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Mickey Duke talks to Justin ‘TopRock’ Mckenzie about all things Jazz Re:freshed

Justin, how you doing?
Hi, yeh, I’m good. Just busy with some last minute running’s but I’m cool.

You & Adam are old school heads of the London clubbing scene, you started Jazz Re:freshed in 2003, what came first the, the night, or the label?
The night. Yeh, the label came about organically around 5, or 6 years later.

This was in Notting Hill?
Yeh, Ladbroke Grove, Notting Hill area of West London. It was one of many nights, we weren’t Jazz Re:freshed then we are actually part of another crew called ‘Uprock’ doing Hip-Hop, Soul & Broken beat. We started a Jazz night really, as a release as DJs for somewhere to be able to play our Jazz records. It then grew into what you see now.

You mentioned Broken beat and I know the CoOp night was still going strong at Plastic People then and the scene seemed strong overall, at least in London. Did you guys see the focus shifting and was that partly the reason for you starting a Jazz night?
To be fair – and that’s a good question – we didn’t look to focus on the Jazz scene, because we were from all different kinds of backgrounds in Music, when we started Jazz Re:freshed we didn’t want to start a night for people in the Jazz scene, we did it for us and for those people in our scene, who might appreciate what we do and we kept that philosophy all the way through. There was a period a couple of years on where we tried to reach out to the Jazz organisations and they weren’t interested. We then decided not to try and ‘preach to the choir’ we are going to go out and showcase the music and the bands to people who were in our scene already. We’re definitely more in tune with and working alongside the Jazz scene now but when we started and probably for the first 10 years we weren’t really that connected, Musicians, yes, but the actual Jazz scene, not really. Broken & CoOp scene, the Hip-Hop and Soul scene, that was really where our heads were at and the people within that was who we looked to connect with at that time. The Broken beat scene for us was a massive influence and that includes the musicians within the scene also.

I mentioned the scene still being strong in London at that time but I was promoting in the West Midlands and it was then that we started to struggle, there was a negative shift in club land; clubs being closed etc. I then moved to Brighton in 2006 and it seemed that the bottom had completely dropped out of club land down here. Did you get that in London or was it sustained with the new movements in the city such as Jazz, Dubstep and Grime for instance?
No, it’s a familiar subject. A lot of the big clubs in London have gone. It’s kind of a weird one because when you exist on the fringes of a music scene away from the mainstream in a funny way you enjoy a more nuanced experience. You go to niche places because mainstream clubs aren’t putting you on, you find these little spots like Café Mau Mau for instance, which we found and what started out as a bar but is now a live music venue. It started to creep into little bars next to blocks of flats and whatnot, it’s happened all over. Yeh, club land in London has definitely suffered, there has been resurgence but there has had to be a lot of creativity as to where nights are being put on but because of the gentrification people isn’t having clubs in their area. The music is moving on and there are still places to go but the problems are still the same.

London as the capital obviously remains ahead of the game with regards to music and back when you guys were starting it would have also seen the shoots of the emerging Dub step and grime scene, as well as the more established Jazz musicians we know now emerging on to the scene too, that must have been an exciting period?
I will always maintain that the Broken beat scene back from the late 90’s and coming forward remains the most exciting new music scene of my lifetime. Before that we were playing Hip-Hop, Soul and mainly a lot of old school stuff, we were still into Rare Groove, as well as the newer more conscious Hip-Hop and Neo Soul music. Daz-I-Kue from Bugz In The Attic was part of our DJ crew in Uprock, he kind of created Uprock as a Hip-Hop wing of what he was doing with Bugz. We were going to meet Daz in the Bugz studio and we were listening to music they were producing that hadn’t actually got a name then, there was no Broken Beat at that time, we were like ‘What is this!?’ This music touched every sensibility that we had, Hip-Hop, Soul, Jazz, House and Techno, whatever it was Broken Beat seemed to have it. It was a very exciting time. On about it being a London thing, people talk about it being just Londoners making this music, which is only true to an extent. Kaidi Tatham is one of the main players and influences and he is from Birmingham. Maybe the main scenes gravitate towards London but really it’s a brain drain from the rest of the country. Nights like ‘Bruk up’ from Birmingham are still going strong for example.
Yeh, I’m from London, so I guess that’s what I know and it was definitely an exciting time.

It’s been quite a successful conveyor belt of artists coming through you guys at some point. At what point did it change from wanting to put nights on for your own people to wanting to showcase the artists and musicians that you were involved with?
I think in terms of Jazz Re:freshed it was probably a few weeks after we started that we started to think about live acts. We were doing nights at Mau Mau before and the venue was closing for refurbishment. We talked to the owner about doing a Jazz night and when it re-opened we started as Jazz Re:freshed.
We then decided to showcase some live acts and see what happened. We got two friends of ours called, Beat box theory, to perform live and it worked. We then started to book people like Kaidi Tatham and Mark de Clive-Lowe, who were part of the Broken scene bit who were also great musicians. From that summer and after a couple of months the live thing was born proper and has been that way ever since. It was the days of ‘My Space’ back then and Adam was connecting with artists through that. As the reputation grew people started approaching Adam for bookings and now there’s 100’s of enquiries. Musicians are a community and it doesn’t take long for people to hear about it. We have always believed that the UK has got the talent and that’s why we have kept doing it really.

Was there anyone that you put on and gave a platform to in the early stages of their career that stood out for you and that you knew were going to be big players?
Wow! Probably 100’s! To be honest there’s probably more that haven’t gone on that we thought would. I guess, people like Shabaka and Moses Boyd. Shabaka did Jazz Re:freshed in about 2005 and he was pretty young then but you knew there was something special. Moses was 19 when he first did it. It wasn’t necessarily their own thing either, they were part of bands but they stood out. There were established artists such as Kaidi and Mark that we knew about already and were showing their quality long before we put them on. Pretty much every week we see people that are amazing but they don’t all go on to fulfil their potential. Nubiya & Joe Armon-Jones are two more artists. I first saw Joe playing at Jazz Re:freshed with Kevin Haynes and it was incredible and now the whole World is seeing what he can do.

So, you garnered this music community together, I guess it was then that the decision to put on a festival began, how and where did that start?
Our first festival was round the corner from where our weekly is called, The Flyover. It was our 10-year anniversary and we wanted to put on something special and we were toying with a mini festival before Adam said ‘Let’s just do it’. We put together 6 or 7 bands and it was a really good night, prob about 500 people or so. We did it there again the next year and then the venue closed down. Then we decided to move it to the South Bank and made it free and more accessible for families. That’s where it exploded really and it worked, like everything we do, if it works we continue doing it.

This is the first year you have traveled on the road with the festival and to Brighton?
Yes, it is. It’s overdue. We have collaborated out of London on events that aren’t ours but this is the first event we have organised out of London, which is nuts because we have done stuff Internationally before we did it out of London in the UK. We have connected with so many UK musicians out of London that we really needed to start looking elsewhere too. It’s a no brainer really and it’s really exciting.

You were in New York earlier this year?
Yeh, Adam was there for Winter Jazz Fest and we also went to South By Southwest in Texas and took bands out there, which was great.
Really though our focus is now on the rest of the UK and more regional.

I was talking to Dennis from 22a Music when they were down for Tenderlonious’ gig a few weeks ago. He said that they could struggle outside of London. How do you feel about that?
As I say, we haven’t really done a lot of our own nights out of London, so I guess this is a test for us, to get out there and do something. I talked to the guys from Mr Bongo recently and they put on a full house with Joe Armon-Jones and a few others, so we know its happening elsewhere. We talk to people from outside from London and they have their pockets and scenes. I don’t how as a label, or night that you make that connect with places outside of your own town. There are places that you would think would have something going on but promoters aren’t putting on local bands. We have musician and artists saying that they wish they had a scene like ours where they are and we tell them to get it started and to put something on. We want to encourage people to start the scene and not have it all about London. When you go places like France, they just can’t get enough. It’s difficult but i think it’s possible to make that connect in the UK if people are willing to put nights on.

You guys seem to have your hands well and truly full. Are there any plans for worldwide domination, or do you keep doing what you are doing and focus on London and the rest of the UK for the foreseeable?
No! *laughs* it doesn’t stop. We thought after the Jazz Re:fest that we could relax but we have a couple of festivals this Summer; Bestival and Wilderness.
We are actually planning on going back to Brazil later in the year and taking a few bands there like we did last year. Hopefully, we have a Cuban project happening next year hopefully. The North Sea Jazz was last weekend and we linked with our Dutch counterparts, so we will see what happens there. We want to forge more links in the UK and we are talking to Mike Chadwick from Band On The Wall and we can see what happens there. Wherever we can put the bands and the music and the culture is where we will be, home and abroad.

You guys are getting a lot of love on the station and within the City and just to say keep doing what you are doing and spreading the gospel . . .
Thank you guys actually, people won’t realise that you have helped out behind the scenes and have come in to help with a couple of issues with the festival in Brighton, so thanks to 1BTN. Thanks to all for the support.

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