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Jack The Box talk Berlin, lockdown and fusing hip-hop and house….

Jack The Box are Bobby Starrr from Wolverhampton and Tyree Cooper from Chicago in the US and met nearly a decade ago in Berlin.  Since then, they’ve not only staged some of the wildest parties that the city’s iconic Tresor club has ever witnessed, they’ve also got together to make beautiful, party-stoking music that combines hip-hop and house.  With their Hypernatural label ramping up its operations in the coming year with a host of new signings and raw Berlin talent, they’ve decided to dig their ‘Side A’ album – which features Bam of the Jungle Brothers among other guests – out of obscurity and give it a long overdue re-issue and a host of new mixes.

Jack The Box – presumably that name is a reference to the good old days of 80s Chicago house music. Is that something that’s central to your sound?

Tyree – For sure it was! Because I wanted to have a name that people would remember and associate our sound because of the DJ differences and backgrounds

Bobby – Yeah exactly, we were pulling out dusty 12”s and looking for a core combination of words to fit us perfectly together as a Party series, Radioshow and DJ Duo.

A hip house pioneer from Chicago and a DJ from Wolverhampton… It’s not an obvious combination, anyway. So how did you both end up in Berlin? How did you first meet, what did you bond over and how did it develop from there?

Tyree – Bobby and I met in 2006 over Myspace and at that time I was looking for someone to help me start off a new revival of “House Music” in Berlin since I’m already there and the scene at the time in Berlin was quite stale and dry at that particular time. Bobby had the passion for “House Music” as I did and being from the UK I had a good sense that he was knowledgeable about House Music History along with other genres that infiltrated the American and UK scenes. Also, I found out that like myself he’s a pothead like myself so that made bonding with each other easy as fuck! Since then we’ve remained friends first and most importantly, and enjoyed the stuff we’ve created as a team.

Bobby – Growing up, I heard of a long history of American Music in Wolves especially Northern Soul via the old Lafayette club and stories of the Four Tops in their prime hanging out there too while on tour so it’s not such a bad place hahaha. After seven years of living in Vienna, Berlin at first felt like a mistake but a few months in things fell into place with DJing the opening weeks of the new Tresor and having fun hanging out with Tyree and talking shop for hours about the History of Chicago as a city on whole and about its highly creative music scenes, from the Hot Mix 5 on WBMX Radio through to the legendary clubs which sadly don’t exist today such as the Muzik Box, the Warehouse and Red Dog.

How does the relationship work dynamics wise? Who does what? Is it a yin and yang type situation of opposites attracting or are you very much similar in your working methods?

Bobby – We have a habit of doing a party together then having a long call the next evening to discuss what we thought sounded great or how good the Guest DJ with us was. These emotions and special memories spark ideas and concepts.

Tyree – Well shit like that can be complicated and not. When I or Bobby have an idea for a particular song or track or even a remix we just knock it out individually. When it’s time for us to collaborate on a particular song or track and or remix we talk about what we hear in our head for the project. After that, we roll up a joint then proceed to light it up and go to work from that point on until completion.

Tell us about the parties you’ve thrown in Berlin. There must be – or at least before the lockdown, must have been – a lot of different party crews in Berlin, what makes your events different and what do you think makes them work?

Tyree – Now contrary to belief, I believe we’ve put together some of the most monumental and historic events in Berlin!!!! We started out at this place that’s no longer here called Tape Club and it was here where we booked Mike Dunn from Chicago. From there we went to this intimate place called Kleine Reise and if I’m allowed to say that these parties were small in size but large in a pure party spirit, vibe and energy. We didn’t have so many guest DJs like some venues had, rather we stuck with a simple format. We’re the main DJs and we would invite DJs we appreciate and honour as a pioneering DJ or someone who’s in a similar place as we are. We’ve had A Guy called Gerald to bless us and Danny Rampling come down and bless us on the 1’s and 2’s to name a couple. Then we moved to their new venue called Loftus Hall. This was a slightly bigger venue but we kept the guest DJ to a minimum. We’ve had Harri and his son Jasper James from the legendary Sub Club in Scotland also we booked Filippo “Naughty” Moscatello and Sasse from Moodmusic. Then we moved on to Tresor, with a bigger budget. From there, our events were starting to become more known around the city. E-Man-Ci-Pate at Tresor is where we’ve booked some of the world’s underground and classic DJs. We booked Farley Jackmaster Funk from Chicago, Tom Trago from Amsterdam, Grammy Winner Maurice Joshua from Chicago, Evil Eddie Richards, Rob Mello and Terry Farley from the UK, Gerd from Rotterdam, D’Julz and Erik Rug from Paris, K’ Alexi Shelby from Chicago and Lil’ Louis from Chicago and many many more. We had a monthly there that lasted for nearly 5 years.

Bobby – I think our own individual passion for House Music was excited again and again every time we had one of our chosen DJs booked and confirmed, with Farley Jackmaster Funk he had been a long time inspiration for me when I was in Vienna through his Radio mixes from ‘Saturday Night Live Ain’t No Jive Dance Party´ from back in the day on WBMX, so to firstly have him with us as Tyree’s big inspiration from his own youth and thirdly that Farley had never played in Berlin ever, made that night super special for us too and what a night that was, a true classic entertainer in every term as a DJ. We felt only Panorama Bar were close to the same level of consistent bookings and naturally sometimes these two clubs clashed over who, what and where but we found our own way to work around this and the support we had from the whole Tresor team made it a joy to perform there.

Assuming it was a case of parties first, then recording, what made you step into the studio together?

Tyree – That was inevitable in my case because of the way we were approaching the music from the DJing side of things. I figured if we’re DJing together we should be making tunes that represent our collective musical spirit.

Bobby – Too true but Ty signed me to his label Supa Dupa Records for a couple of releases from late 2006, so we were already discussing beats, sounds, trax and techniques which did lay a lot of our foundations to our mothership project which also included Jack The Box Radio which ran weekly on a Wednesday evening for four and a half years via the Berlin based agency of James Blonde & Sweatlodge’s own station.

There are some interesting collaborative characters on there, like Bam from Jungle Brothers. How did that one come about? And who else should we keep an ear out for on the album, apart from you two that is?

The project with my Zulu Brother Bam and good friend for 100,000 years came about when I was doing a residency in Stockholm, Sweden at this club called Berns. I saw out htere jackin’ his body to my set and kept looking at like he was some sort of Martian, then I realized somehow he looks familiar. So at the end of the night he walked over to the DJ booth and said to me that he had a great time and enjoyed my set and I said to him “My man where are you from?”, he said New York, I asked him if he did music? He said yes and I then asked him if he had released any records and again he said yes. Then it hit us once we properly introduced ourselves, from that moment it was ON!!!! So invited him to Berlin so we can hang out and record some Hip-House music with me, but he had recorded a Hip-House track with someone else already and i was like “Fuck That!!!” I will produce a track for me just for the love of Hip-House and Hip-Hop. Bam had an idea for a track that I ran by Bobby and we were both like “Hell Yeah” we’ll do this. Also we have a track written and sung by one of the songwriters from the Dr.Dre camp named Marco Anderson and a good long standing friend. We also did a song from another good friend of mine named Mandel Turner.

Bobby – Yes true, all these colabs happened very organically and it felt exciting and inspiring working like. For instance, the track with Lady Blacktronica, also came through us being on the same agency at the time and our conversations led to this track being produced and also with Lady B as I call her being our very first guest on Jack The Box Radio too. She still moans to me that I was the only person to leave her vocals raw hahaha but I am still hooked on Northern Soul as a sound for inspiration so I was constantly saying “No no no it’s perfect, a real heartbreaker of a track”.

Why have you decided to reissue ‘Side A’ now? We understand there’s a big renewal of activity connected to your label Hypernatural?

Tyree – Shit, it’s time to re-release it because it’s time.

What are your plans for Hypernatural as a label? We understand you want it be an artistic hub for more than just music?

Bobby – As I moved my studio from Kreuzberg to Neukölln districts, I reconnected with Danny Kotz who remixed a track I did years back for Terrence Parker’s label Parker Music Works and we also joined by Berry Feels from the Italo Disco band De Wolt and Roi ‘Rocky’ Assayag aka Tropical Camel as studio buddies. Firstly Hypernatural.Berlin began officially in Feb 2019 as a livestream show over TwitchTV & Youtube. Our concept was and still is to bring Artists of many diverse kinds together, as an extended family, to move forward, to influence and collaborate. As an example Vocalist Legends Robert Owens and Billie Ray Martin graced us and gave us their wisdom and knowledge of the Industry through good times and bad times and we combined these special individuals with Live Jams, Live Art, Poetry, Gamers, Chess Boxers, Spiritual Healers, Local Legends and up ‘n’ comers and the list goes on. I would never say we were influenced by Wayne’s World but you can get the jist, a lot of humour was involved and the THC levels were cooking away hahaha. Our label Hypernatural Recordings is another arm of this mothership, in which we wanted to have full control of our destiny as a Label and Artist Collective with internal morals and ethics we believe strongly in.

Who else from the Berlin scene should we be looking out for? Maybe you could mention a few from your label here and some other stuff you’re digging or have affiliations with in the city?

Tyree – Isis Salam, Mandel Turner, Andy Roda, Pure G.O.D., Eric D. Clark and Honey Dijon. These are the names that people should be looking out for….

Bobby – We would hate to forget anyone so I gotta add Dickey Doo, Mavin, Snax, Mamasweed, GoToPo, Dante Tom, Moody Kablawi, Mehira Cruz, Wayne Duggan, Niklas on Sax, Mark Jackus, Byrke Lou, Keishera, Rasha Nahas, Patrick Mason, Sandra Ann-Marie and also Jeru the Damaja too.

Although the album is a re-issue, there are a stack of new remixes arriving – talk us through who you invited in and what’s they’ve done to which tracks…

Tyree – Too many to name… My lil brother Paul Johnson from Chicago, Lil Mark from Bristol, James Johnston from Glasgow.

Bobby – Then ourselves hahaha with Wayne Duggan and De Wolt too.

And of course the big question – when is the next album proper from Jack The Box on the way?

Tyree – I have no idea at this current moment.

Bobby – We’ve been patiently waiting but that wait is now over, bring on a more positive 2021 as we are back for more.

Thanks a lot guys….

Both: Cheers!

You can find more information about Jack The Box at...

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