It’s time to spill some home truths. I’ve never thought much of DJ’s. Partly to blame is my own ignorance, partly to blame is witnessing Paris Hilton’s various attempts behind the decks – performances that threw out the question ‘how hard can it really be?’ All of this has changed forever after tonight’s Jaguar Skills set.
Camden’s KOKO , the tiered venue dressed in reds and golds that sits just off Mornington Crescent, is hosting Mr Skills and His Amazing Friends tonight, under the watchful gaze of a giant, spinning disco ball.
Its 1am when Jaguar Skills makes an entrance, though he’s been watching support acts Monsta, DrumSound & Bassline Smith, Saturn V and DEVolution from the crowd. A twitpic reveals he’s mere steps away from where I’m standing but you’d never know it because this self-proclaimed “man of mystery” performs behind the guise of a ninja, complete with black ninja face mask that leaves only two piercing eyes on show. Everything else about him remains a closely guarded cloak-and-dagger secret. He’s the DJ’s answer to Burial and Banksy.
Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ opens the set and mixes into game sound effects, providing an immediate taster of what tonight entails; cut-n-paste mixing, old school hits and unexpected twists. His performances have a personal quality to them, especially through tendencies to manipulate the lyrics of his tracklist; “Me, the groove, and my friends are gonna try to move your feet/See I am Jaguar Skills and I’d like to say hello” go the re-vamped words of the ‘70s hip hop classic. A crowd with a vast spectrum of ages are all unified by a set that covers so many bases in terms of genre, but it comes as no surprise; ‘History of Hip Hop in 60 minutes’, ‘History of Drum ‘n’ Bass’ and ‘A Hip Hop Odyssey’ (a mix that features 800 songs in 48 minutes) prove he’s no stranger to a challenge. We’re treated to the deep house of Julio Bashmore (‘Au Seve’ and ‘Battle For Middle You’ of course), Motörhead’s hard-rocking ‘Ace of Spades’, The Specials’ ‘Too Much Too Young’ amongst Dennis Ferrer’s ‘Hey Hey’, The Dirty Feel’s ‘Get Down’ and, incredibly, the countdown theme tune which is welcomed by one of the biggest cheers of the night.
An epic soundtrack deserves an equally epic backdrop and sure enough, stood stage left at four metres tall is a giant grey robot complete with LED lights controlled by engineers, CO2 jets and two tall speakers that sit boldly on the android’s shoulders. Stage right at half the size is the cartoon hooded figure of Jaguar Skills with laser eyes that features on the albums and posters for his work. Behind a gameboy DJ booth, Skills smoothly mixes ‘I’m A Dreamer’, the absolute pinnacle of old school dance anthems by house duo Livin’ Joy with Donner Summers’ ‘I Feel Love’. The two tracks intertwine with a heavy bass line to create a super-anthem and an excitable crowd. It’s moments just like this when the ‘skills’ in his name start to speak for itself. He strikes the balance between big hits, crowd pleasers and obscure tracks while being able to take a song to a place that no other DJ would. A Jeremy Kyle clip drops into Marvin Gaye’s ‘Let’s Get It On’, a moment so bizarre you’ll have to take my word for it.
The crowd starts to thin half an hour before curfew, missing the gem that is Rage Against The Machine’s ‘Killing In The Name’ which slows down and builds furiously back up to make for a colossal chorus. Leaving the venue tonight with the bass still reverberating through my chest I realise -there’s a difference between being a DJ and being a good DJ.