Interview with Jim Lister, VERSION
Jim Lister is a DJ and music lover. His new night VERSION is an evening of dub and dub influenced music, from reggae to disco, house to techno and beyond. In essence it’s about playing the roots of dub and reggae but also playing anything with a dub feeling, whether that’s a DJ Nature track, a Larry Levan remix or an old Pink Floyd track.
I conducted the interview below via e-mail and for full disclosure, Jim is a friend.
Hello Jim. Long time no see, thanks for agreeing to do an interview. First questions: how did you get into music? What were your early influences? Am I right in thinking your dad was into UK jazz?
My mum and dad are both from South London. My dad was a mod in the early sixties, into nice suits and jazz, particularly Tubby Hayes. I later ‘inherited’ all his Tubby records. He used to go to the Flamingo, Catford Savoy and the 100 Club, where my parents had their first date.
I have early memories of my dad playing his tapes around the house on a Sunday before The Big Match started while my Mum was cooking the Sunday roast. He’d play Earth, Wind & Fire’s Greatest Hits, the opening track ‘Got To Get You Into My Life’ was a big one. And also The Crusaders ‘Street Life’ album, Gladys Night & The Pips, and stuff like Phil Collins and Genesis.
I got into music properly when I was around ten or eleven through my best mate’s older brother Elliott. He came home one day with the Thompson Twins’ ‘Hold Me Now’ 12”, I’d never seen a 12” record before, so it really turned my head! I bought the Thompson Twins album ‘Into The Gap’ which I played to death and went to the Hammersmith Odeon to see them, which was my first ever gig.
Around the same time, and also through Elliott, I got into Depeche Mode who I still really love; it was the ‘Master & Servant’ and ‘Some Great Reward’ period. Again we went to see them at the Hammersmith Odeon in 1984/5. My mum took us to the gig and she sat up the back reading her book all night while I went nuts down the front, bless her.
Following Depeche Mode I got into Frankie Goes To Hollywood and I’ve still got my ‘Two Tribes’ 12″, which still sounds incredible. I loved all the Frankie videos and the t-shirts and their whole ‘thing’ [Ed: there was huge fashion trend at the time of t-shirts emblazoned with ‘Frankie Says Relax’, ‘Relax’ being Frankie’s controversial first single]. Later on I realised what a genius their producer Trevor Horn is, with stuff like Grace Jones ‘Slave To The Rhythm’. I was also recording a lot of tapes from my local library. Grandmaster Flash stuff circa ‘White Lines’, was a big one. Another influence was another mate’s older brother who was really into early hip hop. It was around the time of Beat Street and Ollie & Jerry. We used to hang around Croydon on a Saturday in our Pepe jeans and Hi Tec Tecs, and Nike two-tone jackets, wishing we could breakdance!
Again, through Elliott I got into U2 around the time of ‘The Unforgettable Fire’, and was obsessed with them for years. I was into the whole stadium rock thing with bands like Simple Minds, The Waterboys, INXS etc.
It was only through the recent Nile Rodgers documentary that I found out Nile produced INXS. It’s easy now to dismiss U2 and Simple Minds as rock dinosaurs, but both bands were testing the musical waters during their early years. You mentioned Simple Minds’ ‘Empire and Dance’ and ‘Sons & Fascination’ albums as being particularly experimental.
I got into both bands later on during their mid-period, Simple Minds’ ‘New Gold Dream’ and U2’s ‘Fourth of July’ spring to mind. You are also into The Stone Roses? Another band that pushed the musical boundaries.
When I was 15, I really got into classic rock stuff. I was massively into The Doors, The Stones, Van Morrison, Led Zep etc and then in late summer 1989 I heard The Stone Roses debut album which had come out a few months earlier. It completely changed my life! For the first time there was a new group that really felt like ‘my band’, my version of The Beatles, Sex Pistols, The Smiths. Everything changed from there on in. Not just the amazing music but their whole attitude, the clothes, the interviews – they were the real deal and I worshipped the ground they walked on.
Once I was in my late teens, I started going to lots of raves and clubs. My girlfriend at the time was at Sussex University and living in Brighton so we used to go raving there a lot. We often went to The Zap Club on the beach front, and we went to ‘Tonka’ (Ed: a legendary club night with DJ Harvey) which was a real eye opener, probably my first proper house music experience. Around the same time I also was getting into Young Disciples, Brand New Heavies and Galliano etc. And so the funk / acid jazz years began!
The Gilles Peterson Years
In 1992 I went off to college in Southampton and as well as getting deeper into the funk and acid jazz stuff, the south coast hardcore thing was massive at the time, things like Sterns, Interdance etc. So I was going to raves, but the music never really did it for me, I was more interested in rave culture than the music.
Then I started getting into house music properly. One of my flat mates, Andy Allday, had a nice record collection with stuff like early Underworld, Junior Boys Own, Cowboy Records, Guerilla. A lot of this type of music was defined by Mixmag magazine as ‘Progressive House’ at the time.
In 1993, whilst getting increasingly into the house thing, I discovered Paul ‘Trouble’ Anderson’s Saturday night show on Kiss FM, and that was another big moment. Hearing disco / boogie stuff from the likes of Leroy Burgess, and weird tracks like Martin Circus was very influential for me. And Trouble’s mixing blew my mind.
From Trouble I started to explore Kiss FM a bit more and in 1994 came across a show by a DJ called Gilles Peterson, and that was that. Gilles Peterson was a massive game changer once again. A whole new world of music and clubs opened up to me, including Gilles’ That’s How It Is night (Ed: an influential, groundbreaking Monday night club night), and I started taping Gilles’ ‘Worldwide’ show religiously from 1994, for probably the next 10 years.
The same year, I also came across Fabio’s show on Kiss FM. The whole drum n’ bass thing was really taking off around then, Gilles was starting to play it too, and I loved the music of Photek, Peshay, Alex Reece, Reinforced, Goldie etc.
The Reggae Years
I’ve always loved reggae but in the last five years it’s overtaken everything else, even jazz – and I’m a big jazz fan! I reckon 75% of my record buying and listening is now reggae and dub, which a few years ago most definitely wasn’t the case. Life is full of surprises!
After Bob Marley one of my first reggae influences was Horace Andy through Andy guesting on the Massive Attack stuff in the nineties. Horace is still probably my favourite reggae vocalist. Through Massive Attack’s ‘No Protection’ album remixed by Mad Professor, I got into dub.
I went to see Massive Attack in ‘94/95 at the Galtymore Ballroom, Kilburn. Massive Attack were in one room and Mad Professor was playing dub in another. This gig and the Blood & Fire reissue label were hugely influential on my love of reggae. Blood & Fire released so much amazing music, including Horace Andy’s ‘In The Light / In The Light Dub’ albums. Around the same time, I started to catch the end of Joey Jay’s show on Kiss FM [Ed: influential reggae DJ]. Joey Jay was on before Gilles Peterson on a Sunday night, and Gilles would often start with a reggae tune to link to Joey’s show e.g Ijahman Levi’s ‘I am a Levi’.
I first went to Carnival in 1996 and have been going pretty much every year since then. That would have been the first time I discovered proper reggae sound systems, and hearing them outdoors on the street is such a buzz, just the sheer weight and power of those systems. For years I religiously went to Norman & Joey Jay’s Good Times sound system, and they’re still some of the best parties I’ve ever been to. On the way to Good Times I would always pass through Aba Shanti, the dub and reggae system that’s just around the corner. I remember being blown away the first time I walked thru Aba Shanti, just the sheer volume and the bass! I’d never heard anything like it, and probably still haven’t.
Good Times was a real influence, partly because Joey Jay would always have a 30/45 minutes slot during the day when he’d play things like John Holt’s ‘Ali Baba’, Toots & The Maytals ’54-46 That’s My Number’ and Fabian’s ‘Prophecy’. The latter track is one of my all time favourites. But as the years went on, Good Times was doing it less and less for me. My tastes were changing, Norman’s selections were changing, and it was starting to get a bit too busy, so I started spending more and more time round the corner at Aba Shanti, and over the last few years, it’s taken over from Good Times as my favourite party of the year. The vibe at Aba Shanti is a very special thing.
Even though the music policy and crowd sizes are different, Aba Shanti and Good Times have a lot in common. There’s the same warm family atmosphere at both systems, no moodiness, just good vibes with people enjoying themselves and getting down in the open air, with music that lifts the spirits and touches the soul – it gets no better. I went to Carnival in 2012, just after the riots had happened, and there was a real feeling of uneasiness as we walked down from Kensal Rise tube station, I remember seeing a lot of police, and quite a few kids getting searched on the way as we walked towards Aba Shanti. Then as we started to get nearer Middle Row where the system is, I remember hearing Bob Marley’s voice getting louder and louder, and then when we got to their spot, the sun was shining, it was really quiet and peaceful, and all you could hear was Bob Marley singing ‘We don’t need… no more trouble’. It was amazing, a real Carnival moment.
Another big influence on my reggae education was moving to north London and listening to a local community radio station, Station FM. Station FM plays mainly reggae, soul and lovers rock. I started to listen to one show in particular every Sunday afternoon from 4-6pm – Robo Ranks ‘The Bonafide One’. For me, Robo Ranks is the sound of Sunday afternoons. He’s a legend, he always starts his show with this killer instrumental tune by The Dynamites called ‘Eternally’. I finally found out what the track was last year when I rang the station and Robo told me himself! In the first hour Robo plays a lot of 70s/80s lover’s soul stuff that always sounds great on a Sunday, and he also plays lots of lovely old reggae and ska. He’s just the best radio presenter. In a very pirate radio fashion, he sings over the tunes, and like a good pastor, he always talks about moral issues, the importance of family, and how you should bring up your kids the right way. I could go on about reggae all day, but Lloyd Bradley’s book, ‘Bass Culture’ was also a very big influence. I first read it around the time my son was born in 2012 and am reading it again now. Such a great book, and it’s not just the musical story, but the history of Jamaica and the way reggae came over to the UK. I love learning more about Jamaica’s cultural history, it fascinates me. In 2003/4 going to Francois Kevorkian’s Deep Space night in New York again opened my eyes to the dub side of things and is a big influence on VERSION. It’s a whole other world, especially when you look at the influence it’s had on all other forms of music; from disco to house to techno to jungle etc. A lot of music I’d always loved but until that point had never made the connection with reggae and dub. I think dub is a lot more influential than many people realise, which is why doing VERSION is an important thing for me. I guess my aim if I have one is to try and grow a London/UK version of Deep Space. The same outlook and concept but with very much a London attitude. We’ll see what happens.
The next VERSION night takes place between 7pm-midnight on Thursday 4 June at Brilliant Corners, 470 Kingsland Road, E8 4AE London with selectors Kirk Degiorgio, Demus and Jim Lister. Facebook VERSION for more details.