As Warriors of the Dystotheque prepare to release their debut album, The Waveform Transmitter talks to Jonny Mac, of the band, and offers the latest in our Waveform Mix Series.
The brainchild of Irish DJ Jonny Mac, Warriors of the Dystotheque have grown substantially in the year since we last caught up with them. They came together through the anti-Social network, Fakebook with a love of lo-fi music and electronic DJ culture to become, as BBC Radio 6 doyen, Nemone, laments are her “…favorite purveyors of Gloomtronica”. That said, their style has no limit: 60’s Garage Rock, Breaks, Jazz, Chillout, House and Techno; pretty much anything that opposes the mainstream, beige clichés of modern music inspire them.
The band are composed of Jonny, Sean, and The Brothers Nylon; Mike and Nick Rufolo, and their backgrounds have fed into a decade of touring gigs and collaborations with acclaimed artists from such bands as Orbital, The Prodigy, The Happy Mondays, Pop Will Eat Itself, EMF, Shawn Lee and many more. Their new album, ‘Method in The Madness’ draws on that myriad of inspirations and experience to submerse the listener into their kaleidoscope world of broken beats, soulful vocals and hooks.
With a 10-year career as a Breaks DJ and promoter, Jonny Mac (helped in part by bandmate and fellow DJ, Sean) returns to Waveform Transmitter with a retrospective mix stuffed full of classics, bootlegs and e-moments from a long gone, but much missed musical genre. We sent our intrepid reporter, Simon Huxtable to find out a little more about Jonny and the band, the new album and drinking Tequila with The Happy Mondays!
Waveform: Hi Jonny, great to see you again, man. How’s tricks?
WotD: All good my man, it’s great to see ya again and Happy New Year!
Waveform: Aww thanks Jonny, Happy New Year to you! So, the album is finally ready! Has the process been a stressful one? What’s been your biggest learning curve?
WotD: Stressful?! Yeah it has. And it would appear more than I had thought as my hairdresser pointed out on Tuesday that my right side of my head has got loads more silver than a few weeks back, ha!
As for learning, it’s been the whole process really cause back when the WotD project began I switched from Cubase to Logic DAW-wise, so I’ve been learning track by track. Plus, the actual song structure has to be approached in a different manner than the usual dancefloor formula you apply in the studio to tracks. So overall, it’s been really fulfilling.
Waveform: Good to hear, mate. The album press release goes into quite a lot of detail about each of the tracks. For nerds like me, that’s really interesting to read about your creative process. But which of the tracks, in your opinion, came together the quickest and why d’you think that was?
WotD: Well some of them took months due to the nature of the process; with each track doing a few laps of the globe in stem format. We all add parts before getting it on the desk between Sean and myself to do the final arrangements and production.
So out of the eleven tracks on the album, the one we finished quickest was ‘The Future Is Ours’ due to it being more of a slo-mo techy dance track, and I guess it’s the only real nod to the club / dancefloors on the album. It looks like all the years of DJ sets and being in clubs has sunk in and taught me the process of the dance style tracks.
Waveform: You mention there about being spread across a couple of continents. When it comes to writing new tracks who takes the lead?
WotD: Ninety percent of the time it’s me. I lay down some beats and get a groove going with maybe some pads, it’s never the same approach to be honest. Sometimes it’s having listened to the something like Cinematic Orchestra, Hot Chip or Toydrum; maybe having caught a movie and heard a cool speech. Some of the new material we have on the go at the moment, for instance, was started after a visit to the Boathouse Restaurant in Donegal overlooking the River Foyle on a sunny day.
I then send it to the guys in New York who get busy with a whole array of instruments from full string pieces to dope bass clarinet then cool guitar fx or Rhodes. Actually, all sorts can, and have, turned up back here in stems – it’s like a musical lucky dip! Then, Sean adds some trickery and I usually do most of the arrangements and we mix it down and Sean masters them. Oh, and I nearly forgot, we then have all our guest vocalists getting in on the act with melodies, lyrics and vocals.
Waveform: A pretty fluid thing then. No wonder BBC 6 loves you! How did you break into their playlist? With a radio plugger or DIY?
WotD: We uploaded the first EP to the BBC Uploader and Across the Line on BBC Ulster picked up on the release and played a lot of it and made it ‘Track of the Day’. They also had me in for an interview, though strangely, they haven’t really got behind the album which is a shame. I also had James Atkin from 90’s indie band, EMF to do a remix of ‘Hashtag’ and he delivered a really ace liquid D&B remix which Phil Taggart at BBC Radio 1 picked up and gave a few spins on his Sunday night show.
We did the same with the second EP – ‘Return to Coney’ – but I decided to roll the dice on that one and got Jay Cox from On a Plate to plug the EP and it was picked up by several stations, the biggest being BBC 6 Music and Nemone. Since this, Nemone has reached out with her personal details, as did a few others, so we are DIY since really, which has worked out with major support from Huey on 6 Music, more from Phil on Radio One, also Dan at RTE2FM and XM.
I’m actually in for an Interview with Dan on the 25th January, so keep those ears peeled! Then more ATL and also in Derry from my local BBC station Foyle, with Stephen McCauley really getting behind us and having me in just last week for a great interview on his Electric Mainline Show. It seems that roll of the dice was worth it.
Waveform: No doubt it’s a massive ego boost hearing your music on national radio. Can you remember what you were doing the first time it happened?
WotD: Yes, very well. And not just because it was our first major play of an original track, but because of where I was.
I was actually in Krakow in Poland and I had gotten a text on the morning they played it. I’d flown out the day before for a few days break and was actually getting ready to go to visit Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration camp. They told me Nemone was sitting in on the Shaun Keaveny Show on BBC 6 Music that morning, and she had planned to play it, so I was pretty excited.
Later that day, I went to Auschwitz and came away very moved. So much so that I actually wrote a track called ‘Into the Trees’ about the experience. For miles around the camps it’s just lined with trees and I could actually imagine the prisoners having made it out of the camp and having to run for their lives through miles of forests… Harrowing stuff really.
Waveform: I wanted to talk a bit about your life before the band. I hear you spent many nights during the Happy Mondays tour drinking tequila with Bez. Bet that ended well…
WotD: Hmmmmm…let me just google the meaning of ‘Well’!! Oh, surprisingly, it doesn’t say disorder or mayhem!! Haha…I used to really love tequila before that tour, but after I got back off the road and a few weeks later I was booked to play at Spectrum at The Bomb in Nottingham – a superb Breaks night.
The promoter, Pete Jordan, is a good friend of mine and knowing my liking for tequila, he called me to the bar and lined a few up before my set. I got the shot glass within smelling distance and turned to the side of the bar and threw up! I’ve never been able to drink it since. So, as much fun as I had with my man Bez, it cost me my love of tequila. There were a few Mondays for a month or so that weren’t too happy!
Waveform: Haha, that sounds proper rock and roll!! Looking back, would you change anything from those times?
It was ace. They were the best of times and I met some great, crazy and fun people and had so much fun and laughs I could write a book, but I’d best not because I don’t wanna be responsible for any divorces, lawsuits and record collections getting smashed up!
I’d do it all again tomorrow if I could, but approach it all differently now as I’ve knocked the partying on the head which is why I guess I’m about to release this album with my band. Oh, and I’ve gotta say out of all the people I’ve met and spent time with, Bez is by far the most genuine guy outta them all. A total gent.
Waveform: Over that time, you also toured with Orbital, I guess that was more tea and biscuits than tequila and hookers, right?!
WotD: Ha ha…well I don’t like tea much! But I’m sure you and the readers know the how to finish this saying, “What goes on tour…”
Waveform: All joking aside, do you think the contacts you made then have been the difference between the band succeeding and growing so quickly?
WotD: You’d maybe think that’s a yes, but I can say that for this project I’ve not hit up one person who actually was involved in my DJ and promoting days bar Graham Crabb from Pop Will Eat Itself who is a friend from those days. He wasn’t directly involved in the scene, so I met him through Richard March from Bentley Rhythm Ace who was also in PWEI.
This is totally all just new hard graft. It actually feels like the best I’ve done because of that reason, it’s nice to have gotten this recognition without the help of any of my old buddies. It’s nice to know we’re capable of delivering on the same scale as all the other hard-working artists out there, without any casting couch or ghost writer action. Also, it’s not just a few guys sat with Logic and a bunch of plugins, there’s an awful lot of live instrumentation going on.
Waveform: Tell us about being a breaks DJ, working with band mate Sean in the Midlands. I hear you were influenced by many of the early ‘90s stars like Meat Beat Manifesto, The Chems and Massive Attack. How did their music inform your DJ sets?
WotD: I was in Dundee for a few months prior to settling in Coventry. During that time, I had started a Big Beat/ Breaks night called Frequency at Dundee University and my first guest was Andy Smith from Portishead, then a few weeks later I had Derek Dahlarge and followed that with Bentley Rhythm Ace – so a bit of fanboy booking of my favs in the early days!
After BRA DJ’d, we went back to my apartment and partied all night. They’re from Birmingham and I was due to move to Coventry (only a few miles away from them) in a few weeks but they kept at me to move down the following day and come to meet them as they were DJing in Birmingham the following night. I initially said no, but as the night went on I convinced myself it was a good idea and was in Brum the following day. It turned out to be the best move I made as I met Graham from PWEI and many others who I forged great friendships with over the next 15 years.
It still blows my mind though because I was a massive massive Poppies fan back when I lived in Northern Ireland in the late 80’s and early 90’s. Never did I imagine I’d be partying with them and hanging out with them in general! I even went to Graham’s wedding and holidays.
My Frequency night in Coventry was at the Colosseum. I’ve all the top breaks, hip hop, D&B and big beat guest coming over the years and I met Sean early on in the club when he was working behind the bar – he kept making sure he was working in the side room of the club where I ran my nights – he was also in my class at college where we both studied music technology, so we got to know each other well from there and he became one of residents at Frequency.
I went on to run Frequency in Leicester as well, in an old 3 story warehouse bought by the guys who owned the Colosseum. The bottom floor held about 300 max and it was only thirty minutes back down the M69 to home. It also only had a 1am license, so I’d book all the acts to do Leicester early, then jump in a car and straight to Coventry to get back on around 2am. I brought DJ Dexter (Avalanches) from Australia to do both shows and he was one of the standouts of all the guests, although Kid Koala Live was something else.
That was in The Sanctuary in Birmingham (the Colosseum had bought that as well) and again it was only 20 mins from Coventry, so we were having it right off in the Midlands during those days. I remember booking Leeroy Thornhill (The Prodigy) for what was pretty much his first DJ gig in years. He’d just left the band and I got him to play two shows, firstly with my good friend Mylz who was running his Heducation nights at the Medicine Bar in legendary Custard Factory in Birmingham, and then for Frequency.
We stayed close and after I had toured with The Happy Mondays (and drunk way too much tequila!) We were approached by Lisa Lashes & Dan Prince from Mixmag to host the back room in Eden in Ibiza, where Lisa was gonna be beginning her 15-week Lashed residency. It went really well. We did pre-parties in the day at Coastline then over to Savannah for a few hours, then Bar M around midnight before crossing the road to Eden to rip it up big time, Lisa and Anne Savage where vibing off the breaks so much they usually joined us in the back room and ended up spinning some breaks as well!
Oh yeah, back to the question! Musically I’d been heavily into Meat Beat Manifesto, Nitzer Ebb, The Chemical Brothers, Massive Attack, Portishead and of course PWEI, as well as some darker stuff like Therapy, Helmet, Rage Against the Machine and the like, so I wasn’t just going down the road of keeping it locked into one sound on the dancefloor. I’d take risks and drop RATM in the middle of sets.
Most breaks clubbers were a bit more leftfield thinking that those who just loved the straight up 4/4 sounds of techno and house music, so this tended to wreck dancefloors and mayhem followed! I loved seeing it, too many DJs think they are governed by rules of the genres they play. I say, fuck that shit, do what ya want, and have some fun. Fuck the rules!
Waveform: For those that weren’t around then, talk us through a typical breaks night. How did the music soundtrack the night? What were the standout tracks then?
WotD: Like I said, it wasn’t like we had a strict policy on what was being played. So early on you could be hearing old school hip-hop and even some nice DnB, then into breaks. But I’ve heard, and dropped, techno, old skool rave, rock and even Indie. Standouts for me were anything by the Plump DJ’s, Hybrid, Freestylers, Koma & Bones, Rennie Pilgrem on labels like Finger Lickin’, TCR, and Against the Grain.
Tracks wise on my mix, ‘True to Form’, ‘Twisted Streets’ and ‘Big Groovy Fucker’ were huge for me. I also made a bootleg with Tom from the Autobots of one of my all-time fav tracks – ‘Smokebelch II’ by the Sabres of Paradise. I’m sure most of the old school readers will recall it, it was a serious end of the night classic. One track I didn’t put on the mix, and to be honest I don’t know why, because it was more than likely the biggest track I ever played, was the Rennie Pilgrem remix of Zero – ‘Emit Collect’. That did some serious damage!
The great thing about breaks was the crowd were always up for anything, so you had people who had a broad taste of music getting down and not worrying about who the designer of the shirt they had on was, or how much their high heels cost. It was just a big party. Just the way it should be.
Waveform: Let’s get back to the album. There’s a massive tempo range across the tracks, in terms of playing live, do you plan a show in the same way you would programmed a DJ set?
WotD: This is, and always will be, a tricky one for us with the band being all over the world. But we are working towards getting together after Easter for a few weeks to thrash out a live show and then hitting the road. As for programming a live set, I’d say yes. We would start with the slower material and build it up and twist it a bit as it goes on.
Some of the tracks have a good groove going on so we just do a harder, edgier live version and make it go off a little bit more that the studio versions. This is something I actually can’t wait to do, it’s really exciting.
Waveform: The album is released on January 26th. What do you have planned leading up to the release day?
WotD: Well, this last year we haven’t really released much, because of focusing on this album. So, we decided to get 250 copies pressed onto vinyl and got a distributor in to get it across all the top indie record stores across the UK and Ireland, as well as direct through our Facebook and Bandcamp pages.
I’ve been doing interviews and general press bits for the last few weeks so this Thursday – a week before the album comes out – I’m off to Lanzarote for a week to relax, I think I’ll be a nervous wreck sat at home waiting for it to drop.
Saying that, the moment I get home and off the plane, on the Thursday evening I’ve to race to Donegal for an interview on RTE 2 radio but that’s what it’s all about I guess. Oh, and keep an eye out over the next weeks for the video we have done for ‘Monsters at the Gates’ – it’s a 360-degree Virtual Reality video, so strap those headsets on and get involved!
Waveform: Right, I think that’s a perfect place to stop. Jonny, as always, it’s been my distinct pleasure! On behalf of everyone at The Waveform Transmitter, can I be among the first to congratulate you on the album and wish you the very best of luck. …time for a beer?
WotD: Of course! Make mine a Guinness. But let’s skip on the tequila chaser, my Mondays are good at the moment! Hahaha!
Thanks for taking the time to hook up with me and making this happen, as always, it’s been a pleasure.
You can take a listen to the Warriors of the Dystotheque Waveform Mix, below this one will blow your roof off, so make sure you batten down the hatches, it’s about to get heavvvvy. (Tracklist below stream)
WotD Breaks Mix – Jonny Mac
Hybrid – True to Form
John Creamer & Stephane k – I Love You – Koma & Bones Remix
PMT – Gyromancer
Koma & Bones – Twisted Streets
Crystal Method – You Know It’s Hard
Plump DJs – Big Groovy Fucker
JDS – Purple Funky Monkey
Orbital – One Perfect Sunrise – Jonny Mac & Alex Che Remix
Sabres of Paradise – Smokebelch – Jonny Mac & Tom Autobot Remix
JDS – Nine Ways – Plump DJ’s Remix
Joey Beltram – Energy Flash – Rennie Pilgrim Remix
Christian J – Party People
WotD Breaks Mix – Sean Graham
Freestylers ft. Pendulum & Sir Real – Painkiller (Ed Solo & Skool Of Thought Remix)
Aquasky vs Masterblaster – Wheels of Steel
Dogtown Clash – West Londons Burning (Beat Assassins Remix)
Paradox 3000 – Ska Fever
Arrow – Does (original mix)
Plump DJs – System Addict (Original)
Dopamine – Hold You
The Autobots – This World
Anti-science – More Distinct
DJ Mutiny – Move