine affection in which he seems to be held by promoters, festivals, club brands and dancers. Rarely does this guy play anywhere and not get invited back.

It's not only his warm personality that endears Jacky to people. A visibly excited DJ, living the moment alongside the audiences he plays to, his punchy, most often tech house soundtracks have raised the roof at the likes of Ministry Of Sound, elrow, Manchester's Gorilla and Forbidden Forest festival of late.

Jacky started on his path as a DJ around a decade ago and, inspired by his uncle, followed a path in education that would teach him the necessaries required to pursue studio production. In around 2010 his studio efforts began in earnest and he has so far recorded for the likes of Defected, Wow! Recordings and Safe Music as well as on his own Red Lunar Records which he launched in 2014.

Taking full advantage of the close relationships which he effortlessly seems to build with those he encounters he established his own travelling party, Jacky & Friends. Its reputation has seen it take control of club main rooms as well as offer a distinct alternative in the second spaces of major venues and is about to undertake its first UK tour.

Prior to Jacky's appearance at Circus + Abode at Arts Club, Liverpool on Saturday 25th November, Marko Kutlesa sat down with Skiddle's former artist of the month to discuss a little about his history, Ibiza and his forthcoming plans. Jacky tickets can be secured via the box below the interview.

You grew up in East Africa. What circumstances lead to that happening?

As a child I was quite lucky, I actually got to travel quite a lot. My dad worked for mining companies, mainly Caterpillar, so he went wherever the work went. When I was five or six he got the opportunity to go and work in Ghana, so we moved there. My mam and dad were only about 28/29 at the time, still quite young, so it was a big thing. We did one year there, but there's was loads of civil unrest so we went to Tanzania and lived in Dar es Salaam. To this day it's still my favourite place I've lived in the world. 

You became interested in drumming when you were quite young. How did that happen and what kind of drumming was it?

When I was in East Africa I went to an international school. We were taught music from all different cultures, including Africa. We started out playing a simple drum, something like a bongo, but in primary school, we also had these cow skin drums. When I was in year 4 my teacher, Mr Marks, gave us a go of this drum kit and as soon as I got on it, I couldn't get off. I used to go in breaks, lunchtimes, after school. From the age of 7 or 8 that was it, drumming was all I wanted to do. 

How far did you take it? Did you play in bands and, if you did, what kind of music did you play? 

When I came back to the UK I went into secondary school and pretty much got into bands straight away. I was listening to punk rock and quite a lot of heavy metal, bands like Metallica, Black Sabbath, Sum 41, Linkin Park. I was in two or three bands when I was at school. My dad still lived away when we came back and when he used to come home I'd have a jam with my dad in the garage too. It didn't really matter who it was, if someone had a guitar it was fair game. 

Your uncle, who is a music producer, was an influence on you. What kind of music does he produce?

He produces predominantly electronic music. He's not released any music, he got into it 20/25 years ago and he's never had that ambition to be a full-time artist. He teaches music now in a school local to where he lives. He dabbles on guitar and drums, but it's mostly electronic music that he does. 

If it's unreleased, you'll have heard it but none of the rest of us will have. What's it like?

I haven't really heard many of his finished tracks recently. 8 or 9 years ago it was sort of like electro house, like Boys Noize. He's really good at what he does. His studio, which he's been building around 25 years, is like a spaceship. It's amazing. It's down to him that I really started to get into electronic music, through him showing me around the studio, letting me push buttons on the 909, getting to know the analogue stuff. It all went from there.

If he's responsible for having such an influence on you, maybe it's time to return the favour and push him to release something? Maybe you could remix him?

I've tried, Marko, I've tried. I've spoken to him. It was a while ago, but I kind of got the impression that it was never really his plan to become an artist or even release any music. He would send me a few tracks and I'd be, like, this is good! Do something with it! But he's never showed any interest. So, I don't think it's my place to push anyone if they're not interested. But I definitely have tried. 

As well as the places we've already mentioned you've also lived in Newcastle, London, Leeds and Ibiza. Which parts of your musical make up can you attribute to each place you've lived?

Well, as we've already said, the drumming is definitely an influence from the African countries where I've lived. Having that from such an early age has influenced me to always get that rhythm section down and that's how I always start when I make tracks. I think a lot of people do that, but if I don't have the drums absolutely in place when I work on something, the track doesn't tend to end up getting finished.

Newcastle is where I found my love of tech house and techno. When I was in college I started to go out to nights like Shindig, which has been going for 25 years. I got a lot of influence from there, DJs like Scott Bradford, Mark Lowry, the residents there. I went to Leeds to do my final year and I was going to nights like Teknicolor where I saw people like Francesca Lombardo, my mate wAFF used to play there quite a lot. 

Coming to London it's kind of everything. I can go to a gig, a techno night the next night, there's always something on. You get to meet people from so many different scenes too. It's really opened my eyes.

You played in Ibiza again this summer. How did you feel the music had changed compared to previous visits? How do you anticipate trends continuing?

This year was different for me because it was like my first real season as a resident. I was resident for Defected and Simon Dunmore gave me 8 dates this year which was amazing. I did a season before in Ibiza but I just went to the nights I wanted to go to. I ended up playing a lot more house this year because Defected was the main place I was playing. In San Antonio, things have changed massively. It never previously had anything going for it, musically. There was never anything decent on. Defected's changed that and brought a lot more people there, so it's got a lot more going for it.

As for the music of the whole island, I can't really see it having changed that much. As far as I can see, although this may be a bit of a biased view because I only go to the clubs I want to go to, but tech house has gone to the forefront more than it ever has before. I think the likes of Cuckoo Land at Ibiza Rocks have been doing pretty well, getting names like Josh Butler, Darius. Faction, who do Eden, they're trying to do something new, something for the workers. There are a few more workers parties, but that's the one that's stood out the most.

I love the music on the island but I don't think I can say too much because I've only been going for eight years. Some people who've been going 20/25 years might be able to give you a better answer. But I've had a lot of fun there.

Does your own reading of the music you hear on the scene, at places like Ibiza and your anticipation of trends affect your direction in the studio?

No. I always just go in the studio with the goal of just doing what I want to do. I never set out to create a certain sound or a certain vibe, it just happens naturally. Sometimes, if I'm aiming for a certain label, I might put a certain swing on it, to make it more suited. But it always just happens naturally, it has since day one. If you listen to the first tracks I started putting out 4 or 5 years ago next to the ones I release now, you can tell it's developed naturally. I haven't tried to force anything too much.

As you mentioned, you've played a few times for Defected this summer, on Ibiza and elsewhere. They've also issued some of your music. When you were starting off as a DJ, which Defected records did you have in your bag?

Let me check. Masters at Work 'I Can't Get No Sleep' and David Morales 'Needin U' were the first ones I downloaded. Defected was one of the first house parties I ever went to, I travelled down to Manchester or Liverpool for it.

For how long was Bradley Gunn Raver your dance partner at Forbidden Forest? It looked like you had to go all out to keep up with him!

Haha! Nah, I can not keep up with Bradley. I've known him almost a year now and we've had a dance at a few parties like in Bristol. But there's no way I can keep up with that lad, he's got some stamina.

On a similar theme, you're also quite animated while you are DJing. How important do you feel it is for a DJ to perform rather than just play music?

Well, for me, that's absolutely natural. No offence to anyone who isn't active when they play. I've seen DJs whose music I've loved but watching them can be a bit like watching paint dry. For me, it's natural. I physically can't stand still when I'm DJing. When you look up and see a reaction from the crowd, I can't understand how you could stand still. For me it's important, but it's not something I have to think about, it just happens.

One of your most current releases is a remix for Atlantic Jaxx. Can you tell me a bit about it and what the initial communication with Felix was like? What are your favourite Atlantic/Basement Jaxx releases?

I think it was about 3 or 4 months ago, I had a message from my manager. When I speak to him it's usually just about normal stuff. “Hi Jacky, just to let you know, I've just had a request from Felix from Basement Jaxx. He'd like to know if you'd be interested in remixing his track for his label. Can you let me know?” Can I let you know! Of course, I'd like to remix Felix from Basement Jaxx!

From when I first started out, knowing that I wanted to do this, through going to college and university, I never imagined that I'd get a personal request from Basement Jaxx for a remix. I still can't quite comprehend it. It's a track released under Felix's alias, it's very housey, kind of like early Basement Jaxx stuff.

I sent them my mix about two months ago and Felix got back within 24 hours to say he loved it. Within a week they were playing it out in Basement Jaxx sets. There's an original mix, a dub, a radio edit and my remix on the release, which is on Atlantic Jaxx. 

My favourite? It's got to be the 'Fly Life Extra' remix. It's a banger. I still sometimes drop it. Timeless.

You started DJing just short of ten years ago, but your productions career started a few years later. In the interim, you had a full-time job at a bank. Did your haircut and facial hair look the same as it does now when you worked for Barclays?

Ahahaha. Absolutely not. This hair came just from being at university and never getting a haircut. The facial hair came from my last year at uni, in Leeds. I did Movember and just decided to leave it on. Then the beard came. At first, my girlfriend hated it, but as it got longer it grew on her. I don't think I'd be able to get away with it in a bank.

You did some work placement at Abbey Road. What memories do you have from your time there?

That was pretty incredible. There were only a few selected from our year to do it. It was a pretty simple job. We went to the arena in Leeds and we recorded Wet Wet Wet and Boyzone. Both concerts were ace! They had these massive, massive CD burners and people could buy the live performance of the show they'd seen that night. At the end, we had to get the master copy from this caravan at the back, run underneath the building and whack it in this master burner and copy 500 or 600 off on this machine.

It was really cool, high energy, we got to meet the bands. They were all really sound. Getting to see big concerts like that from another perspective, not just from the seats, was really interesting. Everyone would turn up around 3pm and the concert didn't start until 9pm. The amount of work setting up an arena for a show like that is mad.

You have your own travelling party brand, which you mentioned earlier. Which friends have yet to appear at Jacky & Friends?

Uff, how long is a piece of string. We've had a lot of good acts so far and in November I'm doing Jacky & Friends at Circus with Yousef in Liverpool. We're doing room 2 with Riva Starr. I can't say too much yet but we're actually in the process of planning a UK tour, so I'll be hitting 7 or 8 venues in November and December. For each city it'll be a different act, so we're not taking the same guest to any two cities.

Aside from the Atlantic Jaxx thing, what's coming up in terms of releases?

I've got an EP coming out on my label Red Lunar Records which will mark its tenth release. I'm going to be doing every fifth release on it. That's called 'Blast EP' and it's out on 6 October. Because it's been summer and you're partying a little bit more than you would in winter I've been trying to get stuff finished, but I have another remix and another release coming in winter.

Liverpool Arts Club - Saturday 25th November

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The Market Bar Nottingham - Friday 1st December

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