Whether you’ve yet heard his name or not, there is no doubt that robjamdj is one of the hidden treasures of Shanghai’s music-scene. Here in Shanghai for many years now, his name is whispered in revered tones by those that know about the man, the myth, the legend that is Rob ‘robjamdj’ Jameson. He is reknowned for his encyclopedic knowledge of UK Garage and a record collection that even Atlas would refuse to carry on his back, but don’t get it twisted; this is no librarian business. Rob hasn’t spent all these years, and all that money collecting records just to fill up his shelves or massage his own ego. He’s bought them because, when you’re a DJ and you hear that one record that absolutely bangs for the first-time, you simply HAVE to find out what it is and then make it your mission to get your hands on it no matter how long it takes you – be it days, months or even years.
Rob has 100s and 100s of records that aren’t available in digital formats, and most likely never will be. Snapshots in time, they serve as a reminder of how in this age of digital products and effortless access for all, looking a few years backwards can be an invigorating, refreshing and inspiring experience. Ahead of robjam’s set down at Push and Pull #9 tomorrow night at The Shelter on Yongfu Lu, we spoke with him about addiction, his love for UK Garage and the emotional turmoil of downloading an MP3.
Rob, tell us about how you came to be known as China’s number 1 authority on UK Garage, and why you’re always introducing yourself as such?
I never introduced myself as such you tart!! Anyway, what I might say is that I’m pretty sure I’ve got the biggest collection of UK Garage vinyls in China and I guess it was UK Garage music that got me buying my first vinyls whilst at uni in Sheffield in 1997. So I was 20 when the scene was at its humble underground beginnings, so maybe I felt and know some of the scene from back in those days which is generally the most talked about period and most revered.
So when/how did your love affair with UK Garage music begin?
It was two mix tapes. I had one mix tape given to me by my brother back in 1996, it was DJ Karl ‘Tuff Enuff’ Brown. I loved the sound of the kick which made a great skip beat and the 4X4 tuff bassline sound that we all recognize in UK underground dance music. It was the track, Tuff Jam’s ‘Experience’ on that mix which made me addicted to the UKG genre, although at that time people weren’t really calling it UKG, just House and Garage. Another one was a double-header cassette from Déjà Vu, which was a rave in Hull, by Brown’s accomplice Matt ‘Jam’ Lamont and CJ Mackintosh. Although that was 1995 and more of the US Garage crossover stuff. I just loved Roger Sanchez’s version of Barry White’s ‘Love Is The Icon’. Proper low-down US Garage.
How important was the UK Garage rave scene to your experience with the music?
Funny, but I never attended many of the club nights as I was at Uni in Sheffield and this scene was very much London-led in its early days. I also spent my 2nd year of Uni in Holland (where I weirdly had access to some now-classic garage tunes no one else wanted there, in a record shop up in the Northern town of Groningen), I also spent my third year in Hong Kong (so that was 1998 and 1999) largely away from where it was happening. The club nights were few and far between- Camden Palace and The Colliseum were the bigger ones, working in SOHO I attended Garage City a few times. Sun City was a big rave then. The scene in those days was very much a South London thing. My major influence was summers spent working in London listening to pirate radio stations like Upfront FM and recording radio sets and trying to find the tunes in Uptown Records and Black Market (now BM SOHO). Of course the Essential Selection on BBC Radio 1 always represented what was up and coming.
How do you feel about the way UK Garage changed over the years? Particularly from the straight 4×4 beat into the 2-step sound that stormed the UK charts?
I disliked nearly all of the 2-step. I loved 4X4 and didn’t like all those cheesy 2-step remixes. I used to go into Uptown Records and a guy called Huckleberry Finn used to sort me out, a really nice bloke. He knew what I liked and would always give me the 4X4 releases. A lot of MJ Cole productions back then. All on Mo’s Music Machine distribution. So I didn’t like the 2-step, and I also wasn’t such a great fan of all the Speed Garage that kind of got mixed in between, and then finally the Grime wasn’t so much for my taste, I guess too dirty for me and I found some of the MC-led productions too aggressive! Looking at old footage of Grime events people are so busy blowing horns and shouting on mics you cant hear the bloody music! I like the softer more soulful underground sounds, more minimalist and danceable tunes with rolling beats and well-constructed, easy-to-listen-to melodies, although the odd deep-down dirty bassline works too. I also never liked the hostility and attitude that went with the scene, whether it’s the issues of the Grime that came in the 2000′s, or the late 90’s problems much documented at Sheffield’s Niche Club with the Speed Garage scene.
Now I am still collecting I am discovering more 2-step gems like Mike Milligan’s productions, DEA stuff and GOD releases. Brilliant productions that stand out and sometimes got hidden in between rubbish that was released when a genre goes commercial and everyone wants a 2-step mix of their R&B release. Its been happening with dub-step the last few years. I do think the increased amount of 2-step did help to prolong the UK Garage scene as from the early days it helped Garage DJ’s to mix in the odd 2-step tune in with their mostly 4X4 set, so that it gave the listener a variation and a rest from 4×4 beat monotony. Don’t forget though that Groove Chronicles and a few others were releasing 2-step tunes earlier than the earliest UK Garage releases back in 1996 and its always been part of the scene.
Why are you still bothering with Vinyl – why not just get Ableton and use the auto-sync mode like a real DJ?
The other day I bought an MP3 download for the first time in 18 years! I won’t buy another. It’s funny, I was so worried I would lose it or it wasn’t downloaded properly and I still am! That’s a new thing that made me realize how much I love vinyl. The feel of the record, getting it out of its sleeve, the age of it is right in front of you. It’s a weathered product like us humans, it gathers dust, scratches and nicks that give it personality. The history of it, the first release, the ‘undergroundness’ and lack of commerciality. The white labels and limited releases. The production information that you get on the label, that leads you to discover about the bloke who was also involved, which in turn spurs you on to look him up on Discogs. The image of the inner label turning around, people listening in the crowd can see/guess and also access your tune more easily, so in turn they are closer to you in spirit. The artwork and design on the sleeve and the weathering of the sleeve that shows age. Searching for old vinyls with other like-minded collectors, finding something you have been looking for for years…re-selling your vinyl to someone who really wants it and making them happy…paying top dollar for a huge tune that very few other people have, and a tune that was only ever released on vinyl…lugging a heavy box around and the feeling you get from that…the look of all my records on the shelf at home always gives me pleasure…searching through them to decide my set…or wondering where that one record is that I feel I want to play that goes with another tune so well and takes me 20 minutes to find…’nuff said?
I guess it’s good to go back and see how it all started, how people started Djing – those were the original DJs. Grandmaster, Herc, Francis Grasso, Frankie Knuckles, David Mancuso, Larry Levan. I personally don’t get excited watching a DJ use CDJs or Ableton, it doesn’t do anything for me apart from the music itself, or if he mixes really really well like Dillinja or DJ Fu, but even then I’ll prefer a DJ who plays vinyl but mixes less ‘cos he takes more time to queue his records. Nearly all the best sets I’ve heard in Shanghai have been on vinyls. It’s a feeling! I love hearing the VOID guys or that Sinagporean dude who plays with Siesta in the Drum and Bass scene. I appreciate they play vinyls and they love their collections and are proud of them.
What are the greatest lengths you’ve gone to get a tune on vinyl? What’s your most expensive record?
I generally buy on the websites Discogs (an marketplace for rare music) or dnrvinyl (a South London record shop specialising in UK Garage). I spent about 70 quid (110 USD) on Anthill Mob’s ‘Confetti Doubles’. I’ve tried writing to Todd Edwards to get him to send me a special cut of ‘Wishing I Were Home’ on vinyl. I would love Kerri Chandler’s first production from 1989 called ‘Super Lover’ but its 300 quid! Luckily, right now I earn enough money to be able to afford to keep buying vinyl, but back in the day I didn’t have much, but I would still spend half my salary on new releases. Sadly when you first buy everything in record shops with bass heavy headphones, everything sounds good so you also buy a lot of crap! That’s an expensive mistake! Vinyl is an addiction, once you get to about 100 of them you either keep going or you give up – it takes balls, dosh, passion and stupidity to keep going! There is a tune I want called ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly’ by Unknown Artist – a speed garage classic but seriously deep, but it’s 60-120 quid. I will buy it, just don’t know when.
Apart from UK Garage, what else can be found in your record crates?
I have about 150 drum and bass classics mostly from the late 90’s and I have a lot of US Garage, some acid house, some rave scene classics and also some more commercial soulful house from the late 80’s to 2000’s which I like as background music, stuff like Big Shot Records, Gossip Records, Swing City and Cleveland City Records from back in the day. About 1800 vinyls in all.
What kind of a set are you planning to throw down on Thursday for us?
I always play some US Garage that influenced the UK Garage scene, let’s not forget the Yanks started it! Also mostly old early 4X4 UK Garage from 1996 to 1998 and some 2-step seminal tracks from across the years. Very little commercial stuff as usual. Again I’m not a massive mixer I just like to play good tunes and love to play what I just bought.
What are your thoughts on contemporary UK Garage? Any tunes you’re feeling?
UK Garage is a massive scene and rightly is much missed and makes comebacks and what not. Garage in that form will always be there. You read through YouYube and so many people are moaning about music these days and how they miss the old, more edgy, rawer US and UK garage from back in the day. Of course you always have those people but I do agree the productions in those days were rawer, more aoout beats, rather than loads of different sounds, and tunes were good with very few multiple climaxes and knob twiddles as the listener seems to need now. I do like that simplicity. As I said, I’m really an old-skool guy so I always spend my time going back, however there are some old/new producers doing good, more underground things. In the UKG scene Zed Bias, Mosca, Julio Bashmore, George Fitzgerald and Lorenzo are doing good things, DJ EZ is still the guy to follow for mixing old and new. I do still however long for the more underground sounds to come back. The next dance genre will come along and start underground and I’m just hoping its got a 4X4 beat and sounds good at 131BPM. I had high hopes for US Jackin’ house and some of the early stuff is great and I have it, however for me it became commercial too quickly and was quite one dimensional! Let’s see what develops, I’m excited about what might come.
You can catch robjamdj’s set at The Shelter tomorrow night, Thu 27th Feb: