Jack Revill is a Glasgow-based DJ known for his eclectic mix sessions as well as for co-founding label and club night Numbers. While his name clearly references Chicago house pioneer Farley Jackmaster Funk, he doesn’t confine his DJ sets to one style or scene, spanning Detroit techno, U.K. garage/dubstep, minimal techno, disco/funk, and anything else that moves the crowd. He began DJ’ing and working at a record store during his early teens, and by the age of 17, he was a resident DJ at Glasgow techno club Monox. Numbers began releasing online mixes and promoting events around 2006. He also co-founded the related Wireblock label, which released early material by Rustie and Hudson Mohawke. Numbers became a proper label in 2010 and released dozens of well-regarded 12″s and full-lengths by Jessie Ware & SBTRKT, Jamie xx, SOPHIE, Redinho, Mosca, and several others. Immediately after the label was established, Jackmaster became in demand, appearing at numerous clubs and festivals and appearing in DJ polls from publications such as DJ Magazine and Resident Advisor. He mixed Fabric’s Fabriclive 57 in 2011 and a 2016 volume of !K7’s lauded DJ-Kicks series.
Do you think that a DJ is an artist?
I struggle with this question. Because at its most primitive state all you are doing is taking one record that one guy made and another record that another guy made and mix them at a roughly the same speed. But then you know the thing I’ve been always interested in DJing was that third level of energy that is created. The third level that never existed there. And then that’s is when it becomes artistry. A sculptor is a craftsman and an artist. When you are making a mixtape, mix CD, you are putting parts of a jigsaw together. But then you get some DJs that are really like magicians. Such as DJ EZ of Jeff Mills. And in completely different ways! Jeff Mills is so good because the music he plays can hypnotise you, it’s really almost like an outer-body experience when he’s on top form, whereas DJ EZ has like mad skills. Those are the two DJs that I rate really really highly and I don’t rate many DJs this highly.
How come has your focus always been about DJing and never about producing?
I used to make music because I studied it in college. I would make a track and then I would listen to a Rustie track and when i compared the two, mine wasn’t just good enough. That’s one of the reasons. I’m really an impatient person, you see I fiddle about with everything I’m touching. And DJing is much more instantly gratifying. I found very quickly I was making a name for myself as a DJ and then this all buzz came along of just DJs, just purely being a DJ and being that as your art form. And I’ve never had to produce. A lot of people have to produce because they want to be famous or they want to make money or they need to contain their flow of gigs. And that is not why you make music. You do it because its art, because you are expressing something.
Tell me about DJ Kicks, how come were there so many technical problems along the way?
I’ve got this reputation like a hell raiser (a party guy) which is kinda true at times, but the actual fact is that I sleep all the time. Like, any free time I spend sleeping. So I lose a lot of stuff, because my head is all over the place. So this year already, I have lost three laptops. I lost two in Miami! Two! Within these three months. They asked me to do the mix while I was in Miami and then, I lost my fucking laptop and all my new music. I left it in a taxi. And I had an argument with a taxi driver and I didn’t tip him. And that’s a big thing in America. So when he finds my bag, he’s like “Fuck you Jack! You’re not getting your laptop.” I tried to track it but I couldn’t find it. So I had to go back home and just dig for old records and then start from scratch really. (ed. Jack observes the crowd in the backstage) So many cool DJs dressed in black, I dressed all in navy blue! Shit! What am I gonna do?!! I don’t subscribe to that. I turn up to afterparties in Ibiza in like, pink and yellow color shirts (ed. so much for a no hell razor, Jack) everyone is in oversized black tees and weird pantalons. But you know, girls seem to like it. Then I start talking to them and they don’t understand me.
Oh really, so is that why there is no Mrs. Jackmaster?
Eeeeh, no… That’s cause I’m still searching for my princess. When you do this job you can’t really have a girlfriend. I do like 200 gigs a years or something, I am addicted to DJing. I’m married to the game (he adds: make sure if you print that to say I was laughing)! I’ve probably lost girlfriends in the past because I’m too involved in my job. Like I said, I feel like i’m addicted to playing records. I struggle to find amongst my peers, anyone I know that works harder than me in terms of the number of shows. Sure maybe the biggest famous DJs are doing as many shows, but they’re flying on private jets. I’m on fucking Ryanair! I’ve flown first class twice in my life and its cause I snuck in. I ain’t paying for that!
Are you serious, you sneaked into the first class?
And I got caught. But then the plane nearly crashed. So it’s a good thing the air hostess let me stay. I was with Skream on the way to Chicago and he was on the first class and I had to go to the economy so I was like I’m coming to the first class! And then before I know it I’ve got a real plate with some filet steak on it and some fucking gnocchi! And I was like, yeah I can get into that. The woman was like “one of you is not supposed to be here”, and Skream just starts laughing. And she looks at me “it’s you isn’t it?”, then I was like “Yeah, it’s me.” And then the plane just nearly died. We weren’t allowed to land because there was too much snow, then we circled for so long we ran out of fuel. And I was like, it’s good that you let me in the first class, because if I am going to die on a plane I need to die first class with a fucking filet steak in my belly. (ed. He raises his hand as if about to order and shouts “Gnocchi, please!”).
Have you had to adapt and smooth out your choppy mixing style as you’ve travelled more?
Letting a tune play right out is something I’ve had to force myself to do. I don’t subscribe to the style of mixing a steady intro with a steady outro for 30 seconds. There’s no character in that for me. I’m far closer to the old-school hip-hop and breaks style.
What are some of the other tricks you’ve picked up?
I use the CDJ’s Slip function, but that’s about it. You can double up what’s going out to the crowd while keeping the track moving in the background, so it still drops on the beat. I find myself using that a lot when creating a crescendo with two tracks running. CDJs as a format is a gift and a curse, to be honest. Mixing on vinyl, you’re keeping yourself busy by spending time making sure the tempos are matched perfectly. That takes two seconds on the CDJs. In an ideal scenario, I’ll be playing records and digital in tandem, as it feels real and sets a more fluid pace. Nowadays DJs stand about waiting for a six-minute song to finish, and it’s like, “Come on, bring another deck into it, or do some tricks, or something.” With CDJs, everything has become so easy that I get ticked off for touching stuff too much to compensate.
You have a very obvious tell when hitting upon a combination to rock a crowd: you lick a finger before cueing everything up, as if you’re turning the page of a juicy story. When you’re in that lightbulb-over-head moment, are you planning your next two, three, four moves?
If I’ve got one tune playing, hitting its max, then I pretty much know what I’m gonna play next, so I’ll rack that up early. I’ve started being more confident recently by doing three-deck mixes where I’ll have an intro for a track that’s very percussive but that has nice elements, some nice tones. I’ll loop that for eight bars, match the tempo, and then maybe play a third record over it as well at the same time. Even though you’ve lined them all up to the same tempo, they don’t sit perfectly all the time, so riding them live is a must. \I’m absolutely obsessed with Jeff Mills’s Exhibitionist DVDs and his old Liquid Room sets. I will watch those things just agog at the way he pushes and pulls tracks back into play. When Jeff is riding across three decks, it’s spinning out of control, and he brings it all back home, I just sit back and go, “Fucking bang.” So I’ve started attempting that as a way to up my game. To be honest, I usually go in for a blend for so long that it eventually goes out of time and I have to revert to two. But those are the moments that I really genuinely enjoy as a DJ.
Do you still find any excitement about the scene? Especially considering your views on its fake face both in front and behind the scenes?
You’ve got to recognize and park it. Recognize that’s not why you came into the scene. And it’s not only because of music, but because it was really fun. Going out, and DANCING! Dancing was why I did it, because I love dancing! I didn’t do it because some fucking guy wants to take a photo of me at the airport. Although I say that, I have an ego just like any other DJ.
Would you name one B2B partner that stood out most of the rest?
The best telepathy I’ve ever had was with Oneman. I have that quite good with Ben UFO. But with Oneman, we didn’t even have to speak, we’d just do it. We’d quickly look each other and that’s it. We just had a thing. You do certain things in a B2B, and he’s like “that’s exactly what I was about to do”. I’d cue up a track and he’s already cued up for his next track. I also like playing with Joy Orbison, I really liked playing with Armand, Laurent Garnier was a pleasure.