DJ Format tells Mark Edmundson why his new found appreciation of funk and jazz won’t threaten his enduring love of hip hop
Three years since the last album and having apparently denounced hip hop while throwing himself headlong into DJing and re-editing duties you might be surprised to find that DJ Format, aka Southampton-born Brightonian Matt Ford, has been quietly plugging away at what has been proving an ambitious and at times difficult third album.
‘I’ve been experimenting a bit,’ explains the unassuming and plain-talking producer of singularly cheeky hip hop funk albums Music For A Mature B-Boy and If You Can’t Join ‘Em . . . Beat ‘Em. ‘I’ve been getting a little bit bored of the old funky hip hop and have been trying out some funk and jazz with live bands. I’ve been enjoying doing that, but some of the stuff has worked and some of it I’m not sure about.’
Playing bandleader is à la mode just now, the likes of Mark Ronson cleaning up with the assistance of The Haggis Horns and The Dap-Kings. The difficulty for Ford has been distancing himself from the processes of hip hop production while maintaining a signature Format sound. ‘In my search for a slightly more interesting direction for the third album I think I was trying to be a little too clever and perhaps being a little too hardcore. I want to do something different because I don’t want to repeat myself. I love what I’ve done with Abdominal and all the people I’ve worked with, I’m happy and proud that I did it but I felt it’s definitely time to expand and branch out a little.’
To this end the amiable Ford has become quite the jobbing DJ, leaving his party-starting wingmen Abdominal and D-Sisive to their own mic devices and sharing his appreciation of the wider world of soul with dancefloors at home and abroad. ‘I’ve kind of embraced the DJing side of things again, because I’m not really the kind of guy that likes being on the stage, the guy in the spotlight: I just wanted to make records and hopefully enough people would buy them so that I could make some more records; but you can’t go around with a bag on your head.’
He continues: ‘With me coming from a hip hop background I do still get the occasional chin-stroker who wants to see me doing a reverse flare or something with my elbow or arse-cheek, but that kind of stuff is not really great to dance to.’ His sets now mix up hip hop with his wider appreciation of jazz, Latin, funk and dancefloor oddities as exhibited on last year’s shot at the Fabric mix canon. And, like Archimedes having his ‘Eureka!’ moment in the bathtub, Format now feels that his side projects (such as the James Brown cut and paste 12in and some remixes for friends-in-funk Speedometer) have helped him see the light in the studio.
‘I think I was almost going too far before,’ he concedes. ‘Doing those remixes have kind of helped me realise that this is probably what I’m good at and I should embrace it.’ So, while he firms out that Format stamp on a straighter jazz and funk sound for later in the year, rest assured that in the studio or on the decks DJ Format remains 33% B-Boy.
DJ Format plays at the Arches, Glasgow, Fri 22 Feb; Headspin, the Bongo Club, Edinburgh, Sat 23 Feb.