Interview with DJ Food

Wednesday, March 8, 2017
by Tat

At Trackhunter we appreciate people who are really good at hunting down tracks in whatever format and there are very few better than Strictly Kev AKA DJ Food. Kev AKA Kevin Foakes came to fame in the early 1990s as part of the quartet DJ Food that also contained Coldcut and Patrick Carpenter (AKA PC). Their series of Jazz Breaks were central to the emerging trip hop and beats scene that was championed by Coldcut on their legendary Ninja Tune label. Foakes is a man of many talents that extends to production, remixing, art and design, audio visual DJing and of course collecting rare and exotic music. He is a man of sublime taste and is behind some of the most beautiful music sleeve artwork and perfectly crafted mixes you could possibly cast your eyes and ears upon. We took the opportunity to track him down and find out a bit about the multi-talented artist.

First of all I want to touch on your immense record collection and want to ask how did you get into record collecting, or at least when did it become a passion?

I started later than most as we never had a turntable in the family home, I begged my parents for one and finally got one around 13 although I'd already been buying tapes and 7"s before that. I started out buying pop music like most kids and then got bit by the hip hop bug a few years later which led to funk, jazz and spoken word records. I'd always hunted for stuff, usually in markets, second hand shops or car boots because we were pretty poor growing up. I moved to London in 1990 and that opened things up a bit as there were suddenly way more places to dig in but it was when I started traveling abroad in the mid 90s I really started filling out the collection. The Ninja Tune DJ package tours of the mid-late 90s and beyond were just massive buying trips in the spare hours between travelling, playing and sleeping.

At what point did that collecting turn into DJing and music production?

I think I made my first track around 1994 in Coldcut's studio, I'd done mixes before that but never had the money to invest in a studio set up (which still cost a fair bit of money back in those days - pre- desktop hard disc editing etc.)

What excites you most, the hunt for new and old music and records or playing them out to an audience, either live or on the web?

The hunt is always exciting, I'm looking for all sorts of things all the time, I most like finding odd things I didn't even know existed. Of course sharing is the next best part, I'm not the sort of person to sit on something if I find it so I'll share images on social media first and then playing them out live is the next step as you can see instant reactions.

You travel around the world DJing, how much time do you get to spend looking for new and old music? Where are your favourite places?

Not as much as I'd like unfortunately, it's a struggle to fit in as I have a family now and can't just take a whole day out either side of the gig to go and dig, it's not fair, but I find time, an hour or two in a good spot can yield all sorts. It'll usually be a couple of hours before closing time or the early morning after a gig when you could be lying in, you just have to be motivated.

How often do you take a punt on buying records, what appeals to you, the artwork or the track titles - both?

All the time, sometimes to my regret, cover, track titles, years, recording label or personnel can all influence a punt - low price too of course - and anything that I'm not going to use gets recycled back to the charity shop.

What do you regard the best way to discover music in an age of the web? Is it still speaking friends and peers, record shops, mix and music sites, or pretty much all of the aforementioned.

Recommendations from friends, trusted online sites as well as physical magazines too - I regularly buy Electronic Sound and Shindig magazines which I always underline parts of and go out and check online later. I read a lot of books or articles about music too and there are always names to look up on the web and explore. Hearing what other DJs play out is always recommended too, I contribute to a local radio station, Out of the Wood, based in a record store near me, all the guests have expert knowledge in different fields and you can always make notes to refer to later.

Vinyl and tapes have gained much recent attention as more and more people start buying them again. The whole record buying scene has changed, mostly down to the likes of Discogs and other music platforms. It is much easier to find music but incredibly harder to root out quality and bargains. Do you find it easier or harder to find music that excites you given how things have changed?

It's easy to find new music that excites as there's so much of it being made at the moment, it's very hard to find good old music at decent prices but then again it depends what you're looking for. A couple of years ago I was picking up old acid house 45s for 50p and £1, now dealers are starting to wise up to that, as they have with hip hop, and charging more for it. If you're after 90s trip hop and big beat I'm betting you can still have a field day in the bargain bins until that genre re-emerges. Discogs is the best resource on the web, I use it daily as reference as well and buying and occasionally selling on it, I couldn't do without it as it helps me find what's out there by any given artist I'm researching.

You are a master of the themed mix - the Kraftwerk Kover Kollection was a personal favourite of mine. Do you have any plans to deliver any more themed mixes in 2017?

I've been meaning to add to the KKK mixes for a while, I have enough for a volume 9 and 10 on the hard drive, one of which will appear this year. I'm in the middle of constructing an AV version of my Aphex Soundcloud mixes that will also include tracks from all his albums too for a show in a few weeks. There will be others I'm sure, all of them are very research intensive though but I like them because it's a limited palette and you're forced to do more with less.

You’ve been the sole member of DJ Food AKA Strictly Kev for some time - did becoming the solo artist from the quartet change how you’ve done things?

It gave me a certain freedom to do things that I didn't have when working with others as certain ideas or collaborations would go on the back burner if the others weren't into them. I compose quite differently to the others too and I think this influences my sound too.

You last released an album six years ago, are there any plans to go back into the studio beyond remix duties?

Yes, but I've had a lot of things going on elsewhere recently to contend with and I'm starting a new venture with a friend, Pete Williams, called Further that's going to explore a different idea of presenting a night including lots of vintage AV techniques so that's keeping me busy.

You’re also a very talented graphic designer, how much does the music you hear influence your artwork and how much does the artwork you see influence your music direction?

I'm not sure they actually influence each other at all, music influences music and art likewise with me. I've designed whole album sleeves without hearing the music before. The style of the music can influence what a sleeve shouldn't look like though, for example I'm not going to turn in a chrome-plated robot cover with sci-fi typography on a blues record.

What excites you most about the music scene in 2017?

I've had my head wrapped up in a lot of ambient music the last few years, cosmic, electronic, head music - both new and old - this is what really turns me on. I feel like I've come full circle to the music I was playing in parties in the early 90s just before I met Coldcut and stepped onto the Ninja Tune bandwagon. I'm much less interested in club music these days but hip hop like Run The Jewels and Clipping is still exciting to listen to. There's just so much good music around lately, it's hard to keep up.

If you had to leave your house in an emergency, what is the one record you would save and take with you?

My Life In The Bush of Ghosts by Brian Eno and David Byrne

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