Evolution not revolution: An interview with Jim Rivers

He cut his teeth in a different time, when the words ‘super’ and ‘club’ were not necessarily followed by ‘sold out’ and ‘dead’. The first track produced by his hands was signed to legendary US label Saw Recordings, and he delivered the seventh instalment of Global Underground’s Nubreed series.

As such you may think it’s pretty clear where Jim Rivers should to be filed. Which is indicative of a problem so rife in dance music it’s any wonder anyone ever manages to do anything different. Because, as those that read our review of the producer in question’s recent debut album, Airport Vultures, will know- there’s a lot more to this guy’s output than overly-epic, can we go home now records.

And that’s not just because the LP was delivered to our door via Carl Cox’s revered Intec imprint. Of course there are plenty of proggy accents to more than a few of the tracks therein, but that’s just one of a number of sonic styles inherent throughout the 13-track offering. Impressed by his efforts we decided to give the man responsible a call to discuss what’s been going on since that mainroom fallout, those heady formative years spent trancing the night away in his hometown of Maidstone and, of course, that new LP. This is what we learned that day.

P&S: Hi Jim, how are you today, where are you? 

I’m good, thanks, just here in my studio in Maidstone.

And how are things in town right now? 

It’s alright, not what it used to be though. At the end of the 90s and early 00s there were a lot of good nights going on, I don’t know, it’s moved on. It seems to be getting a bit better again though, some of the parties last summer were great; Saved, Off Key… they had some big names coming down, but it’s still missing that one reliable party that’s always there.

Do you think that’s reflective of the country on the whole? 

I don’t know, maybe. Certainly the economic situation has something to do with it. I lived in Bristol for a while, and back then Lakota was really just coming out of being a kind of super club. Now it’s dead.

So many places have gone the same way there too, either closed down or been turned into houses, and the same in Maidstone. I also see it in London. But then what this means is that people have been getting creative again, you know what dance music is like, it recycles itself. So I think it’s always healthy, you just need to look for it.

You’ve obviously released a lot of material already, why wait so long for an album? 

Well, I think for me an album was always going to be more than just ten singles. Without sounding too pretentious I wanted to express myself, and have a little bit of a plan, and an idea of what I wanted to do.

When I first released something in 2006 it was pretty much the first thing I ever made, so it was lucky to get signed. Then it was picked up for a Renaissance compilation, and so people found out about me really quickly. What I found then was that I was developing my art and sound as I was releasing the records, so it was a steep learning curve.

So, honestly, I don’t think I was ready to release an album until this year. And that’s good, because I think the record really shows all the influences and sounds that I’m into. When I first came on the scene what I made was seen as prog, even though I didn’t really have a sound in mind.

Then I moved in those circles for a bit, and started getting pigeonholed. That was pretty frustrating, but then I also mixed a Global Underground compilation and things like that, so there was that whole thing there, just with a lot more going on too.”

In terms of the whole prog house thing, it went from the sound du jour to something of a ghost town. Why do you think that happened? 

It’s weird, isn’t it. A couple of people have asked me this. When I was feeling pretty frustrated and a bit fed up with things I definitely jumped on that bandwagon. ‘Oh no, prog’s not cool anymore’, and it’s one of those strange things. I think there came a point where clubs and promoters began steering away from booking those kind of DJs, and so as a DJ you felt that immediately. 

The easiest thing to do then is to disassociate yourself. I didn’t exactly do that, but at that time I was also producing other stuff too, like I said I was kind of evolving with every release and still didn’t really know where I was going with things. It’s funny though, because the really good labels from that time, like Bedrock, have done what John [Digweed] has done.

So they still stand for prog, but there’s everything from deep house to techno there too. The music is still progressive, and evolving, but it’s a bit different. Still though people hear the word prog and think 15-minute tracks with bongos and too much reverb. Really so much prog now is classed as techno, I mean Cocoon should be a prog label, and there is loads of stuff like that.”

The album is coming out through Carl Cox’s Intec. How did you find each other? 

I was kind of in a position where I was feeling pretty frustrated with where things were going for me, and had just come out of a bad time with agents and managers. Then I heard that Intec was setting up again, obviously they went under when the distributors collapsed and lost a lot of money. Anyway, I had a track- We Can Do This All Night– but it didn’t fit with any of the labels I was associated with. 

So I sent it to Jon Rundell, who A&R’s Intec with Carl, and said ‘I’ve heard you’re starting up again, what do you think of this track’. They got straight back to me and said ‘we love it, exactly what we’re after’, and then started talking about what the ethos was with the label, what they had learnt from the past, what Carl was doing and what they wanted to do with Intec. I thought ‘you know what, I’m in a place where I want to do a full album’, they said great and we agreed to get it done. Here we are.

There are certainly a lot of influences audible on the album. Where do you think you’ve come from? 

Well, when I first started DJing I used to go to the big club in Maidstone, Club Class, which a lot of people have heard of because of the people that came out of there. They used to book people like Oakie and Sander Kleinenberg, through to Mr C, Carl Cox, and DJ Dan. 

I was initially drawn in by the whole trance boom, when people hadn’t really heard of Ferry Corsten and the whole thing was pretty exciting. I quickly got bored of the predictability of it though, and then started going down to catch the warm ups, or spending the night in the backroom listening to Circulation or Lee Burridge, so I was almost always into the deep stuff, but then I was interested in the impact of a mainroom.

Production wise I didn’t even think about making anything until 2004. I had this 505 Groovebox that I used to mess about with, which was like a work station thing. I still have it actually. The first proper thing I made was the track on Saw. Then at the time I was getting influenced by M.A.N.D.Y., who were just starting to blow up, and tech and prog were becoming fused together, so that was a huge influence too.

You also produce under the Seulo alias- what’s going on there? 

Well I’m not sure how much longer that will continue for now. Seulo was actually me trying to get away from just being labelled a prog DJ or producer. So I was writing this stuff that wasn’t prog, but people wouldn’t touch me with a barge pole as they saw Jim Rivers and thought ‘oh yeah, we know what we’re getting here’. 

So I did what loads of people do and invented a pseudonym for myself. Then I released everything through Four:Twenty in Bristol, which has great pedigree, and they really got behind me. Now though I don’t have much else planned, just one last remix of my friend Joash, who features on my album, which is coming out on Compost soon.

But yeah it was really about me trying to strip things away and let the music speak for itself. And it worked, I had lots of support from people who wouldn’t touch a Jim Rivers track. It’s so fickle, it makes me sick at times. But then you have to play the game too. Either stand there and whinge or shut up and accept it, and get on- which worked.

Finally then, what does the year ahead have in store? 

I’m quite open to things to be honest, as I took a conscious decision to step back from regular production work for the album a while ago- almost a year and a half ago now. So that feels like a long time, and for me this is a bit of a new chapter now.

Maybe people who knew a bit about me before will find something new in the album now, which is excitingFor those that liked my old stuff though I think there’s plenty there for them too. It’s not like I’m reinventing myself, it’s just that things evolve.

So really I just want to see what happens now that it’s out there. On top of that I also have a new label and a new alias, which I’m working hard on, though I can’t reveal much about those, other than that I’ve been very inspired by the bass music, or what some people call the post-dubstep scene.

The garagey, deep and lush sounding stuff is directly comparable to UK house and Detroit sounds, for me anyway. So it’s no big secret, but we want things to be more organic with this one, no Facebook groups- less calculated than what seems to be the norm now.