Sound system culture, acid house, and the summer of 1988 illustrates the atmosphere of Aphrodite, the name of a Warwickshire club owned and operated by Gavin King. Those days mark the beginning of an incredible journey for Mr. King, who 27 years later is deemed as a pioneer of the drum and bass sound. Gavin King is DJ Aphrodite, king of the beat, and junglist legend.
Now, between running Aphrodite Records, and being a full-time DJ, producer, father, and boyfriend, Gavin’s days are absolutely filled, “I need 48 hours in a day and I still wouldn’t be able to do everything. That’s just being a full time parent. We live off coffee.”
With 30 years of experience in the music industry, Gavin King shares with us a variety of insight into the most prominent moments of his career, the realities of the modern music industry, and a personal perspective on the music listeners and party-goers of today.
How does the vibe or energy from UK crowds in the early drum and bass years of the 90’s differ from what you experience DJing for global crowds today?
It’s the same. People just go off to drum and bass. What I do in my sets, I tend to play music spanning over the last 20 years. You can recue the old tracks or re-master the old things to get them up. I play three decks now; I started doing it about three years ago. When I was playing two vinyl’s there was enough power in vinyl to fill my set. When I went to two CDs I couldn’t get the energy out of two CD players. There’s no science or logic behind it, it’s just feeling. When I went to three or four decks even, I got the energy.
Many DJs will still play ‘vinyl only’ sets, especially artist like you who experienced the shift from analogue to digital in the more senior stages of their career. What made you switch to a three CDJ set up?
I haven’t played vinyl for years and I won’t play vinyl. Very little I play is on vinyl so there’s no point. The other thing about vinyl is it’s a dead medium for me because when you travel around the set ups can be so varied. I would say only 1/10 vinyl set ups are actually playable. When I was still playing vinyl, I’ve turned up at places where they’ve said, “Oh we got your technics!” I get to the decks and there are two CD players and the two technics are sitting in their box, unsound checked. You can’t do anything with that because vinyl is very temperamental. So, if you’re relying on vinyl and traveling around a lot like me… there’s no point.
MCs play such a dynamic role in generating hype from crowds at drum and bass shows. From a DJ standpoint, what’s it like to collaborate with an MC?
I like being able to hear the MC, if I can hear the MC I can work with the MC. Sometimes it’s much more difficult to mix when you have the MC coming through the monitors. That’s why most DJs don’t like it but I’ve been doing it long enough and actually prefer when the DJs come through the main monitors. You change things; if the MC has something rolling then you can delay the mix, or pull down your volume slightly so when he finishes his long sentence you whack it back in. You just create more and more energy that way.
It’s now ubiquitous to have an MC working alongside the DJ at drum and bass, jungle, and breakbeat shows. How did this pairing originate?
I don’t know, I think it came from the sound system guys. The first time I heard MCs with the music was about 1990, when some of the sound system guys were still playing acid house. Then the hardcore break beats came in. The first MC I got into was the Hardcore General from Raindance a long time ago.
Over the 25 + years you’ve been DJing, is there a moment that stands out to you as being the most epic experience of all?
Mickey and I played the last act of the weekend in the Glastonbury Festival dance tent in 2001. It was a massive crowd, about 30, 000 people, with the world’s largest marquee and the crowd around all the sides. Enormous. I was shaking like a leaf putting my first record on. I was like what the hell am I going to do here. We were playing three records each, so what I had in my mind and what we both did, was out of the three records we would play one that was a really big dancefloor killah. It was an immense moment, and was the last time I was nervous.
What do you see as a major difference in the music industry now, compared to when you were starting out?
The biggest problem the music industry has is that it’s becoming less of a career [for producers/DJs] and more of a hobby. The problem there is that you can question whether there’ll be the same amount of great music made.
How has the fast-paced digital age changed the way music is being produced, distributed and consumed today?
Albums don’t get listened to anymore. People pick a track out and will listen to that track, the rest of the album gets forgotten… even if it’s a good album. A lot of things are always about the playlists but the only way you get into an album is if you repeat it 10-20 times. If you have an album you might think “Yeah I love track three”, but after another 30 plays track three isn’t your favourite anymore, now it’s track seven. That happened a lot with the big rock bands; Pink Floyd for example wouldn’t exist in today’s music industry. I think it’s sad because they made some good music, however we had to wait five years between albums. The music industry today wouldn’t support an artist that sits in their studio waiting around for the inspiration. Labels want it now or you can go get another job.
If people aren’t listening to albums anymore, how are fans able to connect to artists?
It’s a different way of things and a lot more is based upon live shows. People get their fix of an artist by seeing them live these days. When I grew up I got my fix from an artist by buying their album. I’d buy their album and would have a huge album cover with loads of things to read, loads of things that I could touch and feel. You don’t get that from buying an mp3. You get that feeling if you go see them play and take a selfie or something. That happens a lot. I DJ a lot more now than I did when I was selling those records, there are loads more festivals going on now then there ever was. People have the same amount of money that they want to spend on music but they don’t spend it on records anymore. It’s both good and bad… it’s just the way the industry is and you can’t fight it.
Is that why it’s pretty much necessary now to be both a DJ and producer, needing to first put out tracks in order to get booked at clubs or festivals?
No, I mean there are a few DJs that are famous for being DJs, Andy C is one and myself. Yeah, I made tracks but I haven’t made them for a long time. It’s rare. In a sense you’re right, you have to be a producer first. But the problem with that is not necessarily great producers make great DJs and not necessarily great DJS make great producers. As far as DJing is concerned there is also a big argument that says the DJs from my generation are “left DJs” and are as good as they are from being able to read the crowd and play the right track at the right time. It’s nothing to do with how you are as a DJ but how the medium of the DJ controls you. Now you don’t have a big crate of vinyl to sift through; you have two USB sticks and a little screen, which doesn’t allow you the same type of rummaging to be spontaneous even if you wanted to be. You get a lot of DJs formulating their sets, pre-planning their set with 20 tracks.
How do you go about selecting tracks “in the moment”?
I start with two or three in my mind, then see what happens. For example, last week I played in Bristol and yesterday in Toronto, and about 30% of the tracks were the same but everything else was just really different.
What track were you most happy about that really went off when you played in Toronto?
I was very pleased that the first two rewinds were two tracks that I’ve made that are still unreleased. One of them just came out actually; it’s called “Assignment Space”, that was just the 62nd release on Aphrodite Records. It’s great… to get a rewind on your own track is brilliant.
For those who heard DJ Aphrodite play “Assignment Space” in Toronto, the track can be purchased here. To catch Aphrodite in your own city, keep up-to-date with tour announcements from the man himself.