Making Friends With is our series that sees us get to know DJs in some of their favourite hangouts
Jacky has been bouncing around the UK DJ circuit for a number of years now. One of the most enthusiastic DJs behind the decks, he's a far cry from the dour-faced, black t-shirt set that have become so prevalent in recent years. His inspired selections, distinctive look, and unwavering energy (both in and out of the booth) have seen him climb lineups from here to Ibiza.
Aside from his work for Elrow and Defected, he's built his own Jacky & Friends brand into a touring behemoth that sees the jacking geordie play alongside his ever-growing roster of friends including Russ Yallop, Huxley, Alexis Raphael, Max Chapman and Leftwing & Kody.
With releases on Different Attitudes, DFTD and Elrow his original productions have begun to take centre stage, and with his first full length album, Jacky & Friends, up for release later this month, the timing couldn't be better to get to know this rapidly ascending star. When he suggested we go for a pedalo on the Serpentine, I laughed out loud and then immediately said yes.
Meeting on one of the only snow-free days in early March, we were ready to put the pedal to the metal. It turns out you aren't allowed to do photoshoots on the Serpentine, so after pointing at pigeons long enough to convince them we were birdwatchers, we got our boat and hit the water.
So the first thing I've got to ask you is - did you really grow up in Africa? Because that is a strong Newcastle accent you've got!
I did, yeah! It was pretty mad to be honest. I was quite lucky to have that opportunity. My dad worked for a mining company called Caterpillar and wherever he went, we went. So first off we went to Ghana in which there were quite a lot of civil unrest at the time...
Oh shit! I think we might hit this duck.
WATCH OUT FOR THE DUCK!
OK, I think he's clear... That was close.
Anyways, I left Ghana after about 6 - 8 months because it was so rough. We moved to East Africa, lived in Tanzania, in Dar es Salaam, for almost four years. It was one of the best experiences of my life.
What age were you when you lived there?
I was between the ages of about 7 - 11. I went to school there and it was amazing, that’s where I started getting into music. My music teacher was from the UK, he was the first one to get me into drumming, African drumming. So bongos and tribal stuff. Actual drums made out of cow skin, like traditional, locally made drums. It’s interesting, it’s like nothing you get to do in the UK. So that's where my love for music started, it's just gone from there really.
Then when you came back to the UK, is that when you got into dance music?
Well to be honest, I wasn't so into electronic music at that time. When I was year 7 - 11, I carried on playing drums after I came back from Africa. I played like heavy metal, punk rock and stuff then when I got to year 13 I started playing basketball. Obviously the people I was hanging around with, and the basketball scene in general, was all hip-hop, R’n’B and stuff like that. I kind of put myself head first into that and didn’t have much time for anything else. I played basketball until about the age of 18, I actually got to a good level. I got to play in the league and we actually won the national school tournament. We were only a little school from the North East and we beat East London in the final! It was quite a big deal for us. Then when I turned 18 I found out going out was really fun, haha! Drinking was ace, going out with ya mates - getting on it. I stopped playing basketball because I couldn’t train as I was to rough all the time. Then I got my first decks. The rest is history, as they say.
You also spent some time living in Ibiza, right?
Yeah, so when I was 23? I think... My first year of uni - it was 2012 anyways, I went to... Have you been on a pedalo before?
Yeah, one of the swan ones
Ah ‘av ya, ah stop showing off!
So in 2012 I was selling tickets for Zoo Project, for the boat parties - that was my first season, it was a tough slug. Went in with nowhere to live. I slept on my mates couch for the first two nights and on a lilo on the floor of a friend's flat.
I think we’re stuck on something.. Like a big fish or summin’.. Don’t need no gym today, eh.. Lad? This is fookin' impossible, it was never this hard when I was 10. Ah we gonna hit a duck again! Those lil’ bastards!
Anyway, I was living in a two or maybe three bed gaff with seven or eight people, it was good fun, that season was by far one of the best I've ever had. I met some people there that I’m still friends with now and will be for the rest of my life. And I did 2013 as well. It’s massively beneficial to be on the island that long, I also got inspiration from just being out there, being at the after parties, meeting people from the clubs and stuff. That was like, so important for me.
Did those relationships help you get your name out there as a DJ?
I had that relationship with Zoo Project early on, so last year we kicked off Jacky & Friends at the Zoo Project and having that relationship with the guys obviously helped us to get that conversation started with them. It's the same again this year, I'm looking forward to that.
Back in the UK you were starting out as a DJ, did you play around Newcastle?
Yeah I had a residency for a night called LOOP and did that once or twice a week. By the end of 2013 I’d moved to Leeds to do my final year in uni. So commuting up wasn’t really working for the club or for me. It was like £50 to get a train up to there and back for just £50 or £100 in my own pocket, as much as I wanted to do it, and I did do it a couple of times, it ended up I was paying to play the night. I was a broke student so I had to knock it on the head. It was a shame really as I enjoyed it, it was just one of them. Like all good things, it came to an end. But it wasn’t the end of the world because it definitely helped me on to bigger and better things once I was in Leeds.
What were you studying at Uni?
Music Technology, so it was all relevant, but I did find after one or two years doing it, I just wanted to go make dance music. Because I wasn’t a technician at all. Again, it wasn’t the end of the world at all. I’d learnt how to use microphones, be able to record a vocal on my own. I don’t need to hire studios, I know how speakers work, where to put them in a room, you know, how to set up a sound system. All the intricate details in production I’d learnt that. But at the same time that was about 80% of the course. 20% of the course was other programs like Logic and Pro Tools, again, great knowledge to have, but I was using Ableton to make dance music, they didn’t teach that, so I had to teach that myself.
I guess a lot of people who start off in dance music wouldn't have that other education. A lot of people are working full-time jobs and learning themselves. I definitely had a foot up in regards to applying theory to make electronic music. It might seem like ‘oh you’ve done music at uni, so it must be easy’ but actually it's a completely different kettle of fish.
When did you first starting releasing tunes?
My first tune I released was a remix of a duo called Groove Syndicate that’s actually Lee Walker and Lee Pennington, and that got really big love from Santé. We booked him for our night in Newcastle - so we kind of knew him from that one night. He messaged me on Facebook being like, ’I need this track can you send it to me’ and I was like ‘of course I can, no worries at all!’.
So I sent him that and he actually played it on our night in Newcastle, a couple of weeks later - I got a video of it and put it on Youtube and got some interest and bookings from there. It was only one track but as soon as that happened, I had even more drive to stick at it. I was always aspiring to be a full-time DJ but I'm not kidding myself it's not as easy as it sounds, you got to really put the hours, weeks, months and years into getting to where you want to be. I’m still working to where I want to be now. In regards to my first release, that was my first track then after that my first EP was on Different Attitudes, it was a track called "Chugger" that took it to the next level. I was at an after party in Manchester and someone came to me and went have you seen Beatport? You seen Jamie Jones summer chart? I was like ‘no’, he was like "Chugger" is in there! It had been released 6 month before and it didn’t really get much interest and yeah, it went from there and in three or four days it went to number 12 in the Beatport chart. I’d never had any exposure in charts whatsoever at that point. Then even more interest came in and it went top 10 in the House and 12 overall - I was over the moon!
Do you know how he found it?
I have no idea, still. I messaged him but I know how busy he was at the time. He must get annoyed with emails from guys like that.
More recently you've worked with our mates at Defected?
Yeah, I released on DFTD last year, which was amazing. It's a label that I’ve been following ever since I first got into dance music 10 years ago. The whole Defected team have been nothing but supportive since the first interaction, they've been amazing. On the back of that I got to be a resident for them last year, they put Jacky & Friends in Room 2 of the Defected parties at Eden all summer. I think I did six Jacky & Friends in Room 2 and then three main room gigs. It was amazing! When I was worker, back in 2013 just as the season ended I got a call and they said ‘someone had pulled out of a workers party in Eden’. It wasn’t going to be busy or anything, it was the end of the season and Eden wasn’t doing that well at the time, I was like fuck it, when am I going to get to play the main room of a super club? I had flights booked to go home, but I missed them and stayed to play... for like zero people. I think it was four bar staff, two bouncers and that was all there was in the room. It was the best feeling ever, to be able to go back last year with my own room and play that main room again. At the opening party I played after MK, it was full to the brim. It was an incredible feeling. I'm very proud of that.
Do you play any different to a big crowd or a small crowd, how do you tailor your sets?
Totally depends on the crowd, usually I like to get there like an hour before my set to check the vibe out. If I'm playing like a low-ceiling, dingy basement kind of club I’d always play kind of warehouse vibes. It totally depends on the night, on the guy before me - a lot of the times now you'll get a warm-up DJ who’s absolutely smashed the night, who doesn't warm up! So you got to adjust even more! In that case i’ll bring it down to bring it back up again.
Your working on your first album right now...
Yeah I’ve been working on that for quite a while. It got to the end of last year and when the summer had finished, I was releasing EP after EP. I just wanted to do something with a bit more depth. I always release music that's kind of, not the same, but I’ve always released house. I’ve always released a 'Jacky sound' and people could tell ‘oh that's Jacky’ I wanted to do something different and instead of doing it on my own I wanted to call up some artists who I’ve been looking up to and following for ages. For the likes of Huxley, Russ Yallop, Alexis Raphael, Max Chapman, all these guys I wanted to work with for ages, but never had the opportunity. So this project was the chance to take the Jacky & Friends brand to the next level. That comes out on CR2 in April.
It's quite unusual to have an album that's all collaborations, how did you juggle the logistics of it?
Yeah, yeah, so that was the point of it, to do something a bit different. It isn’t all different however when you listen to the album, you will see that a couple of the tracks will be what you'd normally hear [from Jacky] but the others are going to be completely different. The idea is that, because the ethos of the Jacky & Friends parties is to play with a friend, with the album I want to take that into making music and not just the party. With regards to how we did it, it totally depended on the artists' schedules. I was quite lucky that Huxley was back for a couple weeks just before Christmas so I managed to get in the studio with him. Russ Yallop, even though we both live in London, we didn’t have a chance to get together because either he was away or I was. He’d send me a project and I’d send it back and we’d do it like that. We all managed to make it work between us and really happy with the outcome. I can't wait for people to hear it.
The past year had seen you headlining major clubs more and more, you're name is getting out there, what's the goal, where do you want to be in a year from now?
In all honesty all I want to be doing in a year's time is continue doing what i'm doing now. I feel very lucky and obviously anything worth doing is worth working hard for. I just want to be able to make music and perform music. If I'm still doing that in a year's time I'll be very happy doing that!
What's the best thing about being Jacky?
Oh, [big pause] being able to pull off stupid hair! That's gotta be it, yeah.
How did you get your look? Did you do it all in one go?
So I think I was in uni, I started to grow my hair long randomly, I was sick of short back and sides - it was doing my head in. I wanted to be a bit edgy because I was at uni... The moustache happened when Movember came around, I wanted to raise a bit of money for a friend for a cancer charity. I did this big handlebar moustache and it looked horrendous, it was rubbish and then after that it got to the end of November, I raised something like £250 or something, I was dead happy about it. Then I thought to keep it. I met my now fiancé and she was like ‘I hate it, you need to get rid of it - it looks awful’. Then after 2 or 3 months she quite liked it. So I've kept it ever since. I’m too lazy to get rid of it now, too used to it.
It’s kind of like your trademark now...
Yeah, kind of... I don’t think I could go clean shaven. The last time I was clean shaven was November 2013. I have no idea what's going on in there, it could have its own habitat and everything!
Jacky & Friends is out on 4th May, pre-order it here
Photos: Jake Lewis