Look at the history of British clubland, and you’ll find the name CJ Mackintosh is woven inextricably into the tale. From house parties and illegal all-nighters through to British DJs beginning to create music of their own, from the acid house explosion to the British club scene coming of age with the Ministry of Sound, CJ has always been there, pushing things forwards by playing the music he loves.
Born in Paris but raised in London, CJs DJ career began at the age of 15 when he and his 17-year-old brother set up their own sound system and began playing house parties in South London, mixing up disco, jazz, funk, soul and early hip hop. He blagged his first professional gig at Flim Flam, an underground but influential night in south-east London run by Coldcuts Jonathon More. There was a guy scratching, and I knew I could do better. I hassled Jonathon for about a month, until he offered me a half-hour slot. So I got Einstein, a rapper/MC, and we started doing sets there. Eventually I started getting paid. Money wasn’t the object, though it was just doing what I wanted to do.
In 1987, he made a name for himself by winning the UK title in the DMC Mix Championship. Suddenly he was in demand as a remixer, Dave Dorrell, another DJ prominent on the London club scene, asked him to join Nasty Rox Inc one of the first bands to mix rock and dance, with a DJ playing alongside the live instruments. Lauded by the style press, they toured extensively and recorded an album with Trevor Horn. I learned a lot, it was a good experience, being with the band for two years.
But ironically, it was a one-off dance single made with Dorrell and members in indie bands AR Kane and Colourbox that was to have the real impact. An adrenaline rush of samples and beats that defied categorization, Pump Up The Volume by M/A/R/R/S topped the UK charts in September 87, charting in the US the following year. At a time when Britain’s national pop station Radio One barely recognized dance music, this success was a vital confidence booster for clubland. Along with Bomb The Bass, it opened doors for all the DJs to say, Oh I can do that. Now look how its changed some of the bigger DJ’s are like pop stars.
Since then, CJ has continued his prolific mix career, working on tracks by C&C Music Factory, Janet Jackson, Whitney Houston, De La Soul, Inner City, PiL, Coldcut and countless others. He has released several mix albums, and his Love Happy project charted in 1995 with Message of Love. He has travelled extensively as a DJ, and this experience and his ability to span musical genres made him an obvious choice for a residency at the Ministry of Sound in the mid-90s. He was a mainstay at the club until 1997.
As a DJ, CJ prefers to stay low-key, to let the crowd focus on the music rather than his personality. After more than two decades on the cutting-edge, he still has the same passion that fired him from the start. I can understand why people used to cry in clubs in the early days. When you hear the right record, at the right time, in the right place, there’s no feeling like it.