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The Tale of Two Cities: South Africa & London

The Deep Afro House scene has been gathering momentum over the past decade. Suncebeat 5 in Croatia saw the scene, reach a near climatic state on the South Africa Sailing boat, which featured Black Coffee, Culoe De Song, Julian Gomes and Jonny himself.

Many herald their experience on the boat, describing it as euphoric, and surpassed all expectations. With spiritual consciousness at its roots, and increasing love shown towards the music; the Afro House movement proving it to be a life style choice and much more than just a phase.

Jonny Miller has become an integral part of the underground dance scene; with a depth and progression that is as strong and steady as rhythms he produces. Today I turn my spotlight on the man behind he music, as we explore The Tale Of Two Cities.

As a DJ and Producer who straddles both the British and South African music scene. What is your take on how the music has progressed? What do you feel you bring to the scene?

The Afro house sound is definitely growing here in the UK, the music is too good for people not to notice and get behind it. In many ways I think the guys from South Africa have breathed a bit of freshness into house music in recent years, I love my new York house and all that, but I’m pretty progressive and I need to hear progression in a genre or I fall asleep (hello dubstep). What I bring to the scene? Well I guess over here in London I can touch on all the music I’ve played over the years as a Dj. Usually I drop in a little broken beat or something just to vary things a little. It fits pretty well with the SA sound in the club.

You have grown up alongside the maturation of dance music, having spent 24 years developing your craft. Can you tell me about those early years back in the 1990s? Which types of music where you listening to and how did your tastes develop over time?

I started in 1990 listening to guys like Dj hype on pirate radio in London. Dance music wasn’t really on the radio back then so you had to go and find it. For me it was dangling a two meter copper wire around my bedroom in West London so I could pick up Fantasy FM which broadcast from East side. I’ve still got the tapes. So yeah, hardcore/rave back then, early drum and bass I guess you could call it. With a London rudeboy attitude, records by Shut Up and Dance, early breakbeat stuff mixed with the house from the US and Europe. By the late 90s though house had developed into the mainstream here and I was wrapped up in what became known as broken beat, all centered around the co-op club night and guys like 4hero, BugzInTheAttic, IG culture. For me it was just the most forward thinking stuff at the time, this was ’99 to around 2005 I guess… Good years.

Your record bag in 1994, 2004, 2014, can you give an example of what style of music you were playing for each decade?
Haha, good question…
1994 a mixture of rave/jungle and US garage I guess. The mid 90s for me was a mish mash, I moved to Manchester and discovered all sorts of alternative stuff.

2004 – Broken Beat. Everything that came through that scene. There was a single distributor called Goya Music who pressed and sold most of the Broken Beat vinyl, so all their stuff. I had my first solo 12″ ‘essi’ released at that time too on the WahWah45s label.

2014 and it’s a USB stick lol… All the hot Afro/Deep house, I get a lot of music from my peers, fresh from the studio and of course all my stuff as I make it, gotta play it out. New music from Traxsource week to week and folders and folders worth of old music from across the genres – I’ve recorded a lot of my records now.

How have your South African roots influenced your productions?
Well, I’m a 100% UK born Londoner, I went to SA a few times with an ex girlfriend to visit her family and kinda fell in love with the place. I met Kid Fonque (also now Atjazz Record Company) in J’oburg who kinda bought me into the scene there, I’ve been back on my own three times now to visit him, work in the studio and play Dj dates. I’m back there in October for a few weeks which will be my seventh trip all in all.

Can you describe how you have honed your craft, where there any particular producers who inspired you to take it to the next level?
I’ve been lucky over the years to have lived with, or been close friends with some amazing producers. In Manchester it was people like Wai Wan, Zed Bias and Marcus Intalex, I learnt a LOT from being around those three guys. Djs like DJ Hype back in the early 90s, Gilles Peterson, LTJ Bukem, Sasha even… listening to them really shaped what I do today in different ways. Recently I’ve been working for Goldie which has been just amazing and very, very inspiring, he’s a true artist and his records have always been with me, from day one. He privately played me a bunch of tracks I’d never heard before string outtakes from ‘Timeless’ a while back in his studio, It was like meeting Elvis.

In your career to date, you have released your own productions and remixes for the likes of Atjazz Record Company, Tribe Records. How do you keep true to your signature sound when working with other producers?
Yeah the remixes have meant, that I’ve been associated with different artists, a few times this year and I love it. It’s been amazing to be able to collaborate with such great names, Cuebur, DJ whisky, the Layders, Zaki Ibrahim, Tellaman and Kid Fonque from SA and recently Lay-Far from Moscow. I’m very lucky when I think about it and the results have been great. Many of them are good friends now too. The tunes always turn out better than if I’d do be them on my own, especially if I get the ball rolling and I love taking someone else’s sketch and being able to breath new life into it. I’ve just finished an joint EP with D-Malice that sounds great, for his DM Recordings label – another proud collab!

In terms of future collaborations, who would you most like to work with and why?
More guys from Africa I think, I’ve started a couple I’d tracks with Jullian Gomes I hope he has room to work with me at some point, I really rate this guy from SA called Punk and this dude from Angola called Eddie Cheq from the UK… Atjazz hopefully one day, Andy Compton, maybe some drum and bass guys too, on a different tip.

If you have a message in your music, what is the lesson you want to share?
S**t takes time. No quick fixes, it’s a journey. Learn up from the past too, be inspired by other’s tracks but in some way, do your own thing.

I mentioned previously the South African Sailing boat at this year’s Suncebeat 5 in Croatia, can you describe what DJng on the boat meant to you?
It was massive for me, I ain’t gonna front. On the same bill as essentially, the three big DJ exports from South Africa was incredible … I’d like to think it was a statement of where I’m at right now though really, this music and the scene means a lot to me so to be on a level with those guys was something I’ve driven for these last few years. You gotta give it to The Southport Weekender guys for showing the love, fingers crossed we’ll do it again.

How does playing at the ‘Hoja’ Afro House event in South London, compare with playing for a South African audience?
Well, the South African crowd certainly love it a little smoother and maybe a bit slower, last time I played in Soweto the tempo didn’t really get above 119bpm. The UK nights that play Afro house tend to meander around the 124bpm mark, and especially at Hoja, I play the more kinda jiggly, energetic stuff from Angola, more beat heavy stuff I guess. One thing that took me a while to get used to, is that a lot of people stand and watch when you play in SA, at first I wondered why they went dancing but they just wanna take in what you’re doing, watch your skills, listen close to the music, whereas in London its more of a general ‘party’ lets get smashed on a night out vibe. I think when people first go to SA they have a vision of what its like and in reality, its pretty different, it took me a couple of trips to really ‘get it’ as a DJ.

Why do you think so many people are attracted to the ‘Afro House’, sound?
Rhythmically its really exciting, the drums and percussion, and its a bit of a different vibe within the safety of the ‘house’ mold. The cool, soulful warmth of the keys, the spirituality of the songs, they just get inside you and haunt you. Its music you can really FEEL has life and spirit within, I’m trying not to sound like a hippie here… haha…

As the movement begins to grow, how do you see the scene evolving in the future. Where do you see your place in it?
I hope that ‘Afro House’ as a thing, continues to evolve. One danger is that all the producers end up parodying each other and it gets stale but from what I can see, there are a lot of producers really pushing the envelope at the moment. Managing to keep that ‘spirit’ while rhythmically keeping it fresh and interesting. Guys like Luka who has this dope, spacey/techy Afro House sound, Eddie Cheq and Beebar have their own thing going on too, Kid Fonque fusing all sorts of influences with the SA house sound, its in a good place at the moment. I just try and do my thing in my tracks, touch on the things that make it ‘Afro’ in some way but keep it a ‘Jonny Miller’ sound as much as I can.

Having played at this year’s Southport weekender 50th Anniversary and Suncebeat 5 in Croatia; where can we next see you perform? Do you have projects that you are currently working on?
We’ll be back doing Hoja in November at the Prince Of wales, indoors and with some new extra stuff going on, I’m playing at another Afrohouse flavoured night in South London called Monate on the 14th September, Amsterdam on the 15th at the ‘Monday Club’ and then I’m in SA throughout October. Me and D-malice’s EP will be out around that time on DM Recordings and I’ve got a load of remixes due out between now and Christmas. Busy times, all good, feeling blessed…

Jonny thank you for sharing your story.
Thanks Mel! You keep doing you’re thing and pushing the good music! We appreciate it X