Caleb Church grew up in the rural countryside of Tennessee USA. In 2015 he partnered with Nashville's other Jungle Ambassador (DJ Squake) to up the ante with DNB shows in Nashville and between 2015-2016 brought or helped bring some of the biggest names in the game to Music City USA, including SS, Bladerunner, Commix, Aphrodite, Remarc, Jacky Murda, and more....
We find out a little more about what's going on the other side of the pond.
Q1) Can you go back to when you found jungle drum and bass, how old you were and how you got into DJ-ing?
A) I was recently turned 16 (late 1998) when I got introduced to the rave scene, and it was shortly before my 17th birthday I decided I wanted to be a DJ, mainly because of a Happy Hardcore DJ I saw named Muppetfucker (still imo the best DJ name ever put on a flyer) who controlled the energy of the crowd on a level I hadn't seen at that point. I saved up my money and bought myself a set of 1200s for my bday. At that point I was one of only 3 other people I knew who owned turntables. Sad to say, my junglist conversion came a couple years later in 2002... although afterwards I realized that the HHC tunes I loved best were the ones that featured heavy amen drum patterns and that was the sound I was looking for all along, I just didn't know because most jungle/dnb being played at parties in Nashville then was mostly heavy techy two-step DNB, very little actual jungle. However, regardless how good my sets were or how well appreciated when played in other regions, at that time hatred for HHC was pervasive in Nashville and a lot of times I caught static. My first jungle set resulted from being kicked off my timeslot because the soundman couldn't stand HHC, even though I had provided 90% of the DJ gear -- I got over my anger and played a 7 AM set with basically the 12 dnb records/ones with jungle remix b-sides I owned at the time, which literally had about 20 people wake up just to start dancing. I've been in love ever since.
Q2) You and I share a love of happy hardocore... I grew up listening to that and progressed to dnb. Do you find yourself still addicted to the high energy vibes?
A) Absolutely, although I'm not a huge fan of the direction that hardcore has taken, esp in the last 10 yrs or so. The cheese factor was always prevalent, but I guess it eventually took over and now it all sounds more like sped up clubby trance. Even the super old skool guys I saw play over here played more of that stuff than classics. I am definitely glad that Luna-C rebooted Kniteforce, that was one of my top favorite labels pretty much from the first batch of vinyl I ordered from Juno, and is the definition of that happy middle ground between jungle and hardcore even now. I have been really feeling the Raggatek stuff lately, esp Vandal. It's almost like that genre is what I've been waiting for for close to 20 years: perfect balance between my favorite elements of jungle/dnb/hhc with mostly ragga vocal samples. I've been trying to play it around Nashville lately, but I have a feeling it's a similar situation to trying to introduce hhc here -- I'm simply 8-10 yrs ahead of the curve with electronic music in this city. One of the most annoying things for me in Nashville was in 2007-08 a group of high school kids started throwing all ages hhc parties that would get 700-1000 attendees every time lol. Nashville tends to be fairly behind the times with music trends if the music isn't pop or country. Pretty sure I'm the first DJ here to play footwork, 140 amens, breakcore, etc.
Q3) The "Candy Ravers" in the USA are not the same as the guys we have in the UK. Can you explain what they are for our UK readers?
A) In the US, especially in the late 90s/early 2000s, "candy ravers" or "candykids" were the most flamboyantly cartoonish of all the raver subsets, the ones who actively embraced the childlike aspects of the scene. Neon colors on all clothing, insanely baggy pants, various toys/backpacks/accessories, glowsticks/lights secreted about their persons any and everywhere they fit, but the main identifier was the "candy" jewelry we all wore (handmade with fishing line etc and brightly colored craft beads). A big part of the culture at this point was making candy to give away/trade, and was an even more convenient way to make friends with strangers than the pills we were all taking lol. Usually when I went to parties then, I wore candy from wrists to elbows and covering my whole neck, mini-glowsticks tied in my hair, and neon orange camo pants that had 50 inch hems. (I can never make fun of any candykids, no matter how jaded I get... Don't need that kind of karma)... Early on I found several of these giant, UV-responsive, Slinky-style plastic springs at the Dollar Store for $1 apiece, and I wore them on my wrists to most parties. Even though I tried to come up with several DJ monikers of my own with varying degrees of success, one night at a party someone called me "DJ Slinky" and it really stuck. I've met several other DJ Slinkies in my career, it's always interesting.
Q4) Can you tell us about DJ4NORML and your involvement there?
A) For any readers that may not know, NORML stands for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, and has been the official cannabis lobby in the USA for decades. In 2005 I was asked to DJ at a cannabis legalization rally in Bowling Green KY, about 60 miles from Nashville. One of the other acts playing was a guy named Tony who went by the stage name Manatea, but at this time was billing himself on flyers as DJ4NORML and was working closely with the Wyoming chapter of NORML which he was involved with. Shortly afterwards (I think within the next year) he contacted me to tell me he was starting a national crew of DJs that NORML would subsidize sending around to play ganja tunes at pot rallies. Those were always really interesting gigs -- playing bloodclart ragga jungle to a bunch of 60 yr old hippies lol. I was the only member based East of the Mississippi river though, the rest lived in Cali/Washington/Colorado/Wyoming. It only lasted about 2 years, I never got full details but some of the Seattle guys supposedly pulled some really shady moves trying to sidestep Tony, and he disbanded it. The one thing I still tell people about that stint is that technically our checks were signed by Willie Nelson as he was in charge of anything related to entertainment in NORML. I doubt he actually ever knew exactly what we were doing, but I always thought it was cool he signed the checks.
Q5) When did you start promoting and how was the response?
A) Fairly early in my career as a raver I got heavily involved on all sorts of different rave scene message board forums. As a result of that plus being outgoing, I wound up getting a paid position at age 18 as a regional head of street-teaming for Zen Festival, which basically meant I got all my expenses reimbursed for every big party I went to. This was my introduction to seeing how parties were planned and executed. Eventually I started organizing afterparties and small club nights around Nashville. My first real experience throwing a show pretty much all by myself was in July 2002 after I'd come back from the Marines (a short-lived career) when I threw a 24 hr full-on rave across the street from City Hall in my hometown (a smaller town named Clarksville about 50 miles north of Nashville that is mostly home to a huge Army base and a state university) that had 30 DJs from all over the state come play, and had about 200 people show up which was sort of jaw-dropping for a Sunday in Clarksville. To my knowledge, that was still the only true rave-style party ever thrown there. My career as a promoter is somewhat spotty between then and 2006 -- although I never stopped throwing parties, they were mostly all local stuff at clubs/bars and/or helping others throw their shows. In 2006 I discovered Myspace which directly connected me to all sorts of jungle DJs I'd been a fan of but never had much contact with and started bringing names I knew no one else would just so I could see them play. At that point it was cheaper to pay to bring them to me than it was to go to them most of the time. In 06-07 I brought Jacky Murda, Twinhooker & Paulie, and The Archangel and it was right at that point that we were asked if we wanted to start a Konkrete Jungle Nashville chapter, which was fairly serendipitous.
Q6) Konkrete Jungle is a worldwide movement, and they run all over the globe. For those that don't know can you tell the readers a bit more and your involvement?
A) Konkrete Jungle is the longest running weekly DNB night in the USA. It has been happening almost every single Monday in NYC since 1994. It is pretty much entirely the passion project of a guy named Salmon "Mac" Mcfarlane (who is definitely one of the more influential figures in USDNB apart from DJs/producers) and his wife. It is intended to be a worldwide networked family of junglists. According to the rules, if a chapter member is visiting another town with a chapter having an event, the visited chapter is supposed to automatically put the visitor on the lineup, although some chapters were better about that than others. Any junglists wishing to push the brand forward are usually given permission to start remote chapters in their cities, but very few last longer than a year or 2. At one point, there were 2 active chapters in TN as well as ones in Ohio, Detroit, and Minneapolis so we were doing a lot of exchanges then and hosting stages at festivals. Now, I believe NYC is the only active chapter at the moment, but I'm sure that will change again. My chapter was active from 2007 until the beginning of this year. DNB seems especially dead in Nashville atm, our monthly was getting only 15-25 people in Feb and March when 6 months to a year earlier it was usually at least 3x that number every month. All the old junglists in town have kids now and for some reason the younger cats are completely unreliable about attendance unless it's a well-recognized name. Currently I'm throwing 90s-style throwback raves that feature dnb/jungle heavily to try and keep things fresh.
Q7) In 2013 you joined the USA chapter of Marvellous Cain's RIQ Yardrock label and crew, being one of the only DJs not based on the West Coast to do so. You must of been proud?
A) Yes, that was definitely a personal highlight for me, especially talking to Marv via Skype for the first time, he's an awesome individual. I definitely wish we had utilized the YR USA crew more to facilitate US tours for Yardrock artists and collaborate with each other, but it's fairly hard with the distances between each other (esp for me who is 3x as far away as anyone else in the crew). However, because I'm in the crew I have a standing invitation to play on Keith Rinse-it's Yardrock Show on Kool London any time I'm in town and it's on-air. My first trip to England as a junglist was last year, by far the 2 biggest highlights of it for me were playing in the Kool studio and getting to chill in the Chopstick Dubplate studio watching Jacky Murda and Aries work on a remix with Congo Natty. I don't think either of those memories will ever leave me.
Q8) You've brought a lot of UK artists over to the USA. How important is it to you to push the sound over there?
A) It's VERY important to me, possibly the most important thing, especially currently. I do a lot of freelance event production gigs around Nashville (sound, lights, etc) which put me in semi-social situations with fairly accomplished and well-known producers, songwriters, musicians, etc. Almost everyone I have had the discussion with who knew what it is and kept an open mind tend to agree -- dnb/jungle is (and has been almost since it's inception) the cutting edge of music and among the most sophisticated subgenres out there. For some reason though, larger-scale US promoters (esp festival promoters) refuse to take a legit chance on DNB, and it's inadvertently killing the genre here, excruciatingly slowly. Most big festivals will book 4-5 decent names but then they're all grouped together on just one day on a secondary stage usually. Whenever there are big DNB acts on a main stage, the whole crowd usually goes nuts, but seems like most promoters are stuck in 2008 and can't comprehend that concept. Bottom line, if American junglists can't figure out a way to get the younger generations involved soon, I can easily foresee the DNB scene here becoming basically nonexistent in the next 15-20 yrs... Nashville has never overwhelmingly supported dnb shows but it has always had a decent following here. However, none of the other promoters in town would ever step outside their comfort zone when booking DNB shows... The only acts that got brought here repeatedly were the most well-known US DNB DJs (Dieselboy, AK1200, Dara), John B, and possibly someone with an old skool name draw like Aphrodite if he was touring. My goal was always to try and bring the names that I thought would bring something to Nashville that it had never seen before. Our best show so far was a multigenre 3 room show, with 2 of the most OG US junglists as main headliners -- R.A.W./6BLOCC playing a mixture of jungle and dubstep and Phantom 45 playing classic dnb vinyl. We had over 1100 people buy tickets to that one, I don't think there has ever been another show featuring dnb/jungle headliners in Nashville with anywhere close to those numbers... Usually the average attendance for a good DJ show here is 200-300 tops.
Q9) As a DJ, what is your preferred DJ set up?
A) I'm not sure that I have a preference anymore... I was strictly turntables/vinyl from 99 til 07, then switched to DVS, then a controller, now I have a Nexus setup at home. I like the Nexus stuff for it's universality but if I'm traveling I would probably prefer using my controller, simply for convenience. You never know what issues can pop up on gear that you don't use regularly, plus simply resetting all the variables on 3-5 Nexus pieces to your preference from that of the guy on before you can get really annoying. I usually bring 2-3 thumbdrives with me everywhere, with both Rekordbox playlists and regular music folders ready to go. If there's a chance the house setup will be less than professional, I usually bring either my controller or CDJs with me just in case. I still try to play my vinyl at least once or twice a month as well, even if it's just at home.
Q10) Can you tell us more about the mixing and scratching and your set with the Bluegrass band?
A) That was one of those things that kind of evolved from just saying "the hell with it, let's give it a shot!" I worked in the kitchen for 5-6 yrs at this deli that was also one of the more happening nightspots in town. At one point, Wednesday nights were the Holt Bros Bluegrass Band from 630-930 PM, followed by me DJing "college night" until close. One night I couldn't switch shifts and was going to be stuck in the kitchen until basically 10 min before I had to DJ, so I got to work early in the afternoon and set up my tables off to the side of the stage so I just needed to pull the table out for my show. The kitchen was super dead, so I ended up getting done 20-30 min earlier than I expected. My buddy Jeremy was the frontman of the Bluegrass band, and as I was checking to make sure everything was still plugged in, he asked if I wanted to jam with them. I'd never scratched over Bluegrass, but scratching is scratching and bluegrass rhythms aren't that different from jungle. The crowd dug it so much that the band asked if I wanted to play with them at this "new skool" Bluegrass festival later that summer. The festival crowd was a little less warm, but I still got a TON of handshakes and pats on the back afterward. I heard shortly thereafter that this turntablist I really admire named Mr Dibbs was doing something similar, only without DNB and using only battle records. I still have yet to hear of anyone else jamming bluegrass with jungle.
Q11) Why did a trip to Boomtown change your perspective of things?
A) Mostly because it's SO different from the standard festival template that gets used for 95% of US fests. The biggest difference is the level of cooperation between crews/sounds/etc. In America, everyone is working so hard to hold on to whatever tiny piece of the pie that they've managed to carve out for themselves that they are very reluctant to work with other crews, and when we do there is usually drama. At Boomtown, 2 club promoters from the same town who normally don't like each other much and compete all the time during the other 51 weekends a year can have a great time together because most of that bullshit is left outside. I've been to the majority of big US festivals at least once, and have a better understanding than most of what defines each of them. The best way I have been able to describe Boomtown to other American friends is "take your favorite thing from every US fest you've been to, combine them all, then add equal parts Renaissance Faire and Burning Man and imagine it as a town. Now imagine the entire lineup is your favorite genres of music instead of watered-down commercial garbage... It's kinda like that, only 100x better." You are crazy lucky if you stumble on good jungle or garage at any fest in the US. I am being completely honest when I say that if I was given a blank check and told I could organize my dream festival however I wanted, there is no way in hell I could come close to doing a better job than Boomtown. I took my gf this year, and even though she'd been skeptical through all my gushing about it over the previous year, she has been telling people the exact same thing since we got back, and she's trying to organize a huge group of us to go next year.
Q12) Who are your top 3 DJs?
A) Ugh... I had a feeling this would be in here. That's like a 2-3 page thesis in itself...
OK to narrow it down as much as possible, I'll say that these are my top 3 Jungle DJs, *at this moment in time.* My estimation on this subject tends to change based on current projects/mixes.
1) Randall (he's usually in my #1 slot, even if I don't get to see him play more than 1-2x a year)
Q13) Top 3 MCs?
A) 1) Top Cat
2) Tenor Fly
Q14) If you could take one tune on a desert island to only listen to forever over and over, what would it be and why?
A) Probably the Congo Natty remix of Jah is My Guide by Jah Cure. Something about the drum programming with the original vocals and the little kid samples never ever gets old to me. I still play the record in probably every other jungle vinyl set I play. Great mix of spirituality and hypeness.
Q15) If I gave you $20k what would you do with it and why?
A) I would probably try to move to the UK or Europe, I'm fairly over America on a lot of levels at the moment. For every good step forward we take, it seems like we have to take 8 steps back or to the side in order to counterbalance the progress.
Q16) If you had unlimited funds to throw a party, what would be your dream line up in your town?
A) I think I inadvertently answered this earlier, but in complete honesty it would basically be Boomtown, just not as well-executed, and with maybe a couple more badass US acts. Most of the acts on my dream lineup play there at least every other year, and the lineup only gets better every year.
Q17) Your most memorable moment?
A) When I first came to London in March 2016, I called Jacky Murda (who was one of the friends living there at the time I knew best) to see if he wanted to hang out. When I asked him what he was doing, he said "oh nothing, just hanging out in the studio with Rebel..." Kinda stupidly I was like, "Rebel? Do you mean Congo Natty, like Rebel MC?" and he laughed and asked if I wanted to come by. For a ragga jungle DJ I have to imagine that's basically the same situation as a guitarist getting asked if he wants to hang out with Eric Clapton or BB King and watch them work. That whole afternoon I was probably quieter than any other time I can think of (outside legal situations), just sitting and absorbing and enjoying the surreality. I've had a lot of random awesome situations happen to me through mostly circumstance, in terms of everyday junglism I'm not sure that any situation can ever top that, unless it's possibly sharing a stage with the man.
Q18) What are your goals and ambitions for the next 5 years?
A) I'm in the process of rehabilitating an older club sound system into a proper reggae-style rig, hopefully within the next 5 years I'll be running my own stage at medium-size fests, continuing to push sound system culture and jungle to the uncultured hillbillies in the SE USA and beyond. I also have a vague idea for this retail/venue space, but I don't think Nashville is quite ready to support something like that again.
Thanks for your time. Any shouts and thanks?
A) Thank YOU for the interview, I definitely enjoyed the stroll down memory lane. I definitely need to shout out my girlfriend, Emily... She's the majority of the reason this has been the best year of my life... I never really believed I would find a girl in Nashville who did more than tolerate jungle/dnb, much less one that would enjoy sharing my junglist tourism adventures, can't wait for the next one!!
Also just want to shout out any of the UK homies that have consistently taken care of me when I'm over who might possibly read this -- big ups all the Chopstick Dubplate and Born on Road crews: Jacky, Aries, Alex, Adam, Kelvin, Josh, and Stivs... I consider myself lucky to call you all friends. Utmost respect to the Yardrock crew, Marv and Keith especially. Large ups to my buddy Tom Dr Colossus who always comes thru in the clutch. Also big respect to my Scottish crew : Jamie B and his lady Jen, Stewart, Owen, Flo, Rich & the Electrikal crew, and all the rest of the Buckfasters. Can't wait to see everyone again next August!!!
Caleb Church/DJ Slinky
Interview By Missrepresent Dec 2017