DJ Q interview: Two Steps Forward

DJ Q is not the easiest man to track down at present. But when we finally got to speak to him, in his Huddersfield accent he sounds far more relaxed than a man who operates at considerable speed in his career (and who is also in the process of moving house) should.

Known for his radio presence on BBC channels, on Ministry Of Sound and Kiss as well as his incredible production work rate has just issued 300 tracks from his studio archive on USB, released a single per week (which will be collated alongside others on a forthcoming album), mixed Pure Baseline for Ministry Of Sound (alongside Jamie Duggan) and held the first of his new Our Sound raves.

A DJ from an early age, he now represents the garage sound globally as an artist who is as busy playing gigs as he is within studio production.

Prior to bringing his abundance of upcoming gigs, Marko Kutlesa caught up with the prolific and singular garage DJ to ask

You’ve just released the DJ Q USB containing 300 tracks from your archive. Why did you decide to do that?

Because the tracks are just sat there and it’s a good way to release the tracks before I go on tour, continue the same kind of vibe as those.

After releasing so much stuff is there anything left in the archive?

Yeah, course there is. There’s probably twice as much still left.

How does your new rave Our Sound differ from the events you’ve done previously?

It’s still the same format, it’s just Our Sound is a new concept. I’ve done the DJ Q All Night shows, Our Sound is still me, what I do, but it’s also about the people around me who do similar to what I do. Showcasing our sound to everyone.

Towards the end of last year you released quite a sustained number of singles in your weekly series run. Why did you decide to release so much new music in that particular format instead of, say, releasing them all as an album?

Well, that’s the end goal. The album is called ‘DJ Q All Night’, which was how I was touring a lot around September when the tracks were being released. The album’s out at the end of this month. Ten of the tracks on the album have already been released as singles, but in total the album will have sixteen or seventeen tracks, CD, digital and USB.

Are all those new productions or are any of them older?

No, they’ve all been recorded in the past 12 months. 

Your music began to reach a much wider audience when you started appearing across the BBC radio channels. You’ve since moved to Ministry Of Sound, then Kiss, then back to the BBC as a guest. Have you ever had any doubts about changing platforms considering these brands are very well established?

I presume you’ve got to think about the pros and cons of moving; maybe you might lose some audience numbers weighed up against maybe earning some more money, stuff like that.

You know it’s never really been like that. I was on 1Xtra, then I wasn’t on 1Xtra. I decided I wanted to get back into it and so that was when I joined Ministry, so it wasn’t like I went straight from one to the other. It’s like I have a love hate relationship with being on the radio. When I’m doing something regular on radio, I wouldn’t say I get bored, I just want to do other stuff. So, I go and come back. It’s just another way of showcasing stuff, isn’t it? There’s loads of different ways, radio, the internet, club shows…

What is it about radio that keeps drawing you back? What are the bits about it that you do enjoy?

Just being able to showcase the music to a wider audience. There are a lot of people who listen to radio who don’t necessarily know who I am. 

What are the parts of doing it that are boring or piss you off?

Ha! Sometimes having to clean tracks up so I can play them.

Imagine your grandma asked you what’s the difference between garage and bassline. How would you explain it to her?

It’s a tough one. Bassline has come from garage. Well, it has for me anyway. I started off being into garage and it just kind of evolved into Bassline round here. There’s not really that much difference, it’s just a different style of garage. I don’t know how I’d go about explaining that to anyone’s grandma.

The garage scene has changed and evolved over the years, for instance, when it first started there weren’t always enough tracks for the DJs to be able to play one style all night, so you’d hear a real mixture of music. What period for you do you think was the best for garage?

I’m not sure, you know. I really enjoyed it when I first got into it, in around 98, when it was not emerging, but when it was getting to be on a bigger scale. 97/98/99 was really good, just because of the music that was coming out then.

At what point in your appreciation for garage did you first come across the productions of Todd Edwards and how important do you consider his contributions?

I think the one’s I heard first were the vocal tracks and what made them stand out was his use of sampling. From there I started to listen to some more of his 4/4 stuff, I started to collect vinyls and getting more into his music, finding out more about him. I think he has given so much to the scene simply because his style is so unique, he’s inspired a lot of producers, in the past, the present and the future. 

In terms of being a huge worldwide industry with all the media, events and sponsorship that goes along with that, dance music has never been bigger or received as much attention as it does now. Yet the music and scene you’re involved with seems to operate underneath any glare of attention. Would you agree and, if so, why do you reckon that’s the case?

Because at the moment I don’t think anyone has been looking at garage, it just hasn’t been getting that media attention. And we’re not looking for that media attention. We’re just focussing on the grass roots, the clubs, music for the clubs. Speaking to the people direct. 

Thinking about the music travelling, do you ever get a sense that because this music exists under the radar in comparison with house and techno, that different territories pick up on it at different times?

Yeah, definitely. Some places are like really on it, upfront with it, whereas others it takes a bit more time to get into the groove. Switzerland, Holland, Amsterdam especially, they’ve always been into garage. They’re well in tune with the UK sound. Other places that I’ve played, like China, which I’ve done in the last 12 months, it’s all new to them. 

Your dad was in a reggae group. Which one?

A local group called Harlem Gem. They were signed to Boss Records in London. It was actually more of a street soul project.

Your real name is Shollen Quarshie. Great name! What are the origins of your name?

My last name is Ghanian. My dad is Ghanian, so it came from there. I’m not sure where the first name’s from, I’m not sure if there’s been any Shollens in the family before me. Maybe it’s just a random name my dad came up with?

Are you familiar with any of the music made by Scottish producer Paul Flynn, who recorded a lot of deep house in the 1990s under the same alias as you, DJ Q?

I am now. I wasn’t at the beginning, when I first started to use the name. A lot of people will message me and say stuff like “That track you made back in 97 was really big!”. But I’d never actually heard of him until someone said there’s another DJ Q out there and I starting checking some of his stuff. 

What are your forthcoming production projects after you’ve released the album?

To be honest I’m pretty much focused on the album for now. After that it will just be a focus on making music. As usual. Normally I’m just making what I feel like, when I feel like it. When I think of something, I’ll record, then I may release it. I’ve got a new EP dropping with a producer called Jack Junior at the end of February.

After that it will probably just be a few singles here and there. I’ll probably look to work on a bigger body of work again towards the end of the year.

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