JUDGE JULES is everything you expect a veteran superstar DJ to be: matey, motormouthed, bit of a geezer (the accent is Danny Dyer with a hint of Ray Winstone).
He’s just back from Ibiza, flies to eastern Europe for a gig at the weekend. You picture him kicking back on a private jet, surrounded by supermodels and foaming champagne flutes.
First impressions turn out to be deceptive. Under the chipper exterior, Jules is reserved and exceedingly thoughtful. Two years ago, he cut down on DJing to make room for a second career as a lawyer. He appreciates this might strike some as strange — scaling back his career as a global deck spinner to become a solicitor.
“I was approaching 45 and, because nobody has done this before me, I didn’t have any role models in terms of what life would be like in mid-40s. Would I still be in demand? You don’t know. Now I DJ at weekends, work as a lawyer during the day. It’s quite straightforward. The two combine nicely. I’m not going to give up DJing as long as people want to see me — which continues to be the case.”
Jules doesn’t wear a suit or help motorists wriggle out of traffic fines. His specialty is entertainment law, which involves passing on a lifetime of hard-won advice to musicians and actors.
“The people I worked with… no way could you tell they were lawyers. The dress code is smart, not formal. I don’t do anyone’s wills for them.”
There’s a sense of full circle. It was while studying law at the London School of Economics in the late 1980s that Jules’s music career took off (real name Julius O’Riordan, he owes his sobriquet ‘Judge’ to his legal background).
Back then: dance music was underground, DJs lugged their vinyl gig to gig, the venues tended to be poky and dingy — a far cry from the gleaming uberclubs of today.
“I gave up on vinyl as soon as it became practical,” he says. “I moved into CDs the moment I could. I’m a music lover not a format lover. Vinyl was heavy to carry, got scratched quickly in crowded situations, such as the small DJ booths where my heritage lies. I never got hung upon things like that.”
Ironically, his decision to semi-retire has coincided with an explosion in dance music. After two decades knocking on the door, techno, house, trance and other sub-categories have suddenly broken through in America under the generic handle ‘EDM’ (Electronic Dance Music). The rise of EDM has spawned a new generation of superstars — Avicii, Skrillex, DeadMau5 et al — and given earlier generations of DJs a new lease of relevancy.
“I remember the late ‘80s acid house scene. Then there was the explosion of the ‘90s. Commercially, this is probably the best it’s been, in terms of number one records, etc. It’s in rude health,” Jules says.
He’s headlined several of the big American clubs fuelling the boom. Ground zero for EDM is Las Vegas, where mega venues such as Hakkasan serve as proving ground for stars such as Avicii and Afrojack. Jules has gone to Vegas, enjoyed the neon and the silliness, though he appreciates why the influence of the city on dance divides opinion.
“It’s a Marmite thing,” he says. “Vegas has an awful lot of quite commercial clubs… There’s a bit of a VIP scene going on with it. However, as a shop window it needs to be respected.”
As EDM gains in popularity, a debate has broken out over authenticity in dance. Several younger DJs are accused of playing premixed sets — of, in essence, sticking a USB key into their laptop and ‘miming’ their way through a performance. Jules has a considered opinion on the debate.
“There are some DJs who make their own tunes, some who do it via the conduit of third parties. Clearly you would expect me to say those who do the former are more deeply involved. But even those who [play premixed sets]… are not in the position they are in for no reason. There are precious few coincidences that lead DJs to be successful.”
Many of the fresh crop are entertainers as much as musicians.
“It didn’t come naturally to me at the start,” he says. “You tend to keep your head down and get on with it.
“After a while I became comparatively relaxed and confident. You grow into it.”
If Jules seems matter-of-fact about the EDM revolution, it’s doubtless because he has seen it all before. He had a ringside perch through the rise of the ‘Superstar DJ’ phenomenon in the 90s. This was when big name DJs became household faces for the first time, with earnings to match. Suddenly the previously anonymous likes of Carl Cox, Paul Oakenfold and, yes, Judge Jules, were on magazine covers and record sleeves, the public face of a music and cultural uprising.
Jules has a villa in Mallorca, where he plays a residency. During the summer he can be all over Europe and America. And yes, the cliche is true: often private jets are involved. Nonetheless, the job isn’t all parties and poolsides. Two hours at the decks translates to another eight to 10 of intense preparation.
“You are on the odd private jet… I know a lot of people would like to be in that position; for every DJ earning a living, there are probably a thousand struggling to break through. So one should never be sanctimonious or rest on your laurels. All of that being said, it isn’t as glamorous as is made out. It’s an amazing lifestyle, getting paid to do what you do. And elements are wonderful. At the same time it is extremely hard work.”
Judge Jules plays the Savoy in Cork on Sunday
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