By Simone Ribeiro, @moluska (Originally published in June 2013)
Nearly 25 years dedicated to the dance music scene: Jem Atkins is one of the top DJs from Birmingham, England. After so many years performing in some of the most famous clubs in UK, Jem stills keeps the same enthusiasm about his scratching, mixing and overall performance when behind the decks. Midiativa interviewed the legendary Birmingham DJ to know a little bit more about his career.
MA – How and when did you start as a DJ?
ATKINS – The year was 1986, and I’d already spent a few years involved in the Breakdancing, Graffiti, Hip Hop scene and for many a fledgling Bboy was introduced to the film Wildstyle, which featured the legendary Grandmaster Flash. From there on in I knew exactly what I wanted to do.
MA: You’ve been a DJ at a lot of Birmingham’s top nights for such a long time, including being a resident at legendary clubs such as Crunch. You’ve also played much further afield but how do you feel, being considered as one of the top DJ`s from the Birmingham scene?
ATKINS – It’s the influence I’ve had on other DJ’s that’s most rewarding for me. I’ve dedicated almost 25 years to my music, and it’s really nice when someone comes up and tells me I’ve had an effect on them.
MA - How do you prepare your sets? And what are your influences and where did you learn to “scratch” so good, when using vinyl, or did it come naturally?
ATKINS - I still DJ pretty much 3 days a week so my sets really just evolve by adding new tracks every so often, unless it’s a one off special event where I’m playing Hip Hop or Classics, then I have to dig deep into my record collection. Many of the early Block Party and scratch DJ’s influenced me, who’s scratch techniques I copied and practiced relentlessly until I became accomplished. As an avid follower of Hip Hop and Electro music, and through artists and labels such as Richie Rich, Tyree Cooper, Warp Records, Sleeping Bag Records, I discovered House music.
MA – What do you consider as the most memorable period of your career as a DJ?
ATKINS – The early days. Every time I heard a new track, discovered a new scratch technique, played to an audience, it was all brand new and very exciting. Also gaining my first residencies, Marco Polo’s, Crunch, Fun, S.L.A.G. The early days of House music and supplying music for “Ravers”.
MA – Brazil has plenty of DJs who are considered famous worldwide, such as Marky. Do you know and like anything about Brazilian music?
ATKINS - I don’t usually look too deep into where the music I play comes from, which label it’s on etc. I know I should but after spending most of my life doing just that, I now like to spend more time just enjoying the music. Too many DJ’s nowadays chase certain DJ’s, producers and record labels, which in my opinion makes their DJ style very uninspiring, though I have say I do really like the Brazilian House sound for it’s rawness, and it features throughout my sets. I hear Marky is a great DJ but the Drum and Bass sound has never been to my taste.
MA – Tell us a little about Havana Records. Who was involved and how many releases did you have personally on that label?
ATKINS – Havana was set up by myself and Back2Bassics (The Drum and Bass Label) as an output for the music I’d been creating over the years. We managed around 20 releases on the label with a few being licensed to others. Through Havana I went on to release remixes, and other tracks on many other labels across europe.
MA – What about your work as a music reviewer Leap, the legendary clubbing magazine from the Midlands?
ATKINS – I was renting studio space from the same building that the magazine was being set up, so was asked to get involved. I managed the music side of things as well as tours, interviews with other DJ’s, club owners, and tea making.
MA – If you were not a DJ, what would you do professionally?
ATKINS – I have qualifications in Micro electronics so anything to do with music technology would be my ideal choice, although I do quite fancy being Jem the Builder!
MA – Nowadays, loads of people like DJing. This is also very common in Brazil, and with all new, accessible technology that is available everyone thinks that they can be a DJ. Do you like how it is now or would you like it to return to the days when it was, literally, two turntables and a mixer?
ATKINS – The good old days without a shadow of a doubt! Tracking down records in a store, learning how to beat mix. The whole discovery of it all doesn’t exist anymore, save for a certain few. Everything is given. Which DJ’s you should follow, music to download, equipment to buy, clubs to go to, radio station to listen to etc etc… Gone are the days when you had to listen to hours of music to find what you liked, which in itself introduced you to other genres of music you wouldn’t usually listen to, and maybe you even liked. Practice for hours on end to get the perfect mix rather than all at the press of a button. Two turntables, a mixer, and a record shop. Actually that might just be the name of my new track!
MA – You have the little babe now. Has being a father and having to do DJ work during the weekend been something difficult for you? How has being a family man changed your lifestyle?
ATKINS – I hate being away from home now so try not to be too far away these days although offers of gigs overseas do still come along. Being with my family is the most important thing to me and always has been, but I still have to do my job.
MA – How do you see your DJ sets in 10 years?
ATKINS – I’m looking to take more time producing now so can relax on the DJ work, but unfortunately the two go hand in hand, and I’m still as eager as ever to get behind the decks and rock the party so who knows? Maybe I’ll get a job on radio!
Photos: from his personal file
More about Dj Jem Atkins: http://www.myspace.com/djjemrgt