Clock Strikes 13’s Ajay Jayaram on pushing the envelope in 2016
Clock Strikes 13 is one of London’s most exciting club series.
Since its launch last year, CS13 has provided the city with an adventurous alternative to the rotation of the usual suspects who play clubs for the rest of the year. But, as is well documented, the current state of London’s nightlife can often look bleak, and pulling in niche crowds in an already unforgiving environment sounds demanding. Ahead of the launch of this year’s run – packed with showcases, debuts and rare exclusives – we caught up with Ajay Jayaram to ask what it takes to carve out your own path in today’s climate.
Hi Ajay. To begin can you tell me a bit about your background? How did you arrive at this point running Clock Strikes 13?
I used to be the head of programming for a The End. That shut down in 2009 because in 2008 the property market was really booming and the guys who ran it received an offer. The End had been running for 13 years by then and everyone thought it was a good time to move on to other things. Ironically the market crashed almost as soon as the ink was dry on the paperwork, so the site remained for years.
It was at Cable that I met Dolan Bergin that I do The Hydra with now. We worked together on an Ostgut Ton night at Cable and became friends and realised that we had similar outlook on the way to do things in music. We set up the Hydra in 2012. The first year there were 13 events and it was quite eclectic: diversity was definitely part of our ethos. As the series developed over time and found a regular home in Studio Spaces, we realised that house and techno seemed to work best in that particular space. It’s important to respond to how things naturally evolve, so the programming of The Hydra moved deeper into that territory and found a more coherent voice.
I started to miss working on a huge area of music that we no longer covered but that I was still personally invested in. That’s really how the seed was sown for Clock Strikes 13. Also I feel we need to push things further, I’ve always maintained that London is the key city for electronic music globally. I still believe that regardless of recent tectonic shifts.
One of the things I noticed is your written commitment to ‘an uncompromising vision of the future of electronic music’. Can you elaborate on that?
The point is that we want our future to feature unique parties, bespoke content, label showcases or artist debuts. My ideal iteration of a CS13 season would only have events that, whilst anchored in electronic music, would be predicated on the idea that it’s something that you’ve never seen before. That’s what we’ve set out to achieve.
There aren’t really many people who are pushing music like this on this scale. I’m interested in how you deal with this kind of hostile environment and go about making it commercially workable.
The difficulties that London’s electronic communities currently face have been well documented elsewhere, and there are other areas that demand immediate attention like diversity. But overall I think there’s a lot to be hopeful about and there’s a lot that’s powerful about our scene right now. I honestly feel more inspired by music itself than I’ve ever been. Advances in technology don’t always signal a move forward but one thing that it’s definitely allowed for is the ability of a creative mind to express itself. I personally feel that the current climate is full of hope and we endeavour to showcase some of that excitement. I obviously appreciate and understand the current difficulties for a lot of people, but from our perspective we want to focus on the fact that there is some positivity out there.
I can respect that. Still, I’d be interested to hear your take on what’s going on with Fabric if you’re willing.
We speak to those guys on a regular basis, we’re trying to do everything we can to support and there’s some Hydra/Fabric related activity that is incoming. Fundamentally though, it’s profoundly sad, because apart from the grander scale of what it means for London a lot of people have lost their jobs. This isn’t a huge industry and there aren’t hundreds of similar roles that those guys can walk into. There’s the hearing coming up soon, and let’s hope that there’s a way of turning things around.
Going back to your point that expression by a creative mind is easier to reach now. By extension, do you feel like crowds are more accepting of the weirder side of electronic music?
What I find interesting is that there is definitely a disconnect between the amount of hype, love and column inches that an act might receive, and their pull at an event. One simply isn’t commensurate with the other. In a commercial sense, an act that is much lauded in the media may not fulfil the promise of those rave reviews. I find myself acutely conscious of that because it suggests that the audience isn’t necessarily there as of yet.
We are talking about music that could be considered to be a niche of a niche of a niche. In terms of the series, the Holy Grail for us is to engender a sense of trust over time so that people are prepared to come to events without knowing much about them and are willing to take a punt based on our ability to present an alternative in what is otherwise, in terms of electronic music, an over-saturated market.
I’m very fortunate that I can earn a living from the Hydra, and that foundation is what has allowed me to embark upon Clock Strikes 13 with a long-term view, without it having to support itself from the off, which frankly wouldn’t have been possible.
There’s a lot to be hopeful about and there's a lot that’s powerful about our scene right now. I honestly feel more inspired by music itself than I’ve ever been.
Are there any shows from this year that you’re particularly proud of?
It’s a real honour to present B12 performing their seminal Warp release Electro Soma. I approached Steven who now performs as B12 on his own and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be viable, but he was as enthusiastic as I was. He’s bought new kit, scoured his archives, reverse engineered tracks and a whole load of other technical wizardry I couldn’t begin to understand. It’s a herculean feat to do something like that, plus the record’s over 20 years old so full respect to him for doing it. That one stands out but there’s a lot of amazing stuff in there: music and artists that deserve to be heard and supported. It’s not easy to have a singular vision as many of these guys do and I’m really grateful to all of them. A lot of people talk about pushing boundaries, and inhabiting the bleeding edge or the fringes of this stuff but I feel like a lot of these guys really do.
On a smaller scale, if someone was looking to start something of a similar vein, is there any advice you would give?
I think if at all possible, put aside a pot of cash that you are genuinely prepared to lose. I think it’s best to be prepared as to what could happen with an unknown promoter putting on an unknown artist. But if you are committed to creating something special over time and you have the patience and the energy and, crucially, the temperament for some financial ups and downs, then start off with something modest and build from there. It’s eminently doable, you just have to be pragmatic.
Clock Strikes Thirteen 2016 launches Friday 7 October with DDS featuring Demdike Stare, Stephen O’Malley, Micachu, Equiknoxx and Jon K. For the full line-up head to the Clock Strikes 13 website