Meet our April mix of the month winner – Matt Appleton

From hearing John Digweed’s ‘Journeys By DJ’ mix way back in the mid 90s, Matt Appleton has pursued a life less ordinary in the world of Progressive House. He’s not done a bad job either, with industry plaudits from Jody Wisternoff and Michael Wilson (Parks & Wilson) giving Matts considerable skills a national platform in music press.

A working DJ since he was 16, Matt employs the kind of dedication and workmanlike ethics missing from so many of todays new stars. Supporting a host of international DJs during his various residencies, Matt has honed a uniquely British slant on the Progressive aesthetic, a sound which has won him a coveted Mix of the Month title with Decoded Magazine, after what he described as a “bit of a hiatus to make babies”.

We met up with new dad Matt recently to hear the full story.

Hi Matt, hope your well and rested, we hear you’ve just had a new addition to the family. Whats it like to be a new dad?

Hi, it’s very hectic as you can imagine! Ellie is 6 weeks old and we also have a 15 month old called Oliver and an 8 year old called Harvey who is going on 16 ha ha! Ellie is a little diamond though so we are doing ok sleep wise. It’s just meant I don’t always have as much spare time as I used to focus on my music, which was one of the reasons I also stopped doing my radio show.

It’s a new chapter in my life and I wouldn’t change it for the world though and they all put a smile on my face on a daily basis. Oliver already seems to be getting into his tunes…When I’m checking out any new promos or vinyl he always wants to be involved and has this neat little dance he does!

So let’s go right back to the beginning. What was your musical journey like up to the point of hearing John Digweed’s JBDJ mix?

Prior to discovering John’s JDJ mix tape I was more into my Rock music like Guns N’ Roses, Metallica and Led Zeppelin and also played Guitar in a few bands growing up. And yes I had dodgy long hair ha ha! From a young age I was always listening to my parents Vinyl collection like Thompson Twins, Fleetwood Mac and Dire Straits and was always fascinated by the big sounds the bands could create using Synthesisers.

In particular on the Guns n’ Roses use your Illusion albums some of the tracks weighed in at around 9 minutes which for a rock track was rather long. One track in particular stood out and that was ‘Estranged’ I loved the way this track was almost 4 different pieces of music fused into the one single track. I definitely think this helped seal the deal on which style of dance music I would be into and as soon as I heard the big melodic sounds of John Digweed and Sasha I was instantly hooked!

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Tell us about that first residency. Where was it, and how did a 16 year old kid manage to play in a UK nightclub!?

It was at a club called Laughton’s in Scarborough and I wasn’t even old enough to be in the club!! It was pure luck really; I used to occasionally shop for vinyl in Scarborough and knew a few of the local lads. I had heard talk about a new night starting and decided to hand over a mix tape I had done which got passed to the promoter.

He contacted me not long after saying he loved the mix and would I be interested in some warm up slots…Obviously I bit his hand off and went on to I play my first few gigs warming up for the other DJ’s. After about a year the night changed to a different night called ‘Pukka’, and I moved over and became their resident. By this time I was playing more of the peak time sets which I loved as it gave me chance to play some of the bigger tunes which were about at the time.

How do you think your style progressed over the time you were a resident? Do you think that development would have occurred naturally as a bedroom jock?

Being a resident definitely helps you read a crowd and build your sets accordingly. As a warm up DJ it’s not your job to play all the latest big tunes but to work the crowd and get them going. You can still be brave and road test new tunes but it’s more about the long haul then getting instant results and reactions by dropping the big tunes.

It’s your job as the resident to build them up gradually and get them ready for the main DJ. By putting the time in and learning my craft with the warm up sets this in turn led to me working my way up to the peak time slots where I could play the bigger tunes.

A lot of this has been lost nowadays… everyone strives to be the headline DJ and get all the adoration, but you have to put the time in and work your way up. I don’t feel this would have developed as well or as naturally just through bedroom DJing as you need the crowd to read and learn from and find out what works and what doesn’t.

What were some of the big tunes you played back then? Do you think we still have those big anthems in dance today?

God…There are so many!! During my time as a warm up DJ I used to love playing anything by Fathers of Sound. They always used tough punchy drums which used to sound great on a large system and always got a good reaction. Anything by Fade would go down well as well as early Renaissance tracks like Corrado’s sublime Trust and Angel by Anna Din. I will always remember dropping Quivver’s Believe in Me for the first time towards the end of one of my sets and the reaction still gives me goosebumps to this day! I have always been a huge fan of Quivver’s productions which I feel have stood the test of time.

During my time as a resident, playing more peak time sets, was a great time for progressive house music. There are way too many to mention but some of my big tunes around that time were. Bedrock – Heaven Scent, Christian West – Eterna, Breeder – The Chain/Twilo Thunder and Fade’s stunning remix of Delirium’s Silence.

I think we do still have those big anthems but they are far more accessible to everyone and easier to get hold of than they used to be. I remember paying £20 for Delirium – Silence from Massive Records in London, as they were the only record shop in the country to have the promo’s in at the time. Luckily for me I had it around 4 months before it got a full release which made it more exclusive when I played it out.

I do miss hunting for those elusive tunes, but on the flip side I love the way that digital downloads have opened the doors to a lot more music that I may not have heard 10 years ago. I think there will always be those anthems, and Sasha and John Digweed still create a buzz with their sets but people are much quicker nowadays in ID’ing the tracks they are playing due to social media. Back then you had to hover round the DJ booth hoping to catch a glimpse of what that tune was!!

Back in 2009 IDJ ran a ‘Raw Talent’ competition – I think I might have entered it too – You came 2nd. Can you recall the story behind the mix, and your reactions to it performing so well?

I was really chuffed with the feedback I got on this mix. This was around the time I properly started messing around with Ableton for putting my mixes together and was really getting to grips with looping and re-editing tracks. One of the standout tracks on the mix was Josh Wink’s Dolphin Smack and I had about 10 different loops of the track and basically created my own re-edit of the track using these loops. I remember thinking WOW!

I can really make these tunes do exactly what I want them to do… No more frustrating early run outs you got with CD’s and vinyl. Obviously, I would have liked to win but I was more then happy with being runner up and being featured in the magazine. I’m sure I still have the magazine somewhere… I may have to dig it out!

Tell us about the time you DJed with Sasha. Surely a prog DJs dream gig?

Unfortunately I wasn’t warming up for him, but was on the same bill for a gig I did at the Ministry Of Sound for Electronic Sessions. I played a set in the back room but just to have my name on a flyer/ticket alongside Sasha was a dream comes true for me and something I will never forget.

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Your winning mix (dedicated to Ellie) has a great vibe to it with a mixture of old and new. How do you find searching for music these days having come up through the vinyl ranks?

Thanks…I’m really glad you guys liked it! The way I tend to work when putting a mix together is lot different than playing live which is more about reacting to the mood and the crowd in that moment. When I’m listening to new music I will usually hear something and be like…’that’s going on my next mix!’

From there I will build and work from that one tune which gives me much more scope to be creative as you can try a mix several times, if it doesn’t work you try something else that does work. I don’t mind delving into the older stuff as there is so much good music about you don’t always get chance to play or utilise it when you first get it. I am also lucky enough to be on a few decent promo lists so I get sent a lot of upfront music which I’m very grateful for.

I will usually try and have a Beatport session once a month and pick up some new tracks or anything I’ve missed. You tend to get used to what labels and artists you like, Hernan’s Sudbeat label for example is just consistently good! I still delve into my vinyl every now and then and sneak a classic or two in whenever possible. I’m having a bit of a vinyl revival at the moment picking up a lot of things I missed first time around. The wife is getting stressed out with the amount of vinyl arriving each month! There are so many bargains on Discogs…I’m addicted!!

Now the ‘hiatus’ is over, where can we see you play?

I currently don’t have any gigs lined up but am open to offers!! I am however starting up my monthly Transmission mix show again on Lightwave Radio which I’m very excited about. I used to include a guest mix each month and had some great guests including Barry Jamieson, Lee Softley, Scotty.A, Sonic Union, Ian Dillon, Stas Drive, Anthony Yarranton, Rich Curtis, Dale Middleton, Liz Cirelli and Danny Lloyd. When I start up again in May the show will just be me for an hour but I will look at getting some guests back on once I’m up and running again properly.