John O’Callaghan emerging from the Subculture : Interview

It took John O’Callaghan just a few short years to outrun the ‘next big thing’ tag and switch over onto the A-list fast track. A masterful spinner, his high-octane trance mix coupled with a much-honed precision mixing style has seen him surge up through the DJ ranks. Spinning his first Radio 1 Essential Mix in the summer of 2008, the gifted 27 year old was one of only 4 trance DJs to do so during the year. Immediately following that he made his debut in DJ Magazine’s Top 100 DJs rundown, arriving at No.60. In the 2009 chart he became one of the year’s highest climbers, leaping 36 places into the world’s top 25 and cementing his place as Ireland’s foremost DJ & producer.

In his home country he has picked up the Best Producer and Best DJ trophies at the Irish Dance Music Awards for 2 consecutive years; decisively conquered the notoriously competitive testing ground of Ibiza and was the first Irishman to play Trance Energy. In 2010 he has entered the inner circle of electronic dance superstardom.

So how did you first get into music and DJing?
When I was sixteen or seventeen I just got into the music when I went on holidays to Spain a couple of times. Dance music was really popular over there in the summertime. So when I got back I started to check out the music and then from there, I bought myself a set of decks and had those for a couple of years and then got into production just out of curiosity. So it was just a natural kind of teenage thing.

So in those days, who were some of your early influences?
People like Mauro Picotto, Ferry Corsten, Scot Project and Johan Gielen. They were really doing it at that time and they were playing in Ireland all the time and I used to go see them regularly in Dublin. So these were the guys who I really looked up to.

How have you seen your sound progress over the years and how would you define it now?
I suppose it was kind of a mish-mash when I started out. I was making a lot of different tracks. From that I eventually ended up really in the trance bracket and I was making kind of pure, uplifting trance for a few years and then I branched off a little into prog-trance a bit as well. These days it’s kind of a mixture of both.

So running back a few years, in 2008 you made your debut in DJ Magazine’s Top 100 poll. You were number 60, then the following year you were the highest climber, jumping 36 places. What factors do you think came into play that saw you jump so quickly in the space of just two years?
Well I was kind of hovering around the outside of the Top 100 for a couple of years and I think it was just a combination of a couple of big tracks that I had, like ‘Big Sky’ and ‘Find Yourself’, almost two years in a row. That really boosted my profile. They were the missing tracks that I needed, because instrumental trance goes great for your career but to really break through into another level you need tracks that can be played on radio as well. And that happened here in Ireland, the tracks were played on radio a lot, so it got me a lot more fans and opened my name up to a lot more people. So I think that was definitely the difference.

Did you find that many more opportunities opened up for you following the results of the poll?
Well yeah it definitely helps, it gives you a lot more ability to go to new areas and countries where I’d never been before, because in certain countries, the Top 100 is really looked at. They all check out the poll and probably go through the DJs and book them one by one. So it gave me a lot more opportunities to play in places I’ve never been before.

What made you decide to start your own label?
Well I’ve wanted to do it for a long time but I never had the opportunity because it’s a lot of work to do by yourself and I didn’t want to take away from my music production and DJing by trying to run a label. So what I needed to do was work with somebody who already had the infrastructure set up for distribution and accounts and promotion. And that’s where Armada came in perfectly for me, because we’d already worked together as an artist and a label for my own tracks. So we decided to make the banner Subculture to pull all my tracks under and find tracks from other people. But I’m trying to make sure to only sign tracks that are totally 100% quality instead of just signing anything. That’s why we’ve only had one release per month. And that’s what I’m trying to stick to.

So at this point in time, which aspect of your working life do you take the most personal satisfaction from, producing or DJing?
At the moment it’s definitely a mixture, because I don’t have much time in the studio lately as my schedule is so hectic. But DJing in places like Ibiza and going to Australia, that’s one of the best parts of this job. At the moment I’m definitely enjoying my DJing because I’m doing some massive gigs and festivals like Global Gathering and all the Creamfields all around Europe. So I have to enjoy that and I definitely do. And when things quiet down in the fall and winter, that’s when the production gets more serious.

What have been some of the highlights of the last twelve months, any stand-out gigs?
In South America there are always quality places like Argentina, Paraguay, Brazil… It’s really going off in Ukraine at the moment, it’s really buzzing. Russia’s got some great gigs at the moment. But I would say the highlights would be my own Subculture gigs in Ireland. We’ve managed to sell out a few gigs and that’s really good at the moment, with the recession. So we’ve been working very hard to promote the gigs in Ireland and hopefully we can keep going here. So the highlights have been the Subculture gigs at home.


In what direction do you see trance moving next?
That’s very hard to say. I don’t think I know, to be honest. I just make whatever I feel is in my mind and I don’t really follow styles – I try to make something new that I haven’t made before. Try and break some of my own rules. But house music seems to be getting bigger and bigger, and you can see it creeping into trance music. Some of the trance DJs who would have been playing really uplifting trance are now creeping toward house music. So the popularity seems to be crossing over, I mean everybody can see David Guetta’s basically a pop-star now. That style of music is starting to cross boundaries into a lot of genres, but I certainly will continue to make trance that is trance, anyhow.

Who would you love to work with in the studio?
I actually have worked with some of the people I have always wanted to work with. Giuseppe [Ottaviani] was a great person to work with. Somebody that I’m planning on working with very soon is Sean Tyas. Me and Sean have been on the production scene round about the same time, around eight years or so, and we actually started producing at the same time. So me and Sean have grown up together in our own careers and I think it’s about time we made a track together because we never have. We both have kids and so we’re just trying to find time to get into the studio together.

On the topic of people you admire, if you could invite anyone to dinner, dead or alive, who would it be? And what would you cook?
Dead or alive? Well I suppose Jim Morrison, because he was just a cool person, and it would be funny to sit at a table and see what he has to say. What would I cook? Probably a Thai chicken curry. That’s what I usually make at home. Yeah that’s the only thing I can make.

What’s the coolest thing in your house?
Well as a whole, probably my studio. But that’s all full of computers and gadgets and stuff. But actually we just got the new iPad here as well, so my son is loving that at the moment. He watches all those cartoons on it and he’s playing games. So at the moment the iPad is definitely the coolest thing because it gives me and his mum a break from the stress when he sits down and watches his cartoons, it’s definitely very cool for us.

What makes you happy?
Music. Food. I really like trying new food. Travelling. Relaxing and spending time with my family and my son. I’m kind of a simple pleasures sort of person. I’m not one to go…you know…rock-climbing and stuff like that. I just enjoy being at home and chilling out, because when you’re travelling so much, when you get home those four days seem like a holiday in themselves. Because being away is really work, whereas for a lot of people being away is the holiday. When I’m flying all the time and going to hotels, you really don’t get time to actually see the places that I visit. So, being at home and chilling out and just recharging my batteries. That’s my happy time.

Okay well finally, what can Australians expect from your upcoming Godskitchen tour in October?
I’m definitely looking forward to it, I haven’t been to Australia in over two years I think. I’m going to have lots of new tracks. I’m going to be right in the middle of producing my new album so I could have some exclusive stuff in there. I’m going to have a lot of exclusive tracks from new producers because our Subculture compilation is going to be coming out around then. So I’m going to have some brand new music and you’re going to have to come along to see.


What or who is your favourite…

DJ :: Mauro Picotto
Live Act :: Coldplay
Album :: The Verve, Bittersweet Symphony
Track that changed your life :: Binary Finary, 1998
City to play in :: Buenos Aires
Movie :: Dumb and Dumber
Gadget :: iPhone
Food :: Chicken Curry

Thanks to Future Entertainment –