Around the time his mum passed away, Jack Revill met Calum Spencer on Byers Road in Glasgow. “Are they real vinyl records?” he asked in awe of the shiny slabs of wax in his Fopp carrier bag. The 12-year-old wee scamp then took the afternoon off so his new pal could show him how to mix tunes by Yomanda, David Morales, Alice Deejay and Basement Jaxx. And immediately, he was hooked.
“Obviously every mix was a train wreck but he was always really encouraging,” recalls Jack fondly, smoking a fag, dressed as a more dapper version of the man from Del Monte. “My mum's inheritance money was used to buy my first set of decks, which was a pair of shit Gemini belt drives. Calum came to my house and was like, 'You just bought a pair of shit 200 quid belt drives you fucking idiot'. I had this shit Numark mixer and all these trance records. Then I bought some Technics and the rest is history.”
Submerging himself in music as a way to escape the sadness of his loss, music quickly became Jack's life. “I just went straight into the music. When I first got decks, I used to wake up in the morning, smoke a joint and DJ all fucking day man. Every week I'd get my allowance from my dad, it would be £20, and I would go into Rubadub and spend it all on records.”
Today, Jack — who you'll know as Jackmaster — and Calum aka Spencer sit at the helm of Numbers Records, alongside Richard — part of the imprint's “old guard”, we are told — a label that has already celebrated 10 years in 2014. With underground hits such as Mosca 'Bax', Jamie xx 'Far Nearer' and Sophie 'Bipp' under its belt, UK bass building blocks from Deadboy, Doc Daneeka and Randomer, among others, helped mark the label out as one of Britain's edgiest sources for dance music.
Amongst all this, Jack has emerged as chief flag-bearer; a touring DJ who's the face, personality and open shop window for a label that discriminates not by electronic genre, but by quality.
He's also one of the few examples of a DJ known primarily as a DJ alongside friends Ben UFO and Oneman, thanks in no small part to the strength of associated brands like Rinse and Numbers. So where does Numbers stop and Jackmaster, the DJ, begin?
“I never want to see a time when there is a separation,” he reflects. “But I suppose there kind of is... tough question, because these are my best friends, and I'll always want to be rolling with my best pals. There is no better gig. Spencer and I almost have an identical taste in music. And we have a similar sense of what is appropriate and what isn't.”
Truth is, Jack's reach extends far further than that of the business he helps run and A&R for. In 2010, he bagged the Breakthrough DJ at our Best of British Awards; since he's enjoyed an In New DJs We Trust show on Radio 1 and has been ingratiated into Red Bull Music Academy. This month, he embarks on his own 13-week residency at East London's XOYO, following in the footsteps of Eats Everything and 2Bears before him, where he's booked the likes of Moodymann, Axel Boman and Steffi, as well as Numbers favourites like Deadboy. His reputation as a DJ precedes him, but it's something he's keen to write off as “right place, right time” luck.
However, it's easy for us to see why: Jackmaster's talent lies on the turntables. Arguably the best party DJ we've ever encountered, he's a man capable of throwing together everything from Dance Mania to Stardust — Pariah to Prince — with a sprinkling of Detroit techno for good measure. All about charging the energy of a room, he's never po-faced and has a love of good quality pop music, but still he remains a master of the underground.
“When I'm DJing I'm serious about it, but I don't think DJing is an art-form that should be taken too seriously. You're there to have fun. I got into DJing to have fun,” he says. “Anyone who listens to my music can tell I approach it from a pop sensibility. I like melodies and I like hooks and I've always been into pop music. We're unlucky with our generation, I don't like the phrase guilty pleasure, but although there are certain things I like about modern pop music, our parents were really lucky to have some of the best pop music ever. We had, what? Like, Steps? But my dad used to play amazing pop music when I was younger.”
With a DJ style that matches his animated and playful character, he's also not a DJ you expect to stick to one sound. “I don't like to stay the same in a set,” he explains. “I really admire someone who can build a set from zero up to 10, but for me it's about peaks and troughs and keeping people excited. I'm someone who can play a set to a group of people who aren't necessarily on drugs — not that that's what those other DJs are doing — but I'd rather strike that balance... for the heads, for the girls or the people who've just wandered into Fabric who might not know who I am.”
But aside from attempting to mix 'Better Off Alone' with 'Strings & Synths' as a teenager, where does this all stem from? “I did work experience at Rubadub when I was 14,” he remembers, referring to the revered record shop in the city centre. “Rubadub was scary to me as a young guy. All the records in Rubadub seemed alien to me because I didn't know what they were. I didn't quite understand.”
Despite turning up three hours late on his first day and being replaced in the shop after not showing up one week — “because I discovered weed and everything else that comes with it, and spray painting,” he admits — Jack was handed a job helping out with Rubadub's distributions, responsible for circulating records from labels like Planet E and Underground Resistance around Scotland.
It was here Jack got his education, his knowledge of dance music history informed from having to rearrange each and every genre section in alphabetical order. “If I asked for a Daft Punk or Fatboy Slim promo I'd have my hand slapped,” he quips whimsically. “It was almost bullied into me in the nicest possible way.”
With an entire catalogue of dance music history at his fingertips, it was natural for Jack to start throwing parties, so when the opportunity to use Ad Lib, Spencer's dad's restaurant came along, they started Seismic around 2003. It was here that an elder raver named Richard spotted them.
“Richard came down and he was like, 'How old are you guys? Youse are playing some really mature music',” he recalls with a thick Glaswegian drawl. “We were playing electro, stuff inspired by Drexciya, Two Lone Swordsmen, a lot of the Warp stuff, Kraftwerk, all that stuff. He was like, 'Do you wanna do a launch party for my record label Stuff Records?' So we did that.”
Following its success, next came the decision to bring together likeminded promoters in Glasgow to work together rather than compete against one another. And so... Numbers was born. Starting out as a club night at Ad Lib, Numbers events have appeared at Fabric, but its spiritual home lies in Glasgow at Sub Club. Celebrating a decade of dance this year, a trio of parties took place in New York and London as well as the hometown.
After 10 years the label is stronger than ever, especially in light of the UK dance explosion. An almost untouchable purveyor of space-age, cutting-edge dancefloor music, Numbers' tunes have also attracted external interest. Mosca 'Bax' served as a massive crossover hit and was picked up by Rinse, emerging as 'What You Came For', slapped with a vocal from Katy B in September 2012.
Jack and Spencer somehow managed to score a remix from Ricardo Villalobos last year (see box-out) and Doc Daneeka 'Walk On In feat Ratcatcher' is also on Ministry of Sound's wishlist. Regardless of whether the label appreciates attention from major labels, the decision is ultimately left up to the artists, Jack points out. “It's the artists' happiness that matters,” he says. “Contractually we can have the right to say 'no', but it's up to the artist.”
Last month, Numbers dropped 'Minger', a screeching trap tune strewn with jungle beats from Darq E Freaker, while a filtered French cut from Kool Clap, the son of Daft Punk collaborator Alan Braxe, is also on the cards. From futuristic ghetto bass to 4/4 house in the space of just over a month, the Numbers crew always keep their followers guessing, but the sounds are always guaranteed to be fresh.
He's not tempted to go shuffle house or EDM just because the crowd expects it, and that's the reason Jackmaster is booked. His ability to please a dancefloor without compromise is this guy's unique selling point. Staying ahead of the curve, without going over people's heads is key.
“I try to dig my heels in, out of principle,” he says. “I think people should look forward and try to evolve. I don't purposely go into a DJ set to educate people, but I do like to move forward. I can feel it when I've got a packed room at Fabric and people are waiting for the drop and I try purposely not to do that.”
Looking forward to consecutive Saturday slots at XOYO over 18 dates, Jackmaster will have plenty of freedom to do his thing. A Jack of all trades, he's a master of “the jack” — just don't expect his sets to be the same every week.
JACK ON THAT VILLALOBOS REMIX
“Sparky worked for the BBC doing sound engineering. When we helped launch Richard's Stuff Records, it was the first release on his label back in 2003. Villalobos charted the record. We decided to re-release it and thought, 'Let's get a fucking Villalobos remix'. But we were like, 'How can I get hold of him?', he doesn't have a phone, doesn't even have an email address, you have to email his wife! Gerd Janson hooked it up. He was like, 'Villalobos is really interested in this'. The demo came back and it was 30 minutes long. We had to cut it in two for the vinyl. He said it was an experiment. It's 99bpm and he wanted it cut at 33rpm so you can listen to it at 33 but play it at 45 in a DJ set at 118bpm. It was a pretty big thing for us.”
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