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When the Coronavirus shut us down, clubs and festivals ceased, and everyone was essentially forced inside with no definitive end in sight, DJ Times wondered: How is our tribe coping? How are DJs getting by?

So, we sent out our “Coronavirus Questionnaire” to DJ/producers from all musical genres to find out. During this period, DJ Times will continue presenting the questionnaire responses from talented music-makers from all over the world. Here’s our latest entry, this time from the U.K., the Manchester-based house talent Swales (aka James Swales).

Swales, Manchester, U.K., Rhythm Department Records

What’s it like where you’re living? How did you spend most of your time? Manchester was one of the unfortunate places to be locked down for most of 2020 – the pandemic really hit the area hard. I was lucky enough to be able to work from home, which allowed me more time to learn new production bits, dig for tunes and sketch out tracks on Logic.

Did you lose important gigs, or income-producing work? Oh yes, there were a couple that I was very upset got cancelled. One gig in particular I was looking forward to was playing under one of the last remaining Concordes in an aircraft hanger in Manchester. What an experience that would have been! I’m sure every DJ has similar stories to tell. But, for the moment, I’m so pleased to see the overwhelming support that festivals, events and brands have received on gigs announced for the summer – tickets are going like hot cakes. We’re truly in for some special dancefloor moments this year.

Are you doing anything now that can or will produce music-related income? Have you learned anything in the downtime? I’ve been setting some time aside for learning new things and watching a handful of online courses to broaden my production toolkit. One that I’ve found particularly useful was Gene On Earth’s latest Masterclass course. I’ve also been using the time now to get on top of the ever-dreaded admin tasks, such as registering works to PRS, chasing royalty statements and planning future releases. To me, they’re definitely less exciting than the music side of things, but this period of no gigs has highlighted the importance of making sure you’re on top of everything.

What are you doing now that’s ultimately constructive to your music life/career? For example, any releases during this period? I’ve just released a new EP on Make You Move Records – two ’90s-house-inspired originals accompanied by an instrumental version and corker of a remix by Josh Butler. The lead track, “The Night,” was made with a return to clubs in mind – a true hands-in-the-air belter, if I do say so myself. “Electric Dawn” is a decisively more laid-back track, but still packs a punch with chunky synth bass and euphoric strings. Josh’s remix just oozes quality and takes “The Night” down a deeper route. I’m really pleased with the EP overall and have received some great feedback to date – long may it continue! I’ve got plenty more releases in the pipeline, so keep your eyes and ears peeled, as they’ll be announced soon.

In the studio, what’s your set-up? As I’m sure you can tell, I’m a sucker for the old-school sound. A lot of these sounds are pretty iconic patches on classic machines. I really like the plug-in versions of the Korg M1, Roland JV-1080 and SH-101 – they’re great! I have a vintage Akai MPC2000XL, which is an old-school 16-bit sampler. Whilst it’s a clunky old machine, especially by today’s standards, it adds a real warmth to samples that you just can’t achieve digitally. I also really enjoy stepping away from the DAW and limiting myself to the MPC – it forces you to sequence by hand, rather than clicking, dragging, dropping, which is a refreshing change. It’s a whole different approach than the DAW and can create some interesting results.

What’s your creation process in the studio? It can really vary and I don’t have a set process. I’ll get a quick beat going but don’t spend too long on the drums in the early stages. My favorite part is coming up with melodies, chords and adding textures, and I usually get around 80-percent of the track done fairly quickly. It’s the final 20-percent – final arrangement and mixdown – that take me the longest. If I can get on a creative roll, then everything else usually falls into place. One tip I’ve picked up recently is the importance of reference tracks. Whether that’s for arrangement, mixing or even creative elements, it can really help you mix up your tracks and prevent them from following the same pattern as your prior releases.

What’s your typical DJ set-up? I’m lucky enough to have two setups at home – the first being a pair of Pioneer XDJ-1000 players and Pioneer mixer. The second is a pair of Technics 1210 turntables and a Rane MP2014 mixer. Which setup I play on at home depends on what I want to get out of it. For laid-back chill vibes, I’ll go for the turntables – to me, they’re a super stress reliever. If I’m practicing for a gig, then I’ll hop on the XDJs. In the club, I prefer a Pioneer Nexus set-up, but you’ve always got to be prepared to play on whatever’s there on the day. Being a robust and dynamic DJ, in terms of equipment, is a frequently overlooked skill.

What’s the most surprising thing you’ve realized during this period of social distancing? I work full-time, like most, alongside DJing and production and, in normal times, can usually find a happy balance between the two worlds. Whilst clubs and the likes have been closed, this balance has been completely one-sided. Lockdown and social distancing has made me realize it’s so important to find the right balance in your life, make time for the things you love and live in the moment.

Have you done anything online recently? Have you seen any DJ video streams that impressed you? I’ve not done much in the area of live-streams, but was blown away by Job Jobse’s streaming from Isolation Mix. If you’ve not listened to it, I highly recommend a listen. It’s the type of mix that makes you go, “I need to go and practice mixing.” The man is a wizard.

Any theme tunes recommended for the moment? Lords of Rhythm’s “Everything Is Gonna Be Alright (Let’s Celebrate).” Stay positive!

Any advice on staying sane & relatively positive through this situation? I’ve spent a lot of time digging online for records over the past year and thoroughly enjoy listening to and mixing vinyl. It’s nice to get away from screens from time to time and just kick back and listen to tunes.

To check out more Life in Lockdown interviews, click here.

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