Jagz Kooner

Jagz is an iconic electronic/rock producer and remixer who has been dubbed a “sonic juggernaut” for his seminal recordings. He has worked his magic with the likes of Oasis, Primal Scream, Kasabian, The Prodigy, Manic Street Preachers, Soulwax, The Whip and Kate Moss, as well as being in bands such as The Aloof, Sabres of Paradise and RSS – Reverend Sound System.

He was the inspiration for the remix show on London’s XFM radio, and has remixed for Massive Attack, Killing Joke, Rammstein, The Kills and many more. He showed us round his studio, a treasure trove of old and new kit from synths to software. We spotted everything from Farfisa to Fender. He’s been working with new bands The Voyeurists and Velvet Audio on a Roundhouse Trust project and developing drum presets with Addictive Drums. He’s recently remixed an Officers track featuring Gary Numan, mixed The Souls album, and has just started working with Jayce Lewis. The key thing we learned? Punk spirit’s not dead! We got him to tell us all about his sound and studio secrets.

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Electronic rock and roll

Jagz loves busting genres. His producing and re-mixing draws on his DJ background and love of rock. He reckons we are in a new punk-like era of DIY sounds and attitude.

I come from electronics I’ve always been involved in making electronic music and the thing is with bands that you’ve got real instruments and everyone plays. I try and meld the two, the electronics with the live element so “electronic rock and roll” is a good way of describing it.

His amazing sounds come from a mix of the latest kit, the oldest and even the weirdest. Saucepan anyone?

Jagz’s studio is full to bursting with all kinds of kit that other producers and band fans would be desperate to get their hands on – from mixing desks used on iconic albums, to historic keyboards. We were surprised to see guitars among all the electronics and asked what he can play.

I’ve got loads of instruments here. I can play a little bit of everything but I tend not to do that, I tend to let the bands I work with do it. There’s a couple of guys that work with me on the remixes that come in and play everything with me they’ll do the keys, the bass or bit of guitar - it depends on what each song needs really. It’s hard to work on your own. When you’re working on a remix or putting a song together you need objectivity otherwise you’ll end up just doing something you think is great, but if there’s nobody there to actually give you the nod as to whether it is good or not, you can really just totally disappear up your own arse.

So what are his essential bits of kit?

The real bits of kit, I’m just looking round the room now, I’ve got a lot of vintage synths and drum machines. I’ve got the obligatory 909 and 808 (Roland) and a Roland 303 acid machine and some vintage Roland keyboards (Roland SH-101, Roland Juno-6).

There’s a couple of Moogs (The Rogue, Opus 3) and an old Farfisa 110 organ which is just completely amazing, psychedelic sounding, it’s brilliant.

He loves his vintage gear but has plenty of software too. He warns that it’s important not just to sit in the studio on your own the whole time, you need other people to work with too. He’s also got an interesting take on the analog/digital debate.

We spotted a Nord Lead 2 and a host of rugged-looking boxes. He pulled out a Fender Custom Shop Stratocaster in chocolate brown for us to look at, and a Fender Jazz bass.

I do use lots of other studio-based outboard equipment like compressors and WQs. Reverbs - I’ve got an Eventide H3000 which is a great sounding box which is great reverb so I’ll be using that on things.

But Jagz is also quick to point out how fast everything is changing.

Most of the things now are kind of done inside the box, kind of done on the computer and it’s the way everybody’s working now. It’s the modern production sound, the modern production technique. A computer gives you so much scope to do so much stuff that even 5, 10, years ago if you’d said to somebody that you can do it all inside a box they’d have laughed at you. But it’s now got to the point where you just can have a laptop, with your band recorded in a studio somewhere, and finish the whole production thing off while you’re sitting on a train travelling backwards and forwards between London and wherever.

He has software favourites but loves to try new things and even build tracks around captivating new kit.

I don’t use any one particular thing. The two main bits of audio editing, digital audio workstations or DAWS really are Pro Tools and Logic Audio. I use Pro Tools mainly when I’m working with bands, and I use Logic Audio when I’m writing or putting remixes together with people. But inside those bits of software there’s lots of plug ins that you can use. So I’ll be using stuff by Arturia who make copies of vintage synths, which are brilliant. I’ve been using loads of the Native Instruments stuff - they do loads of plug in drum machines, effects and synths, and random weird stuff. And then there’s other companies that make random bits of stuff like Sound Toys who make amazing plug ins. There’s loads of people out there who are just developing crazy ideas that you can instantiate on your computer as a plug in and it just makes random noises and weird stuff that can just inspire you to make a tune. So that’s the new way of doing everything now really.

He’s been working with Ohm Force and Ohmboyz delays and he’s even been helping with some drums software development himself on an “Indie” project for a different company.

I’m working with Addictive drums at the moment just developing a refill pack for the Addictive drums plug in that they do. The software side of it is something that I love, I think it’s great what you can do with it. You get the stalwarts who say, “digital technology compared to tape and analogue compressors, it doesn’t sound the same.” And you’re right it doesn’t sound the same but you can make it work so that it sounds good. It’s not that it sounds rubbish, it just isn’t replicating one of the old compressors. If you compare the real version to the plug in version it’s not going to be the same. Why should it? It’ll sound similar - you make it work for how you are using it inside the computer. I’m not one of these people who’s like “it’s got to be all analogue and old skool or it’s got to be digital”. I always use a bit of both depending on what’s needed.

He loves experimenting so we just had to find out what the weirdest things are that go on in his studio, or should we say his kitchen…

We do all sorts of random stuff in the studio. When I’m recording a band or when I’m working with a band, we’ll always have a little percussion workshop. After we’ve recorded everything we want, everyone just goes into the live room, picks up a random object. A saucepan or a frying pan or a wood block, or just bits and bobs. A glass that you hit with a bit of metal or a stick or something, and you just go in and record random bits. You can do things with them, put a plug in on them, reverse it, do something weird, all sorts of stuff. Don’t be scared to experiment. We’ve actually built a drum kit in the studio once which was literally built out of pots and pans and somebody actually played it as well. So do whatever pick anything up at random and just hit it see what sound it makes it’s always good, you never know you’ll hit on something.

But the fun’s not just in the “real” world, it’s in mixing everything up.

You can integrate random acts of stupidity

You can do both. In the organic real world you’ll go into a live room and have a microphone set up and everyone just grabs a bit of percussion or anything, just grabs something shakes it, hits it, or whatever. But you can apply the same principle inside the computer in the digital world because you can just load up loads of different sounds on a keyboard, a sampler and randomly hit them and see what happens. You shouldn’t be limited to what you can do just because you’re working inside a computer or only doing it in the real world. “You can integrate random acts of stupidity”, is probably the best way of describing them. But out of those random acts of stupidity you will record maybe a half a bar loop or 30 second bit that sounds great in the song you are working on so just don’t be scared to experiment.

So who or what has inspired Jagz along the way? There’s a big range of genres across music history.

I’ve been inspired by so much on so many different levels. Producer wise Joe Meek, Phil Spector, the sound they used to get, and from the electronic side of things Arthur Baker. Some of the early electro stuff was amazing, even now there are people and producers out there who are inspiring me because of what they do. Kris Menace and Alex Metric are the new generation of producers, they’re amazing at what they do, so it’s not like I take my inspiration from everyone who came in the 60s 70s and 80s. And band wise too there’s always bands who push back the barriers and develop things you wouldn’t have thought of doing before. Right across from electronics, early Kraftwerk, the early electro stuff, to what’s going on now in dance and stuff. It’s not just the rock side of things or live guitars or bands. I just take bits of inspiration from producers, from bands from bits of equipment that get made and released, and techniques. It’s not just one thing and I say like “that’s it”! I take and borrow and steal from everyone really.

He’s clear that there are trends in production as well as in music, so we asked him what’s bubbling up at the moment.

I think the DIY ethos is the big thing. Musically I don’t know where anything’s going to go, no one knows - if you could second guess that you’d be making it before anyone else. But you can buy a Powerbook or Macbook, have your software in there. You can just do whatever you want even to the point where you can record a band inside a laptop. Music is not so much a business now. There’s no big studios left, it’s more like a cottage industry than a big corporate machine. So I think musically what’s going to happen now is that everyone’s going to just do it themselves. You get stuff which is absolutely shit and also stuff that’s absolutely brilliant. Musically it’s going to be based around what people can do inside their computers and that’s it, that’s the only way forward. Real sounding bands and instruments will still be there playing live, but it’s all about how you sound on the computer. I think that’s the future.

The whole DIY ethic sounds like the punk spirit of the 70s, something he has said he is influenced by. Cheap recording tools are a new kind of revolution he says.

You can buy a laptop, buy your bit of software and it’ll have every plug in you want every synth will be in there. You can even create guitar sounds in there and stuff, you don’t need to be able to have a whole heap of money just to try and do something. You can buy a guitar and a bass or be a drummer and learn your trade which is really important, and do it all inside a computer. And really cheaply. The DIY punk ethos is exactly the same. Before it was “anyone can pick up a guitar” and as soon as you leaned your basic chord structure and your bar chords go and join a band. As soon as you learned drums, bang, as soon as you learned your basic runs on a bass guitar - which take about a week - go and join a band. It’s the same principle. A soon as you learn your basic chords or roughly how to play an instrument, go and get a laptop and just start making whatever you want. Once you got the hang of doing it in there do it live. It’s the same, As a matter of fact it’s more punk now than it’s ever been.

That spirit is also making producers like Jagz more accessible and he says bands should seize the opportunity.

It’s proper punk, proper DIY

It’s proper punk, proper DIY, and you can just go and approach whoever you want to do. Everybody is accessible. If you’re a producer you may be really busy in which case you have to send a message to their management company or something but if you’re a producer you should be doing this for the love of the music and if you love what you do, can you really afford to pass up the chance of finding the next Kasabian or the next Oasis or whoever because you don’t have the time to respond to a Facebook or Twitter message that someone sent you.

He’s so keen to help nurture the new generation that he is producing for The Roundhouse Trust in Camden. He’s part of an album project called 3030 - where 30 songs are done by 30 bands in 30 days, then released on iTunes. Jagz is working with new bands Velvet Audio and The Voyeurists. The Trust provides fantastic facilities for 11-25 year-olds.

They have about 3000 kids who go through there every year, who can go and use loads of little rehearsal spaces, loads of little programming suites, editing suites for making video and stuff and you can hire rehearsal spaces and programming rooms for £2 an hour.

It’s a really good place to find people who are doing the same thing as you. You get to meet really interesting people down there, you get to rehearse your band, do some programming. They have lectures there, they have seminars they have workshops on Saturdays that you can check out it’s just amazing if you want to get into that kind of music or video or whatever.

Jagz’s next project sees him moving into film music with a movie with Manumission’s Mike and Claire. He’s already been working on it with Skin from Skunk Anansie. And he’s going to be mixing The Souls’ album and is developing electro pop girl band Jin Jin and The Rag Dolls. It’s a full calendar, but that’s how he likes it, especially working with new talent.

I only work on what I want to work on. A lot of the big name bands I have worked with started with me when they were much less well known.

Could his next project be you? Check out Jagz’s tips for bands on our Skool section.