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Six By Six: John B

An eclectic selection from D&B's favourite Kylie-loving goth!

2020 Feb 27     
2 Bit Thugs

John B's new three-part album 'Timelines' came out last week, and to celebrate, he talked us through 36 of all his all-time favourite tunes

John B is in a reflective mood as he confidently strides into the new decade. He’s recently built a new studio, he’s refined his working processes, he’s inspired, he’s healthy, he has a lot of new music to drop.

But first, Timelines, a three-part compilation that looks back over his 25-year career in three massive dispatches. Part 1 is a 30-track ‘best of’ set that spans his entire range, while Part 2 digs deep into his DAT vaults to showcase over 50 unreleased and remastered John B excursions. Part 3 is another 70 unreleased early works in the form of what John describes as a ‘Soundcloud dump’. 

“It was a job I had on my list for years,” admits John. “Go through all the DATs, digitise them, deal with it all later. There was lots of stuff. It was a strange thing to do: in many ways it was great, it shows where I came from and how much I’ve done so far, and I hope the fans are going to enjoy that journey. But it was also a bit sad personally at times, because it reminds me of my state of mind and how excited and positive I was back then vs now. I’m a lot more matter of fact about everything now, sceptical and not so easy to please.”

One matter of fact that’s certain is that John has been consistently inventive and daring throughout his career – and a great deal of it does please easily. From his early experiments with classical and jazz elements, to his occasional hot and steamy Latin cameos as Senor Juan B, via his provocative electro-punk, his crystalline trance and his gritty rave slammers, John has articulated a whole canon of influences, flavours and fusions through the medium of D&B over the last 25 years… and is eager to continue doing so. 

“It’s good to get it out there,” he says of Timelines. “It’s done, it’s dusted and now I can move on. It’s a really big thing to tick off the list. I’ve got the new studio finished, a new studio monster computer on the way, I quit drinking over a year ago now, lost loads of weight and I've got much more direction in my life, so I'm working a lot more effectively and clearly nowadays. Feels a bit like a fresh start with no restrictions, a bit like when I first started, just with more of a feel for reality. It’s refreshing.” 

Timelines is out now on John’s Beta Recordings and fresh material is expected to land later this year. To mark these past, present and future releases, we called him up for a classic 6x6 session where he digs out favourites across a selection of categories. As you’d expect from such an eclectic and good-humoured junglist goth, he’s picked some excellent tracks. 

“I’m not trying to be all serious drum & bass-y and include some obscure cuts or weird underground hip-hop to try and look cool,” he laughs. “This is music I like, things I’ve grown up with, music that has stayed with me and I feel is important to my life. Just good tunes, really.”


Jean Michel Jarre – Second Rendez-Vous (Polydor, 1986)

“A huge inspiration, as you’ll find with a lot of electronic musicians… Jean Michel Jarre is a synthesizer God! I listened to him from a pretty young age but took a really deep dive when I hit my 20s. I was going to put Revolutions in this list because I remember that Docklands concert: that was massive and I really identified with that. A lot of DJs will: you’re not in a band, you’re solitary on the stage and largely make music on your own. It was amazing to see this one man with synths making this huge symphony with all these amazing sounds. And also how he did it in the visual realm. He was one of those ‘you can do all of this, anything is possible’ guys for me. And he pretty much invented trance too!”


Depeche Mode – Policy Of Truth (Mute, 1990)

“Depeche Mode are in my all-time Top 5 bands easy, Violator is my favourite album ever and Policy Of Truth represents the album here. It’s one of those albums I listened to over and over when I was doing my A-levels, aged 17/18, because I only had a few decent albums on tape. Violator is a perfectly constructed album. The way it flows is fantastic, they keep it simple but used samplers and synths in some really different and interesting ways. Subtle, careful production and use of technology: this was peak Depeche Mode for me.” 


Nine Inch Nails – I Do Not Want This (Island, 1994)

“This is from a similar era. It’s from the Downward Spiral album and I'd have this one on the Walkman going back and forth to school every day, too. Same kind of vibe: electronic, interesting lyrics, very angry but not out of control Similar to Doc Scott’s Blue Skies in a way. It’s this idea of holding in energy and that power claustrophobically. A lot of Nine Inch Nails stuff is very unrestrained and heavy but that dry claustrophobic feeling before it gets all mad is something I’ve always come back to. I listened to that album a gazillion times, it was helpful when I was an angry teen. ‘Grrrr, maths homework!’ vibes, ha ha!"


Aphex Twin – #3 (Warp, 1994)

Select Ambient Works Volume 2 again is easily in my Top 10 favourite albums of all time. It was very different to what was going on at the time and what my friends were listening to. Once again, it’s super-simple and shows great restraint, but hints at anger and uncertainty under the surface. I’ll never learn from these examples – all my stuff is ridiculously complex! But this is one of the best albums of all time for sure.”


Kylie Minogue – Turn It Into Love (PWL, 1988)

“For me this is the best track on her debut album, which was one I remember listening to a lot as a kid – it was one of the only albums I had! I was inspired by Stock, Aitken & Waterman a lot, they made great pop songs and it was pretty much all electronic, and I admire how insanely productive they were at churning quality stuff out. This is just such a good pop song. Beautifully constructed, perfect choice of sounds, really nice. Good memories for me because I was young and impressionable and excited by the possibilities of everything – though it ends up making me feel even more jaded and depressed when I listen to it now. Thanks Kylie!” 


Pet Shop Boys – Two Divided By Zero (Parlophone, 1986)

“This is on the Please album, one of their early ones. Another one I had on tape so knew the songs inside out, from listening on long car journeys to visit my Grandma up north. Very inspirational. Two dudes with synths, quite introverted, clever grown- up lyrics, doing something different to what everyone else was doing at the time. PleaseActuallyIntrospective and Behaviour: all those albums are go-to's for me. I’m not such a huge fan of their newer stuff but I love them as a band and those early albums were all classics and a massive influence.”


Beethoven/Wendy Carlos – Ode To Joy

“When I was nine my parents – who'd never done this before and have never done it since – said ‘We’ve got this record you need to listen to’. My dad had a lot of records, he was a mobile DJ when he was younger, but they’d never try to school me. But this one time, they played me Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, and then Wendy Carlos’s version from the Clockwork Orange soundtrack. It still gets me now. Ode To Joy is insane anyway, but through the synthesizers and vocoded choirs it made me cry, it was that good! An amazing piece of music, especially when you consider how technically challenging it would have been to make, back in the 70s.” 


Doc Scott – Blue Skies (Metalheadz, 1995)

“I mention this track a lot: it was one of the first vinyl records I bought and learned to mix with, so will always be important to me. It’s got that depth to it: it seems like a pleasant jazzy journey on the surface, but it still sounds really heavy, even though it’s pretty simple. It’s got that weird restrained power. This tune showed me that you could have jazz influences in D&B, which wasn’t that prevalent at the time, and that going against the tide was okay. It showed me that you could be a bit weird and still be successful. That a track with just a few simple elements could still make a huge impact. And also, just how fucking cool Metalheadz was!” 


Goldie – Inner City Life (FFRR, 1994)

“I don’t think I need to say much about Inner City Life, an obvious choice. It changed a lot of drum & bass people’s lives. It showed you don’t have follow rules, that you can do something huge and ambitious, push the technology to its limits but still stay true to your roots and appeal to everyone, even though it’s a rough, complicated underground tune. Respect.”


The Cure – Disintegration (Fiction, 1989)

“I identify mostly as goth these days, and The Cure started me off on that a long time ago. I had the album Disintegration on tape at school, but it took a while to really get into. Definitely a solid spot in my all-time Top 5 albums ever. This track turned out to be a kind of motivational ‘power song’ for me, because I’ve listened to it before any important thing in my life since my GCSEs. Every exam I’ve done. Before I got married. Before I had some operations a few years ago. I find it very positive and motivational, even though it’s not really that sort of song.” 


Throbbing Gristle – Slug Bait (Industrial, 1977)

“I really got into Throbbing Gristle in my first year of uni, when I was super into industrial noise music and spending all my money on Throbbing Gristle, Merzbow and Whitehouse CDs. They were electronic pioneers: they made their own synths and weird distortion pedals, and the most challenging music of their time. It’s this incredible wall of morphing, distorted analogue synth noise with Genesis P Orridge doing his thing on top: vocals, narration, screaming. These guys showed me how extreme you can go, how far you can push everything. After all the controversy they endured, being hounded by the red tops in the 80s, they deserve respect for all the pioneering art they made.” 


John B - Up All Night [Epic Mix] (Metalheadz, 2001)

“I was reading a book recently that said when an artist is doing their best work, it’s almost as though they’re channelling some otherworldly force. Like you can’t really claim credit for your work – all your bright ideas and inspiration just flow through you from some mystical guiding force. I had that kind of experience with ‘Up All Night’. Okay, I’d done a heap of prep work – chopping up and organising the breaks, gathering samples and sounds – but when it all came together, it was bizarre how everything just fell into place and felt so natural. Up All Night almost wrote itself somehow, and it changed my life! It did wonders for my career and I’m grateful I can say I've made at least one track that people appreciate as some kind of classic, that I can be proud of.” 


Peter Schilling – Major Tom (WEA, 1982)

“I rediscovered this one just a few weeks ago. It’s a classic 80s German pop record. A lot of my ‘guilty pleasures’ are from the 80s. Anyway, this came up on Spotify Discovery and I’d forgotten how much of a banger it is. It also happens to be drum & bass speed so I played it in Germany the other weekend and it went off – my favourite moment of the night, ha ha! I’m probably going to do a re-edit…”


Toto – Africa (Columbia, 1982)

“I wasn't really a fan of this originally, but when TC did that D&B bootleg I realised what a beast it is. I had the best moment playing it at Sun And Bass On The Beach a few years ago: I was meant to be doing an ‘alternative’ set but then just switched into all my D&B remixes of 80s stuff, so I dropped the TC remix of ‘Africa’ and people were asking about it all week! I know it’s not a hardcore serious D&B person type of tune, but it goes off and now has some very fond memories for me. It's on various playlists for running and the gym and always brings a little joy to my life when it pops up.”


Men At Work – Down Under (CBS, 1981)

“This one brings me joy too. A classic cut on the John B waking-up-in-the-morning playlists in our house, such a fun, positive lovely song. No BS, just simple good vibes. That’s it really, although I’ve never actually had a Vegemite sandwich. I’m don’t feel ‘guilty’ about any of these ‘guilty pleasures’, by the way: I’m proud of them all! I think people are beyond judging me now anyway regardless, ha ha!"


David Hasselhoff – True Survivor (Universal, 2015)

“This is from the movie Kung Fury, which I can’t recommend enough. It’s this epic synthwave adventure with loads of CGI and so much over-the-top crazy shit. It’s by Elofsson and Mitch Murder, Hof did the vocals and it’s just a perfect, cheesy modern synthwave track. Champion did a banging D&B re-edit of it, too, which I’ve played at many a German festival. Watch the video of this and you’ll see the vibe.” 


Wolfsheim – Sparrows & Nightingales (Strange Ways, 1991)

“A German synth-goth type of band. The first time I heard it was in LA: I was in a rooftop bar at the Standard and the DJ was playing the usual boring hotel-house stuff, but at the end, when there was hardly anyone there, they put this on and I was like, ‘This is sooo good!’ I had the dancefloor to myself, under the stars. It was beautiful. Synth backing and full goth vocals, with a German accent. I initially thought it was super-rare but have since found out it’s a dancefloor favourite at any self-respecting goth night. Trouble is, I’d not actually been to that many goth clubs until later in life: it's usually only if I’m on tour, I’ve got a day off and someone who knows a good one locally can take me!" 


Psychedelic Furs – Love My Way (CBS, 1982)

“This shouldn’t be a guilty pleasure, either: it’s just another great song that I love. The best memory attached to this is being in Miami back in the early 00s with a good friend of mine, Frank Mendez. He was the man on the ground for Ram back then, but was also a mega-goth. Florida has a very healthy goth/industrial/fetish scene and he took me to their weekly party – The Morgue or The Mausoleum, I think it was called. Best club ever! I walked in and this track was playing, all types of alternative goth/industrial/fetish people were just chilling and dancing and doing their thing, instead of cheesy go-go dancers they looked like vampires and zombies. So cool. And they had a decent pool table too! I wish all clubs were like that."


Drab Majesty – Dot In The Sky (Dais Records, 2017)


“I’ve only discovered Drab Majesty in the last couple of years, they’re part of this modern movement I guess you’re supposed to call darkwave or coldwave or something, although coldwave to me is a bit more electronic. Brooklyn, bedroom duos, basic electronic music and depressing vocals… fantastic. But these guys have more guitars and a more polished sound than most. They’re essentially a modern ambient goth-type band, and they're one of my favourite bands right now. They wear the same glasses as me, but I’ll let that slide.”


Pet Shop Boys – Kings Cross (Parlophone, 1987)

“Another day-to-day listening go-to. This was on Actually and it’s classic Pet Shop boys. Nicely produced, a great atmospheric journey and introspective lyrics we can picture as he depicts life at 2am in Kings Cross. Just really good!”


Bungle – Astral Travel (Soul:r, 2013)

“If ever I’m in the studio and I’m struggling or listening for good mixdown or vibe, or in need of some calmness and proof you can make a nice track that’s simple but effective, I’ll play this. It works in every situation. It passed me by when I was sent it on the promo run, but I heard it again on a Spotify playlist and had one of those ‘wow’ moments. It’s in my life now and I’m glad about that.”


Steve Reich – Music For 18 Musicians (ECM, 1978)

“Just a great ambient composition, it’s beautiful. I went to the Royal Albert Hall to see this played live at the Electronic Proms. Quite a few drum & bass heads were there – guys like Technimatic and Blu Mar Ten. Electronic Counterpointwas another great one of his, that you'd know from the sample The Orb used in Little Fluffy Clouds. Just beautiful and very soothing music.” 


Flight Of The Conchords – Too Many Dicks On The Dancefloor (Sub-Pop, 2009)

“This one is for all the afterhours that are all dudes… which is most of them! People are like ‘Yo man, you going to the afterparty?’ and I’ll be thinking “I’ve been in the club all night, I’ve had a good time, but I’m tired and have a flight in the morning, so unless there are supermodels there or something then probably not.” I don’t do drugs, and I’m capable of having a good enough time in the club I’ve just been to for five hours or more, so afterparties can ‘Get Stuffed’ as far as I’m concerned. But whatever floats your boat!”


Vangelis – Blade Runner (1982)

“This could have been in the life-changing category but a) I discovered it later on, and b) it’s a predictable one that loads of people probably choose! But Vangelis is an absolute bloody legend. The synths are amazing, it’s beautiful and relaxing and it still sounds futuristic nearly 40 years on. It’s my number one sunbathing album: back before the iPod you’d only take a few CDs to the beach and this was number one. A-Ha’s Hunting High & Low was number two, if you’re interested.”


John B - Numbers [Camo & Krooked Remix] (Beta Recordings, 2010)

“The first four peaktime bangers are for my sets, the other two are what I’d want to hear if I was out clubbing but not at a drum & bass club. Camo & Krooked smashed this remix and it’s one of the biggest records I’ve been involved in. I was really proud of the original, it was an interesting slow development of a track, but they turned it into an absolute dancefloor banger.”


Insomniax – How Does it Feel (Viper, 2019)

“This is huge for me, and always gets an amazing response. I don’t know who else has picked up on it, but for me it always gets an incredible reaction. It’s a dancefloor monster, perfectly crafted with that vocal and those classic rave stabs. It’s great!”


Metrik – Hackers (Hospital, 2019)

“A very obvious banger. I’ve actually made a mash-up just for my DJ sets, called Mr Hackers, with DJ Hazard & Distorted Minds' Mr Happy and Hackers, changing the notes of the bassline etc etc. The rise off Timewarp VIP is in there, too. The original is a bit of a predictable choice on its own to play in your sets nowadays, but it’s perfectly crafted Euro dancefloor drum & bass isn’t it?”


Bad Company UK – The Nine (BC Recordings, 2001)

“A heavyweight classic. I wouldn’t play the original in my sets now, as it would devote too much precious time to something people have heard a million times, but I made a mash-up years ago that I still play pretty much every set. I chopped it with Alien Girl, got the Morning Light acapella off Concord Dawn and used Miss Kittin’s Silver Screen Shower Scene vocal in the breakdown. No one else has it, so it’s a good way to sneak The Nine and the others into a set without having to play through the whole track and eat up seven minutes of a one-hour set!” 


DAF – Verschwende Deine Jugend (Virgin, 1989)

“Back to the goth stuff! If I was in a club that wasn’t D&B, and I could dance freely like a helicopter and close my eyes and sing along, then DAF would be the one. This is an EBM banger (EBM not EDM!) I’d love to head down and have a stomp to this. It’s also great for running on grey rainy days.”


The Soft Moon – Far (Captured Tracks, 2015)

“The Soft Moon are a kinda modern, dark wave-y band – I still don’t know how you’re supposed to refer to this stuff. Just one dude with a drum machine, synths and a guitar. I guess you could describe it as ‘hard shoegaze’. A lot of claustrophobic energy, restraint and power and it’s just heavy and uplifting in a very different way. Another peaktime banger I’d love to hear in a club situation, but would never be able to play at Liquicity!”


Handel – Ev’ry Valley Shall be Exalted

“Even though I spent money putting a nice soundsystem in my car, I mainly listen to Classic FM when I’m driving. When I was young I’d blast more predictable bass-y stuff, but now I’m a bit embarrassed about judged as anti-social in the village I live in! So if I’m playing music loud, they’re not like, ‘He’s listening to that horrible noisy bloody hip-hop and drum & bass again’… I want them to get angry that I’m playing loud music, but then clock it’s actually Handel! I love this one: quality feel-good baroque opera vibes.” 


Joy Division – Love Will Tear Us Apart (Factory, 1980)

“Absolute classic, sounds great: it’s still not quite 'Dad rock' but it’s an amazing tune obviously. I did a remix of it a while back and it has that momentum that works well when you’re driving. One of the best songs ever.”


Stone Temple Pilots – Plush (Atlantic, 1992)

“An early influence thing as well. Grunge was big for me, like it was for many people my age. This was on their first album Core, which is such a well-produced album and sounds fucking great through a good system in a car. It’s just proper rock really, but not too predictable or cheesy. It reminds me of a great era. I had their MTV Unplugged album on a lot recently while doing some DIY in my loft, and it reiterated what good songs they wrote, even when they're so stripped down.”


Haddaway – What Is Love (Coconut, 1992)

“The bassline on this is great for winding people up when you’re driving along. A perfect car tune. Time it right and you can pick your mate up and roll the window down just as the vocal comes in. A perfect 90s tune and one of my favourites full stop. Just cool.” 


Aphex Twin – Start As You Mean To Go On (Warp, 1995)

“This was on I Care Because You Do. When I first started driving, it was in my Mum’s car, quite a nice little Escort with a decent soundsystem. I had the tape of this and I have a lot of memories driving around that first summer. This song was the one I liked the most. Just a special time, it sounded great in the car, it’s Aphex Twin. It ticks a lot of boxes.”


Winaloto – Tommy Cash (Tommy Cash, 2016)

NB: video link here - it's definitely NSFW and not for the easily offended, and subject to age restrictions

“I don’t know if this guy is linked to Die Antwoord, but they both seem to know people who make insanely good, weird videos. Little Big, too… anyway, this is amazing in the car. It’s so simple, it's just a marimba sample with him rapping in this sleazy, slurring slow style, and the bass, when it comes in, is so simple and clean, but you can tell there’s been a lot of very clever production going on to get it there. It sounds great in the car and it’s not some bollocks trap any old sod would be blasting in their Punto on the way to KFC.” 

Words: Dave Jenkins Pic: Hana Makovcova

Timelines is out now on Beta Recordings 

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Tags: John B, Beta Recordings, drum & bass, D&B, Jean Michel Jarre, Depeche Mode, Nine Inch Nails, Aphex Twin, Kylie Minogue, Pet Shop Boys, Beethoven, Wendy Carlos, Doc Scott, Clockwork Orange, Goldie, The Cure, Throbbing Gristle, Peter Schilling, Toto, Men At Work, David Hasselhoff, Wolfsheim, Psychedelic Furs, Drab Majesty, Bungle, Steve Reich, Flight Of The Conchords, Vangelis, Camo & Krooked, Insomniax, Metrik, BC, Bad Company UK, DAF, The Soft Moon, Handel, Joy Division, Stone Temple Pilots, Aphex Twin