Since developing a taste for house and garage in the 90s, DJ Listener has been relentlessly championing the sound, whilst setting himself apart with his own unique high energy style.
Known for his popular show “Listener & Pressure” on Freeze FM, Listener maintains a packed gig schedule alongside being a resident DJ for Backto95. Soon to be launching his very own promotion, Listener’s Choice, his sights are now firmly set on creating a home for the new wave of talent emerging from the scene.
Ahead of his appearance at Backto95 17th Birthday this month, we sat down with DJ Listener for a chat about his stint on Freeze FM, the role of pirate radio, and how he’s carrying the torch for true house and garage fans.
Thank you for taking the time out to chat with us, DJ Listener. How’s everything going?
Really well thanks, I’m very busy in my DJing career and have made significant steps towards my goals. I’m also really hyped to be celebrating alongside my Backto95 family in the Ministry of Sound at the end of March!
On a more general note, I believe that the house and garage scene has definitely had a resurgence over the last couple of years, and continues to go from strength to strength, which is great news for everybody.
You first fell in love with house and garage in the late 90s, around the same time that you fell in love with pirate radio. What stations or shows were you listening to at the time?
The first radio station I became aware of playing house and garage was Ice FM on its original frequency of 92.7fm. Being based in NW London, it was one of the stations that transmitted best in our part of town. My friends introduced me to the sound and I was hooked instantly. I’d get home from school in the evenings and be straight on the radio. You had people like Don Da Bomb, Martin Larner, Ed Hunter, DJ Calibre, Charlie Brown, and Spin E B, showing me a whole new genre.
As i got more into the sound, I started scanning the fm dial, and came across Chicago 90.6, Freek FM 101.8 and London Underground 89.4. These legendary stations introduced me to the likes of DJ’s Ramsey & Fen, Jazzy D, Mikee B, and EZ to name just a few.
In your opinion, what did the pirate stations offer that you couldn’t get from mainstream radio? Why were they so popular?
I think they were popular for a number of reasons. Firstly and most importantly was the quality! House and garage music at the time was amazing, with producers like New Horizons, Tuff Jam, The Anthill Mob, Dem2 and so many more making serious radio and club bangers.
The sound wasn’t really being catered for at the time on regular radio, so the Pirates became essential for people to get there garage fix. Especially if like me you were too young to go raving at the time. I also think that the connection you got by doing radio shouts and requests helped to make feel people more connected to the Pirates.
You’ve mentioned before that one of your favourite records is Todd Edwards “Save My Life”. Can you remember the first time that you heard that track?
I cant remember the first time I heard it, but I do remember when I got the vinyl. Before that point it wasn’t actually one of my favourite Todd tracks, but once I owned it and started mixing it a few times it really started to grow on me. Now I just can’t get bored of playing it. It's a masterful piece of music.
What is it about the track that makes it so great?
Everything haha. The drum patterns, the high hats, the arrangement, the sampling, the lot. No one samples vocals and twists them to make a new sound in quite the same way Todd does. It’s hard to single out any one part of the track, because I genuinely love everything about this record.
Aside from Todd Edwards, what other artists made a lasting impression on you during your early years?
There are a few artists that stand out for me. From the U.S I would say Masters At Work, who made sooo many amazing tracks from Gimme Groove, to the Nervous Track, to Basstone. They are all unbelievably good, but vastly different. I love Mike Delgados works, he was a master on the keys. I’m also a huge fan of Victor Simonelli. His music has so much soul, and I feel he is quite an underrated artist on this side of the Atlantic. I also can’t forget the legends that are Kerri Chandler and MK, both still smashing it to this day.
From the UK, some of my favourites are Tuff Jam, shouts to Matt and Karl who need no introduction. I also love the work of the Anthill Mob, and I have to mention MJ Cole. I’m not the biggest fan of 2 step but his work is of such quality he always deserves a mention. Last but not least the alias king, Jeremy Sylvester.
In 2005 your brother signed you up to Freeze FM where you guys established your hugely popular “Listener & Pressure” show. Can you tell us a little bit about this show?
It was completely out of the blue. My brother emailed the management of the station not expecting to hear anything back, then one sunny day he got a reply asking whether he could do a show Friday afternoons from 2-4pm. He roped me in for support, and we held the show until the station disbanded around 4 years later.
At the time Freeze 92.7 was the biggest garage station on the dial and was double award winning for that reason. We were very fortunate to have got on there, especially with such a popular set time. It was a quality time slot that was the start of the weekend for a lot of our listeners, so the phone line was always crazy busy! Sometimes to the point where it was tough to keep on top of mixing, doing the shouts, and hosting all at the same time. We became well known on the station as we are both technically able (my brother now known as Jack Swift has had numerous comparisons with EZ). We got introduced to a lot of the best talent around in the garage scene at the time, and it was a major factor in us becoming known on the Garage circuit.
And what was it like working alongside your brother? Would you say you had a similar taste in music or did you both bring different cards to the table?
It was great fun, we were both learning our trade as DJs, and being a double act always meant you had support on radio or at bookings. It also meant that while one of you was mixing the other could be digging through the record bag and be ready to jump in straight away. This led us to fire though tracks at a rapid rate that other DJs playing on their own wouldn't be able to do. We also had a very similar taste in music which helped, although as we got older Jack felt that he wanted to move more into the house music industry, while I wanted to stay with house and garage, thus we eventually split as a DJ combo.
How did you come up with the name “Listener”?
Panicking on my way to my first radio show at Freeze haha. I sat on the train with no idea what I was going to call myself. I was running through ideas in my head, when I started thinking about how long I’d been a fan of garage and had been a “radio listener”. I felt that the sentiment “fit” and so I called myself DJ Listener. Even to this day when i go to a booking I consider myself a fan and listener of music first and a DJ second. For example, when my set at Backto95 is done I’ll be straight on the dance floor partying with the ravers.
Where was your first gig? And how did it go down?
Playing at a local pub with my mates. It was great fun at the time, but seems like an awful long time ago now.
You’ve been Backto95 resident for sometime now - in your opinion, what is it about the Backto95 events that accounts for their long lasting appeal?
I’m very proud to say I’ll have been resident for 7 years this autumn, and, as for its appeal… everything about Backto95 has quality behind it. The concept, the branding, the venues, the style, and the hard graft behind the scenes all comes together to make it one of the very best parties around. For me, the musical era it encompasses from around 93 - 98 was the pinnacle of house and garage, or UKG or whatever you want to call it.
The sound is unmatched in my opinion and SVA have tapped into the vibe of that era and brought it back with the highest standards. I know the team are vey selective about which DJs are booked and how they perform in order to maintain quality control at all their events. Every detail is carefully planned to make it what it is, and this is the reason it has been so successful for 17 years!
Now you’re playing for our upcoming 17th birthday at Ministry of Sound along with the one and only Todd Edwards. For those out there who may be less familiar with your sound, can you describe your upcoming set for us in three words?
Energy. Impact. Style.
Finally, what has 2018 got in store for you?
2018 is shaping up to be a very big year for me. Of course, there is Backto95’s 17th Party in March. I’ll also be at 51st State Festival on the Backto95 stage in August, which returns for its 4th year and is always one of the highlights of the year. I’m also at Moondance Festival this summer, and my other residency "Shift" will be moving to a new home soon, which is very exciting. Plus I have tonnes of other events already booked into the calendar.
I also would like to mention my own party which launches on April 21st at the Nest in Dalston, "Listener’s Choice". For a while now I've been of the opinion that the new house and garage music that’s being made is perhaps of the best quality and closest to my 95 roots since that era itself. There are a number of great labels such as Pogo House records, Gents & Dandy's, Plastik People, Rawsome records, Dungeon Meat, MadTech recordings plus loads more that have been putting out some seriously good music over the last couple of years. However there are very few parties, if any, that are catering for the people who love this sound.
I felt it was time to put that right. So I’ve crafted an event for new house & garage/garage house fans, and I’m hoping it will be the start of a new wave for that scene. Keep your eyes peeled for more info on that.
Big thanks for taking the time to chat, it’s been a pleasure.