The ineffable (pop) genius of one of garage's top producers
Selim Bulut is a music writer who lives in London. He has the most meticulously organized iTunes folder in the land. He’ll be writing about some of the excellent music coming out of the UK every other week.
Hailing from Huddersfield, Yorkshire, DJ Q has been right at the front of the UK garage and bassline house scenes for the best part of a decade now. Although he started out presenting a specialist UKG show on BBC Radio 1xtra (which he held down for eight years before moving on to Ministry of Sound Radio), his music has been embraced by fans from across the spectrum: he had a brush with the mainstream, hitting the UK charts with his MC Bonez-featuring single “U Wot” in 2008, while further down the line, massive club singles like “All Junglist” and “Brandy & Coke” (a vinyl-only bootleg of Brandy’s “Best Friend” that sold out in about six seconds when it was first released) have sealed DJ Q’s reputation—to those who know him, at least—as one of the very best UK club producers in the game.
The reason why is fairly simple: he makes night-on perfect club music. He’s able to put some of the rudest basslines and most energetic rhythms onto just about anything and pull it off with ease—who else could remix “Gangnam Style” and, against all odds, turn it into a mean rave banger? His music has appeared on labels as unlikely as OWSLA, and when Mobb Deep’s Prodigy sent an open call for UK garage remixes on Twitter, his music ended up in DJ Q’s capable hands.
DJ Q is only just getting around to releasing a debut album. Ineffable, out March 31st through Local Action, is basically a pop record, but it’s one that’s got its feet and head in the rave, taking a vocal pop template and working in club soundsystem and pirate radio styles—garage, bassline, drum’n’bass, jungle, grime—to ace effect. He never really stops—when I called him for our interview, he’d just finished a day working on even more music—but I managed to get him for 20 minutes to talk about the album.
Stream: DJ Q, "Trust Again (Inkke Remix)"
So, are you excited for the album? It’s been on the cards a while, hasn’t it? Course I am man! Finally getting it out there. We announced it at the beginning of last year. It’s been ready since about November. It never started off as an album—we had tracks, we had singles, and then Tom [Lea, head of DJ Q’s label Local Action] said, “Do you wanna put out an LP?" and I just jumped at the chance. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do.
It’s a proper pop album, too. It’s described as that, but when I was making it I never thought, “I’m gonna make a pop album.” I just made the music. The album’s all my influences just put into one thing.
What influences are those? What did you listen to growing up? I started off listening to reggae and soul through my parents. Then hip-hop, then jungle, and from jungle—garage. My dad used to make soul when I was growing up. He released a few things, you know? He’s been releasing music for years, but not on any mainstream level. I’ve always been around music, so it was inevitable that I was gonna get involved somehow.
Did you start DJing or producing? I started off DJing. Before I started buying vinyl, I used to record sets. I’d MC to jungle.
You used to MC!? [laughs] Nah, nah, not really. I was just messing about. It was one of those things where I wanted to be involved in doing music, so I jumped at the easy thing. I had a mic that was hooked up to my stereo, so my friends used to come round and we used to mess about and that. When I discovered garage, that’s when I started buying vinyl.
Tom says that you have an encyclopaedic knowledge of garage. Yeah, I was buying loads of garage, it was a bit mad. I ended up having loads of vinyl before I even had decks. I knew I wanted to DJ, eventually, so I was just working to that. I was buying stuff from the whole UK garage scene, from the early 4x4 stuff to the 2-step stuff, up until the grime stuff. At the time there was one record shop that used to get the freshest garage called Fourth Wave in Huddersfield. Then that closed down, so I started going to Leeds and eventually to London.
Was bassline a big thing in London? If you play certain certain songs in London, even now, then they’ll know the songs and go crazy to ‘em—but as far as having a scene, there were no artists making bassline in London. It was up north really, but then it filtered down into the Midlands and Birmingham.
How long does it take you to get a track finished? Anything from a couple of hours to a couple of days to a couple of weeks, it just depends on what vibe I’m in and what the track is. At the moment I’m really enjoying remixes, and remixing vocals, because it’s a different inspiration to me.
On the subject of remixes, I was thinking about that Drake one you did recently… You know how that track came about? I had a booking in Cardiff and we must’ve been playing the Drake album, and that song was on repeat, or something…
Stream: Drake, "From Time (DJ Q)"
I can’t listen to that song anymore without hearing your version! It feels too slow. That’s what I like.
I loved the Mariah Carey tune you gave out at Christmas too. [laughs] I don’t know how that came about. I saw someone tweet about Christmas songs, saying, have I got any cool Christmas songs? So I thought, you know, let me take an hour out…
There are no cool Christmas songs for clubs, are there? There is now! I’m gonna try for Christmas number one next year. You reckon Mariah Carey will give me licensing?
How did Prodigy end up hearing your stuff? That was just being on Twitter at the right time. I’ve got a friend in America who works closely with OWSLA, the label run by Skrillex. And she retweeted a tweet from Prodigy saying he was looking for a UKG producer, and she @’d me. Prodigy ended up direct messaging me, and we did a back-and-forth – it was really funny, ‘cos he was talking about UK garage, and I thought he was just on it for the hype. But he kept sending me Youtube links of tracks that he was feeling!
Why did you call the album Ineffable? So there’s a forum on the internet, I think it’s called ILX forum, and there’s a thread called “the ineffable genius of DJ Q.” It’s been running for about two years, and every piece of music I put out, and every mix and that – those guys show love. As I was reading through, Tom gave me a shout and said check this post. The post said, “We think DJ Q should call his album Ineffable.” We just went with it.