First up I had a chat with Jamie Lang, aka Agent J, a guy who has been an integral part of the Manchester hip hop scene for years and one of the contributors to some of the most memorable nights I have had in the city, especially that time I lost my mind whilst watching Raekwon at Antwerp Mansion.
Why don’t you check out one of his mixes whilst you have a read…
Here’s what he had to say…
Nanny: How’s things going at the moment? Busy with gigs?
Agent J: Yo! Things are bubbling nicely, thanks. Summer’s been steady and I had the pleasure of playing at Moovin’ Festival recently which had a lovely vibe.
Nanny: How long have you been djing for? how did you end up getting in to it?
Agent J: In Manchester, for around a decade. I got started in the city when Dave Payne at Funkademia asked me to play soul-sampling hip hop at Zumeba on Oxford Road, for the Northern Funk night on Fridays. That led to working with the sadly-missed Fat City record shop, and scheduling their DJs for bar sessions.
University saw me join the line up on pirate radio station Phantom FM over in Lancaster, which was always unpredictable. Never have a radio aerial in your house. Before that, I scratched up my ma’s Motown compilations on her belt drive deck, but knew there must be life beyond rubber slipmats.
I co-ran a community-oriented hip hop night called In The Loop for a while, for its longest incarnation at the Roadhouse: DJ A-UP and I on the decks, and hosted by the nicest guy ever, Bedos. That was the best. Cyphers on the dance floor, often with either The Mouse Outfit or 8 Gold Rings as house band, people performing their first raps, cheering each other on and generally going sick.
Nanny: What sort of stuff do you play?
Agent J: In my head, everything I play has hip hop as its nucleus since hip hop can sample anything… so it all comes back to that. Classic hip hop, Latin American styles, funk, 70s and 80s soul, post-hip hop beat scene stuff, bass music, soundtracks, jazz, and a lot of stuff from independent UK labels which circle those genres. The beauty of modern music is that a lot of it refuses to be pigeonholed, so I try to get it all interconnected when playing.
Nanny: Where are your regular gigs? Is it bars or is it a mix of clubs and gigs, residence?
Agent J: I’ve got current regular spots at food fair Grub, Northern Quarter bar PLY and a Groovement night at Hold Fast, which ends up feeling like a club because it’s a basement venue. I’m a resident go-to guy at Band On The Wall too. Aside from that, I chase warm up slots for artists I like.
Nanny: Where’s the weirdest place you’ve played?
Agent J: An allotment, in the rain. I used to work with Orange Rockcorps, where people did charity work in exchange for gig tickets. This job was tidying allotments out, but I was surrounded by high bush walls while everyone tidied the allotments around me. Three hours of lonely staring at soil.
Nanny: Who have you shared the stage with, what’s the one you’re most proud of?
Agent J: I’ve warmed up for RZA, Raekwon, Norman Jay, Ghostface, DJ Format, Lamb, Lee Fields, Talib Kweli, Ultramagnetic MCs, Jungle Brothers, Shabazz Palaces, Quantic, African Salsa Orchestra and Ata Kak to name a few. Some of those were as a trio with A-UP and Bedos as In The Loop.
I’m probably most proud of supporting Marlena Shaw at Band On The Wall a few years back. She had a bad hip so had warned the audience that she was doing California Soul as an encore without going off and returning, but I still got booed as my head popped up when she didn’t come on. Luckily a little salsa turned the boos into whoos. To play with an absolute legend like that was amazing, and she was really sound and showbiz when I bugged her to sign my record.
Nanny: Where’s your favourite place to play in Manchester and why?
Agent J: Sound system wise, Band On The Wall. In terms of something special though, Grub is a winner for me. The people that run it are relentlessly positive and encourage nice vibes, and this is reflected in the clientele who are happy be exposed to all kinds of music.
Nanny: You’ve been about a fair bit, what’s the biggest change you have noticed in people’s tastes in the city?
Agent J: Most noticeably for me is getting reactions to playing music by artists I considered too leftfield for average tastes: the likes of Thundercat and some of that LA beat scene stuff, for instance. People having great, non-mainstream taste is always a nice surprise, and gives you peace of mind when trying to push new, underground music – DJs should be tastemakers, not jukeboxes.
Nanny: Tell us about Groovement?
Agent J: Groovement started as a show on Unity Radio in late 2007, thanks to station DJs Mikey DON and Lady Jay both putting a word in for me. I recruited a different club night or collective every Sunday afternoon to share their vibe. From then I started interviewing for the show, and started up a blog to try and keep track of all that. Nowadays I try and push new music on there: check it at groovement.co.uk. My DJ name’s Agent J, but people started using Jamie Groovement so that’s an aka.
Nanny: Any big shows coming up?
Agent J: Next BOTW thing for me is playing Don Lett’s Carnival Sound night, warming up for him and Grooverider, who’ll be doing a carnival DnB set. There’s also a day festival at Hidden coming up I’m playing at. That’s called Love For The Streets and aims to raise awareness of homelessness. In October I’ll be playing in Sheffield and London as part of the Gondwana label’s tenth anniversary celebrations.
Nanny: Apart from live stuff, do you do any radio or podcast?
Agent J: I record the Groovement podcast at home, whenever I get the time which is rare between a toddler and the amount of work you bring home as a teacher. Radio-wise, I’m part of the Battlestar Mancunia crew who have a weekly Thursday night on Reform Radio – that’s hip hop, beats and soundtrack stuff – and also co-host the Gondwana Records show with Matthew Halsall who runs the label. That’s jazz, electronica and hip hop. I joined him over summer for a slot on Worldwide FM too, to rep some Manchester artists.
Battlestar Mancunia Crew
Nanny: Any other bits you do?
Agent J: I also write for Bonafide and Now Then magazines, which were both physical entities until recently. I write for weekly club listings for Manchester Wire, and I’ve hosted panels for Eventbrite and Mixcloud. A couple of years back I hosted a Red Bull lecture with DJ Premier and Royce Da 5’9’’. I’m hosting a panel on animation in Doctor Who at the Vworp convention at the Printworks on 9 September. I’ve written sleeve notes for Cypress Hill and Mocambo Records, and am currently working on an album cover which may or may not see the light of day. By day I teach primary, which is the most rewarding job in the world.
Nanny: If you could go back to back with one Manchester DJ past or present who would it be and why?
Agent J: Jonny Dub. He’s the only DJ who can make me dance involuntarily. His enthusiasm for music in infectious and he has one of the most genuine souls I’ve encountered.
Nanny: Who are your top 3 DJs in Manchester at the moment, who should we be looking out for?
Agent J: Well, I’ve got four, sorry!
Katbrownsugar: her selections are warm, soulful, fresh and futuristic.
Andrea Trout: chooses her tunes methodically and loves to share beautiful disco and soul – she’s ultra humble but has impeccable taste
SNO: just slays every party she plays, and reminds me of salsa king Timber in that she jumps into the crowd and dances to her own tunes. She’s been blowing people’s minds at festivals over summer.
Ms Puerto Rico: educates me in Latin music both classic and modern, and helps me get over my flashbacks at being dragged up to dance at Chilean parties when I was little. Catch her De Rumba show on Reform.
Nanny: Any shout out?
Agent J: Shouts to Reform Radio, who continue to do an amazing job of bringing local talent to the airwaves. And shouts to all the MCR DJ crew who battle to play the city good music every weekend in the face of dire adversity. Be kind to your DJ!