Jack Smooth – Interview with ‘the unsung hero’
Jack Smooth started DJ’ing professionally around 1993 and has been producing records since then.
By 23 years of age Jack Smooth had gone a long way in a short time, putting out over 250 records, many of which you wouldn’t even realise were his. Jack Smooth started back in 1986 when it was the acid era, playing in dingy clubs when there was 400 people crammed in a room with one strobe and a smoke machine – a real sweat box.
He didn’t really play out much but was also a radio DJ on a pirate station he really enjoyed and started in 1989. From the first time he heard House music he was addicted to it and thought to himself he wanted to learn how to mix, he got two shitty decks and started to knock things together in his bedroom, he got on well and thought he may as well go and exploit it, that’s when it all began.
He started doing one off’s under his real name Ron Wells or under his chosen name Jack Smooth. This was a big step for him as he left his job in a warehouse to continue with his career full time, he says it took a lot of courage to take the plunge but he knew he wasn’t going to work for a living, as he sits back now he finds it hard to believe he has made it as a record producer, because he thought he would make it as a DJ. He started doing deep House things and knew that if it was good people would show their appreciation by buying and playing the tunes whether they liked him or not – not really the same as DJ’ing and he pointed out he doesn’t really like corruption although there is a lot of corruption although there is a lot of corruption in the industry.
His first label was Wax Factory Records, out in 1989, that was with his partner Chris Simmonds under the name Smooth and Simmonds. They didn’t make much money from that but established quite a bit of creditability. A lot of people jumped on the band wagon and introduced a more aggressive element which is where he thinks things went wrong, a lot of people making money from selling drugs in other scenes saw there was money to be made in the Rave scene and everyone just thought they would see what they could get out of it, too many people exploited it and seeing what they could get out without putting anything in. As Jack Smooth say’s “Absolutely disgusting, people trying to squeeze it and it’s not helped by the rough neck element that’s moved in, it’s just not required, greed breeds violence”.
He remembers when he went to Spectrum which was one of the biggest House clubs of all time, he knocked someone’s drink over and thought he was a dead man, the guy turned around and said don’t worry man and bought him a drink, that’s what it was all about – peace, love and unity which has all gone missing now but that’s what he’s trying to reintroduce back in there.
Jack Smooth say’s its difficult with so much Jungle around because he feels it doesn’t give a good vibe like strings and happy tracks, it can still be dark but if it’s musical people will think their listening to something more sensible and act more sensible.
We all agreed there is some good Jungle coming through, just not a lot of it. Jack Smooth say’s it is difficult for him to stay in touch with the outside world as he’s in the studio 24 hours a day, he’s producing on average 6 tunes a week which are all of a high standard so doesn’t get much chance to listen to competition, but then again the sort of stuff he’s doing now he doesn’t feel there is any, completely different from anything else out there. His music is progressive dance, moving forward with proper sounds, not sampled, sensible well constructed cords, very musical and a proper production with progression on the beats to make you move. He says it’s a fresh approach, not copying anyone else – just progressive dance. Its very difficult for anyone to label the work Jack Smooth does because its so varied, progressive, Euro, House, Hardcore, even Pop records – he’s so versatile. Writing songs is his main objective at the moment and its now second nature, to get into the proper side of the music industry and still produce tunes for Basement. As he pointed out, and we agree, labelling does no one any good and it’s wrong anyway, Progressive House should be called Re-gressive House because its what was being played years ago, the early R&S’ stuff, the Euro stuff, slow it down a bit and there it is – progressive.
If anything does stand out on its own it’s Euro and like Jack Smooth say’s its for absolute nut cases, but if that’s what they like then fair enough really. It’s not got much feeling in it and does seem a constant thrash but it’s supposed to be like that, the reason it is, is to let our aggression. There is a few tunes with feeling but they are few and far between, its not the sort of thing you come in from a hard days work and listen to but there’s going to be plenty more of it because so many people like it. People are relying on the beats to do to much work in breakbeat and they are becoming mundane now, people aren’t putting enough music on top of them. There’s no identity and they’re wasting their time, you’ve got to be musical.
Jack Smooth has been behind quite a few people who have put out records but there are a lot of DJ’s trying to put out their own tracks, like he said though its sample based stuff any old prat can do that and you can have the IQ of an ashtray to make a hardcore track! Some DJ’s have progressed, Carl Cox is making music now. The thing is if you can’t play key boards you’ve got to learn or hire someone to if you want to make a good tune – otherwise its just sample based rubbish that you don’t need any talent for, you are stealing someone else’s talent – the same as robbing someone’s house and Jack Smooth feels people should be prosecuted for it. If he finds someone has sampled his work he does get frustrated to think someone has picked up the best part of his tune and used it after all his hard work, he will pursue anyone found doing so.
Some tracks are successful because they are so clean, the Top Buzz track being a example of a successful tune that people have still gone and nicked, it is sad when you hear tunes that sound so much like it. Remixing is something that Jack Smooth doesn’t really do, he has done a couple but only remixes of his own stuff and if like he said there’s a public call for it and you feel you can improve it then give it a go. If your satisfied with the first mix then leave it alone. The Top Buzz track has been re-mixed but it was made over a year ago and people were asking for one, it was a bit slow anyway so did need one as it was an old tune.
Jack Smooth can put his name to everything on Basement, everything on Sound Entity, all the mix downs for Phantasy’s stuff, so many tracks get done in the studio you wouldn’t believe it, they have 16 ready to go. All the people in the business know what he’s up to and if he’d never made any records you’d be surprised how many were missing, especially how many big tracks were missing.
We are told the best thing he likes about making music is going out and hearing the track being played, when he went to Obsession he heard the track ‘We are the creator’ 7 times and knew the tune must have been doing it to the max, every DJ played it. There can’t be anyone who gets their stuff played half as much as Jack Smooth because there’s no one who’s made as half as much. He doesn’t find it hard to adjust to the different kinds of tunes he’s putting out because they get done in a day, not a week, a day! One day he could be doing a Mayhem 12, then his own label, then a day on a pop song, then a day on a House track – its easy because he loves it all.
Jack Smooth’s music stands out because he makes his own thing not just remix other peoples music, he makes effort to play clever riffs and clever cords, he’s a musical person, that’s why it stands out. The summer belongs to Basement, there’s going to be some good music coming out. The only problem with the scene is the people sampling, if you took the sampler off a lot of people out there, people who are well known and getting a lot of respect, they would fall down. There is a lot of false praise, people are praising the wrong people but in time they will realise, if anything could change in the music scene that’s what Jack Smooth would change.
He goes out and listens to other DJ’s but not for long, just to go out and see what is happening out there, he does still play the odd DJ set but not much, when he hears his tunes being played he likes to listen and watch the crowd to see if he could have done it better, did he leave anything out, does it sound good enough, it’s a chance to criticise his own work. Other people that are making good music are people like Dave Angel, he’s doing a good job and Jack Smooth has a lot of respect for what he’s trying to do, he’s also a good friend.
Some DJ’s though are just making music to impress other DJ’s and not thinking about the crowd, the arrangement of music, too many breakdowns, if you steel the beats you can’t dance, Jack Smooth always has 2 breakdowns in his tunes, never any more. When he is making a tune he can visualise the crowd and see what they are doing.
If people think about that instead of just giving someone a dub plate and saying ‘Yeh man its ruff’ it’s the ruff if the crowd think so not because your mate who’s a DJ thinks so. Dub plates are killing the scene, stopping record sales and Jack Smooth tells us Basement are not giving any more Dubs out, its got to the point where everyone wanted it and if its played too much before its pressed it becomes stale, sooner or later the kids are going to want it on dub. Too many DJ’s depend on dubs but its not entirely their fault because they haven’t got a good enough range of music to buy in the shops, the scene is starved of good quality products, their just clutching at straws and when people see that, better tunes will start coming out and it will go back to how it used to be. People are just sick of hearing the same breaks and the same sounds, Dub plates are a half hearted way to change things, people should go the full way and put them out!
When Jack Smooth puts out a new track he tries to make it stand out on its own, some sounds he has made on the keyboard do stand out a mile, real nice sounds which he will use a few times then search for something new. At least if someone does sample it you’ve started a trend but that’s not what he wants people to do, he wants people to follow and make music or the scene is going to disintegrate. If your thinking of making music and if you can’t play keyboards take someone with you that can, try not to sample too much, it doesn’t matter about sampling breaks just don’t keep using the same ones, try and be clever, people want different things, experiment and don’t use Mickey Mouse vocals, use a pitch shifter or time stretcher, its just as easy, Mickey Mouse vocals being Jack Smooth’s pet hate.
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