INTERVIEW: Ian Fford

By Kim Mercil
With an Introduction by Mike Ventarola

Chain Border

Ian FfordAlbion-Batcave has continued to rise in strength and patronage where many others have failed. The secret to the success is the variety of DJ’s working on various levels to stimulate the adult cocktail fantasy of a dance floor escapism.

Ian Fford is renowned throughout many parts of the US for his prestidigitation with music rotation. Outwardly, he is an unassuming, humble, clean cut gentleman whose wealth of music knowledge could fill a few encyclopedic volumes. In addition to his ever growing popularity with the numerous clubs where he makes his mark well known, he also manages a few up and coming bands, spends countless hours burning the midnight oil to craft special remixes and still manages to have some type of a life and day job in the process. Although he may deny it, Ian is the true Dorian Grey as he never ages and keeps a child-like joy in all that he does. No one really knows his true age, and his mindful diligence to stay on top of growing trends and hits seems to be part of the youth serum that makes him look somewhat fresh out of college.

Nevertheless, he is mindful to always give the customers the show that they have come for. He entertains the minions with current hits as well as special mixes he creates for a particular night. Through it all, he consumes enough coffee to single-handedly keep Columbia in profits for many decades to come. Thankfully caffeine has continued to keep him company during those long cumbersome hours, as the results are never anything short of magnificent.

Kim: Where you a self taught DJ?  Did you study the technical aspects of creating music in college?  What sparked your interest for doing this as a career?

Ian: I’m mostly a self-taught DJ, although I give credit to a number of people who demonstrated the mechanics of mixing.  The rest came through practice and experience.  In college I studied Computer Engineering and, ironically, Deaf Education (grin!), I did DJ and retail work through most of that time.  I became a music nut upon discovering The Cure. My interest in DJ’ing came shortly after I started going to clubs, or more accurately, sneaking into clubs...there was this fantastic DJ, Sam, and I noticed that he perceived music as an energy and not just a playlist.  After a time I somehow ended up working with him, not only as a DJ but also as a sound engineer and  and everything tech.

Kim: Originally you were a successful underground DJ in Florida, how did you go about getting yourself to this level?  Why did you decide to leave this status behind and venture to NY in 95'?

Ian: [blush] Thanks!  I did very well in Florida, as I said before, through practice and experience.  Here’s a brief summary of how it went:  I started DJ’ing for about a year or so then quit.  I was pressed back into service at a neighborhood bar called The Dockside for their quarter beer night.  I made the format alternative rock and new wave – they soon gave me Thursdays as well.  From there I expanded into other clubs playing more dance oriented styles as I was aching to expand my technical skills.  I worked at the two hottest gay bars in the city for a bit spinning mostly house and pop and 80’s dance mixes, and that was fun.  During this time I also started a Gothic and Industrial night, first at an illegal Sunday space, then moving to a real club (The Milk Bar) a few months later.  Of course this was my favorite party but not the biggest.  Actually, “The Seventh Day” extended after hours at my apartment until the third time or so that the police arrived. So, my big break came when Club 5 (one of the biggest clubs in the city situated in freak central) decided to change their format, I was given at first two then all three nights they were open.  The previous DJ’s were playing all techno, all night, in the same order no less. Grunge was big then, so I changed the format to current rock, current techno and house, plus I always threw in Gothic, Industrial and 80’s here and there throughout the night, especially on Thursdays (which featured deeper music, giving us a definite underground flavor.  We were the only major player where you’d hear The Sisters of Mercy and Skinny Puppy at prime time.  This welcomed the underground kids and they mixed pretty well with the more open-minded mainstream kids (some of whom converted, at least one night a week). The club’s success blossomed, effectively tripling the attendance on Thursdays and Fridays, doubling it on Saturdays. The music had a different flavor each night, Thursdays being underground, Fridays mostly mainstream and Saturdays retro. From there I was able to make many contacts – upon doing a guest appearance in Tallahassee spinning house I ended up with two nights a week there, one gothic event and one frat party, making for a seven night per week schedule. This story covers about six years or so. I realized that I couldn’t do any more in Florida, so I moved to New York in 1995 to give it a go. Umm, it wasn’t nearly as easy as that all sounds, everything that succeeded came through a great deal of work.

Kim: Currently you spin music from industrial, 80's, synthpop and goth. When you first started DJing what type of music did you spin?

Ian: Aside from what I mentioned above I was pretty good at disco at one point.  In addition to Industrial, Gothic, Synthpop, Futurepop and the offshoot styles I still spin techno, hard house and related genres.

Ian FfordKim: Your very first night spinning in NY, what kind of emotional state were you in? How did it feel when the night was over?

Ian: My very first night spinning in New York was icky. It was at The Vault – the sound system was terrible and it was a very old fetish crowd – naked people of the 50+ variety [laugh!]  so they didn’t really like what I played but I had no idea what they would actually want anyway, and I couldn’t wait to get out… So a better story would be about my first real night, in the Marlin Room at Webster Hall.  I was extremely nervous as I’d heard the owners were picky.  I had no idea the room I was in was pretty much all disco all night, and since at that point I wasn’t ready for it I played what disco I had and mixed in some pop house, alternative rock, 80’s, old school funk and whatever else I could find.  It went over really well with the crowd, but the manager was very reserved about it until he heard that the owners were really happy with the set so they adopted it as a format change and I got the job for a while. That was a fantastic feeling after all that had happened here prior to that audition.

Kim: Do you find it challenging to DJ all types of music in one night, as opposed to DJ's that spin only one genre of music?

Ian: God no!  I prefer it! It makes the night more interesting and generally has a broader appeal.  I’ve worked on single-format nights before, but even then I tend to push the limits of the genre.  Maybe it’s the ADD or something.

Kim: During a routine night at Albion-Batcave, do you utilize your crowd when spinning from one genre to another or is it spontaneous?

Ian: I’m not quite sure what you mean by this question, but I will say that when I started there were several “crowds” – Gothic, Industrial, and New Wave – they didn’t dance to each others’ music at first, but slowly the people have become more open to various styles and the music now can follow a flow of energy more than genre-based selections.

Kim: How did you go about being employed at Webster Hall as their sound engineer?

Ian: While spinning there they lost their sound guy and I filled in until they found a new one.  That was for about four years [laugh]!

Ian FfordKim: During your reign at Webster Hall, what were some of the special events and private parties you DJ’ed for them?

Ian: Oh man!  Lets see… Amnesty International, several high-caliber fashion events, charity balls, the NYPD and NY Fire Department’s Christmas parties, The Internet Cool Site of the Year Awards, the Department of Education, lots of corporate parties – all kinds of stuff really.

Kim: What circumstances led you to get fired from Webster Hall for doing an event with "Father Todd"?

Ian: Since I really moved to NY for the Gothic and Industrial scene I wanted to a do a guest spot that Todd had offered, so I asked for the night off and they gave it to me, but about an hour before opening they changed their minds and I did the spot anyway…so…I got fired in February (and rehired in June.)  That was when I had lost my apartment as well so it was an, um, interesting time.  They say that New York puts everyone through something or another, I guess its some sort of metaphysical initiation that gives you the right to live here.

Ian FfordKim: Along side DJing NY, you were employed at "Nocturne" in Philadelphia. What possessed you to travel so far to spin? Was this a weekly event for you?

Ian: Nocturne was a weekly event, I did the 80’s room for three years.  I really don’t know why I traveled so far, except that it just felt right.  Philly is a different vibe, and one of the keys to success is to know and understand the differences in various scenes, whether musical or geographical.  In understanding theses differences one also finds the commonalities.  Anyway, Nocturne was a new event at the time, which was exciting. It started at The Bank in Philadelphia – it was awesome to work at both Banks, and I love to travel. Still it was a rough schlep until I got a car.  Anyway, Nocturne is bigger and better than ever and Patrick Rodgers is a total pro and a pleasure to work with so I stayed, doing it for a long time.

Ian FfordKim: Out of all the different venues you spun at over the years, which was your favorite?

Ian: The Bank, NYC!!!

Kim: Have you ever encountered a nightmare moment while DJing? If so, what happened?

Ian: I spilled a drink right into the mixing board and stopped the music for an hour on a busy weekend night…that was when I first started out. Another time, a club owner who shall remain anonymous, came up all drugged out of his mind or something to loudly berate and ridicule me for the better part of an hour because I play Industrial Music. Welcome to Hell!

Kim: Can you tell our readers some of your adventures with the now defunct [New York] club The Limelight?

Ian: I didn’t really have that much to do with The Limelight.  We tried a Thursday there but it didn’t work out, the club was on its way out and the cover was too high for our scene. I did DJ for a number of shows there, like VNV /Icon of Coil, and filled in once or twice in The Chapel.  The Limelight was definitely one of the coolest spaces ever, though, I wish I could have had a big night there.  If I could buy it I would, simply for the architecture if nothing else.  I’d put a club there too, but not anytime soon.

Kim: You are responsible for generating the popularity of The Cruxshadows(1) within the tri-state area. How did you make this happen? When and how did you meet The Cruxshadows?

Ian: More accurately I was able to open a few doors for them and they generated their own popularity.  All I did was start playing Monsters, Jackalhead, and Marilyn, My Bitterness, then got them a booking for one of Todd’s Vampire Ball events and a couple of gigs at The Bank.  It was their music and showmanship that did all the work really.  Hard work, consistently good shows and unrelenting dedication to their project has been making it all happen for them.

Kim: What other bands have you helped to shed some light on?

Ian FfordIan: Currently I’m working with Plastikneigung and Koneko as sort of a manager/producer,  and I’m trying to expose a few others, for instance, Positive Complex, Incus(2) (Boston), One of Us and hopefully Eisdrive. These guys are all amazingly talented, I hope each and all of them make it.  Incus is an interesting band to say the least, their sound is organic, their talent off the charts, musically they’re in the style of Tool – they should be huge…record labels are you listening?  At one point they had FOUR drummers on stage, it sounded fantastic – the energy of their performance grips you from the get-go through to the encores.  Plastikneigung has his own sound, like a dancier Skinny Puppy, Koneko is a total performer with good Electro music – all self-created. One of Us is another Boston Band worthy of extreme talent and worthy of note. Positve Complex and Eisdrive both do their own takes on Synthpop/EBM/Industrial.  I hope that was enough shameless plugging…

Kim: Besides spinning music you also have another talent of producing your own remixes. Recently you did a remix recently released on The Cruxshadows’ EP Frozen Embers. How did this come about? Can you tell us what track it is?

Ian: The track is Return, from the Cruxshadows' Wishfire album.  The message in the song is so strong I wanted to remix it, and as luck would have it that was one of the tracks they wanted remixed.

Kim: What other remixes do you have under your belt? Where can they be found?

Ian FfordIan: That was my first real release.  My second release is for More Machine Than Man, their song Tonight, coming out sometime in fall 2003. I have more in the works, and they’ll be coming out soon enough, for Rise, St. Eve, Incus and Interface.  I’ve done a couple of other things for myself, but I’d get in big trouble if I put them out!

Kim: Currently you are back in action with Electra-City on Tuesday nights at The Pyramid. How is it going for you? What was the reason for the brief hiatus of Electra-City?

Ian: Well, not quite.  It didn’t fly this time (laugh). The city is quieter on weeknights than I’ve ever seen it before, and it seems to me that fewer of our scene still live in Manhattan.  I had ended the first run of Electra-City after a two year run or so simply because I no longer had time to do it properly.  I think with stronger promotion and a different venue (with better drink prices, it is a TUESDAY for God’s sake!) the party could have ignited.

Kim: At this very moment what would you consider the high light of your career?

Ian: I don’t know how to answer that succinctly as so many interesting things have happened and are happening.  Each challenge and each success mark a special moment.  Meeting Patrick Stewart, Rick Berman, George Clinton, Shannon, Penn and Teller, Ricky Martin, Thomas Dolby and so many more interesting people; that’s just amazing, even if they never remember me.  My first remix release is exciting, the ongoing success of Albion/Batcave in general; these are all highlights. It’s all about enjoying the now, creating something from nothing, and learning from any setbacks.

Kim: What is your take on the future of underground music?

Ian: That’s always a complicated issue.  Lets see… First of all the club scene seems to be changing in favor of medium-sized venues, so there won’t be as many successful superclubs.  Music genres seem to be taking a forked path:  one, back to its roots, and two, evolution – in other words, thesis and antithesis resulting in synthesis – hybrid styles. In the past few years more than ever, greatly divergent styles are being merged. Rock and rap, for example.  In the underground scene I see the Electro-clash, techno and house influences coming into play with Industrial and Synthpop as artists reach for broader appeal, and it seems that musical boundaries are melting or at least blurring, greatly expanding the artists’ palette for self-expression.  Its about time too, the market had been too pigeon-holed for too long. It’s good to see people enjoying more variety than they did in the nineties.

Kim: What newly acquired CD's that you have come across would be must have's in a collection?

Ian FfordIan: Not all of these are brand new but they are recent acquisitions.  Anyway, I love this stuff: Radiohead, Kid A and Hail to the Thief; The Cruxshadows, Wishfire and Winterbourne (not out yet but I’ve heard most of it); Covenant, Northern Light – you love this one too, don’t you Kimmie!;  Underworld, A Hundred Days Off; Icon of Coil, The Soul is in the Software,  Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights; Wolfsheim, Casting Shadows. There need to be more Human League remixes, I recently got a remix of Being Boiled on vinyl and its totally hot; and I’m really liking the new Virtual Server remixes.

Kim: Outside of the music world, what other interests does Ian have?

Ian: Traveling, especially for guest spots (ok that’s part of the music world but it beats just being at tourist!).  Comparative religion, especially the syncretic and inclusive systems, Yoga, computer geek, coffee… but music takes up most of my time really, it’s a more than full-time pursuit.

Kim: Your web site is www.jackalhead.com, how did you come up with the name jackalhead? What is a jackalhead?

Ian FfordIan: Jackalhead is one term for my favorite deity, Anubis, the god who stands at all gateways.  Of all the Neter he had the most compassion for Humanity, thereby leaving his role as supreme deity to Osiris so he could stand at the gateway of life and death and determine the proper afterlife for each departed soul. The qualities he personifies were so popular that even after the fall of Egypt he was recognized for a long time in the Roman Empire.  So, since Anubis dot everything was taken, I used the title of a Cruxshadows song for my website address.

Kim: Lastly, what advice if any,  would you give to an up and coming DJ in the underground scene?

Ian: You have to remember that not every door opens when you knock and not every attempt succeeds, however, you learn from each situation so nothing at all is lost, really.  Eventually something will give, so the trick is to really enjoy what you’re doing at the time, keeping an eye on the future while being grounded in the present.  Keep in mind that you must balance artistry with business; there is no shame in doing what it takes to keep the dance floor happy and the club successful while balancing it with your own vision. For example, when I started at The Bank I had to play too many repeat hits too many times, or droves of people would stream out the back door during the new stuff.  Many of those same songs became hits later, validating their quality and appeal.  Anyway, now my dance floor is almost always far more receptive to new music than when I started, and although at the time I bore a good deal of criticism for my approach, I took the long view and eventually changed things. The fact is that customers depend on your show for entertainment and staff depends on that show for employment, so sometimes you trade glamour for humility and find your satisfaction in the vibe of the party more than simply getting your way.  That doesn’t mean you’re a doormat, though, as your creative vision is what brought you there in the first place.  A good DJ is an entertainer, which means the audience needs to leave satisfied and better than when they arrived, and you have to think about what you might be playing in six months as well as in five minutes.

(1) Rogue of The Crusxhadows was interviewed in Legends #134. Their album The Mystery of the Whisper was reviewed in Legends #100.
(2) A demo release by Incus was written up in Legends #127.

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