The Real Peel

john peel bbc

BBC Radio 1 DJ John Peel was the ultimate music tastemaker. During his 35-year career Peel never adhered to musical limitations and earned a faithful following due to his warm, engaging style.

Before his death in 2004 Peel began writing a memoir, which was completed by his wife, Sheila Ravenscroft. In this excerpt from Margrave of the Marshes (Chicago Review Press), Ravenscroft recalls her husband’s fondness for The White Stripes (guitarist Jack White wrote the book’s forward), Jeff Mills, grime and underground DJ culture.

Words: Sheila Ravenscroft

In the last few years, John seemed to acquire new motivation and energy. He was thrilled about the kind of artists who were doing sessions for him, first at Maida Vale, beginning in May 1998 with 60ft Dolls, and subsequently here at home. John enjoyed the Maida Vale ritual immensely. The evening would begin with him and the production team having dinner at a nearby Thai restaurant; sometimes the musicians—such as Loudon Wainwright III, Underworld or the Immortal Lee County Killers would come too. When the meal was finished, John would be brought a hot towel, despite the fact that the restaurant didn’t provide hot towels for its clientele; this was a special treat just for John. He would usually leave ten minutes before everyone else, at which point the others would smoke the cigarettes they had been holding back in his presence. John then went and sat in the booth in Maida Vale on his own and listened to records until his colleagues arrived with beer for the audience, and the band got ready to perform.

There were some incredible sessions there: Melys played a storming set the night Liverpool won the UEFA Cup; Melt Banana, Herman Dune, T. Raumschmiere and DJ Rupture were also among John’s favorites. The White Stripes did a Maida Vale show in July 2001, the day before their gig at the 100 Club. John had been playing the seven-inches that Jack White had sent him, and had got his mitts on White Blood Cells just before Jack and Meg arrived in the UK.

John Peel at Home

John Peel at home, digging through stacks of music.

When John and his producer Anita turned up at Maida Vale, the band were sound-checking, so John grabbed the chance for a nap. Anita told me she remembers Jack and Meg waiting expectantly for John to wake up. When he did, they all went to the Thai restaurant and talked about the blues. Jack quizzed John about the gigs he’d attended, and John told him all about having seen Gene Vincent. It seems strange in hindsight, but John had little sense of how the White Stripes were poised to explode in Britain. On the way back to the studio, he said to Anita, “They’re very sweet, aren’t they? We must make sure we mention their tour dates so they get a good audience.”

The White Stripes rattled through three sets of three songs, and the faces in the audience told the whole story: no one could believe, from that fearsome sound, that there were only two of them in the band. Anita asked if they could do one more song as a finale. In the event, they did three. The last number was Gene Vincent’s “Baby Blues.” John just welled up. You couldn’t have prised the smile from his face with a crowbar.

Another session that was very dear to John was the one by Jeff Mills. In fact, John was so excited when he heard that Jeff was booked for the show in May 1998 that he asked the producer to check that it was the Jeff Mills. When he arrived, John nervously watched him through the glass, eventually plucking up the courage to go in and say hello. He had thought Jeff looked like the silent type, but he couldn’t have been more wrong. Within seconds, Jeff was asking John questions about records he had played and artists he’d met. Jeff had 50 records with him, and John gently suggested that he had probably brought too many for the 30-minute set. Jeff just smiled to himself. The set was amazing, with Jeff flitting effortlessly between the three decks, spinning around, dancing—and he played all 50 tracks. John was buzzing about it for weeks.

In the same year, he turned over an entire show to the techno label Tresor Records to celebrate their hundredth release. Until that point, techno acts hadn’t been invited on the show, for the simple reason that John and his producer Anita thought they would be too cool to accept. But the likes of Pacou, Tony Surgeon, Carl Regis, Tobias Schmidt and Neil Landstrumn were overjoyed to perform, and the session was revelatory. Tony used the opportunity to try out some new, moodier mixes; Neil claimed it was better than a gig; Carl provided a pounding, teeth-rattling finale. John, for his part, was simply bowled over.

It was lovely to see him so swept up in the music. He was the same when he devoted the program to the then-emerging grime scene in May 2004. John had started playing grime three months earlier after listening to the pirate station Rinse FM and had picked up some of the twelve-inches—including the first grime track he played on air, “Battle” by Jon E. Cash—from Black Market Records in Soho. On John’s initial visit there with his assistant, Hermeet, the guy behind the counter, Nicky, had handed them a pile of grime records and said, “Pioneer.” John asked if that was the name of a grime act, but Nicky explained, “No, you’re a pioneer, sir, and I just had to say it!” John laughed it off but it clearly made him happy.

Whenever John and Hermeet went record shopping after that, Nicky would present them with new grime twelve-inches. Invariably, John would flick through them and say, “Got this one. And this. And this one,” like a boy swapping football cards in the playground. He’d bought so many that there wasn’t enough new stuff coming in to satisfy him.

The grime night arose because John and Hermeet realized there wasn’t anyone playing this music on Radio 1; that made it even more exciting. The studio was overflowing with young DJs whom Hermeet had spotted at a club night in Brixton—there was DJ Eastwood and the Renegade Crew, which comprised MCs Purple, G Double E, IQ and IE. Those among them who had started shaving weren’t old enough to drive; those who could drive weren’t old enough to vote. Most had previously been used to mixing in their bedrooms or among friends, and now they were going out live on Radio 1. It was quite a gamble putting on these relative unknowns; the music was so under-represented on radio that it felt doubly important that the show was a success. John was just pleased to have showcased grime when no one else was playing it; he found the rawness and vitality of the scene rejuvenating.

As featured in issue 16

A Candid Q&A with Chicago House Music Legend Steve “Silk” Hurley


DJ/producer/remixer Steve “Silk” Hurley has been at the forefront of house music since the genre’s infancy in the ’80s in Chicago. Brandishing a style that holds true to the underground while embracing R&B, soul and pop, Hurley has worked with a who’s who of talent, remixed the biggest artists in musical history, and has topped the charts and received four Grammy nominations in the process.

In this revealing interview ahead of his DJ gig at House Vibrations at The Great Northern in San Francisco on July 21, Hurley retraces his beginnings, dating back to the breakout success of his 1987 classic “Jack Your Body” and his role as one-half of JM Silk, through the ups and a few downs of his storied career. He also reveals what inspires him to keep his indie S&S Records going in a changing musical landscape and his plans for the future.

Favorite memory of the early Chicago house scene

Steve “Silk” Hurley: My fondest memories of the early Chicago house scene were all the times that I played my bedroom demos from a Pioneer RT-909 reel-to-reel deck or Tascam four-track cassette recorder at parties all over the city. At times Lil’ Louis and I looked down at the crowd of thousands from the balcony DJ booth as we each played our unreleased tracks at the downtown Bismark Hotel. Other times, a thousand young teens connected with my tracks at Jam Master Jay’s events (at Glenwood Roller Rink in South Suburbs of Chicago). In either case, it was a sign to me that our new music was being embraced by the teen-aged crowds everywhere, and we needed to feed the demand in a hurry!

How he got his nickname, “Silk”

Ironically, it originated in my early teen years, before I even became a DJ. We had a neighborhood dance group that consisted of my muscular friend Reggie, called Herc, a lanky friend Rudy, whose long arms earned him the name Stretch, and me, a kid with wavy hair who they gave the name Silk. When I started learning to mix records as a DJ, I kept the Silk moniker as a reminder to me that my blends should always be as smooth as silk.

Most surprising success

Although I didn’t know the magnitude until several weeks after it exploded in the U.K., “Jack Your Body” had to be by far my most surprising success. It was created in fun and was my most experimental record ever, combining blues riffs, comedy, and a nonchalantly sung vocal sample over a house groove. I didn’t expect it to go number one on any charts. What was more surprising was JYB topping the U.K. pop charts for two weeks. It was purely an underground track to put out to be a filler track in DJ sets, which is why we came up with the label called Underground Records to release it. I even drew my own artwork just for the fun of it.

Most surprising failure

After the massive hit “Jack Your Body,” I felt like I had a few under my belt. But my most surprising failures came soon after that when many of the songs I wrote didn’t become hits. However, I realized then that it would be my failures that would actually give me long term success. In other words, the more failures I had, the more I would perfect my craft…and the closer I would come to writing another song that connected with the masses. I also found out that sometimes those failures weren’t failures at all. They were just songs that were ahead of their time. It may be years later that a song becomes marketable. From that point on, I have always embraced each failure as a learning experience that made room for the next success. Continue Reading

Read An Interview With François Kevorkian at Axis Studios From 1995

francois kevorkian wave music interview

New York City-based DJ/producer/Wave Music owner François Kevorkian isn’t a man who gives a lot of interviews. However, after a lot of coaxing, I was able to get time with the master. We spoke in between sessions at his Axis Studios in Midtown Manhattan. The interview was published in the December 1995 issue of the now-defunct Muzik.

There was indeed a lot to talk about during our encounter. Kevorkian, who had taken a hiatus from spinning, had returned to the DJ booth. He started his DJ career at the Paradise Garage (he worked and produced with Garage guru Larry Levan!) and Studio 54 in the ’80s and became a sought-after remixer, lending his deft touch to a raft of classics like Yazoo’s “Situation,” Jody Watley’s “Don’t You Want Me” and a host of reworks for Depeche Mode. His epic DJ sets were known for methodically channeling music from a spate of genres, including house, disco, pop, R&B and soul.

A year after the interview, Kevorkian co-launched Body & Soul, a Sunday afternoon party held at the new defunct Club Vinyl in New York City, with John Davis. Two decades later, FK and his B&S DJ partners Danny Krivit and Joaquin ‘Joe’ Claussell‘s party has a faithful international global following of those who adore “deep, soulful grooves with an uplifting message.” Continue Reading

Jansons & Senzala 5 Tracks of the Moment


After individually and collectively releasing tracks on Richy Ahmed’s Four Thirty Two imprint, up-and-coming London-based DJ/producer Jansons (half of LoveHrtz) and rising duo Senzala join forces once again to deliver a rousing update of the 1989 club classic “Take Me Away,” which also a boasts a nifty electro remix by LoveHrtz.

For the unfamiliar, “Take Me Away” was originally produced and performed by the musical union of Jeff Mills, Anthony Srock and Bridget Grace who went by the moniker True Faith with Final Cut.

As the buzzworthy cut rises up the house music charts, we checked in with the guys and asked them about their tracks of the moment.

Continue Reading