It’s fair to say that Jackmaster, real name Jack Revill, is one of the most consistent and hard working DJs in dance music today. Playing up to 200 gigs a year, the Glaswegian is constantly in demand, gracing dance floors worldwide with his extensive selections.
It comes as no surprise, then, that the Numbers co-founder is the latest to take on the influential DJ-Kicks series, following recent contributions from Moodymann, Dam-Funk and DJ Koze. With the record shortly due on the shelves, we caught up with him to discuss his beginnings at Rubadub, the impact of Ibiza, and his love for Glasgow.
Before music, did you have other passions?
I always played the cello in school, but it wasn’t a passion because I never practised. My mum wanted me to do it and I was into it at first, but then I started going to the orchestras and they were full of puds. Before music, it was very much football for me. Then I gave up football for music and spray painting really badly. I was crap artistically, but my name was everywhere.
Was it Jackmaster back then?
I don’t want to say what it was in case the BTP are listening now (laughs). Nah, I wouldn’t want to say because it’s bad, that’s the real answer. I was crap but I was fearless so my name was everywhere. I wasn’t disrespectful but if other people fucked around with me because they thought I was some wee kid and a toy, I’d go through their tags. There was one night we did three or four rooftops just climbing about. I miss that… it was fucking class.
So you started working at iconic Glasgow music shop Rubadub at a young age – were you aware you wanted to take music seriously by that point?
At that point I already knew. That was part of the reason I chose to do work experience there. In school I was the kid that would come in and think my music taste was cooler than everyone else’s, they’d listen to Eminem and I’d try to explain to them about The Roots. Me and my mate Callum Spencer would take my Gemini decks to house parties with my dad’s hi-fi – nobody wanted to listen to David Morales, Stardust and Daft Punk, but it was our sound system so we’d play what we wanted. This was all pre-Rubadub, but even from the start everyone in school would be into Michael Jackson whilst I was into Prince, a lot of that taste was coming from my dad. Then at Rubadub you were taught to shy away from what was trendy and go for the underground shit that not many people were listening to.
Of all the music you were exposed to, was there a particular genre that you were attracted to most whilst working there?
I was really into electro like Two Lone Swordsmen, Drexciya and certain shades of Underground Resistance. At the start I wasn’t even in to Carl Craig, Derrick May and that sound, it was the proper electro and breakbeat stuff. The first thing I guess that really sparked my interested was Juan Atkins. The Cybotron stuff that he did was called the birth of techno but it was electro, his Model 500 stuff, like ‘The Chase’. It was work experience so we didn’t get paid but I was given that record as a start of my journey.
You were putting on parties from a young age, where did you take influence from for your direction?
Our direct influence was Rubadub and the party they ran every Saturday – it was in the basement of an Indian restaurant and was called 69. They were playing loads of house, Drexciya, and a lot of Dutch stuff like Dexter and the Clone stuff. They’d also play a lot of Warp artists and IDM, which doesn’t really exist as a genre anymore. I was heavily into that sound, artists like Plaid, Black Dog and Autechre. We were directly influenced by what they were playing, and our first parties you could safely say were a rip off of theirs, but we were never thinking like that. We were just into everything they did, so it was always going to be a carbon copy.
This ultimately formed into the Numbers club night, when do you think you guys grew into your own identity?
There were a few things going on at once. Numbers was getting a name in Glasgow as Hudson Mohawke and Rustie started coming up, the labels started doing well, my mixes started getting well received online and I started getting bookings in London, which for me was mega. So it was all these catalysts together. We’d turn up to the club at 10pm and the queue would be round the corner for a 100 capacity venue we had in the basement of a gay-friendly club. At that point we started realising something was happening.
Had what you guys been doing at that point been done in Glasgow before?
This might be kind of ignorant for me to say this but I think at that time, Optimo and us were the only outfits that had an “anything goes” attitude and played what we wanted. It wasn’t just house and techno all night; they’d drop a rockabilly track in the middle whilst we’d drop a hip-hop track. As long as the energy was there, we’d do it.
Was that attitude always well received?
Ah don’t get me wrong, there were a few times we played things that didn’t go down well, which I’ve also seen happen at Optimo. I respect them so much because they were so staunch in their beliefs and music, they didn’t give a fuck. They wouldn’t be purposely obtuse, but they’d put on bands in the middle of a Saturday night when everyone wanted to hear techno, because that’s what they wanted to hear. As I got to know more about what Optimo was, they became a really big influence on me, and still are now. At that time, although we were coming at it from different angles and they were a much more admirable club than ours, we were the only people doing that I think.
How did the Numbers label come into play?
At this point the label didn’t exist, we all had our own labels. There was a lot of arguing amongst us and we were fighting over who was going to get demos off of people. Rustie was working for Wireblock and Stuff Records, he was a pretty laid back guy, but we weren’t as much, and we’d argue about things. Callum would always bang on about how we could all do one thing together and eventually it became an obvious plan to just name it after the club night. The club has been going for 12 years and the label has been going for five or six.
Was it always important for the label to bring local talent through and represent Glasgow?
Aye, that was always one of the main agendas. At that time, Rustie was producing enough that we could have just put a record out by him every week. Right now in terms of what we’re into musically, there’s not as much coming in from Glasgow that we want to release. There’s some really nice grime stuff coming out, but I don’t listen to as many demos and stuff as I used to. We’re not really with many Glasgow artists now, expect for Denis Sulta.
What would you say has been the most important release on Numbers?
The most important release for me has been the Lory D stuff. He’s a producer from Rome who’s widely regarded as being the guy who brought acid music to Italy. There’s a really strong techno scene in Italy, and I think a major part of that is down to him; he was one of our heroes. He didn’t speak English or have an email address, so we had to just follow him to his gigs and try and get across to him how much of a fan we all were. We were about 18 and we followed him to Rome, taking pictures of him on the sly like paparazzi because he was such a huge deal to us. Eventually, he played at this night Monox that I was a resident at and I managed to get a CD off him. We fleshed out some releases from that on Wireblock and now he’s one of our main artists on Numbers, not in terms of sales but as one of our flagship artists, and most loyal. When we started Wireblock we wanted the first release to be by him. We were ready to go for one or two years but it took us so long to get stuff off him, that we decided we we’d wait and release his music as our first artist on the label. It was the first record he put out in 10 years, so it was a major thing for us.
How have you found co-managing a label as you’ve grown bigger in status as a DJ?
Sadly I don’t get to work on the label as much as I used to and that’s something I want to improve in the future. It’s very rare that we get a demo that is ready to go, we often change things at the last minute, and I still have a lot to do with that process. But in terms of hard work, I do nothing, it’s kind of shit for the guys. The public are now more aware of Numbers and that’s a good thing, but for a while it was always “Jackmaster’s label”, which wasn’t fair on the others. It’s probably benefited my career a lot more. When we first started there was a big buzz around what we were putting out, stuff like Jamie XX, Hudson Mohawke, Rustie, you’d struggle to find bigger artists at that time. I kind of got a kickback from that and had all their music before everyone else, which helped.
How do you go about finding new music now?
It kind of finds me – I’m more interested in the old stuff. Discogs, YouTube, recommended stuff, I usually spend a few hours a week doing that. A lot of DJs rely on other DJ’s mixes to find tracks by going through their Boiler Rooms, but I don’t really believe in that. I want to be Jackmaster, not anyone else.
On the topic of mixes your DJ-Kicks mix is out early July, what was your approach for the project?
I actually got asked to do it because someone dropped out. I was already due to do one later on but it got bumped up. I was on the ‘Holy Ship’, which leaves from Miami and goes through the Caribbean. There’s no Internet because it’s like $100 an hour, and I got a phone call asking if I could do it with about two weeks to get the tracklist in. I had nowhere to look online for new tunes or flesh out the mix, so I had to do a lot of it from memory. I figured a road I wanted to go down, and it was very much an influences mix with lots of Detroit stuff on it, but in the end I ended up using none of that stuff. I take a long time to do mixes and I’ll go through four or five different versions of each mix before I’m happy. I never do anything on Ableton; it’s always a proper mix. Even my radio shows for Radio 1, I never used to cue up tracks on the desk, it would be a mix I recorded in my house.
The pace of your Fabriclive mix feels faster than the subtlety of your DJ-Kicks mix, especially during the opening. Would you say this reflects your change in DJ style over the years?
It wasn’t a conscious decision for the CD but I have definitely been conscious in not DJing that way because I feel like it’s been done. I’m not saying I was the best in the world at that style, but I was pretty good at it. I grew out of it a bit, and it got easy to do. Things like going to DC10 for the first time and being asked to play at places like Panorama Bar, I really learnt a lot by watching people DJ there. I always knew that that was how you play house and techno, but something clicked, I wanted to start playing a bit differently from that experience.
Do you think your older style of blending wouldn’t have gone down well at clubs like DC10?
I still mix fast, I just blend for longer. I think it would have gone down in certain places in Ibiza, but they’re not the type of places where I want to be. Even at DC10 I still play differently to most people there, I still slip in bits and bops. I don’t know, maybe it’s just because I’m older now.
Do you still feel like you have something to prove as a DJ?
To certain people, yeah. It’s bad to think like that but I think I’ve been typecast in some people’s eyes, but at the end of the day, you know, fuck them!
You played two different B2B sets at this year’s Parklife with Armand Van Helden and Joy Orbison, does having that connection and level of trust with another DJ make for a more fulfilling experience?
It’s much more enjoyable. It’s just another plane of energy. DJing, for me, is at its best when you’re taking two elements and creating a third element which wasn’t previously there. That extra energy in the booth, it makes so much of a difference. I do so many B2Bs, which means I can exercise all the different shades of music that I’m into, and I always come away learning something.
You also closed Sonar this year, do you feel an added responsibility or pressure as a DJ to make sure festival-goers walk away with a final happy memory?
With something like Sonar I’ll always feel a lot of pressure because I’ve had some of the best times of my life at that festival. I’ve been going every year since I was 17. After I went to Red Bull Music Academy, I got asked to close that stage and that went really well. It got recorded as a mix and did well for my profile, then I went back a couple of years later for a Numbers showcase. It would be my dream to be one of those guys like Richie Hawtin or Laurent Garnier who they book every year, so I’ve always got to play my cards right.
As well as a hectic festival schedule, you live in Ibiza in the summer, what’s special about the island?
I can sum it up in one club and that’s DC10 – that place is amazing. I went four years ago when I kind of invited myself to Joy Orbison and his bird’s romantic holiday. When we got there my mind was blown and something changed that night. Ibiza to me was a bit of a dirty word back then as much as it probably is to a lot of people who are into underground house and techno, but it was nothing like I thought it’d be.
Is it still as healthy today?
I’d say it’s getting healthier now. If you look at the music that’s playing, better music is getting booked there each year. Maceo Plex of all people has started a night at Pacha and he’s booked some really risky stuff. I walked in last week and he had Red Axis doing a live set, and he’s booked people like Pearson Sound to play.
Is it true that you live with Skream and Jasper James whilst you’re out there?
I lived with both of them two years ago. I now live with Jasper, Richy Ahmed and Seth Troxler’s tour manager when I’m out there. Across the way is Seth and above is the Martinez Brothers, it’s kind of like a DC10 family. Martinez Brothers throw water bombs off their penthouse balcony. I’ve not quite reached the stage of the penthouse suite but I’m working my way up there!
What’s the best thing about returning home to Glasgow after a hectic summer?
You can drink the water out the tap and it tastes nice. I really miss Glasgow when I’m out there. I miss my friends a lot. It’s nice and cold, just the simple things like Irn-Bru. I couldn’t move anywhere else, I love Glasgow too much and I probably do because I’m not there all the time – I’ll move for the love of a good woman but that’s about it, nothing else.
How has Glasgow changed musically since your teenage years when you started out?
It’s still very much a house and techno city. A lot of people thought house went away at one stage because they were all listening to dubstep, but it never went away, especially not in Glasgow. The Rustie and Hudson Mohawke thing has changed it a bit, most kids now are into rap and I really saw a change from kids getting into that from those two and what they pushed. People were on grime really early in Glasgow as well, garage and drum and bass never really existed, but grime exploded there. Again, probably because of the Rustie and Hudson stuff. I get more and more nervous playing in my hometown now, DC10 and Sub Club for me are still my favourite places to play in the world.
Do you think you’ll ever look to slow down your DJ schedule?
Yeah, but then I’ll get bored eventually, I can’t keep on this amount forever. Someone asked me how many gigs I do and it’s probably about 200 a year. You get very little time to yourself and at home, but whenever I do take time off I want to be DJing. I’ll go to clubs and see people DJ and get jealous and want to be in the booth. I’m addicted to it, and as long as the drive is there I’ll keep going.
Lastly, is there still anything you’d like to try musically?
It’s inevitable that at some point I’ll get into the studio and try something. I have been in a couple times with people. I was sitting in with Artwork and made some stuff, and I was with San Proper in Amsterdam when we made some tunes. I’m a real perfectionist with that stuff and when I listen to my mates’ tunes in comparison, it’s hard. I used to make tunes every day; I went to music school and got a diploma in audio engineering. I’d be up on my laptop on Reason while my bird was asleep next to me, but then I’d listen to what my mates were making and it was so good. I was just too impatient for it all. I think people like the fact that I’m just a DJ, it means you don’t get as typecast. I’ve got a lot more freedom to go where I want to.
DJ-Kicks: Jackmaster is out July 8 on !K7. Pre-order it here.
Jackmaster plays BuggedOut in Dreamland, Margate on September 24. More info here.
Words: Callum Wright