''I rather grandiosely refer to my studio as ‘Solitary Cyclist studios’ in order to give it the air of professionalism I think is required in these days of social media bluff and bluster.
If people call me, I often say ‘I can’t talk just now I’m in the studio’, or ‘I’ll check this out when I get back to the studio’. But in reality ‘Solitary Cyclist Studios’ is a spare room upstairs in my house that doubles, or trebles in fact, as a recording studio, artist’s garret and book depository. So, the lockdown provided no great obstacles to getting to work luckily.
In the early days of the pandemic I had quite a few remixes to do, so that kept me busy, but as the days blurred into one and it became clear that we wouldn’t be sharing the joy of ritual dance for some months my music making in turn slowed down. I think music exists to be shared and without a place to play it in the real, tangible world I think I lost a bit of impetus. But as luck would have it my wife Sofia is a very talented song writer, so we decided rather than descend into an atmosphere of acrimonious silence, we would start a musical project together. This became Formerlover, an appropriate moniker for what might have happened if we had decided to not to channel the frustrations of lockdown. Starting this project was great for me, because it gave me a good jolt of inspiration and a direction in which to travel, mainly because Sofia made most of the decisions. We went for a languid ‘Compass Point’ vibe and are continuing to work on our debut long player. I think Formerlover kick started something for me, because I’m back ‘in the studio’ quite regularly now.''
I’ve found music to be a great source of comfort during these mad times, are there any particular tunes that have helped you to keep from going under these past 12 months?
''Yes! I’m lucky enough to have two radio shows, ‘The Temple of Wonders’ for all things psychedelic and ‘The Rotating Institute’ for the more electronic stuff. These have kept me engaged in constant rooting about for music and an outlet for me to inflict my taste on people. So that has kept me nourished over the months. Here are a few numbers I’ve been digging..
Plus lots of Hawkwind as usual, but especially after reading the Joe Banks book, and a lot of drone music after reading Harry Swords book on that subject. Nothing improves the claustrophobia of lockdown better than Sunn o))) at great volume.''
The last time I saw you DJ was at Moovin festival where you did a genuinely amazing set to a thronging mass of people from the comfort of a massive cowshed. Where’s the maddest place you’ve ever DJed?
''A cowshed is up there, in fact that’s not the first cowshed I’ve played it. I’m a seasoned frequenter of farmyard ancillary buildings. I’ve never been invited to any high-faluting celebrity dos, but I did get to Dj for Peter Blake’s 80th birthday party at the Albert Hall. I could hardly believe seeing, not only one of my artistic heroes, but also every living rock idol of the late 60’s and 70’s in one room. I actually found it impossible to speak to anyone, though I did offer a plate of canapes to Jimmy Page and Anna Ford at the bar. I have also djed in a public convenience and a Soviet underground military bunker.''
You’re a pretty amazing artist on the quiet, can you tell us how your love of art started and what your own particular work means to you?
''I’ve never been formally trained as an artist, or as a musician for that matter, so I’d class myself as an enthusiastic amateur. But as with music, not knowing what you are supposed to do often leads to quite interesting results. I’m also no great expert on the subject, but I do love it. I think art and music are some of the activities that lift existence out of the realms of the absurd, and as such should be encouraged and not seen as the preserves of the cultural elite or the wealthy.
I started painting as a way of escaping. It was like being a kid again, sketching these weird worlds and dimensions that popped into my head, but then it took on the role of a vehicle by which I could discuss subjects I found interesting. Each collection of pictures grew out of a theme however tangentially, ‘Everything is Turbulence’ was about the Occult power of the imagination and the intrinsic uncertainty and chaos at large in the universe, which led onto ’The Explorer’s chronicle’ which looked at the importance of the imagination and mythological constructs in scientific discovery. ‘It’s Alive’ was largely about secular animism and a splash of panpsychism, which are basically ways of thinking about how we interact with the objects around us and how those objects might direct us. ‘Alone’, was me finding a way to respond to the death of my Father and the fact that I found myself without any parents. But it broadened out into a discussion about the pros and cons of isolation.
Just before the lockdown in 2020, I put on an exhibition called ‘When the Dark Is Light Enough’ which examined the structure of the unseen fragments that hide in the things around us and discussed how, due to our faulty human perspective, we are often mistaken as to their nature. Even the things we create, like paintings, can have layers of meaning that escape us, once created they take on a life of their own, becoming infinitely mysterious, even to their creator. I think art has become another way to channel ideas for me now, or at least share some ideas. But what is key for me is that the pictures are the focus and not me, like the good ole days of djing when the collective dancers were the focus and the DJ was only the conductor with the chants, before confetti cannons and entourages, I like to hide behind the work and let people judge that.''
Where can we see/buy your work?
''Well my online gallery is justinrobertson.co.uk/shop and my Instagram is @Justin_Mark_Robertson, those are the best places in the digital world. I’m hoping to get some stuff up on some real walls this year and I’m doing ‘The Other Art Fair’ in London Kings Cross in July.''
Rumour has it that you’re also writing a novel, what’s the score with this?
''The biggest project for me over lockdown was finishing my debut novel ‘The Tangle’. The novel is basically a supernatural adventure, part Ballard, part Hammer. A meditation on estrangement and metamorphosis. A trans dimensional trip into the mysterious knot of nature; a journey into the ‘brilliant darkness’ where the timeless divine spirit of the ‘Tangle’ weaves its spell and all mankind’s hubris is rendered insignificant by the radically non-human force of phantom ecology. I started it a while before the lockdown, but the enforced isolation helped me focus and finish it. It comes with illustrations which I’m working into an exhibition for Halloween, when the book is published.''
What made you decide to write a novel as opposed to a rip-roaring account of your adventures on the acid house high seas?
''Mainly because absolutely nothing of interest happened to me most of the time, bar a couple of spurts of vigorous narcotic experimentation in the late 80’s and early 90’s, and a brief resurgence of hedonism in the mid 00’s, I tend to favour the early bath and bed. So, my tales of acid house abandon would be largely a blend of tedious odes to favoured service stations and a list of poorly sound proofed hotel rooms. Don’t get me wrong I have been known to stay up to greet the sunrise, but usually it’s the same story over and over again ‘Had a nice time with mates, got pretty high and attempted northern soul dancing’.''
Do you know when you’ll be DJing to a crowd again? What do you reckon will be the first post-lockdown tune that you play?
''I think sometime in June for the Chems movie showing. It’s a Bugged Out do where I’ll be dusting off some old Spice and Most Excellent joints. I think Massimo Barsotti’s version of a Whole Lotta Love, it sounds like a statement of one’s intention to get down without relent. ''
Speaking of which, what’s the most ‘Balearic’ record of all time?
''That is like knowing the secret of alchemy or possessing the key to immortality, though I have no desire to live forever, I will spend the rest of my days attempting to answer this question. ''
Pre Order Justin's new novel ''The Tangle'' HERE.