We catch up with one of the Greek house scene's most respected players
Greece is known for many things, but it's fair to say that being the birthplace of a long list of big-name house and techno DJs isn't one of them. That's not to say, though, the country doesn't have an underground scene worth talking about - otherwise, it wouldn't have given us the likes Detlef, Wasabi, Mihalis Safras, No Rabbitz, Dousk, Nikola Gala and Axel Karakasis.
Or indeed CJ Jeff, who's something of a legend in his native land, not least because he's been resident at the famous beachfront Cava Paradiso nightclub, on the island of Mykonos, for over a decade, while his regular Thursday night party at Dybbuk in Athens has been going even longer. He's also played some of the best-known clubs on the international circuit, including Watergate in Berlin and Warung in Brazil, and at leading international festivals such as BPM.
When he's not playing records, he's making them. Whether working alone or with long-term collaborator Thodoris Triantafillou, CJ Jeff's releases have graced such esteemed labels as Skint, Bedrock, Street King, Kling Klong, Yoshitoshi, Incorrect Music and, most recently, Glasgow Underground. Expect deep, percussive house grooves, occasionally getting a little proggy around the edges but always with Da Funk in full effect.
And when he's not playing or making records, he's releasing them on his Rhythmetic label - est. 2005 and still going strong, its back catalogue by now featuring the likes of Maceo Plex, Jerome Sydenham, Nick Curly, Artificial Colours, Phonique, Sek and Anthony Attalla. Word has it that Carl Cox's final season at Space saw Rhythmetic releases getting plenty of turntable love from the big man.
Yet, despite being so well-known in his native land he actually DJ'd at the 2004 Olympics closing ceremony, his is a name you rarely see in the pages of the UK dance press. So we figured we'd change that right now…
There aren't that many well-known DJs and producers from Greece. What's the electronic/dance music scene like there these days?
"There are actually a lot of upcoming talents like Echonomist, and of course already well-known like artists like Detlef and Argy. I think sometimes Greek artists don’t seem to get the recognition they deserve in the rest of Europe and worldwide. I’m not sure why that is. I think its possible that the Greek scene is a little insular and happy to stay within the country. It’s a really passionate scene, so it’s easy to get sucked in and never leave!
"I definitely think that Greek artists will have their time in the sun though: there’s too much talent not to share with everyone else."
You've held decade-long residencies at both Cava Paradiso and Dybbuk... what changes have you witnessed in that time?
"Yes, both residencies are now more than 13 years and counting! I’ve seen a lot of changes in that time. I don’t think the rave days will ever return. When I started DJing in Greece, it was a tiny scene and a very tight knit community. It was nowhere near as widespread as it is today. Of course, it’s amazing that electronic music has become much more popular, but it’s so much bigger today that you don’t always see the same faces you did 15 or so years ago.
"I’m optimistic for the future though. It feels as if music is coming back to its earlier roots after a few years of EDM taking over, and people are searching for real sounds rather than hype."
What benefits do you think holding those residencies has for you as a DJ/producer? For instance, one dubstep A-lister of our acquintance still runs his 500-capacity weekly night here in Bristol because "it keeps me grounded"...
"I agree 100 per cent - that's one of the reasons I enjoy my residencies so much. It definitely helps you stay connected to your roots: both via the people and the music. When people respect and trust you in an intimate environment, there’s no feeling like it - you connect with them on such a personal level. And if you go too far off track, you can be sure that people will let you know!"
You played at the Olympics opening ceremony in Athens in 2004… how did that come about, and how was the experience for you?
"This is the flipside of playing a residency, but without question it was one of the highlights of my career. To be part of something that big and global was incredible, something I’ll never forget. I was proud to be asked, and I hope I did my country and music proud."
Your last release came on Glasgow Underground. How did you come to hook up with them?
"That was actually be my third release with the label. GU is in my opinion one of the greatest house labels out there, with an amazing amount of heritage behind it. Making music for Kevin [McKay] was a dream come true, as there are so many GU releases in my collection. I just love their sound: pure quality through and through."
You run your own record label as well, Rhythmetic. Tell us a little bit about that, and about what you've got coming up on the label?
"Rhythmetic is my baby. From the very first record, it was something I loved and truly believed in. The first release was remixed by Maetrik who is one of my all time favourite producers, after which we got in Nick Curly, Jerome Sydenham, Phonique and more. I put everything into it: you’re unlikely to make much money from labels these days, so it’s all for the love.
"In terms of the music, it’s definitely aimed at the dancefloor, but maybe in a slighter trippier way than most house labels. In terms of what we have coming up, I’ve been focusing on my own productions recently, but there will definitely be more music coming up over the summer, and you can be sure it will be killer!"
Rhythmetic has had just over 50 releases in 12 years... fair to say then that, for you, it's about quality rather than quantity?
"Definitely! I see so many labels putting out a record every couple of weeks, but I would much rather give the records I release proper attention. I think people pay more attention that way - you need to give the records the respect they deserve, and give them room to breathe!
Finally, what else have you got going on right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"I’ll be playing some Ibiza dates this summer at Dennis Ferrer’s new party, which I’m super-excited about. Dennis is the don, and does everything with so much love and enthusiasm. I also have more releases coming soon that I can’t quite talk about yet, but it’s going to be a good summer!"
Words: Russell Deeks
CJ Jeff's latest single, Rat In The Cage, is out now on Incorrect Music, with I Need You coming on Kling Klong on 24 April