As his DJ Kicks mix lands in stores, we catch up with the man known for his genre-hopping sets and find him as enthused by DJing as ever
Jack Revill - better known to most as Jackmaster - is a hard man to pin down these days. iDJ has already spent the best part of a week chasing an elusive interview slot by the time the phone call finally comes.
The affable Glaswegian is apologetic, but it’s understandable: he is, after all, one of the hardest-working and most in-demand DJs of our times, with a gig schedule that would make many other globe-trotting selectors wince. But despite being in the midst of another hectic weekend of gigs, he’s keen to talk, if only to do the obligatory promotion for his new DJ Kicks mix, the first CD showcasing his undeniably impressive deck skills for five years.
"I don’t think it will sell," he says. "I think people might like it, but they’ll just download it for free!" He lets out a hearty laugh, and we quickly move on.
For the record, the mix is predictably impressive, offering an 80-minute romp through some of his current dancefloor favourites, weighted heavily towards showcasing his long-held love of house and techno.
"As a young DJ, you dream of these kind of opportunities from the moment you get a set of decks," he enthuses. "When things like this, or a Fabric mix, or an Essential Mix come along, they’re very daunting. This time, I didn’t have a master plan or deeply thought out strategy for it, and just wanted to make it honest."
It’s certainly honest. From the moment it begins with the humid, otherwordly ambience of Lnrdcroy’s Freedom For Antboy II, through to the starburst stomp of Pom Pom’s Untitled, Revill’s mix giddily joins the dots between many shades of house and techno, mostly from artists and labels associated with the four cities that have done most to shape his musical outlook: Chicago, Detroit, Berlin and, of course, his home territory, Glasgow.
"I really tried to make it flow," he points out when iDJ praises the mix for its energy, vibrancy and slick construction. "It’s something I’ve become more conscious of, because I’m thought of as this party DJ who drops track after track, with a constant energy throughout. Since I’ve been booked to play in Ibiza and Berlin more, I’ve learnt to really build sets from nothing. That’s what I wanted to do with this, and have a real flow to the mix."
Several times during our conversation, Revill returns to the subject of preconceptions, and how other people perceive him as a DJ. It clearly irks him that many seemingly dismiss him as an unabashed party-starter, as if wishing to entertain crowds was a bad thing. "Although I'm always reported to be that guy in the press, that's not me," he sighs. "It's a part of me, but it's not the sum of everything I do. I’m often referred to as a crowd-pleaser, which is a dirty term in this industry I think. I’m just not the guy who digs his heels in and is purposely obtuse, you know. If someone has made the effort to come and see me, I’m not going to play a set of super-underground, strange stuff. I’m just not that guy."
He sighs again, before continuing: "In some parts of Europe, people see me as this Johnny Come Lately who’s just got into house and techno, when the reality is that I’ve worked at Rub-A-Dub in Glasgow, which is one of the best house and techno shops in the world, and for their distribution business, which was responsible for importing and selling Detroit techno and Chicago house. People don’t understand where I came from. They say ‘Jackie used to be dubstep DJ’, but it’s all bullshit, because I’ve never played one genre for a whole of a set at any point in my life."
Mixing it up
He has a point. Revill has always bought, played and championed a diverse range of music, and it’s this ability to join the dots - not just between myriad genres, but also obscure and better-known records - that has propelled him to the higher echelons of the international DJ circuit. Head to a club or festival to hear him play, and you’re never quite sure what to expect musically.
I first met Revill at a tiny club in Bristol some time in the late noughties, during his slow rise from hard-working Glaswegian scene DJ to international superstar. Then, I was struck not only by the dizzying array of music he could cram into a two-hour set (disco, dubstep, acid house, techno, purist electro, hip-hop, boogie), but also his faultless technical skills, honed through hours of practice as a teenager, and years spent playing in the bars and clubs of his home city.
"When I started, my passion for music was so high that I would literally wake up and DJ for four, five, six hours, on Gemini belt drive decks in my room," he remembers. "Aside from getting a bit of hash, I’d spend all of my money on records."
Revill’s story is one that any passionate DJ can associate with, and his success - built purely on his craft as a DJ, rather than a production career - gives hope to al those plugging away in their home town, dreaming of reaching the level he’s now achieved.
"There's a lot of things that contribute to success in this industry," Revill says. "A lot of them are ugly, like for example 'playing the game'. You also need to be fucking good at what you do and believe in music. I’m kind of good at both!"
He laughs heartily again, before being distracted by his press agent. Time is marching on, and he still has other interviews to do tonight. "Man, I miss those days when I could just get up, smoke weed and mix all day," he says. "The whole job of being a DJ was so different. You didn't need a press agent, a manager, or a booking agent: you just did it. I miss the naivety and the pureness of it. It was very special to me."
Words: Matt Anniss
Jackmaster's DJ Kicks album is out today. Stream/buy it here.