JFB is a scratch master, a vinyl manipulator, a beat juggling, two-time UK DMC Champion who’s carved out a name for himself as one of the premier turntablists in the world. There aren’t too many artists who can boast even a fraction of the talents that JFB has in his arsenal. Even during sound check, while I waited watching this juggernaut of the decks work his magic in this dimly lit club; it was mesmerizing to see the calm focus he exerts over his craft. Standing in the middle of this empty club, I watched my own private show for a while before he noticed me standing there. Smiling, he turned off his gear and waved me over.
You’ve mentioned that Roc Raida was one of your early influences. Can you talk about the people that first influenced you to pick up two turntables and a mixer?
He’s one of many. Do you want me to list some names? I had these decks early on, but they were crap. All I had seen before was mixing, basic scratching and stuff like that. I bought this DMC video, and the first one I ever saw was Roc Raida’s winning set from 1995. I thought that I would love to do that. I didn’t have proper turntables until much after that, but that was amazing. Q-bert was another one, as well as all of the DJs in those DMC series. Obviously Craze came along. Craze is amazing. I was lucky enough to play with Craze a couple times, before I started beat juggling or anything. I saw this routine from DJ Kentaro from Ninjatune in 2002. I finally had a scratch mixer and two Technics so I could start beat juggling.
How important is vinyl to you?
Well as soon as I picked up Serato I’ve stopped buying records. I bought a few scratch records, but that’s it. It’s a bit sad, but at the same time I just don’t have much use for them anymore with Serato. Although saying that, I just moved into a new studio space in my hometown of Brighton. I’ve got all my vinyl setup stacked just outside my equipment area. I have loads of fun digging through samples. I still have tons of fun picking up a massive pile of records and chucking them on the floor and going through them. I don’t miss searching for specific samples when I need them. Like the other day I was looking for this sample from my DJ Craze record where it has this bit that says, “you wanna battle, you must be crazy”. I spent nearly an hour looking it. I never ended up finding that snippet, just wasting time.
How important is it for the crowd to understand what you’re doing on stage?
Egotistically, very important to me. In the grand scheme of things, I think as long as the people are happy, if people are paying for a show and are enjoying it, then I’ve done my job. I guess it comes down to what type of crowd I’m playing for. A lot of it has to do with whether the crowd can see the decks or not. If they can’t see the decks and all the scratching going on, they might not appreciate what is happening on stage. That said, there might be people in the audience who understand what scratching is, but can’t tell the difference between pre-made scratch routine and something that is being recreated live. When they see the turntable it makes a massive difference.
On modern sound systems, do you encounter a lot of thud rumble and feedback using traditional analog turntables with a DVS system like Serato?
Well tonight I’m really lucky to have an an amazing sound system. With bass heavy systems it can interfere with how the needle reads the time code, which is why I put down these rubber mats to cushions the vibrations.
Does it ever make you want to switch over to a needleless system with a CDJ?
I would if they felt the same as turntables. They had these ones from Numark a few years ago, which were close. Denon also came out with ones that were quite close too. None of them have managed to get the sticker sync like a record. I reckon it would be great to be able to pick up something like a tone arm and jump to different bits, like a vinyl turntable. What they need to come up with is a fake needle, or laser tracker. There are some companies that have thought about trying new things, but whenever I’ve suggested laser tracking they just laugh. At the end of the day I need something that is accurate to do what I do.
At the most recent BattleJam, you incorporated Beardyman’s new Beardytron system. What types of technical hurdles did you have to get over when practicing?
JFB: Are you talking about BattleJam TV?
JFB: I could give you a list of problems. Very luckily, we were at YouTube and Google’s studio. We had over 5 million pounds worth of equipment at our disposal, but we still couldn’t get it right. It took two days to setup, and we barley had it setup in time as the audience was filling in before the broadcast. We realized that we had a show to perform, but had no idea what we were doing. We had to make it up as we went along. Beardy’s amazing.
Is live looping something you want to expand into?
I used to do it a lot with Beardy. His setup is currently extremely experimental. Unlike Beardy, or another musician, I can’t play keys well enough to do it. I can’t come up with the sounds quickly enough, unless I pre-record them. I’d much rather put together scratch routines if I were to do that. Finger drumming is something I’m into. I just did a thing for Pioneer that should be coming out soon. I did this routine with one of their new controllers and Serato DJ, which was a lot of fun. That’s something I want to incorporate that a bit.
You mentioned Serato DJ, I read that it is to replace Scratch Live as Serato’s main platform for DJs. There has been a bit of controversy about the inclusion of the sync feature, which automatically beat matches tracks. What are your thoughts on that?
I think if it can be amazing if people use it in the right way. Surely it can be used in new ways to jump between tracks really quickly, or do other interesting routines. Personally, it’s of no use to me. Currently, I shut the key lock of when I’m using Serato because I like being able to be in control of the pitch and make all sorts of interesting (wooooshhhhh) sounds. It’s all about how you’re using it.
I’ve been listening to some of the music you’ve been producing. The track I’m Not Your Monkey Poo sounds really polished. I suppose moving into production is a natural progression for DJs. Can you talk a bit about that tune?
That particular track was a chill out tune I made when I was feeling a bit depressed. I didn’t know what to call it, so I called it something stupid. It’s what I would call a chill-out, trip-hop kind of tune. I’d love to make loads of music like that. What I’m working on right now is loads of drum and bass, hip-hoppy swing stuff. I’m actually working on an album for next year.
What are your thoughts on Canadian festivals?
I’ve only done two Canadian festivals; Two Acre Shaker, and Shambhala. Shambhala is amazing, but I’m sure Canadians are aware of that already. It’s fucking sick!
What’s the hardest thing about being on the road?
Not getting enough sleep. Having to wait for everything. Waiting in general.
Do you get your sets prepped as your traveling?
Sometimes. Sometimes you just want to catch up on sleep.
When I first walked into the venue, I saw that you run through your scratch routines multiple times. Is that something you try to do before every show?
If I could do that before every show, I would be so lucky. The worst thing about trying to practice before a gig is the promoter coming in and interrupting me. I can’t pick it up again in the middle. I have to start again from the beginning. They don’t know that though. I wish I could tell them to leave me alone without being rude.
Any plans for a BattleJam or Multijam tour?
Fuckin’ hell, I wish! People won’t understand it in a club. We have to perform it as a live streaming event. What I’m hoping is to record more sections with Beardyman at his gigs. He pulls huge crowds, and people loved it when I was touring with him. We just get really silly and record really silly things, it’s brilliant. Multi Jam is something completely different. I need more time to work with musicians to do it. It’s basically me sampling musicians making live funk tunes basically, which is sick.
What are your favourite countries to play in?
Japan and Canada are sick. The people in both countries, although very different, seem to be a bit more honest about their feelings. That I really appreciate. Everyone seems to have a great attitude. Maybe it’s the awesome weed that you have here. I dunno, it’s fucking great here and can’t say enough about Canada. BC is just incredible. I would seriously consider moving here one day.
What’s coming down the pipe this year for releases?
I just got a monthly residency at BBC Radio 1. I’m their new resident turnablist. I’m doing these 10min mini-mixes for them, called battle-mixes, once a month. The first one is their top 100 tracks quickly mashed together, which I thought would be a laugh to do. Then it’ll be a Hip Hop one, which is awesome. Loads of new remixes and scratch routines, as well as some products that I can’t talk about just yet. I’m hopefully going to replace the boring Go-Pro set with some new visuals. Lastly, I hope to have an album out this year.
Thanks so much for your time!