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ItaloJohnson: the mystery men

ItaloJohnson don’t want anything getting in the way of what they do best

  • Words: Joe Muggs | Photography: Khris Cowley
  • 29 June 2016
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Their approach might seem to hold them back from success: their records are few and far between and so generate little income, they only ever DJ as a trio, meaning bookings are more expensive and thus offputting for promoters and their avoidance of the social media game means “ItaloJohnson” simply has less selling power as a brand. As R puts it, “we get do good club bookings for places that have a regular crowd, but not so much for festivals, because they rely more on the big names on the posters to sell their tickets.” But if they want it any other way, they don’t show it. None are averse to the idea of giving up the day jobs if demand picks up and DJ fees go sky-high, but they genuinely seem to have a Zen-like contentment about their pace of life. As R says: “It’s about having your own rhythm as you. We put out as we can and when we can. We produce when we can, which is not often, so we just decided to be responsible to ourselves and only be dependent on ourselves.”

Subtle and pragmatic it might be, but there’s a quiet radicalism to their approach. They’re not outsiders by any means: they have their industry jobs, they all still like to party hard and kick back with musical friends like DJ Koze and Jamie Jones when they’re out on the circuit. And, as noted, there’s no harsh manifesto or artistic pretension in their withdrawal from the expected musical treadmill: just a constantly gentle negotiation around what they like and what they want to do, and a silent understanding between three friends about what is best within club culture and what are the unnecessary trappings.

Interview done, Mixmag gets in a cab with J and R to Studio 338 down the road in the light-industrial wasteland around the O2 dome, while M grabs forty winks to try and sleep off his illness. There’s no sense of getting hyped up: they explain that they never prepare sets, knowing that each crowd is different, so every time they play it’s different. M arrives just in time to start at 1am, and they seem to effortlessly slide into their set. There’s no grandstanding start, no drama, no attempt to make a splash: just letting each record breathe as they move around one another sipping beers and unhurriedly selecting from vinyl, CD booklets and USB sticks, before executing another long, elegant blend. Snaking percussion lines, warm US garage chords, hints of acid lines or techno oddness, all orbit the timelessly bumping basslines. Characteristically, there’s no rush to get anywhere, just a revelling in the funky moment, three friends appreciating their shared tastes – and it becomes clearer than ever that their secrecy is no hipster affectation: it’s just a part of a wider stripping-away of anything that’s unnecessary to the enjoyment of the tracks. Without hype and information overload, in their set as in their career, ItaloJohnson are proving themselves, one tune at a time.

ItaloJohnson play at Egg on July 9 and Farr Festival on Friday July 15

Joe Muggs is a freelance journalist and regular contributor to Mixmag, follow him on Twitter

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