With over 30 years in the business under his belt, and widely regarded as one of the musical trailblazers that kick-started the House music scene in Australia, John Course needs little introduction to club lovers worth their salt! And as a co-founder and GM of Vicious Recordings (est. 1992), the label collective that first signed artists such as Madison Avenue, Rogue Traders, Peking Duk, and Dirty South, while also releasing a bunch of Avicii’s first ever recordings, his impact on the global music scene has been considerable. Breaking the mould for record labels, Vicious Recordings remains as relevant and on top of their game as ever. With its masterful leaders Course and Andy Van at the helm, both iconic artists and DJs in their own right, the label is deservedly considered Australia’s No. 1 imprint as the dynamic duo continues to forge forward with new mixes from Gerd Jansen, Birdee, Umek, Soul Central, Harry Romero, The Cube Guys, Spencer Parker and Patrick Topping to name-check just a few. After keeping his followers from all over the world entertained and uplifted with his weekly lockdown live streams, John’s latest hits include ‘Just A Little’ and ‘Love Is’ alongside Sgt Slick. We caught up with the iconic DJ and producer to find out he thinks about how the pandemic has impacted the dance music industry, what inspires him and how to produce a killer anthem!
Hey John, a huge welcome to DMCWORLD! Last year was a tough situation, how did you remain positive?
My hometown of Melbourne was in a Covid related lockdown for over 5 months, with movement limited for additional months and clubs closed from March until late December, so it was very different. I was due to play a quite large outdoor event called “Reminisce” on March 20th and it was cancelled 4 days before, so I decided to play a live set from my house… I continued playing live every Saturday night for 42 weeks in a row. It was satisfying for me to spread music, but really connected throughout lockdown and provided a much needed Saturday night rave session at home. So it was a great experience froma terrible situation.
Your live streams became a weekly check in and connected people worldwide, tell us more?
As mentioned above, it ran for 42 weeks in a row. 3 to 4 hours each week live on Facebook (when it didn’t get copyright cut offs), Youtube and Twitch. Because it was from my music room, I had all my vinyl literally within arms reach, so some absolute classics got dropped. Plus the three forums were all combined into one single chat room live, so people reminisced about where they were when songs dropped from yesteryear, or commented on how good new things were. It was a really connective experience. Quite literally groups of people met in the chat room then physically for the first time at one of my first gigs back.
You are one of the lucky ones DJing again, how has the vibe changed and what music is igniting your crowds?
It’s a little strange. When people who tuned into my weekly broadcast are out I can tell because certain songs really resonate with them. Tracks like “Finally Ready” by Shapeshifters, “Testify” the Mousse T remix by Davie, Husky’s “People Get Ready”, my own tunes are just some examples that get reactions yet were released during the pandemic while clubs were closed. Dance floors always evolve, be it underground or cross over floors… a song starts as new, then may get played more, even become an anthem of it’s scene, then dies off and becomes a kind of classic. That’s the same for a techno club, an underground club, a commercial club. They all have that in common and for the first time since clubbing began, that build process has been interrupted because for the first time basically in dance music history, dance floors at raves and clubs have been closed. So the turnover of music within a DJ’s playlist (provided that DJ has stayed in touch with music during the closed period) may feel like that same evolving playlist, to a clubber, who last went out in early 2020, the playlist could feel like all completely brand new. I feel the dynamic of evolution and the way music comes and goes through a scene needs to ramp back up to really start to flow like it used to.
Diverse in a way. I have a very long history with DJing (over 30 years), so to some I play a lot of classics. But I love new music and I also love all styles. It can vary depending on where I’m playing and what sort of an event it is, but I consider myself a house music DJ. I feel I read the flow of a room and like to create a great vibe by using music people may know, yet always try to introduce new music as well.
Where is your favourite venue to play (past or present)?
Wow, 30 years of DJing this is not an easy answer…”One Love” at the Prince in Melbourne was a pretty amazing club in it’s time (approx. 9 years from early 2000’s period). Just an epic vibe. Literally everyone come there for the music, the DJ’s and the vibe. It wasn’t a place to show off, there were no VIP booths, just a heady mixture of clubbers who wanted to rave all night… And all of the energy revolved around the music and the dance floor which took up most of the floor space.
How would you describe your sound as a Remixer or Producer?
I’m not a prolific producer and want to make more music than I do. My flavour is house music, sometimes underground, sometimes more accessable, but always with its groove in the club floor.
Tell us a little about your background and what influenced you most?
Music, music, music. My mum and older sister listened to music all the time when I was a kid, so I heard it all the time. Disco was played a lot, all be it the commercial end like Saturday Night Fever etc. Then break dancing influenced me. The movie Beat Street, a great snapshot of the early B Boy kind of movement, featured break dancers, paint artists, rappers and also DJing… the scene in the basement where they scratch was a lightbulb moment for me… One of my first DJ achievements was winning the Victorian leg of the DMC Turntablist championships in 1987!
When did you start producing, and any standout releases we may have missed?
When house music broke, myself and friend Andy Van were chasing all the new music we could at two Melbourne record stores and we embraced that sound from very early in our home town of Melbourne. We used to buy mags such as Mixmag, DJ mag and of course MixMag update. We read about early producers, what synths and equipment they had and chased those same things… trying to learn how to use them as we went. I fondly remember seeing a pic of Fatboy Slim with a Roland 303 in the background so we tracked one down… Had no idea what squelches it made, but we knew it must be worth checking. That’s how producing started. My studio and label partner Andy was the guy behind Madison Avenue, so we remixed “Who The Hell Are You” back then. We also collaborated on “Love Is What You Want” a remix for King Unique on Defected way back then too. I was also half of a production outfit called Electro Funk Lovers and we did stacks of stuff here in Australia through the mid 2000’s. Blackout’s “Gotta Have Hope” a huge European hit, was produced by three other guys and myself, so that’s a big one that lots of people know but may not realise I was part of it.
Any advice that drove you forward and who was it from?
Best DJ advice was to try things live and not rehearse mixing ideas, which was from a very technically gifted DJ called Anders. Other advise I go by is simply to work hard and to take advice from people you trust. I give no regard to a strangers feedback. Of course you need to pay attention to 1000 strangers if they all give the same feedback, but I don’t get hung up on a single negative comments, which I think is something the world of social media can cause people to do. There will always be people who don’t like what you do creatively, so who cares. You can be the best in the word and somebody won’t like it. People hate the Beatles, Madonna, Calvin Harris, Carl Cox… who cares. Its not about those who don’t like what you do, it’s about finding your own path and connecting with those who do.
What labels and artists have inspired your journey?
Carl Cox as a DJ… His attitude both behind the console and in person is awesome. Simon Dunmore and his Defected organisation which has always stayed the course and does what it does, better than anybody. People who work at what they do, stay positive about their own things and the people around them. I’m not a fan of haters… I mean why waste your energy on things you don’t like, when you can be spreading the word on what you do!
You are proudly Australian and your MOS mix compilations have sold millions of copies, is there anything the rest of the world needs to know about the scene down under?
Honestly, I think the world already knows! I mean DJ’s from all over the world tour Australia and have done for years and there are great experiences to be had here. Awesome events, great weather, a switched on Audience (if your booked in the correct places). The MOS compilations were very influential to new club music fans here and I was lucky to be mixing them during their peak. Those connections carry through to artists today who often mention to me they bought this CD or that CD with a mix from me. It’s part of my musical history here in Australia and I’m proud of the association and the effect those CD’s had on growing the dance music scene in Australia.
You started Vicious with Andy Van way back in 92, share some ups and downs and your favourite releases to date?
We’ve had literally hundreds of releases… significant monents are many… “Eternal” by Eternal was Carl Cox (on his first Australian Tour), Mark James (Future Music promoter and DJ) and myself, back in 1992. We signed Ground Level early and they delivered “Dreams Of Heaven” our first European club hit as a label. “Don’t Call Me Baby” by Madison Avenue is not only an amazing record but the labels first UK number 1 single. Our releases have won multiple ARIAs and music awards… Finding and signing Avicii before hardly anyone knew who he was (he was 18 when we signed him several years before “Levels” broke through) is a proud moment, as is kicking off Dirty South’s career. That’s just a few because there are literally too many to mention everything!
If you could feature on any label what would it be? Would there be an iconic vocalist you’d like to partner with and why?
A house tune signed to Defected with India on vocal would be awesome!
Your label consistently peaks at the top of international charts, what are your goals for 2021?
We really just keep trying to find music that we want to play, from people who we like. We don’t want to work with people who’s attitude sucks, life is too short! So it’s about finding new music from anywhere in the world and releasing it properly.
Any flashbacks or far out clubbing stories you’d like to share?
Many!!! Playing Paradise Club in Mykonos just as the sun breaks over the ridge after an all night set is pretty special…
Any projects or collaborations you’ve been involved in that we already aren’t aware of?
I have a disco edit project with Sgt Slick called JARC. All basically vinyl only releases, just for the hell of it, but good dance floor vibes.
What makes a great record in your experience?
Wicked groove, killer production. A great song also needs fantastic melodic hooks and a great vocal.
What’s your favourite piece of equipment in the booth or studio?
Abelton is hard to pass by… In the booth, as much as I love vinyl, the ability to manipulate music at the touch of a few buttons when a CDJ is used properly is pretty cool.
You’ve remained at the top of your game DJing weekly for decades, how is the scene different from the beginning?
A DJ’s prime job is to source and program music, so on that level it’s EXACTLY the same as a concept. How it’s sourced has changed dramatically… You have to dig harder now. In vinyl days a production was getting vetted by an artists own ears, then an A&R person, then a label, then once it was pressed, it was vetted by a distributor, a store buyer, then ultimately by the DJ purchasing in the store and finally by the club floor when that DJ played it. It was hard to get music out. I don’t think there’s any more good or bad music around as a comparison to each other, but there’s a stack MORE good and bad music around now. The vetting process is often producer to Beatprot or Traxsource to DJ and a lot of the steps that were previously around are now gone so its much easier to get music out… which if the tracks good is great and if it’s bad, not so great… But selection and programming is still king. A CDJ can mix two records with one button press and no technical skill, so you better make sure your choosing some tasty tunes!
If you could represent any fashion brand what would it be, and why?
Probably Adidas because I am a trainer fan… Is Brietling a fashion brand… killer watches!
With the global restrictions and limited audiences since last year, do you believe people consume music the same way? How do you adapt to share your music or experiences with your audience?
I think an online aspect to your career is essential, more than ever before. Of course playing live is always going to be the direct experience, but online allows you to reach where clubbing cannot reach, so a balance is a decent strategy. Given the Covid experience, online also allows you to connect when miles apart.
Name a classic car you’d like to own? What does this say about your character?
I have a classic Porsche and am a huge fan of classic cars. Lamboghini Muira, Mercedes Gullwing, Ferrari 250 GTO… I mean I can go on about classic cars as long as I can talk about dance music lol
After a strenuous tour, where would you like to re;ax on holiday and who with?
Mykonos in Greek Islands. The USA when it’s not imploding on itself. Love a visit to London to see friends. A day party in Ibiza. The Gold Coast here in Australia. Always with my wife and any of our close friends.
Favourite food, cocktail and where do we find it?
Food, I’d have to go with Asian, be it Hutong dumplings (South Yarra in Victoria), Chin Chin (Melbourne CBD), Firebird (Prahran in Victoria). Cocktail Long Island Ice Tea (but they can wreck you)… Anywhere they are made well.
Classics, bootlegs, edits or cutting edge original tracks, Which work best in a tough dancefloor situation?
There is no one answer as it depends on why it’s a tough dance floor? Understanding the flavour of the club, event or people attending is critical in knowing what to play to get a party rocking, but it’s hard to go past a classic because it brings instant recognition, but the wrong classic can easily still bomb!
You are heavily involved in the House scene, have you ever produced any other genres?
No, I’m pretty much stuck in 4 on the floor dance music!
You’ve worked with many top end names, any experiences you’d like to share?
Honestly, I think 95% of the DJ’s I’ve played alongside here in Australia have been down to earth and respectful of the fact that we’re all part of a like minded movement. There’s beena few arrogant dickheads along the way, but as I said, I prefer to promote the positive, not dwell on the negative!
What’s made you laugh most this year?
Chris Morton’s Facebook Stories (Chris is a Melbourne club goer, doorman, and funny dude)
Is there anyone else musical or creative in your family?
My sister and mum both love music, but neither make it. We all love a dance too!
Almost 30 years of Vicious Recordings… what would another 30 look like in an ideal world?
OLD…lol… Hopefully something like the last 30; Doing what you love, releasing new artists, developing artists, contributing to the local scene in a positive way and taking new artists to international dance floors, raves, parties etc.
Tell us three things about you we didn’t know? (2 true, 1 false)
I love snowboarding, am a qualified ballroom dancer and can do a back flip.
Projecting forward, what does the future hold for John Course?
More music production. Positivity, love, respect, my own family, good times, laughter, and music, music, music.
Open platform plug – Go!
Request Artists – When Music Matters for your private function… Oh and MUZIPY (coming soon)!!!