Feature: Jon K

Picture of Jon K

Interview by Marc Kets

Jon K is a man with a prodigious knowledge of music that has made him the first port of call for many of Manchester's finest Djs and taste-makers when searching out music in his capacity as resident record slinger at Fat City. With a much lauded reputation for playing music from all four corners of the record shop cemented via his seminal and sadly currently dormant Eyes Down night as well as his residency at Friends & Family and guest slots at nights up and down the country he has recently embarked on a project to develop an agency that will provide music for television and film.

You're not originally from Manchester.

I'm from Leicester. I quite fancied Manchester because I had a few mates up here and knew the crack, also, my girlfriend at the time was coming to College up here and that put the idea in my head. That was in 94/95, so it's been about 12 years now.

Were you already involved in music at this point?

I used to sing in a band many years ago when I wasn't old enough to get into most of the venues we were playing but aside of that I got my first experience of putting on bands and doing club nights was when I was 17. There was a club in Leicester called the Fan Club, which was a place where there were all sorts of people and even though it was predominantly an indie club they had a pretty decent DJ who leant towards stuff like Sonic Youth & Steve Albini but who was also well into a lot of other stuff that you'd probably associate more with Dance clubs back then. It closed down quite suddenly and that was when a friend and I decided to throw some parties, we did three one-off events all with different names and design ideas. We'd be playing Punk stuff Husker Du, Bad Brains and Black Flag alongside Slick Rick, Public Enemy and The Beasties via more wacked out stuff like The Residents which was such a laugh because as good as the Fan Club had been, there were always tunes that we liked that never got played, in the case of Throbbing Gristle and some of the other shit we dropped that was probably for good reason, but because we were using the basement of a club that was normally dead + hammering it with punters they didn't give toss what we played. It was pretty naive really because we really didn't have any concept of towing the line or what might work on a dance floor - we were just a couple of schrotes playing our favourite tunes but it seemed to work.

When did you start at Fat City?

About six years ago now. On the whole, I really enjoy working there. Apart from the obvious perks, it's the interaction that makes it. I've never really got the moody record shop thing – but if I ever have had a bad day and been shitty with someone I always regret it, so I try not to go there! Another aspect that has become apparent recently, is the fact that so many record shops have closed down, meaning that serious vinyl heads are having to travel more now. I think that's taken a certain amount of arrogance out of the game because these days record shops are just happy to see punters coming through the door, but aside of that if you know that someone's got their arse out of bed and traveled an hour on the train to get to your shop, that's another reason to try and make the experience a pleasant one. It is genuinely rewarding when someone comes in wanting help and your able to get on their wavelength and there are a load of people that I consider as close friends now that I originally met through the shop. Before that I studied Visual Arts for a bit at Salford University, but ended up doing Multimedia Design, where I was doing mainly moving image/animation work which lead onto creating visual work for various events in town, but when I finished I did a few print based jobs for Manchester club nights & records labels, which got me on that path. Since then the majority of the Design work I've done has been print. From doing Design work for Players (RSL etc) Electric Chair, Breaking Cycles and the Eyes Down stuff with Jack and Gawain I now do most of the Fat City bits like the recent John Robinson, Eric Lau/Dudley Perkins & Broke'N'English releases with the Trusme LP being the current project.

What art or design really inspires you and more importantly gets your attention?

I grew up being exposed to Hip Hop/skateboard culture, which shaped me massively. When I was in my early teens there were a lot of older kids that I'd skate with and look up to that got me into all kinds of music and art but there are certain characters that really hit the nail on the head for me, people like Mark Gonzales, Espo, Eric Fischl, Vincent Gallo, Gerhart Richter, Reid Miles, Bill Viola and Glen Friedman amongst others. The main thing for me is the attitude/flavour for example none of those people just make nice images, it's their ideas that grab you. It's the same with music to a certain extent, I'm moved by things sonically but in most cases, songs really connect with me when they've got something to say. I guess in the case of people like Mark Gonzales or Tommy Guerrero it's true to say that I buzzed off the type of people they were, as much as what they actually did like the art or skating. Anyone with even a passing interest in the culture I mentioned should check for Glen Friedman's book 'Fuck you Heroes' - it's just music/Skateboard related photos from the 80's but it's dope and I always go back to it when I'm lounging about.

So when did you start Eyes Down?

About six or seven years ago, I met Kelvin at a skate park event we both got asked to play at, it wasn't the greatest success but we got to talking about music and shortly after that we played together at a crazy House party in Longsight that proved we were definitely on the same page musically. If I remember rightly the decks were in the kitchen and sofa's, work surfaces and sink became impromptu dancing areas - a good night. Then through a couple of mates, Gawain and Jack, we heard about a Friday night vacancy at Dry Bar in Manchester. I'd previously done some Film/Animation work for a night they did called Optical Funk where they had people like The Cinematic Orchestra and Pest playing live but really went to town on the visual side of things. So alongside Woody (aka the Nudge) we all teamed up and launched Eyes Down as a weekly that would showcase all kinds of music as well as visual arts. As time went on and we all got busier the visual side was overtaken by the music, but when we started there'd be video and 8mm projectors, allsorts really. I've got really fond memories of those early nights because we really used to pullout the stops with the decoration and visuals.

Now you're resident DJ at Friends & Family up here in Manchester.

Yep, I used to play there occasionally cause of my links to the shop but at the time I was doing Eyes Down every month, but since we put it on hold I've had more time. I've had some great nights there in the last year both at the Roadhouse and Mint Lounge. I think my favorite was when we had Steve Spacek live because it was one of those nights where you knew the crowd was going to go with a few surprises, TY at the Roadhouse was another good one too. It's fun doing Friends and Family as they already had quite an established sound, so the challenge is to interpret myself to that and make a mark, but on my terms, if you know what I mean.

You're starting a new project where you'll be sourcing music for television and film.

Yeah, basically the idea is to set up an agency that can be used by TV/Film-makers to help them find the right music for their work. It will essentially be myself and a guy called Sean Canty aka The Vinylment! who is notorious among record buying circles in Manchester. We're both into many different styles of music so we can cover a lot of ground that way but there are a lot of heavyweight collectors up here so we've got a network on hand to help out in certain situations. We're also developing a roster of cutting edge musicians and producers most of whom already release their own music who will be on hand to score bespoke pieces, so the aim is to be able to offer a creative and versatile service that will be able to cover pretty much, any style of music you might need but mainly specializing in areas that are less mainstream. So far so good, we have just worked with a BBC1 producer who was doing a short film about northern Ireland which was focusing on the Para-Military murals in Belfast. By some they're viewed as a proud part of their history, whereas others see them as a grim reminder of the troubles that are irrelevant in 2007. The music needed to enhance quite powerful sentiments and emotions whilst fitting the Irish theme so it was a real challenge to do that with subtlety. You have no idea how many people we spoke to who suggested using Simple minds 'Belfast child'! One of the pieces that worked best was by the Cellist Yo-Yo Ma, it was taken from an LP of interpretations of early American folk music which all had Irish elements in it and it had a bit of a jig to it but was really powerful and somber at the same time. I'd gone round to discuss another project with a classical dude called Danny Norbury and when he played that to me I felt like dancing round the room cause I knew it'd be perfect for the Murals film. Other bits that worked well were Smog's 'Cold Blooded old times' and Sinead o' Connor's cover of 'Throw down your Arms' by Burning Spear. We've got a lot of work ahead of us to develop it the way we want but it definitely feels like things are going in the right direction. The name hasn't been cemented as yet but the work in progress is - 'SnipSnap', the name of a Goblin track we’re both fond of that got used on an Italian soundtrack so it's relevant and catchy plus there's an indulgent Nerd factor there as well! Regarding the project it's probably worth mentioning that we're going to be getting quite pro-active in terms of searching out projects that need music so any musicians or producers reading this that are looking to make moves in that field should drop us a line on jon@eyesdown.net or thevinylment@googlemail.com.

Jon plays regularly at Friends & Family Manchester as well as guesting at various nights up and down the United Kingdom. www.eyesdown.net www.fatcity.co.uk Photo by Rachel Mcfarlane

Marc Kets, Aug 2007

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