Interview: Keeping it old-school with DJ Format
DJ Format, real name Matt Ford, has been DJing and producing records across the world for 16 years. In that time, he has worked with countless artists ranging from Canadian rapper Abdominal to Jurassic 5 members Akil and Chali 2na. After our last chat in 2016, we caught up with him again ahead of his appearance at Derbyshire’s Camp Disco this Summer.
You’re known for your scratch DJ skills, often considered to be a bit of a dying art. Do you see this - and vinyl DJing - as something that could return to the mainstream in the wake of the vinyl resurgence we’ve seen in recent years?
Well it’s interesting because for me, it hasn’t gone away too much. But saying that, I think the problem is now that when people go out they want to dance and have a good time and hear music that they know. Guys that are doing a lot of scratching are usually getting self indulgent and putting on a solo show. It’s not really ideal for the dancefloor. Personally, I try to find the balance between doing some skillful stuff but keeping it funky and making sure its not interrupting the flow of people wanting to dance. I don’t know if I can ever see it reaching the heights it did in the mid 90s. But I don’t know. As I say, it’s not entirely gone away for me.
[Regarding the so-called vinyl resurgence] Prices have gone crazy and that’s kind of frustrating for me personally. I don’t want owning records to become an elitist thing. You go to record fairs or record shops and you see a lot of dealers who just want to have certain expensive records as trophies. They’ve got them priced so crazy high, it’s almost like they don’t want to sell them, they just want them there to say ‘look, i’m a serious record dealer, i’ve got this record and you can’t have it.’ I’m actually sat here at the moment pricing records myself to sell at the Brighton record fair and I’m trying to give things a price where I think they will sell. I don’t want trophies, I want these records to go to good homes, to go to other music lovers that are going to play them. The reason I’m selling them at all is because, for one reason or another, they’re just not getting played. It’s much better to move them onto someone else that’s going to appreciate them.
The hip-hop landscape has changed massively over the past couple of years, with the advent of soundcloud rappers, trap etc - It seems you’re still flying the flag for old-school hip-hop. What do you think it is about this style that gives it such an enduring appeal?
I don’t know, it’s a difficult one, isn’t it? Fads come and go, and as music progresses, no matter what genre, you’re bound to branch off and go miles away from where you originally started. That’s just the nature of making music and experimenting. But I guess specifically in the late 80s and early 90s, Hip Hop was at its most creative, because it was at quite an early stage, when sampling first became a kind of art form. That was when you first realised what you could do, and also when people first discovered a load of great records - soul, funk, latin, jazz, rock - and sampled them in Hip Hop music. That’s probably the key to it - the fact that it was such an incredible time of discovery.
Photo Credit: Missing Stewart
You’re from the UK but have worked on a number of occasions with artists from the US and Canada - how to you think your musical upbringing on this side of the Atlantic has affected your approach to DJing and producing? (e.g. - first record you ever bought was Complete Madness - influence from British ska?)
I think no matter where you come from, you are very much influenced by the music you hear at a key time in your life. For me, it was the ten years between the age of about 10 and 20 where I was just trying to figure out what it is that I liked about things, and it’s just a constant journey of discovery at that point.
You’re right that Complete Madness was the first record I ever bought, and I was just crazy about Madness at that time, but at the same time, I was listening to whatever music was in the charts as well. As I discovered hip hop more and more, it was mostly stuff coming out of America that was to shape the rest of my life. But equally, there was a lot of UK hip hop in the late 80s that was just as influential to me as the US hip hop i was listening to. I just think if you’re hungry enough, no matter where you live or where you come from, you’re going to search out and find music that appeals to you from all over the world. It’s just about you as a person and your own personal motivation to explore music.
You’ve collaborated with countless artists over the years - who has been the most satisfying to work with?
If I had to choose one person, then I would have to say Abdominal, because we’ve done so much stuff together. I’ve done more work with him than anyone else, so we share a bond where we went on tour together a hell of a lot of times, we’re very good friends and we can trust each other 100% as people, as well as musically speaking.
But then, there are many people that I could list, because each collaboration is different. I’m not saying every collaboration has been rewarding or satisfying. Sometimes you find out people that you work with are not necessarily people you would want to be friends with or hang out with, but still the collaboration is cool and it’s all for the greater good.
What can people look forward to for your gig at Camp Disco? Will your set change based on the family setting?
I will be playing records on my own, so typically I'd play uplifting soul, funk, latin, a bit of old-school feel-good hip hop. Yeah, to a certain extent I will have in mind that it’s a family festival. For example, I'm not going to play NWA, off the top of my head. Because the festival’s in Derbyshire, I should add that the first rap group I was in were called Suspekt, and those guys are from Ripley. I should give them a shout out. It was my first experience of going in a studio and actually making a record, cause we actually made an album back in 1995 or something like that. So yeah, it’s a place that’s very close to my heart, and I'm very happy to be coming back.
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