Lately, it's even developed a new annex: The Jack Agency. Representing the likes of Boston duo, John Barera & Will Martin (who kindly delivered an exclusive new mix to us last week and who'll be joining us this weekend) as well as Just Jack Recordings, an erudite label aiming to deliver the same kind of spirit and passion of the party by showcasing even more cutting edge house and techno via Amsterdam's Beesmunt Soundsystem alongside the legendary Mr.G, Seven Davis JR and Amir Alexander.
Exactly how Just Jack has achieved such success can only really be told by the team themselves so, on a chilly winter afternoon last week, as they prepare to celebrate their 9th birthday for the second time in Room Three this Saturday night, we sat town with two of its founders, Tom Rio and Robin Shaw in an attempt to fully grasp the depth of the Just Jack vision. What follows is a discussion of their thoughts and motivations behind the operation and to illustrate their point sonically they’ve kindly submitted not one but two exclusive mixes from their residents Dan Wild and Tom Rio himself.
Download: Tom Rio - fabric X Just Jack Promo Mix
So who are Just Jack?
Tom Rio: Just Jack is a club night and a record label, from Bristol. We launched the record label about a year ago but we’ve been doing the event for nine years.
You’re an agency too, right?
Rio: Yes but it’s under a different name: The Jack Agency. Although it’s very much linked to Just Jack it’s focused more at an industry level compared to the label and events which are aimed at our fans.
Robin Shaw: The agency gave us the opportunity to break out. We can now support artists that we have massive respect for but wouldn’t necessarily book for an event or be able to release on the label.
Tell us about the label then…
Rob: The label is pretty exciting for us. It’s been a long time coming, y'know? We talked about it for ages but it wasn’t until last year that we felt like it was the right time to do something about it.
Rio: What we do with it is similar to what we do with our events in terms of how we're just trying to capture the music we love. The label was always something we were going to do but it was just a matter of when. We’re not full time at Just Jack (we can’t support our team financially) so it was just a question of when we could give it the energy and time it deserved and when we felt we had the right music to release.
Rob: At the moment, it’s vinyl only. I feel we’ve really made some headway with it.
Rio: Yeah, everything really just fell into place. We’ve got an absolute belter from Mr. G coming out in a month or so with a really special remix from Seven Davis JR.
Rob: He was right at the top of our hit list and he is a G!!
Rio: He’s such a lovely dude and just a musical inspiration to us all. It’s very rare that all four of us totally agree on one act. We’ve also got a really cool acid joint from Amir Alexander on the way, he’s another top guy so we’re buzzing about that too.
What else do you have in the pipeline?
Rio: Events-wise we’ve just had our massive birthday blowout at Motion and obviously we've got the fabric date this weekend which we are really buzzing about especially as we’ve got two of our good mates from the agency, John Barera and Will Martin, down for the event. After that we’ve got a show with the guys from Live at Robert Johnson in March and that’s kind of it for a while before festival season kicks off. We’re working on a show with Red Bull at the moment too.
Rob: Yeah, we're pretty pumped for the LARJ show and the Red Bull project is pretty special. The concept is based around an exploration of the Amygdala...I'm sure you can guess who’s playing!
So take us back to the beginning of Just Jack. What were your initial thoughts and motivations behind starting the party?
Rio: We first started Just Jack when we first moved to Bristol and found there wasn’t anything to accommodate our love for house music. We’d all grown up building our passion by going to our local clubs and festivals but in Bristol everything was drum & bass at the time. There was the odd night but it would close at 2am and they didn’t book the artists we wanted to see. Essentially we formed Just Jack for ourselves, to play music and host acts that we wanted to hear. We were really small for the first three years focusing on just keeping it underground by throwing late night events and after parties with very little promotion. We honestly had no idea how many people would turn up but luckily it was always full.
"It’s nice that after all these years we still do it for the exact same reason we started" - Rio
Four or five years ago it still seemed like you were the only party [in Bristol] supporting and showcasing house music?
Rio: There weren't many, but there were few others, I don’t want to make it seem like we were the only crew but I like to think we were the only party doing something regular at that time.
A city which was very much regarded as bass-orientated is now thriving in terms of its house and techno scene. Do you feel Just Jack were instrumental in that change?
Rio: I wish I could say yes but I think essentially we were just surfing a wave which we were lucky enough to be at the front of. In other words, it was the wave that pushed us as much as we pulled it. We did do a lot in Bristol but house music also blew up. Our ticket sales went crazy over the space of two years and although we did do everything we could to make that happen the acts we booked who were fairly unknown are now incredibly popular. I guess we were lucky enough that it happened just at the right time for us.
Rob: It also helped that Bristol is a very cohesive city. The different promoters, parties and the various people who work there are all very supportive of each other. Even more so now than when we first started. It’s more hectic now but it’s good. You’ve got other parties like Shapes, Dirty Talk, Simple Things and another project I am involved, Stamp The Wax, who are also doing their own thing. It’s definitely a lot more difficult than it was before but in a very positive way. Bristol is spoilt for choice these days!
Rio: The scene has risen and we’ve really had to step our game up. We’re not alone anymore which is really cool to see but also keeps us on our toes!
Download: Dan Wild - fabric X Just Jack Promo Mix
I do think your success is more than just luck though. There is something rather unique about Just Jack...
Rio: We have heard that before and it’s really nice when someone says that. We always try to be modest with these kind of things but I do think we run a special event. I know we don’t just throw parties for the glory. I can safely say that every year we all feel that we might not have any parties left in us but when it gets to that final moment at 7am, when the clubs still packed, buzzing and everyone’s dancing, we all look at each other with that same look and think shall we do another one? It’s nice that after all these years we still do it for the exact same reason we started.
Rob: We’re lucky that our crowd are always up for it too. Not every city has that, y'know? There’s a decent space and sound system but we always try to go that extra mile.
That’s definitely one of the things that define you as party.
Rio: Well a lot of that started because there were a fair few people who weren’t really into the artists we were booking, depressingly, so we had to create something that was more than just a DJ playing in a space. My friends at the time would not have come down to the nights if it didn’t have that element of fun for them. Luckily, Motion is an incredible club that really gave us the creative freedom to do what we wanted.
"We’ve never shied away from a decision if we think it could be interesting, exciting or even just really funny." - Rio
How do you feel you’ve grown over the years?
Rio: We've grown a fair bit! We started so small, just doing second rooms and after parties, sometimes as small as 60 people but now we throw all sorts of events from 500 up to 2500 people.
Rob: I also feel like we’re at a point where we can book more forward thinking acts that people we really dig. When the brand was growing we probably made some safer bookings but now we can be really selfish and book acts we think will kill it and not give a shit about selling tickets, we’re very lucky that people trust our judgement!
You’ve done a couple smaller shows in London does that mean your expanding over here?
Rio: I think we’ll always be a Bristol focused party to be honest. We're always up for playing and hosting rooms for other parties in London but unless we can do something totally new and exciting in terms of running our own events here then we're not sure there's much point. There are a lot of great parties in London already. In Bristol we know what we’re doing, we’ve got our crowd and we’ve found something really special. We don’t want to just go anywhere to do just another party that might have our name on the tin but when you open it up it’s something totally different.
Rob: That’s why the thing at fabric is so important. When you’ve been looking at a club for 10 years growing up and then suddenly playing there, it’s massive.
So there’s no urge to expand?
Rio: I don’t think so, not in terms of our ‘events’ arm anyway, but that’s why we set up our record label. We think our events work well because we’ve kept it as personal as possible, local you could say, but the record label can be international. That’s kind of the feeling we have.
Seems like you’ve nailed it in terms of your ethos...
Rio: Yeah I think we have a pretty clear ethos - we’ve never shied away from a decision if we think it could be interesting, exciting or even just really funny. We’ve spent thousands of pounds on clowns with TVs for eyes when that was actually our profit margin. Everytime we come up against something where we think it could be amazing but we might not be able to afford it one of us will always say that’s what it’s all about. We’re kind of really good at losing money and we’re pretty confident in our abilities to lose cash. I mean, we don’t so much anymore but I think that’s always been our ethos. If it can be done, we’ll do it and we’ll just cry about it later. Years after a party you can’t talk about your budgets but you can talk about all the stupid things you’ve done!
So your in this for the love not the money..?
Rio: [laughs] Yes, it is most definitely for the love although I think if we knew how to make money we probably would. Saying that, we have often turned down things that could have made us better money. I'd like to think we always will if its not right for the brand.
Photos by Khris Cowley for Here & Now