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Big Jeff: ‘Music has given me pretty much everything’

By jeffrey johns, Thursday Aug 10, 2017

Music lifts the spirits. No matter what mood you’re in, there’ll be something about music which will capture you, whether it’s live performance or something on record.

My earliest musical memories would be either in my parents’ car, being played various cassette tapes ranging from ZZ Top through to an 80s hip-hop mix tape which they had because the best man at their wedding was a hip-hop DJ.

Or it would be through MTV, watching Michael Jackson and also just through the initial love of rhythm as well. Even when I was really young, I’d often get a toy drum and I’d be running around, banging it all the time.

Music has been very important in my life. It’s given me pretty much everything. Everybody knows me because of the gig-going and because of the joy that music has brought me, or the different emotions it’s brought.

It has also always been a way of defusing tension, so it’s constantly given me a focus. Going to gigs, especially at Bristol’s small venues like the Louisiana, has really helped me deal with the difficulties which I have about social situations. It’s taught me that I can be in a room and that I can be silent.

Bristol has also hugely shaped me. The first festival that I ever went to was Ashton Court Festival in 1995, when I was 12 years old. I remember seeing Skunk Anansie and it had a big impact on me. Most of my life events have been soundtracked by various artists.

With the help of people from the Arnolfini, I’ve programmed a day there on Saturday. It will be about getting bands that I really like playing, and also trying to express my enjoyment of different genres of music.

We’ve got quite a diverse lineup. Headlining are Thought Forms who are a really amazing shoe-gaze-y, space rock outfit. We’ve got This Is DA, who’s a really promising young hip-hop artist slash producer. We’ve got Jesuit, a Brian Jones Town Massacre-type band. There’s also stuff like Yama Warashi, who do Japanese influenced psychedelic folk jazz.

I’ll enjoy some of it, but I’m doing a DJ set in the evening, so I’m going to be slightly worried about that. I’ll be playing lots of unheard-of stuff, which you would not have a chance of really hearing before. There might be some stuff like Philip Larsen or Trans Am, but what I pride myself on is going, ‘hang on, no-one really knows these records, let’s play this’.

I haven’t counted how many records are in my collection, but I know it’s over 100. I’ve only started record-collecting really within the past couple of years, when my friend gave me a vinyl deck, just because she was moving out and she had to clear a load of space, and she had this spare deck.

I buy records from an assortment of different shops, sometimes charity shops and sometimes directly from the artists. I’ll also go to Friendly Records, which I really like. I like the fact with them that they have both new and old.

If I was imagining my dream gig as a DJ, it would be probably playing to a festival crowd somewhere like Standon Calling. When I DJ I do dance a little bit, not so much, because obviously I’m thinking about what record to put on next, and getting the record set up, but I do move a bit.

Over the years, my musical tastes have changed. I’m now listening to genres of music that I never thought I’d be listening to. Recently I’ve really gotten into a lot of contemporary classical, like Nils Frahm, Lubomyr Melnyk and Erased Tapes. I’ve also found myself going to a lot more experimental jazz and stuff.

Ten or 12 years ago, I didn’t necessarily like dance music. Whereas now, I love a good, really clever bit of techno.

If you come on Saturday, you’re going to probably experience some of the better bands in Bristol. You’re going to experience something really quite diverse. You’re also going to experience some of the new stuff which you’ve probably never heard of before. And I hope that through me, or through someone like me, that you’ll discover your new favourite bands. That’s all I’d ever hope for.

Jeffrey Johns, better known as Big Jeff, curates the final Summer Cuts takeover at the Arnolfini on Saturday, August 12. The day begins at 2pm and continues both inside and outside until 2am. For more information, visit



Read more: Breakfast With Bristol24/7: Jeffrey Johns

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