With new EP 'House Arrest' out now on Freerange, iDJ catches up with a 20+ year veteran of the UK scene
Milton Jackson (known in real life as Barry Christie) has been releasing sleek, futuristic house music for two decades. His house music career kicked off in 2000 with a string of singles on Tronicsole and an extremely well-received debut album, 2002’s The Bionic Boy, on Glasgow Underground. He’s generally known for pristinely produced, techno-flavoured deep house – proper underground business that’s won him the admiration of your favourite house DJ.
MJ has put out his music on Tsuba, Black Key, Winding Road and Urbantorque, and has a long-running relationship with UK house stalwarts Freerange. He’s released a string of Freerange singles over the years as well as several collaborations with Shur-I-Kan, with whom he also launched the Dark Energy label in 2008.
As a producer, Milton Jackson is one of the UK’s house music treasures: not exactly a household name, but an artist who’s consistently put out good quality tunes that producers admire, DJs like to play and dancers love to dance to. Along the way, he’s picked up numerous industry awards and accolades from his peers and DJed at clubs and festivals worldwide.
Mr Jackson has just dropped a superb five-track EP. Again coming on Freerange, the House Arrest EP features two deep tech-tinged space-disco tracks and three highly danceable lower-tempo house grooves, full of rich synths and overflowing with atmosphere. All the usual MJ elements are present – crisp, rolling percussion, perfectly placed keys and stabs, carefully wrought pads and FX, all put together with an impeccably underground sensibility – so we thought now would be a good time to sit down and chat with him about all things house.
First of all, for readers who might not know, please tell us who you are and what you do…
“My real name is the slightly unglamorous Barry Christie and I’ve been releasing house music under the name Milton Jackson for more years than I care to remember!”
It’s been a crazy couple of years – how have you been coping with lockdown and the pandemic?
“Lockdown 1 seems like a lifetime ago! I did what most people did, to be honest: worked from home, watched a lot of films, listened to a lot of music and tried not to get too heavy.”
Tell us a little about your background – where did you grow up, and has that affected your music in any way?
“I grew up in the house hotbed of Bonnyrigg, which is just south of Edinburgh. Then I moved through to Glasgow in my early 20s. There were great house DJs in both cities when I first started going out and fantastic clubs – both factors definitely had a huge influence on me.”
You’ve been making music for 20-odd years but there seemed to be a bit of a break in your production career in the last few years. What were you doing in that time?
“I was putting out a few tracks, I was dabbling so to speak! But not on the six or 10 EPs a year type of trajectory. Sometimes you need a break from things. I was still making music in the interim, different styles and tempos which I might put out one day, but not the 4/4 stuff which I’m primarily known for.”
And why did you return to making house music?
“It just felt right, and I have a bit more time now both my girls are a bit older!”
How do you describe the music that you make?
“I always try to bring some kind of emotive feel to the tracks – something that tugs at the heartstrings but is still danceable and has a good groove. That’s a vibe I always aim for. I’ve tried going down different avenues sound-wise, but I always end up back to where I started. I call it the boomerang effect!”
What’s the best production advice you’ve ever received?
“I always try to learn from peers and people online – I wouldn’t say there’s any specific thing other than don’t sweat the small stuff. The track should be a good piece of music before you get bogged down in all the production minutiae.”
And what one piece of production advice would you offer to newbies?
“Look at your room treatment, how the room sounds: nodes, standing waves and all that stuff. Makes a huge difference to the productive process. Also, go back in time and buy up all the analogue synths and SP1200s!”
Moving on to the new EP, House Arrest is coming out on Freerange. When and how did your relationship with them start?
“I got in with Freerange through Tom Szirtes, aka Shur-i-kan. He had released with them before and we had done a demo which we sent to Jimpster and this became the I Want It EP. That was was around 2006 or so, quite a while ago. I did a few more EPs for them and an album and always kept in touch with demos etc.”
Were they any particular influences – musical or otherwise – behind the EP?
“There’s quite a variance in tempos, I wanted to keep it summery and light on the downtempo ones. I tried to keep it quite musical and fun.”
And generally, when making music, what are your influences?
“I’m really into all the library music stuff from the 70s and 80s: the Bastow Brothers, John Smiddy, Alan Hawkshaw. I also like 60s exotica like Les Baxter. Bach is my favourite, though – I could listen to that all day.
“And I love Kaidi Tatham, all the Ladbroke Grove broken beat stuff, Paul Seiji productions.”
Now that the EP is released what do you feel about it?
“I never really dwell on it: it’s done and has been sent into the digital ether! At the end of the day, it’s just house music, my wife goes out to work and saves lives which puts things in perspective somewhat!”
Can you tell us a few of your career high points?
“Winning the DJ Award at Pacha for Deep House was a good one, the Japan tours were always fun, and I suppose putting out tracks for 20 years!”
What’s coming up next for Milton Jackson, any plans you can tell us about?
“Yes, I’ve got a new EP for Lazy Days coming up with Matt Masters and Fred Everything on the remix front which I’m really excited about.”
And finally, is there anything else we’ve not asked that you’d like to tell us?
“There’s a fake conspiracy out there that birds aren’t real. It’s post, post-truth.”
Words: Harold Heath
The House Arrest EP is out now on Freerange. Buy/hear it here