20 Questions: Justin Robertson

As a new Deadstock 33s album is released, the U.K. clubland lifer opines on Daniel Avery, his favorite artists, and his distaste for the Thatcher years.
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Photo: Nick Mizen

Photo: Nick Mizen

He's been one of the U.K. dance-music world's sharpest dressers for years, and he's one of that scene's very few philosophy majors, too—but that's not what makes Justin Robertson stand out from the pack. No, what makes the veteran player really special is his prowess behind the decks and within the studio—he's simply a gifted spinner and producer. Not to mention remixer—he's worked his magic on everyone from Paul Weller, the Stone Roses and the the Charlatans to Björk, New Order and Erasure. His biography reads a bit like the lyrics to the "I was there" routine from LCD Soundsystem's "Losing My Edge": As a student in Manchester in the '80s, he was an habitué of the Haçienda just as acid-house was exploding; he worked at the fabled Eastern Bloc vinyl shop; he's put in time as such seminal parties and clubs as Spice, Most Excellent, Rebellious Jukebox and Cream; and toured with the likes of the Chemical Brothers and the Cocteau Twins. (And that's just the half of it.)

Through it all, he's been one of the most versatile producers around—working both under his own name, and (alone and with others) as Lionrock, the Prankster, Revtone and various other noms de musique—with a sound that's rooted in house but that spans rock, funk, reggae, big beat, disco-not-disco and plenty more. For the past half-decade, he's been keeping busy as the Deadstock 33s—and it's under that name that Robertson's released his latest long-playing opus, Everything Is Turbulence. As is Robertson's predilection, it's a genre-hopping beast of a record—he's described it as "atomic machine boogie," and that's as good a description as any. The album was just released on the Skint label, so we figured that this might be a good opportunity to pose a full score of queries to the esteemed artist.

justin robertson everything is turbulance

Where are you right now?
I’m in the Solitary Cyclist studio, which is a fancy way of saying my spare room, currently doing drawings for a new collection, and thinking about some new music.

What was the last thing you ate?
A very hard nectarine.

You’re known for your sartorial choices. What are you wearing right now?
As we are enjoying something of an Indian summer, I’m keeping it simple: white t shirt, 1947 Levi’s vintage jeans, some tan Clarks moccasins, a rather cosmic paisley neck scarf and an old brown fedora. Yes, hats indoors—protects me from the concentrated light beams pouring through the window.

What kind of music did you listen to as a teenager?
A heady cocktail of space rock, early European electronic pioneers like Tangerine Dream…later on, I got all existentialist and furrow-browed, and listened to a lot of Fall records. Always spent a lot of time gathering reggae bits. From about 1987 onward, it went totally acid house—and then all got mashed together.

"I really hated the selfishness of that time—the destruction of community and the raising of market economics to a quasi-religious level—and I think we are still paying for that now."

You’ve described the area where you grew up as "the most un-rock & roll, conservative place on earth." How much has your life since then has been a rebellion against that?
I’m conscious of not trying to sound too ‘’angry young man,’’ but I’ve certainly always disliked Conservative politics. I’m not a fan of capitalism as a means of running a civilization, and as a child of the awful Thatcher years I’ve always been on the left-wing politically, though with some anarchist leanings! I really hated the selfishness of that time—the destruction of community and the raising of market economics to a quasi-religious level—and I think we are still paying for that now. In terms of being rock & roll—i might wear the odd jaunty hat, but I’m pretty clean living, to be honest.

Did you fall in love with house music the first time you heard it?
Absolutely, yes—proper Road to Damascus moment. I’d never heard anything so beautifully functional. It was built to make you move, but managed to transport you out of the ordinary. I was instantly hypnotized .

To what extent do you credit/blame your days in Manchester for setting you on your life’s path?
Totally—a great coincidence of place and time, some happy synchronicity. I always fancied doing something musical, but Manchester was the perfect place to cultivate those dreams…still is.

You’ve been to so many iconic U.K. clubs and parties in your lifetime, both as a DJ and a patron—which ones stand out for you?
As a patron, the late '87-'90 period at the Haçienda was untouchable as an experience. As a DJ, it’s too hard to pick one out, but I'd say running Most Excellent in '91, Bugged Out (then, now, always), playing with the Chemical Brothers in the midst of an electrical storm in Buenos Aires—and I must say Festival No. 6 last week was magical.

What is your favorite current club to play at?
It's kinda hard to pick just one—here are so many top spots. I’m going to say. instead, that I’m looking forward to playing Renate in Berlin next month for the first time, and hopefully add to the list!

What does the name Deadstock 33s refer to?
It’s a pair of Levis jeans I was wearing a lot a couple of years ago. I also thought it sounded like a '60s garage band…sort of

And the name (and artwork) of the new album?
Everything is Turbulence is basically a celebration of uncertainty, of mystery over determinism. The cover is a photo by my friend Nick Ball—its a tomb in my local cemetery, and looks like its connecting to the sky.

Andrew Weatherall has described the sound of Everything is Turbulence as “low slung and oozing filth”. How would you describe it?
Lysergic space boogie.

You’ve been associated with many sounds over the years, and even within Everything is Turbulence, there’s a lot of aural adventurism at play. How do you keep that spirit of adventure from flagging after so many years in the game?
Just by the huge amount of inspiring music that's out there. I’m always finding new and exciting stuff I was previously unaware of,that gets me going—plus I feel as though I've finally found a focus that I can develop on.

Does making and playing music still give you the kick that it undoubtedly did in the early days?
Yes, yes, times over. As I said above, as long as people keep making and turning up great music, I'll always remain enthusiastic.

Photo: Sebastian Manox

Photo: Sebastian Manox

You’ve been in the studio quite a bit with Daniel Avery. What is it about his work or methods that draw you to working with him?
We have become good friends, we enjoy a very similar taste in music, and its always a pleasure to be in the studio with him. I really appreciate Dan’s focus. He’s really good and sifting the sound and honing it down to a lean creature—taking away the fluff, but retaining the psychedelic swirl. We have a very exciting new project under way too, with a quite different sound.

What other current producers and DJs have you been impressed by, if any?
I’m really digging Ruf Dug, Djs Pareja, all that El Paraiso Records stuff, Africans with Mainframes, Andreas Gehm, Paul Bennet, Nev Cottee, Cowboy Rhythm Box, some of the Nein Records stuff is amazing, Haunted Doorbell, Föllakzoid, Red Axes, the stuff Optimo are putting out is class, Listening Center, that Black Zone Myth Chant record, Sanfuentes, Alejandro Paz, Eddie Mercury and all that Cómeme stuff (all those artists are great), DJ Haus, Alden Tyrell, Multi Culti, Cute Heels, Chris Massey, Fx Mchn, 2AM/FM, Heretic, and the Jane Weaver album has been a highlight. There is so much cool stuff out there, I reckon you could DJ a whole night just from one week's releases.

You’ve remixed a ton of artists over the years. Which remix are you most proud of?
I don’t really have favorites as such, though I guess the Björk one is one i keep coming back to. I was very pleased with both my remixes for Cheval Sombre and the Asphodells; I think they turned out pretty well. I just finished one for Denney that’s quite jacking!

What do listen to when you’re not in work mode?
Really depends on my mood or what sounds I’m currently obsessed with! I recently DJed at an event at Rough Trade, where I picked up a marvelous seven-inch by Raw Meat called ‘’Stand By Girl’’, and a couple of top records from Africa, Harry Mwale Experience and one by Musi O Tunya—so I’m getting into them just now.

Do you think you will ever retire from producing and DJing?
I sincerely hope not.

What will you be doing when you are done answering these questions?
Try and bend a painting to my will.

Top photo: Nick Mizen