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Recognise 006: Djinn

Recognise is DJ Mag’s new monthly mix series, introducing artists we love that are bursting onto the global electronic music scene. This month, we speak to breakbeat assailant and Manchester junglist, Djinn…

Bold and ferocious, but possessing infinitely eerie depths, both the DJ sets and productions of Manchester staple, Djinn, have become essential listening in the brooding underbelly of drum & bass.

The last decade and a half have seen Djinn transform into a stalwart of the Northern scene, a regular at London’s revered Rupture club nights, and an increasingly sought-after name internationally, having previously toured the US and making her Australian debut in May with a four-date tour. Meanwhile, a mere handful of releases have earned her a permanent residency in the record box of any self-respecting junglist — her highly technical, yet wondrously freeform weapons proving devastating on each and every release.

After falling in with a crew of breaks fanatics as a teenager in the early noughties, Djinn cut her teeth with borrowed records, hopping on at house parties or knuckling down for marathon sets with friends, taking every opportunity to perfect her craft. As the decade progressed she made forays into drum & bass, and the then sound du jour, dubstep — but in the end, it was the rapid-fire rhythms of the former which prevailed.

The rise of rolling minimal, the mechanical half-time of Amit, ruffneck compilations such as the 2008 Scientific Wax collection ‘The Alliance Of Science’ and, later, Renegade Hardware’s steely ‘Horsementality’ double-pack, and, of course, the indomitable Metalheadz, all shaped Djinn’s style. “I just wanted to focus on one thing and I think the energy of drum & bass is more what I’m about,” she tells DJ Mag over the phone. “I’d still love to make some more 140, but at the moment my heart’s definitely in drum & bass.”

In 2015, Djinn scored releases on a comp from recently revamped outlet Repertoire (‘Red Rain’), and Skitty’s Foundation X Black (‘Shadows’), paving the way for her first solo EP and debut vinyl release ‘Dark Reference’ through the latter’s parent label, Foundation X, last year. The record was a breakthrough moment to say the least. The sheer animalistic savagery with which Djinn delivered the clattering breakbeats across each track garnered critical acclaim and mean they’re still on regular rotation. “With breaks, I think there’s almost an element of rebellion in programming them,” she muses. “The conventional thing is 2-step — kick-snare-kick-snare, whatever — but it’s almost like you’re breaking the rules a little bit, cos you’re like, ‘Well, I’m just gonna stick a mad edit in there’.” 

There’s a natural soul to breaks too, she says, a live feel and ability to twist on a hairpin that enables her to keep things interesting and unpredictable. “Some of them are a little bit crusty and a bit dirty,” she adds, “and obviously you wanna clean up the break but you don’t wanna take that character out of it.” In the studio, Djinn arranges her breaks in audio, before freestyling with double hits, reversals and time-stretching. Then, using a midi controller, or, more recently, the XY-configured touchscreen of a Kaoss pad, she records herself manipulating her edits in real time using a range of filter and distortion FX.

“It is all just experimental, it’s trial and error,” she says of her game plan (or lack thereof). “I’ll do a little bit and I might use that, assess if it fits where it is, or maybe it doesn’t quite fit but I can use it elsewhere. It’s just kind of random really — controlled randomness!”

Djinn relates her experimentalism to being somewhat like jazz; “But then I always have to come back to that groove otherwise it’s not coherent, it’s just a load of weird sounds together,” she continues, breaking out into rapturous laughter, as she does often during our chat — her infectious enthusiasm and positivity both mimicking and contrasting the intensity of her tracks.

And that’s not the only balancing element either; within the music, all that blistering drumwork is always offset by alien pads or smoky dubwise atmospherics. “I like depth and detail, so it doesn’t really matter if the break’s hard or a bit lighter, I just want that mood that really makes you feel something,” she explains. “I would always aim for the overall thing of having timeless music, music that you can listen to 20 years later and be like, ‘That’s still good’.”

This year she’s got tracks in the pipeline for Stretch’s AKO Beatz, and hopes to return to Foundation X too. At the moment, however, her upcoming tour and Manchester club night, Formless, are taking priority. Having celebrated its second birthday back in November, the event has already drawn comparisons with Mantra and Double O’s Rupture, although Djinn is keen for Formless to have its own identity. “That’s really flattering cos Rupture is obviously the pinnacle of amazingness,” she says, “but at the same time I think it’s really important for Formless to not be a replication of anything anyone else is doing.

“I know it sounds really cliché, but it is a night for the heads. It seems to draw out a few of the heads in Manchester who don’t really go out anymore and I really like that. Some of the nights that I used to go to when I first went out in Manchester, it seems like the people that used to go there have ended up at Formless, which is amazing. Family vibes, y’know? I love it!”

And while bookings have included the likes of Source Direct, Dom & Roland and Breakage, Djinn’s own abilities on the decks are certainly a draw on their own. Her radio shows on jungletain.net are verified treasure troves, while her Recognise mix is a rapidly mutating beast of a set, a hour-long crescendo of chaos that evolves from murky rumblings to a typhoon of clusterbomb breaks. “I didn’t want it to just be all Amen breaks for an hour cos the sets that I play, they’re not like that, and when you do that it takes away a little bit of the impact,” she tells us. “I think mixes have to tell a story, that to me is like the ultimate art of DJing.

“It’s interesting to see what people think about it who don’t listen to drum & bass, cos I always think jungle must sound so weird,” she laughs. “They must just be like, ‘What the hell is this? Random drums!?’”

Photos: Press – Miriam Vaughan / live – Gary Brown.

Want more? Check out our feature on the new wave of artists reinvigorating jungle.

You can also listen to last month’s Recognise mix from boundary pushing techno selector, Identified Patient.

Ben Hindle is DJ Mag UK’s Deputy Editor and co-founder of DJ Mag Bunker. Follow him on Twitter here.

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