John Rolodex steps into the Best Drum and Bass podcast for not only a heavy-handed guest mix, but he also tells all in an exclusive interview below! Paired with your usual weekly mayhem from Bad Syntax, this week brings it extra heavy for those who like it tough.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself for those who might not be familiar
I began DJing in ’97 and producing drum and bass in ’99. I’m from Edmonton, Canada and I guess people consider me one of the pioneers for DnB in Western Canada. In 2002 I released my first EP on Ray Keith’s Dread Recordings label. A couple more EPs later I started releasing elsewhere including labels like Metalheadz, Tech Itch and Freak. More recently I had a tune out with Hospital and a 12″ on V Records with my good friend T.Power. I started a label called Machinist Music in 2010 and brought in Dioptrics as a partner a few years ago.
2. What was your first experience with Drum and Bass like?
I was a teenage kid. 15 or so. The defining moment was probably recording Dillinja’s ‘Ja Know Ya Big’ and Source Direct’s ‘Snake Style’ off a CBC Radio show. The show was called Brave New Waves and played what they considered experimental music. I used to record it on tape and listen to it on the bus to and from school. I had heard stuff like Smart E’s ‘Sesame’s Treat’ a couple years earlier and wasn’t into it. But the vibe of those chopped breakbeats took hold of me. I was totally obsessed from then on.
3. Where did you get your name from?
I came up with the name when I was 17. At the time I was into scratching so ‘dexterity’ was a thing. Also turntables are called ‘decks’ and ‘rollers’ are a style of tune, so I basically smashed all those together. I’ve been called that for 20 years now and I think the name a bit goofy, but it’s at the point that people who have nothing to do with drum and bass call me Rolodex and they have no idea what any of that means or even what drum and bass is, so I think I’m stuck with it.
4. What is you’re biggest break / thing you are most thankful for to date in your music career?
There have been so many! Meeting Ray Keith, and later Goldie were both fortunate events. But I made sure I had music ready in advance that might catch their ears. I’ve always said “you make your own luck” and I think that’s a good example. A few years ago S.P.Y gave one of my tunes to London Electricity and it ended up being released on Hospital. I suppose that was pretty lucky.
Probably the most fortunate things was working with Cartridge in the early days and T.Power later on. I learned so much from both of those guys (and hopefully the reverse is true.) There are techniques Cartridge and I developed that I still use today. People ask all the time so I should add: I’m not in touch with Cartridge and I have no idea where he is. And that saddens me greatly.
T.Power helped me get my sound clean while retaining the filth and without unintentional distortion; plus he’s become one of my best friends. That vibe you get when a collaboration is going well is pretty fantastic.
5. You’ve just returned after a few years away from Drum and Bass. What have you been up to and why did you decide to take a break?
In the summer of 2013 I hit the wall. My personal life was a mess. I was very depressed. And I was tired of the same old sample-pack copycat tunes filling my inbox. Adding to all that, I wasn’t happy with some of the things I saw happening in drum and bass, in DJ culture and in dance music in general. So I enlisted Dioptrics to run Machinist Music and walked away with no plans to return.
I let myself explore my creativity without worrying about who the audience was (or there being an audience at all.) I did a bit of writing, loads little of visual art projects and wrote a bunch of music and made a music video for a completely separate project which was released in 2015. I don’t want anyone to connect that to John Rolodex just yet so I’m keeping it a secret for now.
About a year ago I realized that the 170 BPM breakbeats were still clanging around in my head and that they probably always would be. So I started messing around with DnB again. In autumn of 2016 I started releasing the Redux
stuff. And here we are.
6. Tell us a bit about your upcoming release on Machinist Music
‘Warship Worship EP’
is beefy a slab of what we’ve become known for at Machinist. The title track was written effortlessly last spring and is one of those ‘does what it says on the tin’ type tracks. Your standard issue tearing reese bassline with crunchy rolling drums. What my signature sound has evolved into.
‘Doctrine’ was actually started a few years ago, before my hiatus. A headzy, dubbed-out halftime joint with a roller on the second drop. Goldie gave the the thumbs up on this one.
‘Where R U’ is a stripped down, brooding number. Undeniably derivative of Source Direct, but I’m not afraid to admit it. DnB is almost 25 years old. We’re not re-inventing the wheel here!
The EP title, ‘Warship Worship,’ is a definite slight towards the military industrial complex. The fact that nations are spending billions on weapons is disgusting to me as a person. (I’m looking at you, Pentagon.) I feel rather helpless about it so this is my response.
7. What do you think of the current state of Drum and Bass and how do you see it evolving in the next few years?
Coming into 2017, the production standards are higher than ever. I get sent promos from artists I’ve never heard of, some of them brand new artists, and the tunes are mixed and mastered beautifully. That’s refreshing. Also the loudness war seems to be coming to an end. People have realized they can use a gain on a mixer instead of smashing the dynamics out with a limiter. Bring on the dynamics! Also DnB is more diverse than ever and all the sub genres seem to be healthy. I love that there isn’t just one dominant style the way there has been in the past.
As for the future of DnB, it isn’t going anywhere. But we’re close to 25 years deep and, as I said, we’re not re-inventing the wheel. A lot of people, including myself, have caught the half-time vibe; but that’s really nothing new. At the moment I’m seeing a lot of people within DnB paying attention to what’s happening in Grime. From where I’m sitting there’s potential for Grime in North America to cross over the way dubstep did. Time will tell.
Hopefully good music will continue to prevail.
8. What do you have planned for yourself and Machinist Music?
In 2017 I have a fair amount of music in the clip. ‘Warship Worship EP’ is kicking things off and a 10″ with Broken Audio is happening later this year. We’re still clarifying the release schedule but there will be at least one more ‘Rolodexperiments’ and ‘Redux Part. 2’ before summer. Hoping to do a bit more DJing. I’ve been contacted by a few promoters and a couple festivals. Hopefully some fun gigs will come through.
Over the next couple years I’m looking to bring some of the other aspects of my creativity to the John Rolodex name. I was into visual art long before I became a DJ and have always done a bit of film and video stuff on the side. I’m currently working on a short film and it will be my first film project with the John Rolodex name on it.
As for Machinist, the second release of the year will be Dioptrics’ ‘Shank EP’ which is an absolute destroyer. Really happy for him to have reached this stage with his sound. Also hoping to an EP from Sureshock and a couple other artists we are working with. We’re planning a small label tour for autumn of this year. Nothing huge, 3-6 dates ideally. We’ve got some pretty exciting things planned including visuals and a guest DJ or two.
We’re also looking at doing vinyl again. We had the wheels in motion to press vinyl in Calgary at what seemed to be a great pressing plant. Unfortunately they just closed their doors without warning. So we’re on the hunt for a pressing plant that can meet our needs and still be feasible so fans don’t have to pay $40 for a vinyl.
9. Who are your top 5 (or more) current Drum and Bass artists?
: A close friend (family, really) and protege of mine. He’s had releases on Machinist in the past and will again in 2017. He’s also got around 7 million tracks signed with Ray Keith with no release in sight. And I hope they fix up and and start releasing his music. You can hear some of it in this mix here: https://goo.gl/SlNJnu
Dioptrics: My partner in the label. Really has that heavy neurofunk thing down without making the soul-less, not-so-funky stuff so many people in that style are doing. He’ll have a few big releases in 2017.
DBridge: I really love that people are pushing the boundaries of the genre. Both with his label and his music Darren is expanding what the genre is; smashing down the fucking wall really. And that’s a beautiful thing.
Owneath: An artist that recently came to my attention. He has an EP forthcoming on Broken Audio and it’s really fantastic. He has that dark minimal thing dialed right in. Remember where you heard it first. One to watch.
Stranjah: My long-time friend and fellow Canadian. He’s really in great form these days. Had a brilliant 2016 and hopefully 2017 will be even better. It inspires me to see him doing well.
10. If you could collab with any artist, of any genre / style, who would it be and why?
Miles Davis. Bitches Brew-era horn over my breaks and subs. I’d really enjoy that and I don’t think I’m the only one.
11. Describe your favorite bassline of all time, preferably by just describing the sound.
EWAH EWOH EHAHW EHWOHW VRRRR [Alien GIrl]
12. Tell us about the strangest / most embarrassing experience you’ve had before, during or after a show.
I’m not going to go into great detail. But I’m still really embarrassed about my behavior in Copenhagen about a decade ago. I was on some rockstar shit. Drunk out of my mind. And tried to take some serious liberties at an after-party. I wasn’t at my best and I owe those folks an apology. Definitely not an isolated incident but probably the worst of it. I hang my head.
13. What is one tip you would like to give to aspiring Drum and Bass artists?
Have as much fun as possible. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t take any person or event too seriously. If you have to compromise too much to make a go of it, you won’t enjoy it. And if it starts to become just a job, quit and go work at a job that as a dental plan and regular hours. You’ll be happier.