When speaking about drum & bass pioneers, there are those who have been instrumental in creating different sounds and subgenres at numerous points throughout the genre’s history, but there are also those who pioneered the genre as a whole. These first-string innovators found something in the rhythm and syncopation of early UK garage, reggae and jazz to make a form of electronic music not seen before. J Majik is one of those first-string innovators, and the D&B world is about to know why once again.
With some of the founding tracks of funky jungle and drum & bass, Majik was and still is known as having defined the unique snares that still carry this genre’s sound. He was also one of the first to lay down some serious funk and jazz in his music, beginning the intelligent drum & bass movement as early as 1995.
Transitioning into the late ’90s and early ’00s, Majik and his label, Infrared, went darker, taking intelligent D&B into darkstep with smashers like his “Blame” remix, “Nightvision” and “Crazy World.” His discography spans three decades and it’s easy to see why: combining complex snares with emotive, evocative melodies that crowds can really feel, the D&B scene would be a very different place if the likes of J Majik hadn’t got a hold of it.
Many artists go through cycles, if their careers are long enough, where they do different things, see the industry changing and have to find not only their sound again but themselves as well. Bassrush sat down with J Majik at the end of this process for him, which culminated in his new epic album, Full Circle. It sounds like the title is quite apt for him not only because of the sound of the release but because of the journey he went on to rediscover what he loved about creating music and put that to record. In J’s case, D&B has truly come Full Circle.
Full Circle is out today, May 1, on Infrared Records and is available on multiple platforms by clicking here.
So how’s it been to come back into music full time with Full Circle after such a long break?
It’s been quite a turnaround but I’m really enjoying it. I’d been living in Tenerife (Canary Islands) from about 2013 until late 2017 and I’d had kids so I was more focused on that. For years I’d been touring since I was aged 16; I toured constantly for almost 20 years. I was just kind of worn out by it and then when the kids were born I remember I had a tour to Japan and America—about five or six weeks—and I just hit the point where I was like, I just don’t want to do it. I don’t want to get on a plane and be away for 6 weeks. I found the whole thing heart-wrenching.
Did you decide then to step back from touring but you were still making music?
At the same time, I was also feeling lost because the music in D&B had taken a turn that, for me, just felt a bit formulaic. After doing “Crazy World” in 2007 or so, we (J Majik and Wickaman) signed a deal with Ministry (of Sound). They wanted another commercial record and I felt that I went from artist to product then and I didn’t feel comfortable. I mean, when I made “Crazy World” I didn’t make it to be a crossover record. Pete Tong picked up on it and Ministry picked up on it and it went from being an underground to a crossover. It was unintentional from my end.
With that I just kind of felt this pressure where I felt like I had to make a record that was going to be played on Radio 1 (BBC) or something like that. So I found myself in a scenario where I’m taking ideas back to the label that weren’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to keep it real but I felt that pressure as well so I just thought I don’t want to do this anymore. Not the way it was happening at the time.
How did you eventually come back to it?
‘Round about the end of 2016, Lee Harmony (DJ Harmony of Moving Shadow) and I both have loads of music; DAT tapes and old formats that have never come out from that early era, 1992-97 period and it was from this we started a label called Deep Jungle that only had one release at the time. So we started really buzzing off it and released a load of these tracks we had and we realized that was the sound that really inspired us back in the day. Not necessarily jungle but everything that was coming out of that era. You could be more experimental with it then and it was the farthest thing from any kind of formula. There were a lot of subgenres back then too like there are now but for me it was only because so many different sounds were coming out of one place.
How do you feel about the subgenres back then versus now?
Well I really don’t read subgenres at all in drum & bass, no matter what the time period. I mean how can you divide up a genre that’s already so small? The culture existed then as it does now that I just don’t understand the subgenre elitism, looking down your nose at another genre when it’s really all one sound. I mean if a jump up tune’s got really popular and you hear it at a rave and everyone’s singing it, how can that be a bad thing? To me it’s all just good music as long as it’s done well. I can’t think of one drum & bass artist that, if they sent me a track that was a different sound from what they’d done before, I wouldn’t listen to it and it’s simply because I love drum & bass. All that matters is if it’s a good tune, and that’s it.
Well said sir! So looking back at the album, it sounds like with going through all the DAT tapes and music with DJ Harmony, you started to rediscover the sound that you love. That really comes through on Full Circle: it sounds like what you wrote what you love.
Yeah it was that and then going to play at this club in London called Rupture and the vibes were just mad. The vibe and being able to play those Deep Jungle tracks that were from the 90s and still tear the roof off, it just made me think: ok, this feels right again. And that’s what really inspired me. So with this album I decided to really just clear my head of everything that had happened before and do it on my own. I couldn’t get hung up on the mixdowns or have anyone else engineer it. For me, for it to really come from my soul and to feel it, I had to be doing it all myself. You have to feel comfortable with what you’re doing and trust your instincts. To listen to something and say, “Right, that’s it, I’m going to stop there and I’m not going to keep pushing it.” If I like the way it sounds, then that’s it.
So how did that passion translate into the process of writing tunes?
It all happened really fast. I didn’t struggle with any tracks, which for me that has never been my process. I didn’t agonize on the mixdowns or the editing…with this album, every track was made within four or five hours. I’d get an idea and in those four or five hours I just felt blessed creatively. It sounds strange but that’s how it felt. Then I’d put it down with the thought that it was just an initial idea. I’d wake up in the morning thinking I’d have to spend a week or so tweaking it but when I listened back I really didn’t find anything I felt I had to change. I just kept thinking, “It sounds right to me, I trust the monitors that I’m hearing it accurately, and I just trust myself.” And this album isn’t even all the tracks. I wrote 20 or 30 tracks that way so what’s being released, I just picked what seemed to go together well. There’s a whole second album ready to go from these sessions.
When I went to make this album, I mean it wasn’t conscious, but I felt like I wanted to make something as far from everything that’s going on in the scene around me as I could. It’s really an album for me at the end of the day. I didn’t make it to get bookings or get a tour or on Radio 1. It’s an album that’s from my heart. But from that, I’ve had the biggest response to this album of any music I’ve ever made.
It sounds like a really amazing journey. So now the album is out, do you have any tours or shows planned around the release? Any plans to come to the US?
Yeah, I’ve got gigs set up in Europe soon and quite a few in London as well. I’m looking forward to getting back out there again and yes I’m working on putting something together with coming back to the US. I’d love to come play for Bassrush as well!