The king of clubs: inthemix salutes Ajax
From Boys Noize to The Presets, Brodinski to The Aston Shuffle, tributes to Adrian Thomas have flooded in this morning from all corners of the world. Ajax was one of Australia’s most respected DJs, label bosses and tastemakers, described by the Maker Agency as “an ageless brat to reckon with”.
From a background in art, Thomas discovered DJing, finding his niche in the underground surrounds of Club 77 on Sydney’s William Street. At parties like Glitch, with its simple promise of a “dark room, quality music and friendly people”, Ajax pushed late-night gear alongside the likes of Phil Smart, Dave Choe and Sugar Ray. “I followed his rise up the DJ ranks in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s,” ITMer djtoki commented this morning. “Extremely talented guy with a great taste in music. Fond memories of his sets at Tweekin’, Globe, Dendy, Sabotage – very versatile, he could play everything from deep house through to breaks to techno and you always knew it was gonna be good.”
Together with his friends Jaime Doom, Dangerous Dan, Gus Da Hoodrat, DJ Damage and Double Nolan, he formed the Bang Gang DJs collective, setting up a Friday night residency at Moulin Rouge in Kings Cross. Before long, the party’s reputation for unhinged fun ensured the dancefloor was rammed each week, with a long line snaking outside. The Bang Gang eventually moved to Club 77 and after a couple of years running a weekly club night, pulled it back to a monthly event at The Gaff. The boys also became a popular fixture in Melbourne, establishing a solid fan-base from their monthly appearances at Honkytonks.
In the 2005 inthemix50 poll, Ajax crept up to the #5 position. Then, in 2006, he rocketed to the top spot, earning the title ‘The king of clubs’. “One of my most vivid memories of Adrian was the the night he was first crowned inthemix50 Number 1 DJ,” inthemix founder Neil Ackland recalls. “We were at Tank where the ceremony took place and straight after, he and I went out the back to have some photos taken with the award. He was stunned, and so excited, and a little dazed and confused at what it all meant. He immediately rang his mum, and it was such a moment to hear him tell her, ‘Mum, guess what, I’m the number one DJ in Australia!’ It clearly meant a lot to him to be recognised for what he did and he thoroughly deserved the recognition.”
In 2005, inthemix recruited Ajax to create our first mix-CD alongside one of his musical heroes, Tiga. The result was inthemix.05, and Ajax’s disc perfectly distilled what he was doing in clubs. Tracks from the likes of Zdar, Oliver Koletzki, Soulwax and Justus Kohncke were all brought together in a brash, party-geared hour. As a DJ, he was an electric presence, name-checked by everyone from Busy P to Justice as a talent to seek out. “If you’re a DJ and you ever toured Australia, chances are you knew Ajax,” A-Trak wrote this morning. “He was like the ambassador.”
“My other vivid memory of Adrian was when he and I went to Perth for the first leg of the massive inthemix.05 tour, which Tiga and Adrian headlined,” says Neil Ackland. “That was such a huge time for him. He had never met Tiga and he was so excited waiting to meet him. Tiga arrived in his trademark baseball cap, a little jet-lagged and shy, but the two of them just hit it off immediately. The next two weeks we toured the country, and those shows were some of the best I’ve ever been to. He held his own with Tiga and the energy the two of them created was electric. The mix CD still holds up today. Adrian was an innovator, a visionary, and his natural energy, magnetism and creativity underpinned the whole Sydney scene. He will be sorely missed.”
As well as claiming the #1 spot in the inthemix50, 2006 also saw Thomas tour overseas for the first time, release his first solo mix-CD Spin City and begin honing his talents as a producer and remixer. “The best bit of my 2006 was touring France with MSTRKRFT,” Thomas told inthemix in the early days of 2007. “It was a massive year. It could be seen by the clubbing community that this came out of nowhere [for me], but it’s been a steady rise for eight years. DJing for me is priority number one, because I’ve worked so hard to get my skills on display. I’m a bit of a performer. I’ll sell myself as a performer overseas first, then in the bits in-between, then I’ll get my head around producing. A lot of it is accidental.”
Of his production style, he added with typical self-deprecation: “I am not a great dance music producer. My stuff is really rough and my drums are raw. It distorts and it’s not assembled the right way. I think that’s why a lot of bands come to me for remixes.” 2007 was something of an apex for the electro sound in Australia, reflected by the Parklife tour’s headliners MSTRKRFT, Justice and Digitalism. Ajax, naturally, was right in his element on that line-up. He also took out the #1 spot in the 2007 inthemix50 poll for the second year running.
“There’s a whole new generation out there playing mash-up and electro, and to be honest, it’s pretty worrying,” he said at the start of 2007 in an interview with inthemix. “There are guys who are really good, playing very much like me – which is not a bad thing, because five years ago, I was playing very much like Sugar Ray. To be completely honest, I’ve found it really difficult to maintain an edge in this current clubbing climate.” As his dominance of the ITM50 proved, though, Ajax still had the edge.
By May 2008, when we caught up with Thomas, he was happy to pass on the crown. “I don’t want to seem ungrateful, but it’s just I don’t like the adage where you become [known as] the #1 DJ rather than [known for] what you play,” he said. “To be honest I’m an anxious guy anyway, and it makes me nervy when people say, ‘Ohhh, he’s #1!’ I’d actually like to withdraw… [but] I know inthemix won’t let me!”
One of Thomas’s most successful endeavours was his Sweat It Out! record label and booking agency, with artists like Yolanda Be Cool, Harris Robotis, Light Year and Parachute Youth. As the Sweat It Out! team wrote today: “We remember Adrian as person who was loved by everyone, a person who was regularly described as the ‘nicest guy in dance music’ or the ‘reason I got into dance music’, a person who made time for every single fan in every club he ever played, a person gave his unconditional support and encouragement to artists on his label and a person who was smart, funny and extremely generous.”
Stig Richards, who managed Thomas in the early 2000s, put it succinctly and poignantly to inthemix: “It’s stating the obvious to say you always wanted Ajax playing the music any night, but more important to me was seeing Adrian, whether in a club, over coffee, laughing, talking, joking. I can’t really put it into words other than I’ll miss the hugs and laughs.”
Remember when Ajax’s Myspace status in the 6 month lead up to the In The Mix Top 50 was “NO VOTES PLEASE” and he came in at number 3 anyway
— Andrew Levins (@levdawg) February 28, 2013
RIP to the dance legend AJAX… you’ll be missed. You made the world a better place
— Grant Smillie (@grantsmillie) February 28, 2013
R.I.P to one of the people who inspired us to start in this business and to the guy with the biggest heart of them all – our friend – AJAX
— Flight Facilities (@flightfac) February 28, 2013
RIP AJAX.vivid memory of us leaving a hotel one morning, and him not realizing he had no shoes on until we were outside
— JFK MSTRKRFT (@jfkmstrkrft) February 28, 2013
If you’re a DJ and you ever toured Australia chances are you knew Ajax, he was like the ambassador. Much love to the Banggang homies.
— Krazee Eyez Killa (@atrak) February 28, 2013
Dj Ajax was the first guy who brought me down to Sydney to DJ together with him in 2006. he was an outstanding DJ, amazing skills
— Boys Noize(@boysnoize) February 28, 2013
I can’t believe it…. RIP Ajax. thank you so much for the good times. instagr.am/p/WSG7exMtke/
— Surkin (@Surkin) February 28, 2013
Ajax. Quite a legend. The one who always kept the vibes going in Australia, both on the music scene and also as an all round good bloke. RIP
— Fake Blood (@IamFakeBlood) February 28, 2013
Can’t believe this has happened. So long Ajax.. Thanks for the good tunes, good times & good vibes.. Love you homie, RIP Dance Legend..
— bag raiders (@bag_raiders) February 28, 2013
RIP Australia’s DJ Ajax. A friend and a great guy. fb.me/2hQQpU7sy
— StantonWarriors (@StantonWarriors) February 28, 2013
The world has lost an amazing, creative, friendly soul. Rest In Peace our friend Ajax. You truly are a dance legend.
— Feenixpawl (@Feenixpawl) February 28, 2013
A true legend. RIP. Thinking of all those close to him, take care of each other.
— modularpeople (@modularpeople) February 28, 2013
Saddened to hear about the passing of Dj Ajax. RIP
— erol alkan (@erolalkan) February 28, 2013
Really sad to hear about the passing of legendary ozzie dj Ajax. Had the pleasure of meeting him. Thoughts go out to his fam and friends
— Bart B More (@bartbmore) February 28, 2013
Heart breaking news about Ajax.A genuine talent with such a warm, happy soul…You will be so greatly missed
— Jack Beats (@jackbeats) February 28, 2013
Last week we told Ajax he influenced us to get into music. We celebrated signing to Sweat it out. He was so passionate. A genuine legend.RIP
— RUFUS (@rufussounds) February 28, 2013
Rest In Peace Ajax. we Lost One of The Best Dj On Earth. Thinking About His Family and His Friends. We Gonna Miss You Man <3
— Louis Brodinski (@Brodinski) February 28, 2013
Very sad news. RIP Dj Ajax.
— YELLE (@YELLEtweets) February 28, 2013