It never feels like compromising with Medlar

Informed by a UK sound palette in the digital age of accessibility, Medlar’s DJ sets are an eclectic blend of an extensive dance floor catalogue, through a selector which is as much speculative archivist as he is entertainer. The DJ born Ned Pegler, approaches music in a continuous explorative method, with everything from youtube to the warm-up DJ informing his musical selections which today span the width and breadth of the dance floor.

His own House productions which have found a home on Wolf Music is no clear indicator of the scope of his work in the booth, where today Electro can live side by side with a Disco track. In the booth there’s a constant symbiotic relationship between him, this records, his own music, the audience and the environment. The roots of this are embedded in the DJ’s origins, which were congruous with his rise as a producer, but whereas the DJ became defined by a singular sound, his sets have continued to explore the endless factions of dance music, with Medlar often digging extensively through phases as he comes into contact with new and old forms unfamiliar music. Known to take notes in the booth and the dance floor alike to broaden his scope, he is constantly assimilating new pieces that will take Medlar, the DJ, into a new journey of discovery and expand his already extensive DJ sets.

Growing up in the English countryside but coming into a career in music in Brighton, then London, Medlar’s affinity for House and Disco came into its own while working at Mr Bongo, a record store known particularly for these genres. At the same time his DJ career was cultivated playing student parties, and while House and Disco was and is still a prominent fixture in his sets, that aspect of Medlar’s creative aspirations would lead to include everything from Jungle to Acid as I find out when I call the DJ up at his home in London.

He’s joining Leon Vynehall for the first of a series of residencies at Jæger this year, the two DJ’s having met at a festival at Croatia through a mutual friend, Ashley Dong from the now defunct Well Rounded Records. “Since then we’ve played the occasional show together and we’ve always got on pretty well” says Medlar about his relationship with Jæger’s latest resident. It’s a unique event for Jæger and I’m curious what goes through the mind of a DJ in that context and how his early experiences imbue what he is today. We set aside Medlar’s extensive recording career which include an album and a formidable discography on Wolf Music, to talk DJing, requesting Happy birthday and what it means to be a resident today.  

At the the start of your DJ career, you were playing Student nights which was a bit of baptism of fire, I imagine. What were those early years like for you?

I moved to Brighton when I was 18 and I’ve always been DJing in my bedroom while I played a few illegal free parties in Somerset. I grew up in the countryside basically and when I moved to Brighton there was more of a infrastructure for a DJ  – I played for free at various clubs, doing graveyard shifts or warm-ups. Then a friend of mine started a student night in a terrible bar, a basement that hadn’t changed its sound system since the eighties. It was every Tuesday for five hours and I did that for four or five years.

As you said, it was a real baptism of fire, you really cut your teeth at a place like that. The kind of place where you’ve had every terrible request ever. I remember the sound system went once and a football chant started up; “the DJ is a wanker.” You got asked for Happy Birthday every two or three shows, but there were some people that actually enjoyed it too, because it was listed as an underground student night.

What did you take from experiences like that into the DJ you are today?

I think mainly that I can relax in that setting even if it is a bit overwhelming and crazy. Everything went wrong that could possibly go wrong, so it kind of prepares you. I still get nervous before gigs, but the setting of the club isn’t so intimidating anymore.

I imagine your confidence has bolstered because people are there to actually see and hear you in a club setting as a headliner DJ?

I think if I’m actually headlining a show I get more nervous because I want to tick boxes of what people expect from it. I want to do something surprising as well. I almost prefer gigs when there’s a headliner and then you can pack a bag around them. That’s a bit more free. It obviously instills some confidence when you are a headliner DJ or an invited guest. I must be doing something right…

In the early years it was also lot about Drum n Bass and UK urban genres for you. How did you get into House from there?

I didn’t really have any preferences. Today everything is based around dance music cultures like House, Techno or Disco, but when I grew up I was into grunge and post punk stuff and then I got into Jungle and DnB and from that the other UK genres that people call the hardcore contingent.

About ten years ago I quit my college course and started working at Mr. Bongo records – there was a government scheme that would give 100 pounds a week to volunteer for someone, I doubt it exists anymore. Mr.Bongo records introduced me to some House music I actually loved. Up until then the only House music I was exposed to was chart House music.

What was the House music like that pulled you over to that side of dance music?

Chicago stuff, and a lot of the nineties stuff and soulful House thing. Even not just specifically House, but things like Disco too, and a lot of Latin stuff – introducing me to good examples of stuff I’ve heard, but not really liked up to that point.

I’ve read in an interview with skiddle that you go through phases, and at that time you were very much digging for Disco. Do you still do that and what phase do you find yourself in today?

Sometimes you can oversaturate a genre if you didn’t know it beforehand. When I got into Disco, I didn’t really know it and just went all in on that for ages, and after a while it becomes refreshing to dig something else for a bit.

At the moment I’m into a lot of Detroit- and New York Electro, Italo and a lot more newer electronic House stuff. And the more industrial stuff.

By industrial do you mean Techno?

Just stuff with a darker sound palette I guess. Even more EBM. At the same time, I have too short an attention span to focus on one style of music.

Is that something that extends to your Dj sets; that short attention span?

Yeah the most interesting sets, from a playing perspective and being in a crowd, is when there’s no two tracks of the same style in a row after each other. DJ’s like Maurice Fulton for example I really admire. There will be like a Disco track, then an Acid House track, then an Electro track. I guess there’s a coherent theme but it keeps the interest. There’s also exceptions like the time of a set. When I’m playing later at night I wouldn’t veer around so much and probably keep it more electronic, a House or Techno kind of thing. Generally up until two or three am I’ll be happy to go all over the place. That’s what I enjoy doing when I go out too.

I’ve noticed this a common consensus with your generation of DJs. Even as recently as 2012 when you went to go hear a House set you heard a House set, but DJs like you, Leon Vynehall, Ben UFO and Lena Willikens certainly are a lot more eclectic. Why do you think that is?

It’s interesting and you’re definitely right, it is more of a thing. I think it’s because music is more available. We’ve had You Tube for while now, but people are way more exposed to music. Like I said before you discover tunes every time you hear someone else DJ. It’s so much easier to source music now. Maybe a few a years ago it used to be more challenging to be an eclectic DJ, whereas now it’s more challenging to play one sound.

You mentioned packing a DJ bag around another DJ earlier, and I imagine with Vynehall you’ve got that in mind too. So what sort of stuff are on your mind when you’re thinking about packing your bag around that night?

To an extent he is an eclectic DJ as well. I’ve played all night with him once or twice and I’ve done a few back to backs with him, and it always ends up quite varied.

A venue the size of Jæger you can be more forgiving switching out genres. Whenever I’ve played huge thousand- to two thousand capacity venues, it’s fun, but it doesn’t allow for much experimenting like a smaller venue. In a 200 cap venue playing with Leon Vynehall I’d probably bring what I normally bring because it crosses over well with what he brings. I guess something a little less Disco than usual, I’ve been playing less of it recently. Maybe some darker edged stuff.

You mentioned the capacity of Jæger there. Do you think a lot about that kind of thing before you even pack your bag?

I try to, yeah. I always try to find out the set time and how big the place is. That’s what dictates the nights to me. If I’m playing in a hundred capacity event all night anything goes really, but when I’m playing an arena, I’ll play quite a flat set.

I suppose with a bigger venue, you’d need to find the tracks that would appeal to as many people as possible.

Yes, and I think in a small place, it allows for more peaks and troughs and it’s just more forgiving. Smaller places are just more relaxed, that’s probably why they are more forgiving.

I’m reminded now of how your Solid Steel radio show of 100% original material. How much of your own music informs your DJ sets?

To be honest I forget to play a lot of my own stuff. A lot of time I test out new things to see how it works. It’s quite random and usually I try to play a couple in a set, more so oversees. I don’t why I guess some people enjoy hearing a track from the artist that is playing. Generally there’s too much other music I discovered in the weeks or months leading up to the gig that I’m itching to play.

What is your association with the term residency today?

I think the idea of the resident DJ is overlooked a lot. In London for example there isn’t much of a residency scene except maybe for promoters and places like Fabric. A residency just allows for a DJ to get comfortable in a space. You just know it will inevitably be better really. It seems to be a bit of a trendy idea again which is great. There needs to be more of it.

For a visiting DJ taking on a residency in a club, what does that entail for you?

There’s only so much you can prepare. A lot of the time you can’t tell until you put the first record on. When I turn up it all becomes clear.

I suppose that all falls on instinct and going back to your formative years where Happy Birthday could be a request?

Yeah, I’m not really selling myself well when I’m talking about that… (laughs)

I think a lot of people don’t realise just what a DJ’s job entails, and cutting your teeth on those student parties left you with that ability to find compromise and the acute balance it requires… probably the reason that not everybody can DJ.

I think I’m lucky that I like a lot of music and don’t need to compromise. Sometimes you can be really excited about a gig and you can turn up and it’s not as you expected so you just have to adapt without compromising. It never feels like comprising.