Mr G - on top of his game, and flying. Photo by Beth Marsh.
One of dance music's most enduring characters goes deep in an interview that discusses his life-long love of jazz, what happened when he died on an operating table, and memories of his own close call with the excesses of touring brought back by Avicii's death.
Few producers wear the term 'dance music' quite so thoroughly as Mr. G. For the best part of two decades, he has explored the no man’s land that lies between house and techno with a steady stream of albums and EPs, many of which have lain in wait under the radar. It is a body of a work that belies an unwavering commitment to peak time dancefloor, bass-laden funk. It also serves as an emotional catalogue that captures the pain and sorrow as well as the joy and beatitude of a tumultuous period in his life. Through it all, his records are tied together by a common sound and work ethic. Few producers can announce their identity on a record so distinctively by just unmuting and muting a ride sample on a mixer. Or pop the kind of moves that he throws out as a matter of course in his live shows, as best typified by his 2012 appearance on Boiler Room. Clocking up nearly half a million views, it proved to be a watershed moment that would finally present his talent to the audience it deserves.
Just recently however he has begun to further reveal a side to his musical life that’s been active for most of his adult life. For a little over a year, he has presented a monthly jazz show on Gilles Peterson’s Worldwide FM with K15 that has revealed his skills as a selector in the wider worlds of jazz and soul. It is a breadth of knowledge that won't be a surprise for his most ardent fans, as samples from top shelf jazz and soul records pepper his Mr G output. For his next release 'Nothing's Changed' on his own label Phoenix G, he once again swaps bone shaking bass for long lost rare grooves and it is yet another document of one of dance music’s most devoted and enduring characters.
Ibiza Voice: Your career as Mr G defines the art of sticking to your guns. Can you tell us about the mid 2000s for you. You had a lot going on in your personal life between heart attacks, and your friend and father passing. You also made a lot of EPs in this period, and you kept on coming. Some have telling titles like 'Don't let Shit Get You Down.' Was it a defining time for you in terms of how you responded to what was happening around you?
Mr. G: Big question. I came from catering to fashion, but music was always with me. I collected even though there were times I didn’t or couldn’t DJ for whatever reason. All the titles of my EPs mean something and have real heartfelt meanings. I didn’t have a choice. I love making music and writing beats. Good things can come outta pain or suffering. My heart attack, losing Lex (a close friend) to cancer, then my Dad were incredibly soul destroying and tough but if I didn’t finish the path they had help set me on, my life would have been in vain.
I had wanted to leave some kind of legacy because of them. [In the albums] ‘State Of Flux’ and ‘Personal Moments,’ you can feel that pain in the music. It’s there, and is forever my ode to folk I loved. That’s special for me - a great statement.
Also the large output was really my end game. At that point [in my life] I couldn’t give my records away and if that failed, it was the end. I had lived off [partner] Cath for the four or five years after my heart attack. I could no longer bear her taking all the strain. I had to go out and get a job to contribute to the household. Thank God it worked. I also remember reading many of the books by the old cats. Autobiographies and biographies like ‘Yes I Can’ by Sammy Davis Jr., ‘Divided Soul: The Life of Marvin Gaye’ or ‘Brother Ray’ by Ray Charles. They all seemed to just go their own way and do their own thing so I suppose I just followed their lead. I was never money driven, it was more an outlet for my day to day runnings. Bad day equalled heavy music. Good day equalled sweet soul. I was happy just to be heard. I never ever thought I’d be popular! I still like to hide in the shadows.
On stage with Ben Klock. Photo by R Quan.
Your forthcoming ‘Nothing's Changed’ compilation is a curveball move for your label and a great calling card for your skills as a veteran selector. I read in an interview that these stem from your days of playing music with your dad to working in record shops. How did the release come about and did you run into problems trying to licensing such old music?
I love curve balls! The dad quote ain’t right. My dad loved music but I didn’t play music with him. The Willie Tee track I found in an old box I had. It stopped me in my tracks. I’d always wanted to do a compilation but everyone I mentioned this [idea] to showed no interest. So I thought, why not do it myself? With the aid of the wonderfully positive Mitchell Goor at Triple Vision Distribution, we set about seeing what we could achieve. Yes it was slow, maddening and tough but I didn’t expect anything else hunting great records.
I never ever expected this. No one believed in me, because they took no time to see what I was or where I came from, so it feels great that I could do this on my own label. It’s two fingers up to the industry and proof that we all can do what we like if we have a vision and work hard enough.
It sounds like a very personal selection and all of these records no doubt come with a lot of memories. Can you pick one as an example, and describe what part it has played in your life?
I heard Four Flights ‘All I Want Is You’ a few times on the radio when I was a kid going to Jamaica with my mum. When I grew up, I hunted it down but finding the 7inch was easy, the 12 which is nice and long, wasn’t, but I eventually found one. It wasn’t like today where you just go online, back then it was a labour of love. I bought another just the other day as I saw a good copy come up.
You have a very broad knowledge of the genre, what turned you onto jazz?
Jazz for me is the source. Most of what makes me is that knowledge of jazz, swing, soul. I was buying and selling it in Derby when I worked at (legendary record shop) R.E.cords. I loved Philadelphia International and CBS Columbia and jazz was a big part of those labels so naturally it became a way of life!
Can you give us specific examples of an experience, a record or a mentor that lead you towards this path of music?
Back then I worked in the shop with an older DJ/collector called Hecter who had a love for and knowledge of all music so in turn, I ended up with the same open mind to music. It just became good or bad music, no in between. That for me is what makes some of us very different because whether it’s jazz, blues, dub, reggae, soul, funk, disco, ballads, house, techno, classical, rock or boogie, we can always deliver some good heat.
How did your jazz show on Worldwide with K15 come about?
We did a joint single with Lo Recordings and one of the promo dates offered was a jazz special, which no one thought we’d be up for but we both loved jazz forever so we came with some dangerous beatz which ended up with us being offered our own show. Sadly that’s ending soon to move on to the next chapter as there are so many other things I want to do. It’s a shame it’s come to and end, but you know, one door closes, another opens.
Your ability to make peak time dancefloor house and techno using very few channels of audio on the mpc is relentless. Where does this trait come from?
That’s the ’ole sound boy in me. For me, less is always more. Rhythmic drum, bass, topline. Done right, it is really as powerful as it gets. Listen to those old, bone shaking dub records you’ll hear what I mean. Eight channels in mono, not stereo. Phatt as hell.
Flow is the holy grail of all musicians and a trance like state that players fall into while performing without having to think consciously about what they’re doing. You seem to be in a permanent state of 'flow' in the studio and while playing live. How do you tap into this way of making and playing music?
I suppose I finally understand what I can and can’t do and for sure never follow whatever’s in musical fashion. I just stay true to myself - left of centre.
You once spoke in an interview about having a solid routine during the week of doing pilates and jamming in the morning, refining in the evening and hitting London on a Friday to check out the record and comic shops. Are you still gunning that same routine?
I still have the same routine although it was never a Friday, always a Thursday into town to look at food, art, fashion, sneaks, records and meet friends. It’s a way of life but keeps you fresh and on top of ya game. You see trends, you see changes, which in turn affect what my next move will be. I now do Yoga as I felt Pilates wasn’t a fix-all and can damage or weaken your back if done wrongly.
A chance encounter with heavyweight hip hop producer Pete Rock on a digging mission in Tokyo.
Looking back on your experience of suffering a heart attack and briefly dying, what conclusions have you come to about the experience?
Hey I died on the table, and was defibbed back. I saw the light, so for me now every moment is a blessing for sure, no time for wasting. My vision in life is very different to most but in turn my music has its own life also which drives me harder.
I wonder would we have had your most prolific period of production if this event had not happened?
No way! My view on all things changed, I worked harder yet relaxed and enjoyed the process more. I cared less about what folk thought as long as I was happy that’s all that mattered. I chased nothing yet it came to me. I feel blessed and then some.
You like a dance and for a man in your mid 50s, your moves put most twenty somethings to shame. Most DJs or producers often have an intense honeymoon period of dancing or raving that they often draw inspiration from when writing or playing music. For most people these times are fleeting, but for some of us their influence drives the rest of our lives. When was your most prolific period of dancing or raving?
I’ve always danced, it’s been my way to loose/express myself for as long as I remember. Whether I’m in the kitchen hearing something that touches me or remembering a long, lost track, I’m dancing. It’s never showing off, that’s just me, I can’t help myself, if it touches me, I dance! I’m still a raver at heart and I always will be.
Mr G's watershed performance on Boiler Room in 2012.
Can you tell us about the period in your life and going out that directly influences your output as Mr G?
It’s just life, good, bad, indifferent that makes me who I am in all forms.
Tell us about your honeymoon period of raving or dancing?
I used to travel with my friends all over the UK for all-dayers. Taking on different crews to dance. Soul, disco, boogie was the flava of the day. Listening to great 70s jams, which I think was the most forward thinking time for music. It was a great escape and my soul was always lifted.
How do you feel in the wake of the Windrush scandal as a British man, with Jamaican parents, and two feet in the utopian world of house music?
Ah man, you’ve no idea. To go through what folk went through to help build the UK, invited by the UK and with all the racism endured and then to do you like this is insane. The truth of the matter is they will never compensate for those spoilt lives. Or for the hurt, pain, heartache or embarrassment but more importantly for the total injustice. What’s crazy is nothing’s really changed. Whether it’s Grenfell or Windrush, it’s all just so much more subtle ...but it’s still an ISM.
The subject of the dangers of touring has come to the fore sadly after Avicii's death. Touring took its toll on you many years ago while touring as part of [late 90s techno duo] The Advent? How do you remember this time in light of what's happened to Avicii?
[Avicii’s death] hurts even though it’s not someone close. The realisation that this industry, if you don’t know what or who you are, can either drive you mad or kill you is crazy.
Folk love riding a cash cow but never think about feeding or treating the cow right in the first place. Touring is never fun, it’s just part of the job. I’ve been through depression/drink. The road and the nerves can do that to you and that’s not in the rule book. The worst thing is when you need someone to understand and reach out to and that’s the moment you realise you’re alone (an even bigger headfuck).
So many [people] get on the money train and lose sight of real life or even the time to reflect where and how they are or what they have or not. I remember running around the world in no real order, jet lagged to hell but the show had to go on, even though I was nearly potty. I jumped off a speeding train for my own sanity. I’m glad I did now as I have a whole other vision of life on the road and feel blessed. After The Advent I had no inclination to ever go back on the road but when I did, I understood my rule book needed to be very different to protect my soul. I drive shit [now], not my agent. It is us artists who are on the frontline dealing with stuff, not the agents. It’s about [finding] a balance and looking after your soul. R.I.P Avicii.
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