In the world of dance music, it’s sometimes difficult to remember that having a career that spans over 10 years is in fact a long time to be in the biz. Many DJs come and go, having taking it up as a hobby in their younger days, or as a way to supplement their incomes, but then they have a home and a family, or get a ‘real’ job and don’t have the time, or doing something lame like music journalism. Jay Cunning, whilst still only relatively young, has been at the game since 1989, starting in acid house and working his way through musical styles until he settled with breakbeat in the late 90s.
Cunning is your pretty typical “hard work pays off with a bit of luck and lot of skill” DJ story. His main break into the spotlight was a two-pronged attack with his skills pricking up the ears of listeners on BreaksFM, and also the editors of both Musik and iDJ magazines. “I used to always go to this record store in Kensington,” Cunning begins, “and that’s where I started buying stuff that was a little bit different from house or drum and bass. I started listening to the early Freskanova stuff, early stuff from Matt Cantor (Freestylers) and Andy Gardner (Plump DJs), and I had been buying it for ages but not really doing anything with it, just playing it to myself. And I saw a flyer in the shop for BreaksFM, so I called the guy up and had a chat with Alex (Orton-Green aka Uncouth Yoof) and we spoke for a couple of hours and we got along very well, and he said, ‘send us a CD, and if we like it we’ll put it on the show’. They stuck it on the show and next thing I’m doing the weekly radio show.”
His other opportunity came from the Pressure Breaks mix CD that Cunning puts out. “It’s quite funny, a lot of people think the Pressure Breaks CDs are officially released and you can buy them in shops and stuff, but these are all purely promotional material though,” he chuckles. “It was a way for me to get a mix CD together and out there. The way I was looking at it as a new DJ coming into it was these labels and promoters are getting CDs left right and centre and I needed to do something that was going to get me noticed and really stand out,” so with a friend Cunning worked on the artwork as if it was an actual release. “The first one I did I sent it off to iDJ and Musik magazine and I actually won the competitions with the same CD twice!” he laughs, which was a little embarrassing with the two most popular dance magazines having the same mix out in the same month, but a bonanza for Cunning’s DJ credibility.
And Cunning thinks aspiring DJs need to learn from his example. “I’d say it to anyone who’s starting out DJing, put as much effort as you can. With picking the tunes and doing the mix you could be the best in the world, but I’ve been given CDs with “Bob” written on a blank CD and there isn’t any motivation to listen to it. If you’re getting X amounts of CDs a week, and some one’s gone to the effort of doing art work, as a label boss or promoter you go ‘hold on a minute, I’ll take a listen to that’”, he smiles.
Whilst Jay has been busy producing tracks with 2Sinners and Smithmonger, and running Menu Music, his label that he runs with partners in crime Atomic Hooligan, they’ve also squeeze in a mix for the latest “Beats and Bobs” on Functional. “Both Terry (Ryan of Atomic Hooligan) and I said from the start this should represent what people would hear in a club if Jay Cunning and Atomic Hooligan were on the decks,” Cunning explains. “I will say it is quite conservative, and I use the word loosely, but we’re a lot more cut and paste with rough scratching thrown in and dropping stuff down on it when we play live, but with a mix CD it’s got to be a little more structured. The Mix CD shows a diversity in breaks, there’s techy stuff, funky stuff, tougher stuff, but when you see me and Terry out, you really don’t know what you’re going to hear next; it might be house, it might be drum and bass, it might be a hiphop thing. And this is very much the Menu ethos – creating a party vibe,” he grins.