Norman Jay

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Norman Jay


No Restrictions: A Look Inside The Funk Factory

While other DJs are busy playing the part of prophets in dance music, Norman Jay would much rather take on the role of entertainer. It’s what he’s been doing best for the last three decades of his career, gaining notoriety as UK’s house and jazz pioneer and one of the few names in electronic music to influence a whole generation of DJs. Since first launching his infamous 1980s warehouse parties, Jay has also hosted BBC radio, headed Talkin Loud Records with Gilles Peterson and continues to be active on the live touring circuit.

“I still do freelance stuff for BBC2,” announces Jay. “I left officially because I wanted to have freedom to be able to come to places like Australia whenever I wanted. It was a hard decision to make but it also wasn’t. BBC is a funny organization to work for because you never really leave. Maybe I’ll do some more serious broadcasting at some point later on in my career.”

In the meantime, Jay is making good on the ability to freely tour the world as he pleases. First stop this year is his long-awaited Australian return where Jay promises to deliver a completely new set. “I never considered myself as a part of the music industry,” states Jay. “What I do is entertainment, I am an entertainer. That’s why I love playing festivals and clubs, where you get to entertain people with the music you play – and if the byproduct of that happens to be education, so be it. Maybe I do educate people in some ways, but I don’t do it deliberately. People identify a niche for themselves, but I am much more broad than that. I don’t want to be a celebrity star DJ, it’s too easy to lose the passion that way. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. The DJ landscape has changed so much, I was very lucky to come at a time when DJ culture was only just rising. It’s peaked now and it’s got to a level where it’s difficult for people to pay for music, let alone to pay to see a DJ. We need to keep it simple.”

The most important day on the Norman Jay calendar, is in fact, the annual Good Times Sound System showcase which was started by Jay and his brother. Key words being ‘freedom’ and ‘innovation’, Good Times Sound System today attracts over 3000 UK punters per day as part of the Notting Hill Carnival.

“That project started as a gut instinct, that’s why it’s worked for so long,” he states. “I’ve learned that the best indicator of how a project is going to turn out is the kind of feeling that I get before I even start it. We continue to do what we do best, which is to give crowds at Notting Hill the best musical experience. It’s not my biggest gig, but it’s the most important gig of my year and has been for decades now. It’s definitely one of my biggest priorities. It gives me the most musical pleasure because it’s where I’m most free to showcase new music and take risks. I’m able to break all the established DJ rules – you’ll hear me have a go at rock, reggae, hip-hop, soul, drum and bass, dubstep, Latin, disco, whatever takes my fancy, really. I think people who have been listening to my music for a long time already know that you always get something different when you see me play.”

Jay’s unpredictable set is tailor-made for both festivals and club shows, and according to the man himself, it’s the entire Australian tour which he now looks forward to setting off on. Expect the unexpected, he warns – it may be electronic music at its core, but Jay claims when it comes to his music, expressing the humanity behind the beats is the most essential part of his job.

“I feel so privileged to be able to play in Australia again,” says Jay. “I’m an organic DJ, I make it up as I go along and I try to have fun with it – which is the problem with the digital evolution of things. And I do mean ‘evolution’ rather than ‘revolution’, as a lot of people prefer to call it. I don’t like things to be perfect and predictable every time. A completely digital set is enjoyable to look at for five minutes, then the other 55 minutes bore the hell out of you. You need to connect with an audience who know you are human, and the human way is to make some mistakes. You’ve got to remember it’s a party, it’s a celebration, I’m not a teacher or some political activist on the soapbox telling people what they should like! Let’s not complicate it, I’m just an entertainer and I’m completely happy with being just that.”

Norman Jay [UK] plays at the Womadelaide festival which takes place at Adelaide’s Botanic Park from Friday March 11 to 14 and Billboard The Venue on Friday March 4.