As with every good musician’s back-story, Joe Newman’s is rooted in growing up around great tunes. “My parent’s record collection was pretty cool really. They got me into Massive Attack, Roni Size and Portishead when I was young. That was sort of the sound that was happening in Bristol. Then it was discovering that a lot of that stuff had sampled old funk and soul tracks.” Now as DJ/musician J-Felix, he’s forging his own set of sounds and aesthetics. In 2015, he released his critical-acclaimed 101 Reasons debut on Tru Thoughts – home of Quantic and Hot 8 Brass Band. It brought together a collection of fresh funk and disco, impeccably produced and finished with silky vocals, and provided a bold statement of intent.
There’s now a blurring of the traditional lines between DJing records and performing live music. The two cultures used to be quite distant, but there’s a new spirit of open-mindedness sweeping in. “The idea of having a live musician in that environment was almost frowned upon. More and more, people are finding the joy of working with live musicians again, to get more interesting sounding electronic music.” His own background is in guitar playing, but he says there’s a need to get out and DJ if you’re a producer wanting to spread your music. It’s also a good way to gig without having to throw a whole band into a van.
Alongside the changes in attitudes, there are advances in music performance technology. Software like Ableton enables DJs to ply and innovate with in the live environment. “We play with a trumpet player, and sometimes I’ll take a solo on the guitar… If it’s feeling right, we can trigger an eight-bar loop. That gives you the ability to jam, as well as having a backing track. You can do it all on the fly, just as you can with any live band.”
We’re speaking at his studio, nestled amongst a vibrant jumble of different creative units in suburban Brighton. He shares the space with Ninja Tune artist Slugabed, and has been recording guitar loops with him all morning. There’s every intention of working on a new album, but great collaborations keep presenting themselves – like the chance to work with Swindle or Pressure Drop’s Justin Langlands, or all his production and remix duties for Flynn. “At some point I am going to prioritise ‘number one’, so all those experiences are certainly going to feed into that.” There’s no question of his productivity though, with a new EP coming this month on Midnight Riots. It’s a rich slab dancefloor-friendly boogie soul, featuring LOYAL’s Sophie Paul (who sang on his debut) and Jerry Clavier. We’re also promised that a single with Tru Thoughts is firmly in the diary for July.
As a consummate man about town, playing residencies and guest spots just about everywhere, he’s confident Brighton’s music scene is thriving. “I think club culture is. Where I DJ it seems to be. Patterns is a wicked venue. It’s really nice to see them consistently booking interesting people. Neil, who promotes it, has got a real passion. As a result, he books cool people like Bradley Zero to play residencies. There’s a kind of realness to that, he’s not pushing it because he thinks it’ll sell tickets.” Admittedly he doesn’t often perform with his live band due to a lack of mid-sized venues, suggesting there are a lot of great musicians in Brighton but not necessarily a platform for all of them. He cedes there’s a healthy jazz scene in Brighton & Hove though. Trumpeter Jack Kendon and bassist Eddie Myer, who he both plays with, have done a lot to push young talent through New Generation Jazz at The Verdict.
He’s getting ready to play with Disco Lovers at Komedia on Fri 27 April. The official Brighton Music Conference Closing Party, it sees a visit from Graeme Park, the original resident DJ from Manchester’s legendary Hacienda club. Upstairs at Funk Phenomenon, J-Felix will be smashing out quality hip-hop, RnB, soul and funk with Sam Moffett. “I think it could go anywhere. I’ve kind of got into new jack swing again, after that Candi B track with Bruno Mars. A bit of disco I think though – for good measure.”
J-Felix also celebrates the release of his brand-new EP, Say The Word, on Midnight Riot Records, with a special party upstairs at Patterns on Sat 28 April – where he’ll be joined by Russ Ryan (Doctors Orders) and Disco Kings/Patterns residents, Wild Fantasy.