The world of techno is a more interesting place thanks to people like Jerome Hill, one of the true understated heroes of the scene.
The London native has been destroying dancefloors since the early 90s, earning his stripes on the warehouse party circuit before establishing the pioneering label Don’t (which ‘stands against the blandness, false idols and celebration of mediocrity that pollutes the techno scene’, according to the label’s mission statement), in 2000.
Further labels followed – Hornsey Hardcore, Bleeper, Fat Hop (an avenue for Hill’s hip-hop leanings) and Super Rhythm Tracks; the latter of which incorporates the rave-era sensibilities that have become a trademark of his idiosyncratic DJ sets.
As FACT Magazine put it, “If there’s one man who embodies rave spirit in modern dance music, it’s Jerome Hill.” We can’t help but agree.
As part of our ORIGINALS series of interviews, we caught up with him to discuss the journey that’s taken him to where he is today, as well as his plans for the future.
Q. Jerome, it’s great to meet you. You must be one of the busiest people in techno; four or five labels on the go, gigs every weekend?
There are actually only two labels on the go at the moment – Don’t and Super Rhythm Trax. Bleeper and Fat Hop are having a bit of a rest. Hornsey Hardcore will likely make a comeback this year, if I get around to it.
But I try to keep it all trundling along, like spinning plates. When one label slows down you have to give it a little spin.
Q. The Don’t label is 20 years old this year – that’s quite a landmark. Is it hard work to keep it going?
I don’t see any of this as a job or a business, really, so I guess that’s why the label is still here. I started it when I was young, and I don’t know what I would do if it wasn’t there. It’s like my third arm.
It’s not like I tell myself that I ‘need to release a certain amount of things every year’ or ‘I need to do this or that’. That’s not how I work. Every now and again, something will come around that blows me away a little bit, and I try to put it out.
As for the other labels, Super Rhythm Trax has been doing really well in the four or five years it’s been going. It started in 2014, and I’ve already put out 31 records, whereas Don’t has been going 20 years and there have been 40 releases.
Bleeper was my attempt to try to release crazy stuff that was somewhere in between; for people who are into the stuff on Super Rhythm Trax but want things to be a bit weirder [laughs].
Q. One thing that has always struck me about Super Rhythm Trax is that it doesn’t try to be too complex.
The label is sort of influenced by the period in which I really got into music, which was around 1989/90. There was a wistfulness about the music back then, I can’t really describe it better than that. That’s the essence of Super Rhythm Trax.
Q. You could say the same thing about your DJ sets, there’s a playfulness there, you don’t take yourself too seriously?
When I play out, I might not always look like I’m enjoying myself, but the music is fun and accessible. Whereas with a lot of big room artists, they look like they’re having fun, but the music is just f**king boring.
Q. A lot of the bigger names in techno are associated with a certain style, that’s what people have come to expect from them. Whereas you can experiment more?
Yeah, that’s the case with a lot of successful DJs – they picked a lane, and stay in that lane, and make the most out of it. I just can’t seem to do that.
If someone going to a fictitious techno club sees my name on the bill and looks me up on SoundCloud or whatever, they might think I’m playing hip hop now, or reggae, because I may have just put out a new mix in that style. Maybe that’s both a strength and a weakness.
I have always thought that if you stick to one channel, one year you will be sweet, and the next you’ll be sour. Whereas if I’m able to go off in a different direction, and it doesn’t take any from what i’m doing, it’s a lot more interesting for me.
Q. As you mentioned, with a lot of your work, there’s a definite nod to the acid house and rave era. You were a bit too young for the ‘Summer of Love’, but you still immersed yourself in the scene?
I was 15 in 1990, and I was a bit naive about music. I would listen to pirate radio, and you would have Meat Beat Manifesto, Shut Up And Dance, Big Daddy Kane, Public Enemy – all sorts of things. I hadn’t differentiated between one genre or another – it was all part of this musical explosion for me.
I spent a lot of time at my mate James’ house, and he had SoundLab decks, so I got a pair myself. They were belt drive decks – we all learned on belt drives back then.
But it you had asked me what ‘techno’ was back then, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you. It was all just music – ‘did you hear that tune that was played on Fantasy FM yesterday’, that sort of thing.
Actually, before I got into dance music I was into rock and roll; 1950s and 1960s stuff. I was a bit of a trainspotter abut it actually; not the fuzzy garage stuff, mind you, it was more Chuck Berry or Jerry Lee Lewis.
Q. You previously managed the Dragon Discs and Trackheads record shops in London – how important were record shops in helping you to expand your musical knowledge?
Record shops were like the internet at the time; except you would have to search for hours to find the record you were looking for.
You would be in a record shop, and you might discover a great record; let’s say it was Juice Records #007. You would have no idea what Juice Records #001, #002, #003 etc would have sounded like; plus, you would probably miss Juice #008, #009 and #010 if you weren’t there on the right day. It was a real chase.
Q. Going back to when you first got into music, that coincided with the launch of Warp Records – was that a big influence?
Yeah, I remember Tricky Disco was everywhere back then, I think they did three or four different versions of it.
But you also had labels like Catt, Ozone and Outer Rhythm, whose sound was like a less minimal version of Warp Records. I remember one record with a long Japanese name [Denkimi-Shakuhachi – Ed], it had a track called The Robot Kingdom on it.
Q. The ‘hardcore’ era of 1991, 92 was a period in which genres were being created and discarded at a fast pace – were you able to keep up?
Looking back on it now, between 1990 and 1993, things changed every few months. It was really blatant; suddenly you had a new genre, and a previous genre would die. Imagine if that happened today!
Q. I read somewhere that you went through a ‘piano house’ phase some time in the mid-90s?
Ha! I’ve never liked piano house but I did go through a phase of going to Club UK and probably taking too much ecstasy – so around 1994 when the jungle and happy hardcore sound was everywhere, I jumped into house music.
I still have some of the records I bought during that period, and yeah, some of them are awful, but I like them. That was the thing back then, I was still trying to find myself, musically.
To be honest, I didn’t even go clubbing for a year or two after I got into dance music. We used to make tapes off the radio, take acid, put on our Walkmans and just go for a walk around London.
At first, I didn’t get the idea of going to a rave to understand this kind of music – but when I did, it added an extra dimension.
I think the first club I went to was the Top Hat club in Northfields. I remember hearing Quadrophonia there, that sort of stuff.
Q. You cut your teeth on the warehouse rave scene. What was that experience like?
It was wild. Some of them could feel quite dangerous, others would be raided, and with some you would be hanging around on a street corner for hours waiting to get the correct address, because somewhere else had been busted.
Q. When did you start getting into techno?
During the mid 90s. Up until then, I thought that techno was just gabber, the real nosebleed stuff. When I discovered proper techno, it was a massive restart for me in terms of finding what I liked.
That’s when I started getting into Si Begg, Justin Berkovi, Neil Landstrumm, Jamie Lidell – that sort of stuff really resonated with me.
Q. You took the name Don’t from a Jamie Liddell track, didn’t you?
There were a couple of reasons why it was called Don’t, but yes, one was because of a Jamie Lidell remix of a Cristian Vogel track, called Don’t Take More.
That track was like a tsunami, absolutely mental. It’s still one of my favourite tracks.
Q. Your early releases, on labels like Hydraulix, were pretty full-on hard techno, weren’t they?
Not all of them! [Laughs] I did some stuff with Rob Stow, a good friend of mine, which was a lot more experimental – but the production wasn’t quite there on a lot of it.
I suppose this happens with everybody – you have this sound in your head that you want to try and get out. That was certainly the case with me. Production is a massive learning curve, and in many cases you never quite get there. But with every attempt, you aim for one place and you end up in another place. It might not be exactly where you want to be, but it still sounds great.
You’re right though, the first couple of tracks on Don’t were really fast, but I think everything was a bit faster back then.
We were hanging around the London acid techno scene at the time, and our music was slower than a lot of the tracks at the time, would you believe.
Q. Were you ever into gabber?
No, not especially. I like the bass drums on gabber but it’s a bit too much for me – it’s a bit too nosebleed.
Q. What was the ‘modus operandi’ when you came to set up Don’t back in 2000?
I guess it was to represent the wonkier end of music, and put out music by people I like. It was also about trying to not be the same as everyone else. That sounds horribly pretentious, but i wanted to represent that kind of Chicago, quirky, funky sound, while also not taking things too seriously.
Q. Do you find it difficult to come up with new ideas?
Generally speaking, there is only a finite amount of ideas and styles out there. Electronic music has been around for more than 30 years now, so all you’re going to get are cross-breeds of different genres.
That’s until the next big thing comes along of course, but it’s hard to imagine what that will be.
Q. You have a release coming out on Matthew Herbert’s label Accidental – he’s someone who’s certainly pushing the boundaries, though, isn’t he?
He actually set me a challenge last year – to create an EP without using any drum machines. So a few weeks later, I was on this farm in Germany, and I got out my Zoom recorder and took loads of samples of things. I went back to the studio and made a track out of it.
I really liked it, but it sounds really like Herbert. He’s done it so well, anything else just sounds like a rip-off. I played it to a couple of people, and they were like, “oh, is that Matthew Herbert?”
Q. Is there anyone in particular who has influenced your style?
I always find it interesting when people are asked ‘who are your influences’, and they name artists or bands that they really like. Sure, they might be a big part of your life, but did they really influence you?
In terms of my influences? Maybe my favourite chair at home. But did it really influence me, or do I just like sitting in it?
Q. Final question – you were a champion of vinyl for many years; is that still the case?
Now, I’m kind of a 50/50 mix of digital and vinyl. Obviously when I play overseas gigs I bring less vinyl and more USB. Over time, I’ve burnt a lot of stuff to USB.
I always bring some records though – especially my scratch records. I guess that keeps me grounded!
[Thanks to Jerome for the interview. Keep up to date with upcoming dates via his Facebook page]