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Renegade Master: DJ Mag meets Jackmaster for our August UK cover

DJ Mag follows the Numbers boss from Glasgow to Glasto to hear about his unstoppable rise....

Jackmaster has hit the big league in recent times. The DJ who started out in Glasgow has now made a name for himself worldwide, yet with those international tours has come assorted pressures and temptations. DJ Mag follows the Numbers boss from Glasgow to Glasto to hear about his unstoppable rise....

Catch Jackmaster at DJ Mag Sessions alongside Jasper James, Austin Ato and MWX at Rainbow Venues, Birmingham on Friday 18th August. Final tickets here. 

WORDS: Adam Saville
PICS: Sarah Ginn / Brian Sweeney

“I bring all my dates here,” Jack Revill announces with a cheeky grin and glint in his eye as he steps into his favourite Glasgow bar, in Finnieston, just a few blocks from the Numbers office. Obviously, we're flattered.

Ordering a pint — at 2pm on a Wednesday — we're both trying to remember the last time we'd bumped into one another. On a BA flight back from Brazil, this reporter remembers. Jack had just been booked to play during carnival in Warung's breathtaking main room. An impromptu b2b with Maceo Plex only lasted a couple of tunes until management (not his) intervened, perhaps fearing what affect one of dance music's most eclectic and energetic selectors would have on the Ellum Audio boss' tidy prog-techno set.
The point is, Jack will play with pretty much anyone he respects as a DJ — he just loves DJing. “I try not to be too snobby about it, I’ve always really disliked the snobbery about dance music, this holier-than-thou kind of thing,” he says when asked about the company he keeps. “I am more picky now than I used to be about what line-ups I’m on, but I’ve always been of the mindset that music is for everyone, it’s easy to get caught up in this cultural snobbery. I might be on a line-up one day with the so-called ‘cooler DJs’ and the next one might be with Armand Van Helden...”

This correspondent last interviewed Jack three years ago in a tropical hotel garden just off Collins Avenue during Miami Music Week. He’d just slept through probably the most important gig of the trip, Damian Lazarus’ all-star Get Lost party. It was a time when things were really kicking off for the loveable Glaswegian, he’d only recently picked up a marquee 12-week residency series at London’s XOYO and later that year he won the coveted Best DJ gong at our annual Best Of British Awards (four years after scooping the Best Breakthrough Award), following in the same footsteps as Eats Everything, Andy C and, more recently, DJ EZ. At the time he told us: “I don't think I'll ever see myself as part of the ‘big league’ and I'm not necessarily looking to be either, because I find when people start thinking like that, they suffer from it and start to compromise their vision.”

These days, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for him to deny his status as one of the UK’s top-level DJs, yet there’s still no sign of him losing sight of his philosophy. “I grew as a DJ very organically,” he asserts as we sip pints almost three years later in Glasgow. “I took on management because I couldn’t deal with everything that was going on, so I needed some help, but it wasn’t like I wanted to be taken on by management because I wanted to be the biggest DJ in the world, or whatever...”

Now, however, it’s indisputable — because of the line-ups he’s appearing on and the crew he runs with — that Jack’s ball automatically drops into the seeded pot when it comes to the World Cup of house and techno DJs these days. 

Picked up by Grade Management around the same time we met in Miami, Jack very quickly went from a playful familiar face mainly associated with the Glasgow scene — or UK bass nights in London like FWD and madcap mash-up grime/garage sets with Oneman as Can U Dance — to someone all of a sudden placed in the same bracket as house and techno giants such as Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and Eats Everything. 

Two years ago he even found himself playing b2b2b2b as part of J.E.S.u.S, a DJ-super-group alongside Eats, Seth and Skream, which sold out large venues in places like Miami and Ibiza better than it worked as a concept; its too-many-cooks approach at times proving slightly jumbled or incongruent, their disparate styles occasionally sounding a bit clunky. 

Out of that tag-team, Skream is the one Jack had most in common with. The Rinse FM star, following his years pioneering dubstep, is someone Jack refers to as “the most defining relationship I’ve had in my DJ career” — someone he’d regularly call for advice.

Today, however, even Skream has been spotted playing b2b tech-house sets with Solardo — a fun combination guaranteed to work a dancefloor of younger ravers, sure, but not a music policy aligned to Jack’s freestyle approach to rapid-fire genre selection; an ethos picked up from his days in Glasgow attending Optimo’s weekly Sunday party at Sub Club — or from Diplo’s early sets, which drew upon everything from Detroit electro to ghetto-funk to Aphex Twin.

“People like Optimo have never been about what’s cool and what is not, it’s just been about what’s good, what you like and what works, which has always been the philosophy I like to work with,” Jack asserts. “I would walk into a club and we would never turn our nose up at anything. It’s very easy to spot when people are trying to be cool, and when they’re very aware of their surroundings... ‘I wanna be photographed with this guy, hanging out backstage,’ it’s a load of bullshit.” 

Only last month, he was second-place billing for DC-10’s Monday marathon CircoLoco, below only The Martinez Brothers, and above the likes of Marcel Dettmann, Ellen Allien and The Black Madonna — two Berlin legends, one a label-owning veteran, and possibly the most re-tweeted DJ on the internet today. And all without a single tune coming out under his name. 

But with his rising profile and changing scenery has come the additional challenge of satisfying rigid dancefloors more used to homogenous house and techno DJs. So how does he manage it? 

“It depends on my mood,” he reflects. “Sometimes you try to push it a bit, sometimes you’re just like ‘Fuck it’, which is a bad thing... If every DJ in my position were to rest on their laurels, then the whole industry would be fucked. In fact, that’s the reason the industry IS fucked, because DJs are resting on their laurels.”

Fully aware that dance music’s current rude patch isn’t going to last forever, Jack is adamant not to take anything for granted. Fifteen years plying his trade has allowed him to realize that when the bubble pops (again), only DJs/producers with real substance will stand the test of time.
“Our strain of dance music has been on this upward trajectory for so long — I’ve been waiting for it throughout the last couple of years — at some point it’s gonna go like that [mimes diving motion with hand] and certain people in the industry are gonna be fucked. The people in it for the wrong reasons are gonna get spotted.” 

It’s this refusal to play it safe that encourages Jack to test boundaries, even if it means that he’s out of his comfort zone occasionally. When playing a more prescribed party “sometimes I make a statement,” he says. “That’s when your ego comes into play: ego or artistry. I wouldn’t say ‘shit set’, but when you do a set that doesn’t please the majority of the people it doesn’t mean it wasn’t that good, you just didn’t please everyone — there’s a difference. Opening of DC-10 the other week, a lot of people said they enjoyed it, but I purposely tried to play some things that were maybe a little bit against the grain. I was playing old rave stuff on the Terrace, breakbeat and shit. I was like, 'If this goes badly, and it all goes tits up, what’s the worst that can happen?’. I’ve been true to myself at the end of the day.”

And that’s another secret to Jack’s success. His unpretentious personality and carefree approach to life is reflected within the music he plays, and the way he plays it. A likeable character who plays killer records; a DJ people automatically connect with, he provides all the requisite ingredients for a good party. Regardless of whether you know of him or not, it's more than enough for most people — and quite rightly too.

The tragic loss of his mother and “best friend” during his early teens was what got Jack into DJing in the first place. Around the same time he bumped into his best pal Calum (Spencer) on Byers Road and went back to his to attempt to mix his new trance records. He got heavily into smoking weed and immersed himself in music to cope with his grief. But it was with Numbers, the imprint he started alongside Spencer as a club-night (at Ad Lib) in 2003, that it all properly got started. 

In recent years, especially, Jack's profile has far transcended the label he still helps run today. However, this is something the humble Glaswegian is keen to quickly write off simply as a result of luck. He recognises the value of being from a middle class family. Less fortunate people from his school ended up living rough on the streets, got into hard drugs and knives, while he found success in a hugely competitive, some would say, ‘dream’ industry — making a living as one of the few out there who only DJ.

“I mean, it’s constantly gone up and down,” he says of DJ culture over the years, “and I’ve been lucky enough to ride that wave, I guess. There’s always been little things going on behind the scenes, just little catalysts that I’ve been lucky enough to benefit from.”

Jack admits Numbers played a key role amid the “so-called UK bass movement”, especially during the early ‘00s as it put out crossover hits by Jamie xx, Hudson Mohawke and Jesse Ware & SBTRKT, and he also pays tribute to the ongoing support from Richard, Calum (Spencer) and the rest of the team for their “no-bullshit advice” over the years. Rubadub, too — Glasgow’s revered record shop — where he worked after flunking out of school at the age of 17. Despite almost losing his job for turning up late after DJ gigs and parties, he also made his living with Rubadub distributions where he got his education sorting records — Detroit techno, Chicago house through to IDM/electronica stuff — until things really picked up on the road during his early-20s. 

“I’ve always been the lucky guy, I got all the lucky breaks,” he says, referring to the year 2010 in which he got into the Red Bull Music Academy, picked up the Best Breakthrough award from us, which in turn, he says, led to a phone call asking him to do a ‘Fabriclive’ mix. “When I got that call from Fabric I was going through a really shit time, I’d just split up with my first girlfriend. I was a heartbroken kid, I didn’t know what I was doing, having a bad time, and Fabric called,” he remembers.

Aside from what he suggests are ‘right place, right time’ occurrences, Jack’s unstoppable ascent to the upper echelons of the dance music industry is as much about him making his own luck — a direct result of his personality and working hard. As well as his exceptional talent on the turntables, his playful sense of fun and at times in-your-face sociability is a trait that’s earned him his rambunctious party-boy reputation. His infectious character, sharp wit, and his natural Gatsby-esque warmth — that ability to make people feel included — is something that's scored him leagues of fans not just on the dancefloor, but within the industry also. But, perhaps surprisingly, this is not something that comes easy to him, he admits. With the pressures of socializing has come the almost inevitable danger of over-indulgence. 

“I was doing gigs Friday, Saturday, getting fucking pished, because I was a nervous wreck going to meet these people in Germany I’d never met; trying to drink some kind of personality into myself,” he tell us honestly. “Trying to have small-talk with, like, you know, guys in Turkey who couldn’t really understand what I was saying, and I was going to work on a Monday and being a cunt to all my customers, so I had to part with the day job — which was hard because Rubadub was a family thing.”

So for Jack, it was out of the fire and into the frying pan, as he immersed himself deeper — professionally, that is — into the world of DJing. These days he has his ‘on tour’ out-of-office reply permanently on (it seems). 

“I’ve always been a grafter, a bit of a hustler, I guess,” he explains. “It’s proper disheartening for young people to read this, perhaps, but I realized at a young age that dance music was a lot about who you know and about working with the right people, and all that. I realised that it wasn’t just about turning up and doing a good set. A lot of young producers have a hit record now and they’re a bit of stuff. Not everyone wants to do the social thing, and put their self out there. 
“I get this reputation about being a bit of a ‘Jack-the-lad’ party boy, but I actually do, just like everyone, suffer from social anxiety, which was even worse when I was younger,” he continues. “When I’d go to my gigs, I’d always make the point of going to the dinner — be friends with the promoter, hang out; get on with everyone and probably in some ways it was to my detriment, health-wise. I would party a little bit too much, because I was nervous and I didn’t know anyone, so you’d get fucked up. But I recognised at that age it was necessary in some ways to go and try to be pals with everyone. I would definitely say that I was getting bookings because of my personality — not over my musicality, but the two combined. I was getting bookings because kids who were my age would think, ‘Jack will give us a good set’, but also he’ll hang out and we’ll have a good time with him.”

Since turning 30 (he’s now 31), he’s started to re-evaluate his approach to touring. Living life to excess every weekend has been taking its toll a bit and that’s led him to actively consider taking his foot off the gas slightly. “Sometimes I’ll get booked now and I’ll say, ‘No, I’m not coming out for dinner, I’m going for a kip, I’ll get room service. Pick me up at, like, 10 minutes before my set’. And I’ll come play and then go home straight after with my tour manager and they’re, like, ‘Ugh’, kinda deflated, but I cannot continue the way I was going.”

But for Jack, booked for his boisterous charm and energy as well as his talent behind the decks, the need for self-discipline is something that has — or at least will — no doubt come at loggerheads with the carefree rock-star image he has unintentionally acquired over the years. At a time when dance music is as popular as ever, being seen to be the life and soul of the party is almost of tantamount importance to the tunes he plays, especially at parties where a portion of people on the dancefloor aren’t aware of who he is and how he’s going to play. 

“Now I’m pretty much on the road five days a week,” he reveals, “the slow-down has not really started yet, but it’s weird, people say when you hit 30 that it does go that way; you start getting wee aches and pains in your knees. It’s more recently I’ve realised I can’t just go on like this forever. I wanna be doing this until I’m really old.”

Reciting a time recently when he saw Laurent Garnier while with Jamie Jones and Seth Troxler at Time Warp, Jack views the French veteran’s demure cool and restraint as a source of inspiration. “It’s one of those ones where you and all your DJ pals are going, ‘That’s fucking good’,” he remembers. “He played for ages and it was like... he played 'Man With The Red Face’, a big extended version, nipped off to do a pish and came back, his mum and his dad were there, everything about it was a class act. If I’d done a set like that I’d just go crazy, I’d have been like, ‘Let’s go to the pure fucking after-party’. He was just backstage talking to one of the festival directors, small glass of champagne... maybe it’s a French thing, but he’s just at that age where he’s learnt. I just got this vibe from him, and that’s what I aspire to. He’s doing, like, two gigs a month — they pay enough — and he can be excited for the shows.”

DJing is also something that’s got in the way of him holding down long-lasting relationships. Whether it’s the constant partying and touring, or just that DJing has taken over his life. “Pretty much any girl I’ve met within the last five or six years has never gone past that six-month stage. It’s also because I’m much more interested in this job. The feeling I get from music is hard to replicate from a relationship,” he admits.

But the main challenge, he says, is controlling his volatile adrenaline levels — balancing intense highs and lows before and after a gig. “You can drink as much as you want and take as much of whatever, it maybe won’t affect you because your adrenalin levels are so high when you’re about to perform, but then after [the gig] the adrenalin comes down, about an hour after your set you go ‘Woah’...”

Asserting self-control is a personal quest for Jack that will serve as a turning point in his career; the difference between him going on to carve out a long-lasting legacy similar to someone like DJ Harvey, or fading into obscurity. 

While before the expectation was there for him to live up to his reputation as a raver, now he feels like he’s earned the right to settle down a bit. For him, the future is more about “enjoying the seed I’ve been sowing for 15 fucking years”, he says. “I’ve been working this shit, DJing every weekend, every Saturday since I was 17. I’ve been getting battered.”

Now is also the time for him to start sending out a more positive message to aspiring DJs coming through, he says. With the line between the mainstream and (so-called) underground increasingly getting blurred, and dance music culture far more established as a business now than when he was growing up — “you’re not really underground if you have a Twitter,” he quips — Jack’s experience can be vital for youngsters looking to take up DJing seriously as a profession. 

“Seventeen and 18-year-olds coming up to you with USBs or whatever, asking for a selfie so they get more Instagram likes. If someone was to explain that to you when you were 17, you’d be like, ‘What?’” he laughs. “A lot of them are just doing the same as me, they’re being introduced to all these new people and thinking, ‘Alright, well I feel a bit edgy so I’ll take half a pill’, but it’s alright to be a bit anxious, socially inept or whatever...”

Another message he’s keen to spread is one of equality within the industry. A rant on social media in February saw Jack apologise for not taking sexism and gender imbalance in dance music more seriously in the past, after he overheard comments from a male about a female DJ — both of whom he'd prefer not to name.

“Tonight was the first time that the plight and/or prejudice surrounding females in the music industry truly hit home and resonated with me,” he tweeted. “It is way waaay too easy to be ignorant to the fact as a male DJ [you're] in a privileged position. There is something very wrong here.”

His main gripe is that many men — including him — have been conditioned by a male-dominated scene rife with held-back female talent, and as a result it's men's duty to call it out and change it. One solution he's found is to ensure that female DJs are (contractually) included on line-ups he's booked on, and he's also making plans to fund women-focused dance music workshops in Glasgow, despite being fully aware that the issue is a minefield. “I feel like anything I try to do I’m gonna get criticised whatever,” he muses, “so I’m still going to go ahead and do it anyway.”

Fast-forward a few weeks and we're backstage at Stonebridge Bar at Glastonbury, a big-top tent where Jack is scheduled to play for Kurupt FM. Checking his Brylcreem quiff in a Portacabin mirror before immediately introducing himself to our photographer — “so you're the one who's gonna make me look good!” he beams — he's his usual playful self, particularly charged up, like a child in a sweet shop, because Glasto is one of his favourite places. “The vibe here is all-encompassing, like a wee UK Burning Man or something like that,” he tells us. “There’s a very lax, anything-goes, easy-going kinda vibe.”

'Easy-going' and 'anything-goes' are two things that Jack does best. Minutes into his set he's dropping UK garage/grime bombs at electrifying pace and the place is popping off. “I thought they were going to jump on top of my set [to MC],” he tells us after, “so I went in really hard with all the classics, and I was playing tunes for like 16 bars. Then one of them just came on and went ‘alright mate’ and then fucked off. I played for 10 minutes and seven tunes, or something like that... and then I was like, 'Oh fuck'.”

Few things pass Jack by without something amusing happening. A man who could turn a trip to Sainsbury's into a stand-up comedy sketch, later on he's caught challenging a man called Booty to an arm-wrestling contest, someone almost twice the size of him — “It's ma duty to wrestle your booty!” he's heard yelling in heavy Glasgow drawl — and somehow hilariously winning. But, jokes aside, Jack is in demand today. 

Few DJs have the range to play this many sets — he has four today alone — and not just because he gets numerous offers, it's a necessity. “For me it’s good to exercise my full repertoire,” he admits. “It’s essential to get it out of my system. I get asked to do that because I’m adaptable.”

And he's not wrong. After hopping in the back of a trailer, 10 minutes later we're at the Wow! Stage in Silver Hayes, where people rave surrounding a mystic papier mâché rock, and he's dropping disco b2b with Artwork. His first contribution is Four Tet's latest (unreleased) hot property, before Art closes with Cerrone 'You Make Me Feel' to a sea of hands in the air. 

“How good is that?” he says of Kieran Hebden's super-exclusive gem. “He said I could play it in the Essential Mix as long as I don’t credit it to him.” Which he duly does over at the BBC Introducing stage at 2am after Peggy Gou and Patrick Topping, a jackin' house set typical of Jackmaster, featuring classics from Galaxy 2 Galaxy ('Transition') and Paul Johnson alongside fresher material. 

Just a couple of hours before, he was headlining the Arcadia spider — “to re-live the first time I ever watched Kevin & Perry” — with a 'history of rave set', or, as he puts it, “the trance from ma youth”.

So that's UK garage/grime, disco, '90s throwback and timeless house/techno all within the space of 12 hours — and he's only just getting started. No wonder he's not a fan of a “suffix” — a genre bracket after his name on a flyer. “I don’t like to be pigeonholed, I like it to be a surprise,” he says. Don't worry Jack, it always is. 

*Check out the rest of the features in our August UK print mag here.