Introducing: Jonny Gilmore

Introducing: Jonny Gilmore

Before our sold out event ‘Painting By Numbers’ this Friday we decided to get to know 'More Than' organiser and DJ Jonny Gilmore. Here’s what he had to say…

When did you first start getting into DJing?
2015 when I moved to Bristol. Moving to a city was an eye opener for me & allowed myself to be exposed to touring producers, artists & DJs on a weekly basis. I began paying more and more attention to sets while out and started to consider them critically. I bought some naff starter decks before eventually getting a pair of turntables so I could buy records and stitch bits together; stuff went from there really.

When was the first event you played at and how did it go?
Hahaha, poor question. The first event I played at was a night I started a few years ago & begged anyone I knew at the time to come to. It was at Basement 45 and I (very very cleverly) named it ‘Beneath Banksy’ due to the club being situated beneath Park Street’s “Well Hung Lover”. Safe to say it was comically bad; I played a lot of uninspiring tech-house and I don’t think any of my mates took anything I did seriously for the next 6 months. I had some mates who spent over £100 to get trains down from up North to be there & I’ll probably forever feel indebted for their early support.

How did you get involved with More Than?
More Than started with 3 mates in late 2016. I’d dropped out of uni by this point and was using the money I earned from a full time job to hire venues and book artists; planning events and that in the evenings. Working a 9-5 I disliked while everyone I knew was at uni, going out & having fun was pretty miserable. In retrospect, I can see that the cycle I was in, working flat out to earn enough commission at work to stay afloat and help the business grow (contrasted with everyone else I knew being given student loans each term) could make me resentful at times; it was a very unhealthy comparative mindset. The sense of isolation took a toll on my mental health; something I definitely couldn’t see at the time while in the thick of it and trying to get More Than off the ground.

The project gradually grew over the course of its first 12 months and by our 1st birthday we’d accomplished a lot of the goals I’d set out to achieve when we began: working our way up through venue sizes, booking increasingly higher profile names & gradually growing a core base of people who regularly supported our nights.

I think our focus changed over the course of our first year too; initially I was probably guilty of trying to book the biggest names we possibly could, thinking that they would make for a better event. I realised after a night we did in a city centre loft space (without headliners) that we didn’t need big names to run successful events that would live on in the memory of people who came to our parties; our resident DJs could do a solid job and give people as much joy as someone we’d pay £3k + return travel + accommodation + booking fee + rider to play for us. This freed up a lot of cash to focus on interesting venues, decor & the quirkier elements of our parties.

I feel this is the direction we’re currently trying to grow into & make our own. We’ve got into a nice groove now where we generally know what makes our events tick, how to make things happen & how to get the right crowd down who’ll appreciate what we do.

What kind of music do you like to play?
In short, anything that’s right for that moment. I try not to DJ by genres but rather the feeling they illicit - an abstract film score at 170bpm might continue the vibe/tension of the previous 130bpm techno track far better than any key-matched, genre-boxed tune could. There’s a Breaking Bad episode with a train heist & the series composer, Dave Porter, produced an incredible piece called Dead Freight. It’s infuriatingly drawn out with the tension never quite released; delivered in the context of a DJ set, the lack of kick drum or impetus is infuriating. Cutting in the kick from the next track you’re bringing in sets things straight and resolves the tension in an incredibly satisfying manner. In the moment, this piece could make a lot more sense than playing a tune that was just a variation of what was playing before. DJing tightly by genres can only make your sets more uniform & predictable, leading to audience fatigue, a sparser floor and, ultimately, a poorer night.

It’s all about tension. Disturbing the existing vibe such that the audience knows something’s up. If you don’t resolve this tension well (or at all), there’s a feeling of disappointment & everybody feels that shared sense of awkwardness (similar to a crowd witnessing a bad comedian whose jokes aren’t hitting). But if you resolve it well, that’s when the crowd feels that rush & they’re rewarded for bearing with you. The more they’re rewarded for sticking with you, the more loyalty you build up during a set. I like to think if this currency’s high enough by the end of the night, you can play pretty much anything & they’ll be receptive to it. This is where you can really challenge their existing thoughts/perceptions on what they like and don’t like - you can have them dancing to tunes they otherwise wouldn’t have enjoyed 3 hours ago - you’ve built them into a state where they’re backing you, they’re in on the action & they’re having fun (this could be anything from a cheeky noughties hit to a more left field piece of electronic music that otherwise might empty the floor when played at the wrong time). I want people to leave their pre-existing ideas of what is and isn’t good at the door and rediscover & redefine them throughout the party. To me, this is the sign of a successful night. A huge part of this is getting the right crowd down & making sure there’s a general welcoming/accepting attitude on the floor; clay for the potter to mould.

Typically, my sets will be built around your standard trio of house, disco & techno while touching upon electro, garage & more breaksy jungle stuff if the vibe’s right. I like to command an initial opening vibe before allowing the set to naturally evolve, morph & mutate. I’ll tend to prep an opening handful of tracks for this that get across the particular mood I’m feeling.

Who’s been the biggest influence on the kind of music you play?
There’s so so many artists & DJs that I respect for a variety of reasons but for someone who doesn’t produce, Jackmaster & Ben UFO are incredible influences & I admire them both huge amounts for paving signature careers through their selection & mixing alone (alongside the graft to set up their own labels).

Jackmaster’s outright confidence to play what he wants, when he wants, is admirable. His 2006 Mastermix showed me anything’s appropriate & you can re-contextualize tunes to interesting effect. He’s also not afraid to make a crowd wait if he knows they’ll appreciate it more if things kick in later. DJing’s a really interesting one because as much as your set is your own artistic expression, it’s also someone else’s night out - typically a time for them to let off steam & have fun. This lends itself to an intriguing dynamic/melting point whereby your artistic expression has to be delivered in a way that isn’t overtly exclusive & also lets the audience know that they can have fun. I don’t know of any other art form where the artist’s expression is so dependent on the audience watching that piece of art come into existence. Typically an expression is displayed after it’s creation, not during/throughout.

The most inspiring set I’ve ever seen was Ben UFO’s headline set at Dekmantel, Amsterdam last year (2017). In the preceding months, he’d been planning the direction he wanted to take things (a Dekmantel headline slot being a career highlight for many DJs) and on the day, with a couple of hours to go, he completely changed tac with what he was aiming for. What followed was an utterly ridiculous set that traversed an incredible amount of genres in a remarkably fluid way while never losing the crowd. I can’t imagine I’ll ever witness something like that again.

What’s your go-to song for pumping up an audience?
You can’t go wrong with LFO & F.U.S.E.’s Loop . Francesco Renna’s Inside & Joris Voorn’s Incident are also good at getting a nice build in play.

What’s your earliest fond memory of listening to music?
Listening to a bunch of my dad’s old records when I was 5 or 6. There’s something about the tactile nature of picking up a record (with grubby wotsit stained fingers) & placing the needle down that felt magical. Hearing the tunes your parents listened to in their 20s is very leveling & makes you realise they were young once, you’ll be old soon & everybody has a story to tell through the music that meant something to them at certain points in their life.

If there was a TV show of your life which song would be your theme song?
Doin’ Your Own Thing by Tangerue or Lewis Ranieri by Nicholas Britell.

If you could play to anyone and anywhere, who would it be and why?
I don’t understand people getting buzzed off playing to bigger and bigger crowds on larger and loftier stages, it only serves to isolate the DJ from the crowd they’re catering to. The idea of success for me is not more people wanting to see you play but people wanting to see you play more. These factors lead to a crowd who know what you’re about & are absolutely on the same wavelength as you; they’re there to see you play for the right reasons and this inevitably results in pushing you to deliver a set that’s as close to your artistic peak as possible. Additionally, longer set times only further allow the artist to embed themselves in that specific party, understand the crowd and play with their desires to produce pockets of magic.

To this end, the best sets I’ve probably experienced have been artists I immensely appreciate playing all night long in circa 300 cap venues - the crowd really builds into the set & there’s an amazing feeling of unity/togetherness by the end of the evening. This is something you don’t get in large venues with streams of people who wander in and out of the main room unconcerned with who’s playing or what they’re trying to do.

Why did you decide to work with Helicon & Inter:Mission on this event?
This event was definitely built around the venue. It’d taken me several months to manage to get the incredible space (a series of tunnels designed by Brunel beneath Temple Meads train station) and once this was secured I worked out an idea that could maximise the space. I’ve got a mate who’s involved with Helicon so that seemed a pretty natural connection & a series of fortunate circumstances led to meeting the Inter:Mission guys who needed to borrow some decks for a night they were running for charity.

We nailed down the concept of Painting (art) by Numbers (music) & refined how we’d make our pop up installation of music, light & live art come to life. Both groups have been fantastic, they’ve absolutely taken to the brief I gave them & worked incredibly hard to put the steps in place for what should be a fantastic event. We’ve also got the guys who run laser shows for Glastonbury festival down & an infinity mirror light display coming across from London to help bring the main tunnel to life. It’s probably the first event we’ve taken the lighting to such an extreme & allocated such a big chunk of our budget to.

What are you most excited for at the ‘More Than x Helicon x Inter:Mission : Painting By Numbers’ night?
More Than was something I set up while disillusioned with uni & took a bit of a gamble to pursue. To see the project grow past just mates attending to a point where demand for tickets exceeds the number of people we’re allowed to let in is incredibly pleasing.

For this reason, my favourite part of any night I run is just walking around the venue once the event’s in full flow, the months of preparation are finished and I’m no longer needed. There’s no greater reward than catching people with their friends enjoying what we’ve put on for them & hopefully making memories. I also love the buzz you get out from feeling the crowd’s energy when you arrive at the venue; getting a sense of who they are & what they’re about before heading to the booth to play. Not letting any nerves I feel control me, but rather allowing that anticipatory energy to guide me through the opening half hour of my set before I’m on auto pilot and well into the groove.

Catch Jonny’s set at ‘More Than x Helicon x Inter:Mission: Painting By Numbers’ on Friday the 27th of April

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Sam Stone