We’ve all experienced the moment. The one where you’re in the final seconds of your set. You’re ready to collapse, cry or crumple into a sweaty puddle of defeat. When, by some miracle, the opening beat of a tune finds its way into your ears – a big, fat, beefy banger. An angel sent from above. You push. You keep going. And you give the nod of approval. THAT’S what Gymbox DJ Marshall looks for. And now, he’s stepped out from behind his decks to speak to resident blogger Kat Barnett about his career – and how he’s managed to perfect the ideal workout playlist over the last ten years.
What made you decide to start DJing?
I think the normal excuse everyone uses - a love for music and watching House Party…those types of films. It was being around music…and it was a good way of getting girls! It was also about being with friends who had a similar idea and saying “alright you buy a turntable, I buy a turntable,” putting together to get a mixer, saying “one week it stays at my house, one week it stays at your house”, and building it up from there. It was about buying music that we wanted to hear and putting it together, learning how it mixes and contrasts, learning how it drops together… Then all of a sudden, someone would be saying to you “come and DJ at the school party,” and you’re throwing down beats, everyone’s going mad and you’re thinking “I’m famous!” Back then it was just the process of the love for it, and the element of building things up slowly and surely until you got to the point where you’d think “you know what, I really do enjoy doing this.”
How long have you been DJing now?
A long time! Since I was about 13.
Do you think it’s a lot easier now for people to pick it up, and do you think that makes it harder to do well given that the industry has become quite saturated?
If I had had the tools available to young people now, I’d be flying. Absolutely flying. The industry and the technology has advanced so much that it’s become quite easy for a lot of people to DJ, and 9 times out of 10, if you add a laptop, you’re flying. When I started DJing, you had to buy vinyl, there was no other way…The next decade there was something called a tape deck, and then from a tapes it became a CD. Once the CD era kicked in,
the laptops came and digital DJing came in. People becoming DJ’s just became the norm. A person wanting to have a DJ for their birthday or their bar or their Bar Mitzvah used to have to find a DJ and pay them according to what they were worth. Now people just think “oh, I’ll get my nephew to do it.” A lot of people are very ignorant and don’t understand the element of cutting, mixing, transforming…they don’t understand it. They just think “I love that tune!” A lot of DJs become jukeboxes rather than DJs.
Do you think people underestimate how hard it is to do the job well and produce something that’s different?
I think a lot of people underestimate it greatly, especially promoters. But let’s be honest, a lot of promoters are out for the money. They don’t really give a damn what you’re like, as long as their venues packed and they have a lot of money in their pocket going home.
Did you ever want to DJ full time?
I had a choice a long time ago to do it - I was working a few promotions which were quite successful in London, and I was a resident as one of their DJs and MCs. I had a choice…but I’m quite practical and I like to think logically. DJing was not a very sustainable, reliable source of money. One month you could earn £2,000, the next you could make £200 if you were lucky. And I couldn’t live like that with the plans I had, and still have, and where I want to go. For me to have those things, DJing was not the process at that time. It didn’t work out for me when I had other offers on the table offering things like life insurance and a pension! I had these two options on the table and I took the one which gave me the most security.
Have you continued to DJ on the side for a while?
DJing for me is a hobby that pays me. In the same way that I go and play football on a Sunday, on a weekday I might DJ at Gymbox. On a Thursday, Friday and Saturday I go and DJ for other promoters. The big difference with DJing is that it might be a bit tiring, but at the end of the month I get a decent package in the bank. It means if I decide I want to go on holiday with the family we can do it…it’s a nice way of making money and it’s something I enjoy.
How long have you been at Gymbox for?
I would say I’m heading into a decade! About 10 years. I started at Holborn, which has been there a long time…I think it was the first original Gymbox. As times gone on I’ve seen Gymbox create new clubs and I’ve DJ’ed at a few of them. I DJ at my favourites now!
What’s different about DJing at Gymbox compared to when you DJ at a club?
For me, I guess I’ve been here quite a long time and I’ve built a fanbase where I’m allowed to play what I want to play. It’s a nice place for a DJ, especially if you’re a new DJ who wants somewhere to create your art and become more fluent. Gymbox is nice to do that in because at least you’re DJing once or twice a week, maybe more, and you’re constantly on the decks. If you’re an artist, you’re constantly painting. Gymbox is a good place to learn, practice and enjoy DJing, and a good place to test out material. The sad thing about us DJ’s is that we don’t meet! There’s never been a Gymbox DJ Christmas party [laughs]. It’s weird that there’s so many DJs but it’s rare that we meet each other.
What’s your favourite music to play in the gym?
In the gym, it’s got to be more urban, hip hop grime…Some clubs are very different. Stratford is more urban-rugged, Holborn’s a bit like that too. Farringdon…not so much. But mostly urban and hip hop. Never house, I think there’s too may house DJs!
What is your favourite style of music, is it what you play in your sets or something else?
It is really, but I’m quite eclectic…I don’t actually mind indie, or rock! To me, if you understand music and have been around music, you’ll know a lot of Indie and rock music. If you listen to the samples in hip hop and R&B you’ll recognise a lot come from those genres. But I don’t really have a guilty pleasure, I just love music.
What’s your favourite thing about being a DJ?
I just enjoy being able to play and still having the ability to play! Having the ability to still throw down a track and for a place go mad, having the respect when people give you that nod. You know, the nod that says “that is a tune!” That nod. It’s getting respect on a different level, knowing your stuff and knowing certain tracks that another DJ might not play, and getting some older heads thinking “oh my god, this guy knows his stuff!” But overall, it’s having the ability to still be able to play.