In Depth: Jaguar Skills
When it comes to rocking a dancefloor, you don’t get many who can do it better than Jaguar Skills. The turntable ninja is well known for his high energy, in your face, eclectic and more than anything else, entertaining DJ sets and he has set events on fire the world over with the vivacity of his DJ techniques. He is also renowned as a producer and has just released his latest EP Miseducation Of A Hip Hop Boss on Viper Recordings. We caught up with the man himself to hear all about the new EP, the vibrancy of his sets, his hip hop memories and DJ influences, memorable DJing experiences, the skill of DJing at weddings, who is the ultimate hip hop boss and what is up next for Jaguar Skills.
Your new EP Miseducation Of A Hip Hop Boss is out now. How has the EP been received so far?
Yeah good man, I’ve been pleased by it. Radio have played tracks from it and there’s been a lot of Spotify interest and I’ve been really pleased with everything so far.
How did you hook up with the artists who feature on the EP like Double S and Milli Major?
Milli Major, I’d worked with him before. He’s really cool and he’s got loads of energy, really nice guy. I sent him a beat and he made the track, really quickly, he came back with it. With Double S, I’d made a beat and I gave it to my management and they hooked up with Double S to do it. We’d got a few other artists as well but his was the one that fitted it best.
Have you got any plans for a follow up album or EP at the moment?
Well, this is my last project on Viper. I’ve got a lot of music and I’m going to try an release more stuff this year for sure. I’ve got quite a lot of bassline records so I’m going to try and get them out somewhere.
You’ve worked with the likes of Lupe Fiasco and Tempa T in the past. Who has been the most memorable artist you’ve worked with and why?
It was cool working with those guys that you mentioned. I’m a fan of those dudes you know. Big Narstie was on a record, Example was on a record. I’ve worked with a lot of people. I’ve worked with all the people I’ve wanted to work with and I really enjoy working with people. It’s interesting when you make something with somebody and suddenly they do something over the top, something that totally changes the record and it kind of amazes you. They’ve all been special in their own way I guess.
Is there anyone you’d really like to work with in the future?
Oh shit! There’s loads, I mean every time I make a hip hop beat I want Jay Z to go on it. I fantasise about having Q-Tip on records and classic hip hop MCs. I’d like to work with all different types of artists but when I make something I don’t really think of an artist to be honest but having said that, an old classic hip hop artist would be amazing.
In terms of your production style, do you adopt the same vibrant approach that you do to your mixes and DJ sets?
Yeah I guess so. I like making bangers and that’s what excites me – really in your face kind of stuff. I try to inject some of my personality into it at the end of the day. We’ve got lots of different sides to our personalities and I think that the records that have been released are all my very hyperactive side of my personality. I’ve got loads of other bits and pieces but no one wants to hear my jazz tunes!
In your opinion, who is the ultimate hip hop boss?
Lyor Cohen. I met him once and he seemed to be the ultimate boss. I actually hung out with Jay Z once and he was there and Jay Z said to me “Yo, you know who that is?” And I go “yeah” and he said “He’s the biggest player I know!”. Yeah, Lyor Cohen is the biggest hip hop boss.
If you could DJ a cipher with four MCs of your choice, who would you choose and why and what beat would you have them rhyme over?
I would have Ghostface Killah, Busta Rhymes, MF Doom and Q-Tip rhyming over a tune I did called Riot Squad, a drum n bass record. I’d like to see how they’d do it!
I’d love to hear that!
Yeah, that’d be fucking mad wouldn’t it!
How did you get into hip hop in the first place, what was your introduction to the music and the culture?
My dad was a DJ so we always had loads of records in the house and I do remember Rappers Delight from his record collection! I remember hearing that and I remember watching this group called Whistle on Top Of The Pops and they had this old school time that I thought was amazing. After that, a couple of buddies from school had these Def Jam mixtapes with LL Cool J on them and then there were some other dudes at school who had tapes of British hip hop crews at the time, people like Silver Bullet and Demon Boyz, stuff like that and then it was probably the Westwood show. I used to listen to Westwood religiously and copy all his tapes and listen to them all the time so I would say a combination of my friends at school and Westwood.
Your history of hip hop mix got a lot of attention. It must have been a lot of fun to make but with over forty years of tracks to pick, it must have been difficult to choose which ones went into the mix! Were there any tunes you wish you’d put in?
It was the main records of every year played to order. I picked twenty from every year and you have about four bars for each one! I think I there was a couple of obvious tunes I missed to be honest, I can’t tell you what they were but I remember listening back a few years and thinking “Shit, wasn’t that in there!” It was academic I guess, more of a trainspotter, anorak mix. I was doing it more as a historical document than anything else to be honest. The thing is, I sent it to Mistajam and he played it on his hip hop show and I’d never heard the whole thing in one go before. When I made it, I made it in parts and then stuck it all together, I couldn’t listen to it myself all the way through. To me it was like a piece of art, the tracklisting was so crazy and I don’t know if anyone had done anything like that before. I remade it again for the BBC and I made it more listenable, I realised people wanted to listen to something.
Which DJs have inspired you the most in your career?
Choppy, cut n pastey kind of guys. People like Kid Capri, amazing hip hop DJ. Spinbad, he’s amazing. DJ MK, not the house guy! People like DJ Biznizz and DJ Pogo, Tony Vegas and Prime Cuts. All the British turntablists from the mid to late nineties, there’s a lot of them! Those kind of guys, musically Jazzie B, he was a really big influence on me. I really loved Soul II Soul, I liked the way he mixed in. Gilles Peterson. DJs that wouldn’t just play one thing and would play stuff like a soul record then a hip hop record then a reggae record and a drum n bass record like Norman Jay, superb. DJ selectors really. Later on, Touché from the Wiseguys , he’s called Fake Blood now and he was very influential actually, thinking about, because he would play hip hop records with house records and all types of shit and that really excites me, I really like that.
Your sets have always been eclectic. Is it because you are a lover of such a broad range of music that you want to include as much of it as you can in your sets?
If you look at all the early hip hop DJs before there was such a thing as hip hop really. All the early guys, Grandmaster Flash, Kool Herc and all of these cats, they would play a bunch of records so you’d have a theme tune, then a disco tune, a punk record, a James Brown record. I thought that was really cool, to me, that is hip hop. Its a culmination of all these other styles of music. To me it’s monotonous if I just here the same shit all the time but I guess it depends on where you are, what time it is, Who you’re friends are, what drugs are available! I love all types of music so for me, it’s more situational like I might be playing at a drum n bass gig and I reckon they might like some old bashment reggae, they might want that.
It’s what fits in.
Yeah, so I’m not going to play a disco record then. If I’m in Ibiza or somewhere and they’re playing house, I might think, oh I might put some disco records on and it’s like oh shit, they like it! It’s almost like the history of stuff. house records, they sample disco records and hip hop records sample old funk records. It’s not too far of a stretch to play a James Brown tune if you’re playing old school hip hop records. It might be a nice little switch up and likewise with drum & bass, playing some old reggae tune, it’s the same kind of vibe. I’m really into the history of music and where different styles come from.
Like reggae and dub to jungle and dubstep for example?
Yeah, exactly. I think sometimes where it sounds out of place is when you’re a multi genre DJ, you can easily turn into a wedding DJ very quickly! Let’s play some Michael Jackson or an S Club fucking Seven record!
Have you played any weddings?
Yeah, I’ve played a few weddings for a couple of friends and it’s funny man! It’s fucking hard, it’s a skill. Doing weddings, Bar mitzvahs and partied with all different types of people, that’s the skill of DJing. You need skill for that shit, to keep everybody there. Everybody comes on but if they don’t like what you’re playing then they walk off and empty the dancefloor and then it’s full again, it’s hard man! With a festival, if you’ve got ten thousand people in a tent, they’re not all going to leave. They might stay for the next guy and if you keep the same vibe, they’re all going to stay.
Do you approach a massive festival, the same you would with your own shows or do adapt it depending on what type of event it is?
If they’re there to see me, I can make it a little bit more weird because I know that maybe they’d want that, a bit stranger, a little bit more left field. If they don’t know me and I’m sandwiched between two other acts or whatever at a drum n bass event let’s say, I would probably keep it that, keep it whatever it’s supposed to be like.
But throw stuff that fits in there too?
Yeah, but more than “And now, you’re going to hear Jaguar Skills and I’m going to play some really violent drum n bass “ when everybody’s grooving to disco! That’s the answer really, if they come to see me, maybe I can flip it up and do some other shit. I find that hip hop actually is a good dancefloor cleanup, it resets the dance. Some real classic hardcore hip hop shit, no one can cuss it, no one can say anything!
Yeah, I’ve been at drum n bass nights and songs like Hip Hop by Dead Prez, or Simon Says or Witness have been played and it’s the same energy.
Yeah, exactly. If you draw some real clever tunes, then you can really reset it all and then come in whichever way you want.
What’s been your favourite set that you’ve ever played, if you could choose just one?
I’ve had the opportunity to play in Japan a few times, I fucking love Japan and I love all my friends out there and how they are and how polite they are. They’re so respectful and go crazy. I’ve played a few gigs in Japan that were fucking brilliant man. Festivals too of course. It’s more like after the fact though, like oh shit there were fifty thousand people there! That’s trippy! When you’re actually doing it, it’s quite weird. Looking over the crowd and knowing that you’re going to play a tune that’s going to absolutely smash it and you’re already smashing it and the next two tunes are going to destroy it! If you’ve got a version, and I make a lot of dubplates. If you have a version of a tune that does something, it switches and I know that it’s going to do that and the crowd don’t and I know that just because they’ve been jumping around, the next ones going to kill it and that feeling of progressively making everyone lose their shit is just amazing! Once you’ve got them, and it’s hard to win them over sometimes, but once you’ve got them and it’s a tune that’s new or you’ve done a version of it and it’s pretty fresh to your ears too, that whole mixture, that’s the best! Walking offstage, knowing that you’ve destroyed it, it’s the best feeling in the world man! There’s been a load of gigs like that, a lot of festivals like that but Japan, just for where it was. I played at this club called Womb and it was just brilliant!
What are your plans for the rest of the year musically? Have you got festivals coming up in the summer?
Jaguar Skills: I’ve got a few festivals already booked in. Bestival and a few other ones and I’ve got a few gigs booked in so far. Musically, I am making some 135 BPM bassline music but I call them drum n bassline where it’s a mixture of drum n bass and bassline, so it turns into a drum n bass tune halfway through. I’ve got tunes that I’ve made where they turn into drum n bass tunes halfway through. Its like dubplates that is make for the club gigs but actual tunes so that’s quite interesting. I’ve got some really cool projects that are almost done. I’m working with this British MC who hasn’t done anything for a while long time. I can’t really say what it is yet but it’s a massive British MC and me and him have got a group together and we’ve done an album. That’s going to be coming out in a few months time and that’s really interesting and exciting. I’m really pleased about that. I’ve got a t-shirt company that I’ve just started, a clothing brand. That’s really cool as I used to be a designer so I do all my graphics and I want to explore that area too so there’s a few things.
Download Jag’s Miseducation Of A Hip Hop Boss here
Interview by Gavin Brown.