The last time Big Shot spoke with British DJ/producer John B he had just settled some legal issues with Nicki Minaj, who had sampled his 2008 track “Red Sky” featuring Shaz Sparks on her chart-topping smash “Here I Am.” A year later Mr. B’s legal issues are well behind behind him, and he’s just released his new album, Light Speed, on his Beta Recordings.
If you’ve ever caught one of John B’s energetic sets, you’ll know that how important musical diversity is to his ethos. Electro, house, dubstep, drum ‘n’ bass…all of these styles flow through him and into his productions. The same sort of diversity is heard on Light Speed, which includes collaborations with Kirsty Hawkshaw, Shaz Sparks and newcomer NSG (and let’s not forget Camo & Krooked‘s terrific remix of “Numbers”). We caught up with John B in Miami and found out the genesis of Light Speed.
I know 2011 was pretty hectic for you. Where have you been since the beginning of the year?
Hard to remember them all but off the top of my head… Vegas, Austria, Hungary, couple of gigs in Russia, Czech Republic, Germany, Ukraine, Slovakia, and now I’m in Miami! I’m renting a nice apartment here for a month to use as a U.S. tour base and spot to hang out during the Winter Music Conference. The start to the year has been really pretty hectic so I’m hoping I get a chance while I’m here to chill a bit!
Light Speed has finally arrived. Did you produce the album at the speed of light?!
Once I get in the zone in the studio I work pretty fast, but this album has been a long time coming; my last album, Electrostep, was [released] in 2006! As I’ve been DJing and touring more and more, plus running the labels single handedly, I guess the amount of time available to get in the studio has suffered… I’ve hooked up my laptop with all my music software now and got some great headphone to work with so hoping I can get into the habit of working on music more when I’m on the road. I think I need to get someone to help with the label stuff too if I’m going to get another album done any time soon!
What was the recording process like for you? Did the new songs come about easily or did you have to agonize over a few of them?
Nothing was really agonizing, although I’m currently trying to perfect the radio edits and commercial club remixes of the next single (“Light Speed”) which is a big deal and taking a lot of thought. As far as the album went, apart from time difficulties it was fine, a load of the tracks we’re made of quite a long period of time, as instrumentals, then refined bit by bit after I played them out at clubs and was able to see how they worked out there in the wild. I knew a few would really benefit from some vocals so that’s when I looked up all the guest vocalists — sent over the instrumentals and then took things from there.
The opening of “The Horde” is wonderfully cinematic — that song should be in a film soundtrack. Where/how did that track come about?
Thanks. Well, I just wanted to make a track with a really big epic intro, and I guess also to practice skills in arranging a more orchestral sort of track, I built up all the layers with individual, sample-based orchestral instruments bit by bit with the idea that it would escalate to a big crescendo and then break down into a more synthetic version but with the same musical theme continuing.
The title track featuring NSG seems destined for radio. How did you come to work with NSG? Was there any specific inspiration for that tune?
I first heard about him from my friend Jack who used to work with him at Activision on the DJ Hero project – he’s an Indonesian chap who grew up around Hackney and now he’s back over in Indonesia working with his boyband project, and loads of mad stuff for TV. I heard him rapping over a Bart B’more track and made a mental note to hit him up when I had a track I thought would work well with him, and well, light speed is that track. We’ve got loads of great remixes done — Terravita, L Plus, Illskillz, Scion, Indivision, etc. — plus a new 4/4 club version I’m just trying to finish off. [I’m] really aiming at mainstream radio support with this one so I hope it gets some love!
“I used to be really protective over people remixing my stuff but now I’m a lot more open to it, to the point now where this album will be followed up by a remix album.”
Shaz Sparks are Kirsty Hawkshaw really shine on the album. Is it ever challenging to work with vocalists?
No, not at all. Everyone I worked with on the album was really professional and fast. In fact, I didn’t actually record anyone’s vocals; I send the instrumentals to them through the Net. Shaz and Kirsty recorded their vocals at their places in the UK; Code 64 in their studio in Sweden even though their studio had just got flooded. Jillian Ann recorded hers in L.A. and NSG in Indonesia!
Light Speed features a tune called “Dancing in the Dark.” Have you been listening to Bruce Springsteen much lately?
Ha-ha. No, but I am considering doing some Bruce next time I hit the karaoke place here in Miami.
Camo & Krooked’s mix of “Numbers” is wicked. How do you know those guys? Is it ever strange hearing your tracks remixed?
They’d been sending me demos and tunes for ages, and we eventually released an EP of theirs on my label, Beta Recordings. I also hooked them up with Shaz to do some vocals on “Time is Ticking Away.” I love what they did with “Numbers” — it’s definitely always one of the most popular tracks in my sets. I used to be really protective over people remixing my stuff but now I’m a lot more open to it, to the point now where this album will be followed up by a remix album, I’ve had so many awesome mixes done — it’s going to be exciting to get them out there.
The global dance music community is descending upon Miami. What are you plans?
I’m already here. I found a beautiful apartment right on Ocean Drive that I’ve been lucky to be able to rent for a whole month, so I’m just settling in at the moment, getting work done on my laptop in the day, bit of beach time if the sun comes out, then a have a run along the length of the boardwalk and back early evening, from where it starts at 15th Street right up to 47th Street and back – when all the pool parties are on it’s a cool way to see which ones are going off, or not — and you get to hear what everyone’s playing, but without the hassle of actually going in and dodging the douches — hah! I’m booked for a load of parties here during conference, always fun to be here. But at the same time I really like my chill time here, catching up with friends, getting good food, doing karaoke at my secret spot and just generally non-WMC type stuff!
Lastly, do tell us about some of your favorite outfits from the coming tour. Is it even possible for you to top your previous ones?!
Hah! I have some awesome new Speedo shorts with the union jack flag on them, and I customized a couple of new jackets, with the help of my mum’s sewing skills….
Light Speed is out now on Beta Recordings.