We caught up with Dublin’s Air Jackson to discuss his new album ‘Chemistry’, the production processes behind it, and upcoming plans for the year ahead.
Hi Dave, thanks for joining us here at Music Is 4 Lovers. You’re currently based in Ireland, can you tell us about the music scene there and your favourite venues for our readers to check out?
Ireland has been going through a transition in recent years and unfortunately not a positive one. Nightclubs and live music venues are closing regularly because Ireland’s archaic licencing laws do not allow them to open later than normal bars – this means that every music event must finish by 2.30am. I’m amazed really that I’m still talking about this after 15 years and we don’t seem much closer to real change beyond governmental window dressing. It ultimately comes down to the fact that these cultural spaces cannot open long enough to remain viable and are being demolished in favour of office space or hotels. It’s a really grim state of affairs and there is a real cultural crisis happening in Ireland at present. Organisations like ‘Give Us The Night’ which is spearheaded by Sunil Sharpe & Robbie Kitt are lobbying the government and political parties hard and have been for longer than I can remember, but it must be crushing for them at times to feel that they are getting little progress for their tireless efforts.
You’ve been a fixture within Dublin’s underground house and techno scene for more than 15 years, what was your introduction into electronic music? and what are your most memorable gig highlights?
My introduction to electronic music would have been at around 11 or 12 years of age. Back then there were a lot of pirate radio stations operating in my area and the local DJ’s were almost like local celebrities in their own right. Most of these stations were playing rave, trance & hard house and it was just the cool thing that people of my age group were listening to at the time. No doubt that for most people this was a musical phase quickly outgrown however ,for me it became a passion that grew stronger as I got older. That said my taste in electronic music has definitely changed since then but is still quite broad. In 2018 and after spending 2 years living in Amsterdam and getting insanely inspired again, I made a decision to start producing my own music and throw myself back into the dance scene fully…this was where the Air Jackson project formed.
Nobody will have heard of Air Jackson before 2018 as I used to DJ under various monikers over those 15 years including ‘Jay Nyquist’, ‘Sublime DJ’s’ & ‘DRTBØX’. My highlight has to be closing out Life festival in 2006 playing B2B with my Ten One label mate Tony Lawless (aka ACI TONA). We had played an earlier set in the night starting around 10 or 11pm to a half crowded tent, which was still awesome. Then, we got a call at around 4am to go back and play the same stage which was running beyond its scheduled time and when we returned we found that it was the only tent still running at the festival and they had needed to remove the sides of the circus tent to deal with the massive crowd of thousands that had amassed. We started that set with Modeselektor’s ‘Kill Bill Vol. 4’ and I’m sure you can imagine how the rest went…..
You launched Ten One Records alongside ACI TONA in 2019, what is it like A&Ring yourself and have you faced any difficulties in the process?
The toughest part is not being able to reply in a qualitative way to all of the artist sending us demos as I sympathise entirely with their plight to get music signed. It’s really tough and actually soul destroying at times when you know that you have good music but nobody will even listen. I wanted to reply to all of these artists with detailed feedback on their tracks irrespective of whether we were interested for our label, and I actually did for the first while but of course it became completely unscalable very quickly as we began to get a volume of regular demos through. Now we do our best to at least respond to all of the demos we get with a yes or no and a short reason for the no. I know myself there is nothing worse than the anticipation of sending solid music to a label, only to receive nothing back, not even as much as a listen show up on your streaming link.
On the production front, you’ve recently dropped your debut album ‘Chemistry’ on Ten One Records. The influences are pretty different on this release, with a mix of house, techno, breaks and drum and bass. Was there a conscious decision to show alternate sides of what you’re all about?
I have this mental block where my brain just won’t allow me to make the same type of track twice. So, I always feel a strong draw towards trying out new sounds and styles. When I decided to turn the original few tracks into a full album I figured it would be a great opportunity to show my range while keeping it interesting for myself. All of these genres are common place in my DJ sets and I don’t want to be pidgin holed into a certain genre. That said, I’m not always sure this is the best strategy for being booked for shows as a lot of promoters have a specific sound and following, so I thank the ones that do book me for having faith in me playing the right sound for their party.
Can you walk us through the production processes behind the album?
My production process is normally to start with percussion, really basic stripped back percussion just to set the tempo. I can then either record the pads or the lead synth, depending on what is in my head. I then tend to source vocals afterwards that fit the track that I have already made, but I would like to start working with live vocalists and build some of my tracks around their voices. I then bulk out the percussion and add all of the other synth elements that make the track. Refining arrangement is probably the very last thing that I do and is the difference between the track being good or great, so it’s worth spending the time getting it right. The album was entirely made using hardware with the exception of Ableton as my DAW to record it all and a handful of VST’s to colour the hardware sound. I use a really excellent mix down engineer to help me get the most of my mixes and given we couldn’t meet in person during Covid the mix down for the album took 6 months of online version tennis, it was painstaking at the time but I’m delighted at how it turned out so it was totally worth it.
All of the elements in the album were played by hand and recorded straight into Ableton, looped and layered up to make the full tracks. I have since established that this is not an optimal workflow for creativity nor efficiency as it’s hard to replicate or change that you have recorded. Since the album I’ve started to use midi sequencing in my hardware a lot more, I’ll come up with melodies in the same way hand playing my synths but also record the midi pattern as it can sound great to use a similar pattern, slightly adjusted, on various elements throughout the track and layer them up. I’m still really evolving my workflow, I don’t feel that I am anywhere near efficient yet, I have a long way still to go. A lot of my music used to be me just banging out random keys and patterns until I found something that really worked but now I find that I have melodies just land into my brain out of nowhere and often in my sleep, my phone is full of 4am voice recordings of melodies that I’m badly humming that my brain has just created to soundtrack a dream, but they are the toughest ones to be able to recreate in the studio and a lot of those ones fail miserably.
What’s the three biggest records that have influenced you as an artist?
Wow, ok, only 3? This one is incredibly hard to answer. A couple of months ago when promoting the album I created a Spotify playlist called ‘Air Jackson:The Alchemist Collection’ and it has around 100 tracks that have each had a strong influence on my Air Jackson sound, so your readers can check this out to get the full soundtrack to my life so far. However, if I am only allowed to choose 3, I’ll go for these ones;
DJ Rolando – Knights of the Jaguar
Vitalic – La Rock
Push – Strange World
I’m sure that if I was asked this question again next week and answers would be completely different, there are just too many influential tracks that have brought me here.
As a producer, DJ and label owner, do you have any tips for emerging artists?
Build a network, honestly, it’s the only way to get yourself out there and play shows – without it you won’t DJ outside your bedroom or family wedding. Also, you need to be very patient as even if your music is top drawer and your mixes are shit hot, it can still take years for your audience to build and for people to learn your name. There are no quick routes, music is a full time job on top of a full time job for many of us. You need to work really, really hard and always be humble if you start to find success. My final piece of advice is to spend a lot of time refining your craft in the studio before releasing music, maybe don’t release anything for a couple of years otherwise you will have stuff out there in the ether which are really aren’t proud of. I already find my earlier stuff difficult to listen to but my skill level has thankfully increased a lot since then.
Away from the studio, do you have any other passions or hobbies in life?
I have 2 children and a fantastic wife and I love spending most of my free time with them. I also love walking, cycling & drinking pints and watching sports… however I get little time for much else other than work, family & music these days.
What can we expect to see next from Air Jackson? Are there any gigs or upcoming projects you’d like to mention?
I have quite a bit of new music in the works which should materialise later in 2021 and early 2022. I find that my workflow is slowing down a bit as I want everything to be better than the last release so I do a lot of reworking on top of reworking and really scrutinising every element of every track that I make. I’m actually not sure that this rabbit hole I am going down is healthy but I’ll find a new flow soon I guess. In terms of gigs, Ireland are a bit behind the rest of Europe in that we don’t even have a roadmap to re-open our live music industry yet, so it has been tough to progress with a live show A/V show that I am planning with a very talented visual artist called Dermot Gartland. We have a very cool audio & visual sensory concept planned out but it’s on the shelf until we know when we can actually have crowd at an event…. soon hopefully!
‘Chemistry’ by Air Jackson is out now on Ten One Records.
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