“That’s just a bit of fun! I did it because I was asked. My uncle here in the UK is a very famous chef, but I won’t be giving up my music day job anytime soon!” Those were the opening words from Julius O’Riordan or as those in the music industry like to call him, Judge Jules, as he briefly commented on his Celebrity MasterChef 2019 selection.
As we settled in for an impromptu chat, Julius began to paint a picture of the history of the Trance music scene that to many across the pond in America, and elsewhere, has led to today’s loyal fanbase.
“It was an evolution really,” said Julius. “There was a real growth period in the UK between 1988 and 1998. The illegality of raves became a much more serious offense thanks to the Criminal Justice Act. The putting on of raves fell between the cracks in the early ’90s, and it became rather risky for promoters to stage illegal raves. But, simultaneously with that, the licensing of late-night events got more lenient in part to Ministry of Sound and their very clever lawyer. That was the backdrop to the so-called superclubs of the mid-’90s onwards
In a nutshell, that sums it up. A lot of information in a short amount of time, but that’s how Julius wanted it portrayed. It did happen quickly, and clubs like Godskitchen and Ministry of Sound were quick to jump on the opportunity that the public was presented. The superclubs of the late ’90s: Gatecrasher, Cream, and the festivals they put on, were the evolution of the pattern that occurred over that decade. So, how do we paint a picture of this?
Well, you’ve got the arrival of Trance. The records that were released in any sort of numbers began to surface circa 1997. “There were records before then,” remembered Julius. “But, there weren’t enough to construct a set. It was the same thing as when House music came out. I was DJing then, and you couldn’t really play an entire House set – you’d hear a bit of Hip-Hop and Indie – so the same really applies to Trance.” In culmination, after 1997, the quality and quantity of Trance music records skyrocketed, and a significant amount of clubs in major English cities that didn’t set out to become Trance venues went on to take advantage of the golden era that was upon them.
Before the internet, there were few mediums to showcase the talents of Trance music producers. Mixmag, BBC Radio One, record stores, and clubs made the period of gesticulation much longer than what it is today. “Gouryella’s records could sit on import in the UK for months then get picked up by a UK major label and later remixed,” said Julius. “So, I think the records had a much longer organic build back then than what they do now.”
And, now with 25,000 songs uploaded to Beatport weekly for sale, I asked Julius his thoughts on the growth of the industry and if there’s a threshold on the exorbitant amount of released music. “I don’t think the industry is growing,” declared Julius. “I just think more people are releasing music.” And, he’s not wrong. Across all genres, Spotify sees over 20,000 uploaded songs per day. But, does this mean the industry is growing? “Yes, the volume of streaming and income is going up, but the more mature listener market has plateaued in the Spotify era,” said Julius. “All it means is that more and more people are releasing music on portals and it isn’t getting listened to, which brings up a lot of the old challenges of bursting out of the bubble.”
In the last ten years, music software costs virtually nothing and has been a great equalizer in allowing people who previously couldn’t afford to make music to do so. But, in Julius’ eyes, it hasn’t brought the percentage of tracks with the magic factor up any higher. “There seems to be loads and loads of 6.5 / 10 records, but I don’t think there are anymore 10 / 10 records than there ever were. The 10 / 10 records have the feeling that you know right away. There aren’t that many of them.”
And, with many producers using the same software to create music, the question begs whether the level of productions of specific sub-genres have become stagnant. “For me, I think some of the very fast Trance is a bit stagnant, but I think some of the Progressive stuff isn’t,” admitted Julius. “I think it’s a good time for music, but you have to search fucking hard to find it, that’s for sure.” Julius continued, “I think the quantity of good releases has remained stagnant; therefore, you need to look for an even smaller needle in a bigger haystack.” And, that’s what DJ’s are paid to do – find the needle. “In my case, I have a weekly syndicated radio show and podcast, and that is my task,” said Julius. “It’s all DJ’s main importance.” Even with Spotify and Apple curators providing playlists, it is the DJ’s who are even more essential curators if they engendered the trust of the crowd. That’s their job – to digital crate-dig.
But, are today’s radio and Trance DJ’s crate-digging? Are they going the extra mile in researching new music or they playing what the record labels request of them to continue receiving free promotional music, thereby making their job easier? He reverted his answer towards radio personalities in saying, “I think that varies from DJ to DJ. I spent 15 years on BBC Radio 1, a station that in its specialist output I was a part of, and made a virtue out of DJ’s cultivating their market places and being a shop window for their tastes. The specialist DJ’s on those BBC stations are not told what to play.”
And, with new producers wanting to have their songs showcased, many are quite frankly not in tune with the language that many of the recording contracts read. With most makers of dance music making records to showcase their skills to generate DJ and live performance work, everything may seem to go unobstructed until they have a hit record. “I see it all the time in my legal practice,” Julius sadly stated. “Artists sign terrible contracts with a small label and didn’t even read it. They just signed it because they felt like the label might give them a leg up in image or something.” While Julius was adamant that not all small labels have terrible contracts, he was quick to say that, “some of them sure as hell do.”
When a record breaks and a major label wants to come along and re-sign it, suddenly the artist is stuck in a terrible contract. “I understand why it happens,” Julius sympathetically said. “A lot of people think they can’t afford a lawyer or don’t bother as a consequence. And, unfortunately with the volume of releases that are coming out at the moment, in most people’s cases, the record doesn’t do anything, and they’re fine with it without realizing they’ve signed a turkey of a contract.”
But, in the small percentage where there is a hit record and turkey of a contract, there are difficulties. Occasionally those documents can represent a binding exclusive right over an artist’s tracks for quite some time. “If you’re signed to a contract for 3-5 years where you get no advance, and you signed to a label that’s not very good and didn’t understand the language, then you have a big problem on your hands.” And, Julius understands why artists continually do it. “People are so desperate to succeed, and I understand that. To succeed in any arch as an artist, you’ve got to be at worst extremely hungry and at best desperate. That causes some people to be quite bad in making these decisions.” Under English law, if an artist signs a particularly bad contract and is not legally represented, there is a chute where the artist may be able to get out of the contract. “It’s a minefield and people need to proceed with extreme caution,” Julius warned. “If you don’t understand something, please ask an attorney.” Note: Julius’ law practice works with a variety of clients charging different amounts based on the individual.
With electronic music as popular in the UK as Rock and Roll is to America, you have to take into account that the UK’s population is 20% of the United States. The landmass is about 5% or less, making the density much more requiring difficult travel. With that said, and the higher percentage of his shows being played in the UK nowadays, Julius is still able to perform live roughly 100 times per year when he’s not practicing law. When asked what still drives him to play, his response was magical. “It’s like one of those old movies where you’ve got this machine that won’t work unless you put a special crystal in the middle of it,” described Julius. “The dynamic is the late hour, the crowd all staring in one direction, and fundamentally the most important is the music and the sound quality of it. The DJ is the crystal that connects all those factors, and the energy and thrill of being that crystal is something that I will never tire of. I can’t imagine any DJ who is lucky enough to do good gigs would ever tire of that.”
Speaking of magic, when asked for an artist he’s excited about on the production front, Julius was quick to mention Frankie Wah. “He is a master of creating tracks with the magic factor of 10 / 10,” reveled Julius. “It ticks every box that I love about music! The chords, the beats, they have an incredible vibe, and it’s quite difficult to encounter producers who do that.”
More recently, Julius is enjoying CamelPhat‘s transition by saying, “They’re moving towards more a Progressive House and Trancey direction. It’s interesting because there’s been a movement of House producers going towards a more slower Trancey direction which I think is really good. It’s bringing together two genres I grew up on.”
We ended with a funny story that Julius shared, and it involved a Liverpool legend, John Kelly. Whenever John would play gigs in London with Julius, he would stay at his house. “Well, when you’re playing and in the mix, you’re completely in the zone,” Julius laughingly described. “He would love nothing better than come behind the decks and yank my pants and underwear down midway through the mix. There was nothing I could do! Heads he wins, tails you lose! He managed to do that at about five different shows that I was doing.”
Being called away by his wife, our conversation came to a close. But, Julius again reminded artists to please contact an attorney if there are any questions regarding a legal matter before signing.
We invite your comments in the section below.
Follow Judge Jules: