British DJ prepares for his Dubai debut. Time Out joins the queue to see the international superstar DJ hit the decks on his first outing in the UAE.
‘Sorry, my daddy isn’t here,’ chirps a young boy’s voice, ‘please leave a message. Thank you!’ I don’t leave a message. Instead I hang up, check the number and call again. This time it’s answered by a softly-spoken man: ‘Sorry about that, I’m just in a café getting lunch with my son and his friend.’ It’s not, to be honest, what I expected to hear from Jason Herd. This is, after all, the guy who – as one half of Herd And Fitz – has been lighting up the dance charts the last couple of years, most notably with the smash hit vocal house tune ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, and whose DJ sets have taken him to some of the biggest events in the world.
Now here he is, taking his kid for a day out; throughout the rest of the interview young Elliot can be heard chattering away in the background.
‘I’ve played with Donna Summer at the Dolce And Gabbana 20th birthday party [in Milan], and the closing-down party for the Cannes Film Festival. And now I’m in Rochdale, Manchester, going to the park with my little boy,’ he laughs. ‘I love the way I’ve got it now, I’ve really got the best of both worlds.’
It’s a weird counterpoint to Jason’s memories of the clubbing scene in Manchester, England: ‘I grew up seeing DJs like Graeme Park at [famous 90s club] The Hacienda. That club was amazing. We’d be up all night and I’d go back to parties and jam on people’s decks – that’s how I got into DJing.’
From there, Jason worked his way up the ranks, eventually running 2Risqué, a club night where he met future production partner Jon Fitz. ‘He used to come up and say, “Can I DJ for you?” all the time. One week he told me he played bass, and I needed a bass player for a record I was working on. We did the record together, and that became ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, and we became friends after that.’
From that first collaboration, the duo have gone on to a successful career in dance music production, with Jason’s knowledge of music engineering and passion for making melodies meshing perfectly with Jon’s ability to play instruments. But talent doesn’t always count for much, says Jason. ‘A big part of the industry is having the right contacts. If you have Pete Tong and a couple of other massive DJs behind your track it will be massive, but a better record that doesn’t have people behind it will struggle. I couldn’t get Tongy or Erick Morillo to play ‘I Just Can’t Get Enough’, and then one day Tongy heard it out and said, “Oh my god, what’s this record?” And we said, “We sent it to you last year and gave it to you twice and you didn’t listen to it!”’
Jason admits that the reason for that was probably because of the amount of material that such DJs receive – Herd gets 30 tracks a day, far too many to listen to. But that doesn’t mean he’s not willing to help new talent. ‘I run a studio, so I do some engineering for kids to help them climb up the ladder. I’ll get them in the studio and do a co-production with them and let them put it in their name on it.’ So how long before young Elliot Herd is in the studio? ‘He’s getting to like dance music, but he’s more into art at the moment. But he’s got no choice about liking it – I make him listen to it in the car all the time. He likes techno at seven years old, don’t you Elliot?’
There’s a muffled agreement, but it sounds more like Elliot’s more interested in talking to his friend, at least for now.
Soon Jason will be flying out of England for his set in Dubai and, despite having lived in the UK for most of his life, he says that he prefers the UAE scene right now.
‘England in the old days was brilliant, but now clubs can be really moody and hostile. I think it’s the drugs that people are taking now, making them moody and horrible and I hate it. It’s killing off the scene there. That’s why I like Dubai – there are no drugs, and people go out to enjoy music and party.’