“There’s £100,000 that should be in my bank account that isn’t there; And that f**king hurts. I’ve got a mortgage and bills to pay and I would really like that money to be in that account right now. It’s a combination of things, basically record company dodgy deals.”
UK underground house legend Jon Carter admits he’s worked out in detail all the people that have ripped him off throughout his career, though stresses it’s major labels rather than indies who’ve taught him some harsh lessons.
“You get walked around the block and try not to let it happen again but the people who rip you off are often the people with the most money,” he says.
“I’ve done gigs for promoters who couldn’t pay me on the night, but they turned up two weeks later with all the cash they owed me. It’s the ones on the corporate ladders that you have to watch out for. In any business.”
Older and certainly wiser, he’s nevertheless chosen to call his new album Gentleman’s Agreement , a title he admits reflects his continuing faith in overall human nature.
“It’s because of the collaborative nature of the album,” says Jon.
“Up to now, I’ve been always working alone, spending at times forty-eight hours underground, under an old bus garage that was my studio, on my own, with the music blasting from the speakers. That was bad for my hearing, but also bad for my brains. You come out of the studio and it takes you two days to recover,” he recalls.
“I prefer to work in short bursts these days with someone else there to bounce ideas from. So it came from the arrangement of splitting it all down to 50/50, bang. There you have it, Gentleman’s agreement”.
With collaborators including Ashley Beedle, uber UK house producer/engineer Andy Chatterley and Massive Attack reggae legend Horace Andy, the album sees Jon back to full strength after enduring a debilitating attack of tinnitus that saw him forced out of the studio for two years. Packed with bass heavy grooves and suitably filthy house style beats, the record looks certain to raise his profile back alongside his long time peers- and mates- Fatboy Slim and the Chemical Brothers.
“This is a really important project for me, I want to get my music out there,” he tells Skrufff’s Benedetta Ferraro.
“The music is a lot more varied because the scene is very different these days. The field has become wider and there’s a lot more people doing it, but that doesn’t mean you have to stop making music. Of course, there are many DJs out there who really should stop and go and drive a van, but if you’re good and people like what you’re doing, why stop?”
Skrufff (Benedetta Ferraro): You’ve regularly worked alongside producers who’ve sold millions, such as the Chemicals, Fatboy Slim and the Prodig, how ambitious are you for the new album?
Jon Carter: “I’m not hugely concerned about the sales, it’s more directed to keep my profile up there. It’s never been about shifting loads of units, I think for that you have to play it out live.”
Skrufff: What is it about those producers in particular that’s made them so successful?
Jon Carter: “Well, Fatboy Slim is successful because he genuinely loves what he does and he has an incredible knowledge of samples; he goes for things that no one else would touch. He uses them right, finds a place for them where no one else would. He has a knack for catchy tunes, he’s nailed what people like which obviously also fits well in the world of advertising. For the Chemicals I think the reason for their success is in their stunning live shows. They have always put a huge effort into them and have promoters flocking and desperate to have them. Basement Jaxx are also big on the live performances.”
Skrufff: As well as DJing and producing you also run your own pub, how easy is it to juggle those responsibilities with Djing/ making music?
Jon Carter: “And you forgot the children, I have two now. You just have to manage your time. Children are good because they get you up early; suddenly you realize there’s a lot more hours during the day when you have kids. They also mean a big change in your lifestyle. But a lot can be achieved using the new technology; you can use your laptop at the airport, working on your edits, on your sets; you don’t need an office these days. I know people who run their businesses from bars; you have your Wi-Fi and have your meetings there, that’s all you need these days, that, and good time management.”
Skrufff: Dj biographies talk of you working as a forklift truck driver and going to university before becoming a DJ, did you start out working in factories?
Jon Carter: “Yes, that’s all true. That was when I was eighteen; I worked in a warehouse as a forklift truck driver. I started university, but I dropped out because it was a bit of a pointless course. What I did do when I was a student though was hooking up with a reggae studio down there and I started doing parties, plus in the meantime I was teaching myself a bit of sound engineering in the studio and how to make music. Before that there was a succession of crummy jobs, but everyone’s had those. What these jobs do is make you appreciate what you have now. You know that you could be living a thousand times worse so it pushes you forward.”
Skrufff: You were also a regular raver at Turnmills in the early 90s, how much more driven than your old clubber friends were you to make it as a DJ/ producer?
Jon Carter: “You need a lot of energy to stay out all night and work in the studio the next day, you also need a lot of drive, luck, and a bit of being at the right place at the right time. I had a couple of mates who started at the same time as me, but they lunched out (dropped out)”.
Skrufff: Has networking ever helped you?
Jon Carter: “No, I’m not that type inclined. I’m like ‘al’ right mate’ To me networking sounds like deliberately going out to ‘meet people’ and ‘be seen’ and find people who can be useful to you. I go out because I like going out, I have a laugh, I like getting on with people, I like meeting my mates, I just enjoy it. Another thing to consider is that there is a much higher turnover of punters these days. There’s also a higher turnover of promoters. Of the old school promoters very few have survived. And then the new ones all seem to disappear after the New Years Eve parties, January is usually a dead month, so you’re faced with having to re-build working relationships time and time again. That’s why it’s so important to put your music out and to find a good agent who can really work it. Even DJs like Sasha are rarely in the UK these days, he did a gig in Bournemouth which sold out, but with the higher turnover of punters there could be kids out there who are too young to know who Sasha is, no disrespect to him, of course. You’ve got to keep hold of it, that’s why after stopping for two years because of the tinnitus I’ve had to get back on putting music out, otherwise punters forget who you are.”
Skrufff: Has the actually DJing changed much in recent years?
Jon Carter: “Well one thing to mention is the smoking ban, that’s definitely been damaging. Sometimes the dance floor empties out when flocks of people go and smoke outside. You put a record on and all of a sudden the room clears. You wonder ‘what’s wrong with this record?’ but they’ve all actually gone for a fag (cigarette) outside. You can loose your stride a bit, because of that. It used to be all about keeping the flow. Not anymore. Your flow can definitely be disrupted by the smokers.”
Skrufff: You were in the tabloids a lot when you were married to Sarah (Radio 1 DJ Sarah Cox): looking back how was all that media/tabloid exposure?
Jon Carter: “I hated it. I avoided it at all costs. You didn’t really see me, they used to use a press picture of my gay mate Roger with Sarah and they really thought it was me. It was quite shocking really, I’d never go to functions or premieres, maybe I’d go to an art exhibition, but if I knew there was going to be the press there I’d just walk ahead. She likes being photographed, but I hated it with a vengeance. To be in the tabloids was not the reason why I married her. I’m glad it’s over. The media attention, I mean.”
Skrufff: The media always defend themselves by saying that the people they write about are fair game because they seek attention, use publicists etc: was it possible for you to avoid their attention if you chose to?
Jon Carter: “I’d hid away as much as possible. That’s why I sued them when they took pictures of my honeymoon. I sued them for their outrageous invasion of our privacy and for them having said outrageous lies about us, and I won. Basically they wrote that we were frolicking around nude in front of children, which would put you on the sex offenders’ register. It was blatantly untrue. This guy had climbed into a private, personal space where it was completely impossible to be seen, hid there for the whole afternoon taking photographs of people on their honeymoon and then this c**t, sorry there’s no other name for him, accused us of being smack (heroin) addicts, and said that they caught us with needles, that we were exposing ourselves to children. Basically half of my honeymoon I had to spend it on to the phone with lawyers. All I can say now is that I want to stay out of the public eye as much as possible apart from doing my job as a DJ. I want the press out of my face as much as possible.”
Jon Carter: Gentleman’s Agreement is out now on Pieces Of Eight Records.
Benedetta Ferraro (Skrufff.com)