In Conversation: Jayson Wynters
For the second in our In Conversation series Semtek sat down with Jayson Wynters to discuss growing up in Birmingham and the role the city’s musical culture has played in his life. Wynters was first known as a garage MC before rising to prominence in the city’s underground radio and club scene, where he became known for playing rare groove and house music. With releases under his belt for Don’t Be Afraid, Mr. G’s Phoenix G label, Secret Sundaze and one soon to come on Ornate Recordings, the future looks bright for Wynters, and that’s not to mention the new record shop he just opened.
Semtek: Am I right in thinking you’ve lived in Birmingham all your life?
Jayson Wynters: Yes, I have.
S: And where exactly were you born?
JW: I was born in Handsworth. where the city’s predominantly Afro-Carribean and Asian demographic is situated.
S: How would you describe the kind of way that Birmingham divides in terms of areas and music?
I don’t think Birmingham is big enough to really have musical divisions as such. However Handsworth, where I am from, was home to the Birmingham carnival which was a huge annual event, so reggae and dub music has had a heavy influence on the area. The sound system culture was at its peak back then and a lot of our dads and uncles were involved in sound systems. There is also a decent following for jazz-funk and soul music in the city.
S: Who were the key players in Birmingham in terms of sound systems and bands in the eighties, during the time when you were growing up?
JW: My mum and step dad were in a steel band called The Maestros, and my dad was a bass player for Musical Youth and also Macka B. Aside from that there were bands like Steel Pulse, among many others, who were very well known.
I remember going to my dad’s rehearsal sessions as a child as well as my mums steel pan sessions at the Midland Arts Centre. I used to have a love for the drums, so I would mess around on the drum kit in one of the other rooms whilst my folks were practicing. I’ve never had any kind of formal training, everything I know has been learnt by watching and listening to other people.
S: OK, and how did that lead to an interest in recorded music?
JW: Seeing my uncle doing his thing on radio had a huge influence on me. He used to bring me and my cousin with him sometimes, plus of course being around the studio environment from an early age with my dad also contributed.
S: Do you remember what station your uncle was on?
JW: PCRL was the station. I must have been eleven or twelve at the time when he was hosting. The station was a pretty big deal back in the day.
S: What kind of music were you listening to during those years?
JW: My thing was hip hop. I love hip hop, so we’re talking Wu Tang, a lot of the East Coast stuff, Nas, Mobb Deep, DMX all that.
S: And where were you hearing that? Was it local radio, or was it Westwood on Radio 1?
JW: Flipping heck, if we touch on that… I mean Westwood massively influenced my childhood. I remember him playing the When Disaster Strikes album by Busta Rhymes, and I remember growing up and just loving it, loving the intros and the whole creativity of it all. I think that’s one of my top twenty albums. So Tim Westwood really exposed me to a lot of what we were calling the real underground, hardcore rap music at the time.
S: So I guess from hip hop, you then got into garage?
JW: Correct. But, having touched on the hip hop side, I do also need to mention that with that, you had rnb. because they were kind of played in tandem with one other. I was heavily into the rnb side of things, you know, your Mary J’s and so on. I remember the Pure Swing compilations that came out at the time for example. Those were big for me growing up. But as I said, the crossover between the hip hop and rnb was just key. When the garage came out it was something we could identify more as a UK thing so. I formed part of this crew of mcs known as the Nasty Boys Squad. There was about six to seven of us. So our time was spent perfecting our verses, and making mixtapes. There were a lot of what we call ‘drink-ups’ at the time, a drink-up is like a small house party. We used to go there with our crew and do our thing.
S: What year is this roughly?
JW: We’re talking very late nineties, going into early two thousands.
S: So how far did you go with the crew, the Nasty Boys squad?
JW: Initially the Nasty Boys Squad were on Heat FM, and then from Heat FM they moved to Silk City. I joined them a year or so after I left Passion FM. It was a goal for me to end up on Silk City, as that station had influenced me massively in my teens.
S: How long did you last on Silk City as a crew?
JW: I think it was at least a year or two. We used to link up a lot with other djs and mcs too, and we’d do back to back sessions on each others slots. That for me was the strongest era musically in the history of Birmingham because people were just working together and collaborating.
S: What were the major raves at the time in Birmingham for the type of music you were listening to?
JW: At the time there was Pure Silk, Harmony, Champagne Friday, and Steering Wheel in China Town which was a regular Friday night stomp down. I used to get in for free there as my uncle was the doorman.
S: And what area of Birmingham were these in? Were they in Digbeth?
JW: The raves were mainly in Digbeth at the old Sanctuary, as well as Q Club. Then there were some further afield in places like Wolverhampton and Derby. I remember even mcing with guys like Viper and CKP which was a massive buzz because I really looked up to these guys. I got the opportunity to mc with DJ Spoony at Atlantis Nightclub in Wolverhampton on one occasion. That was one of my career highlights. That happened back in 2001 and for sentimental reasons I’ve even kept the flyer because my name was on the bill.
So I felt Birmingham had a really strong, healthy scene. It was strong for the record shops, and the radio culture, which was really important, as I feel the radio is where our musical education comes from.
S: So at which point did you start to become less interested in the garage and more interested in the house side of things?
JW: I think when the popularity for Dizzee Rascal and Roll Deep kicked in the focus moved to the mcs; although it sounds ironic, me being an MC at the time, I really was into the musical side of garage with the vocal samples and melodies. So I guess I started to look elsewhere before finally getting exposed to house music. I was already into my early twenties by this time.
I first heard house music properly at a night called Days Like This at Red Bar in Birmingham and that place changed my life. It was a low capacity, low lit, low ceiling venue with an intimate vibe. We used to go most times it was on, and it was a place that I felt I could comfortably go to on my own. I’d see people there I knew and meet new friends, but sometimes it wasn’t about that. It was me and the music.
S: And at some point there was a burgeoning broken beat scene in the Midlands too right?
JW: Yeah, there was a night that was called Liquid Fusion at Zinc Bar run by another Birmingham legend called Bruce Q. Sometimes you go to places not knowing who’s who or what is what, but I think I ended up going to that place only twice. It was also a regular stomping ground for my dad. They were playing everything from jazz-funk to broken beats. I was hearing music from IG Culture, Dego, Kaidi and so on. From what I recall most of those cats in that scene came to Brum to perform including Azymuth, who made an appearance at one point which I wasn’t privileged to witness. By the time I caught onto it there was a bit of a demise occurring within broken beat scene. At Days Like This though they would play some broken beats because the deeper, more soulful side of dance music was almost like a cousin to that scene.
S: Outside of electronic music what else do you play in your sets and what else are you inspired by?
JW: Aside from house and techno I play jazz-funk, soul, movie scores, afrobeat, rare groove, hip hop and everything in between.
It’s funny how the music has come full circle in my life. At the start of the interview we were talking about my musical background, what I’ve been brought up on, the dub, the reggae, the Caribbean influences, from listening to rap music in my teens and then my dad educating me on jazz, funk and soul. Now I’m starting to connect the dots between everything. For me, my interpretation (and I’ll use my martial arts as a reference point here) is this: jazz music is like the Shaolin of music. Just like Shaolin is where all the kung-fu styles stem from, jazz is at the centre of many different musical styles and everything really does come from that. For example sometimes I listen to a Hieroglyphic Being record and hear a bit of Sun-Ra in how the songs are loosely structured. It’s very free and quite avant garde, and I do class a lot of the electronic music to be very avant garde in that sense anyway. So I do notice the differences, but I also see the common thread between all of it.
S: When was the point at which you started to finally make music?
JW: It developed naturally in my mid twenties. I used to play with instruments from a very young age and I remember in my teens playing on Music 2000 (the PlayStation game) and taking it nothing but seriously. I’ve gone into my mid-thirties and I’m now messing with drum machines and synthesizers and various computer programmes, and I’m literally just having fun. So for me, it was just natural progression. Collaborating with other people played a major role as well but there wasn’t much mentorship that was around I feel so I was fortunate to have my dad schooling me.
S: Talking about the importance of fostering the scene in Birmingham, you have a record store which just opened don’t you? Can you tell me how that came about?
JW: Café Artum, which is a record store, café and arts space, came about through frustration. I think the last straw for me was a shop called ‘The Musical Exchange’ closing down. I had the idea filed at the back of my mind to maybe start something one day but this closure just accelerated my thought process. For a city that classes itself as the ‘second city’ in the UK I felt we were selling ourselves short by not providing people with enough outlets supporting vinyl, so me and Christy Lakeman joined forces to get this project off the ground. Its a shame that in the space of fifteen or twenty years or so we’ve gone from having some of the best record shops in the country to having near enough only one.
Birmingham was flourishing in the nineties, and early two thousands, especially with the garage and techno scene, but now, it’s a little dry.
S: And finally, in terms of other figureheads supporting the scene in Birmingham, who should we be looking out for from the area, who comes to mind?
JW: My friend Adam Shelton, who runs One Records and is a brilliant, well experienced DJ will be a part of the team at the cafe. He’s doing some big things at the moment, and has an incredible work rate.
Another friend, James Swinburne who runs Digbeth Dining Club, is also a key figure in the Birmingham scene. What he and his business partner Jack are doing for the city is amazing. Digbeth Dining Club is a social concept bringing some of the best street food to the city every week over four venues. I’ve been a resident dj there from its inception and its one of my favourite places to play at. James also ran a night called Collective Minds, and was booking guys such as Patrice Scott, Amir Alexander, Tama Sumo, XDB and Jane Fitz. Despite being a really niche event these intimate parties were key for my personal development as a dj. Adam Reagan, who runs Leftfoot from his base at the Hare n Hounds in Kingsheath, continues to fuel the city with quality diverse lineups and live acts, and I should mention another mate of mine E Double D who is a killer DJ and also runs a night called Bruk Up which is dedicated to the broken beat sound. It’s a fantastic night, which doesn’t get the recognition it deserves.
There’s a few others, but those are the key players to me, these are the guys who are keeping Birmginham’s scene alive.
Café Artum is open now at 177 Corporation Street, Birmingham.