DJ Format: Digging for more than just hip hop
One of the UK’s premier beat makers, the approach that DJ Format takes to hip hop is far from a predictable one. In fact, if you look at his debut album Music For The Mature B-Boy and its follow up If You Can’t Join Em Beat Em, as well as his contribution to the FabricLive series and other mix compilations, he plays music that suits hip hop lovers, “without playing very much actual hip hop.”
Format is currently hard at work on his third album, but he’s taking a break from the studio to visit Australia with the ‘Elements Tour’ over the coming weeks, alongside a massive cast that features Z-Trip, Swollen Members, Jungle Brothers and more. ITM talks to him about his unique take on hip hop, his love of Australia audiences and his willful breaking of copyright laws!
You have just whipped up a little rock mixtape for Jazzman Radio. To those who haven’t heard it yet, can you tell us what tracks made the final cut and why? How come no hip hop?
There was no hip hop on the mix because I was just showcasing another side to my musical tastes. It was mainly late 60s rock and some pretty crazy stuff too…. Not something for people who just want to hear hip hop, but great for beat diggers who like a bit of odd rock stuff!
Is variety the spice of life?
I think so – especially with music. I used to listen to nothing but hip hop until about 1991 then my tastes changed a lot when I started looking for things to sample and I discovered all types of music.
You’ve just released Holy Shit with Mr Thing, advocating a reverent keynote. Are you a god-fearing commoner Mr Format? Have you been sent on a mission from God?
I don’t take religion too seriously. In fact, I don’t take life too seriously. I just like doing mix CDs with a theme, and it seemed like fun to do some holy shit!
Your latest release Stealin’ James is only available on 12”. Do you think that music downloads have come to dominate too much, or do you think it’s important to allow people access from around the world?
There would be no point in releasing it on CD because nobody buys CD singles anymore, and I honestly don’t mind if people download it free or burn it on CD. I just made it for fun, I’m just happy for anyone to enjoy it and it’s on vinyl if people want to own it.
You sample James Brown, God rest his soul, in the aforementioned track. Are there any copyright laws regulating how much you can sample, or can you get away with anything when releasing tunes through Bootleg labels like TD?
I think it’s a totally dodgy release and breaks all copyright laws, but it’s just an underground thing that shouldn’t bother anyone…. Hopefully!
Danny Krivit also released Feelin’ James on TD Records many a year ago. Are you trying to continue the family tradition, or just upstaging the veteran?
My version is very much a tribute to Danny’s original as much as it is to James Brown himself, and several other cut ‘n’ paste JB records that I grew up listening to and was inspired by.
You frequent our shores playing clubs, bars and festivals that will include a return on the 1st Dec. Do you just like our country, or do you feel you need to bring us what London has to offer and teach us a lesson or two?
I like Australia and take every chance to see the world while I’m still being offered gigs, as I’m sure it won’t last forever.
Are you a fan of any of our homegrown fruits and talents?
Yeah maybe some old 60s/70s bands like ‘Chain’, but I don’t really listen to hip hop these days if that’s what you mean.
When playing live, what kind of software and hardware do you employ?
I’m just DJing using turntables, a mixer and vinyl.
The MC is a pretty integral facet of hip hop. What do you look for in a mic man?
I look for someone who has great rhymes and commands the crowd. Someone like Abdominal I guess, but I haven’t worked with MCs for 2 years now. I’m just concentrating on DJing and playing funk and other music that suits hip hop lovers… Without playing very much actual hip hop.
Apart from being a music and beats activist, what kind of other extra-curricular activities exert you?
I like football, but music pretty much consumes me to be honest.
If you could go back in time, or summon a deceased person to collaborate with, who would that be?
Big Daddy Kane in 1989!
So when can we expect a follow up from If you Can’t Join ‘em Beat ‘em?
Sometime next year, I’m not sure when as I’m taking my time to get it right as I’m trying to keep my style or sound but without making just straight up hip hop. I’ve recorded 2 funk tracks with Speedometer and two jazz tracks with Nostalgia 77, so it’s a learning curve for me using live musicians and samples, getting the balance and sound right and to be 100 per cent happy with everything.
Catch DJ Format playing at the following shows…
Thu Nov 29 – Hobart University, Hobart
Sat Dec 1 – Metro Theatre, Sydney
Thu Dec 6 – The Arena, Brisbane
Fri Dec 7 – Rosemount Hotel, Perth
Sat Dec 8 – The Forum, Melbourne