DUANE JONES: Vis In The Hot Seat

When I found out I was going to be interviewing Duane Jones, I was surprised and honoured to discover that this would be one of his first official interviews in the hot seat. Under his moniker Vis, Duane has had an extensive career in the music industry. As a radio presenter on board from the beginning of BBC Radio 1Xtra, Duane has been at the forefront of breaking artists in fields of UK Black Music for a long time. He has remained relevant throughout by forecasting the changes in new media, and the current Not For The Radio show that he co-presents with Posty (GRM Daily) and Chams (Face4Music), is a perfect example of that. Sometimes I will interview an artists or a public figure, and they will give short answers and be reluctant to tell their stories; Duane was the polar opposite. I’m not sure if it’s because he has held back on doing interviews for so long, but he really had a lot to say and was passionate throughout about his work and the music industry.

Duane Jones has interviewed some of the most legendary figures in UK music on the many platforms he has been a part of. The first thing I wanted to know was why he hadn’t chosen to be the one giving answers so far? “I think when I was on radio, I didn’t really care about being interviewed, I just wanted to interview people… And then once I had left the radio and started like my own TV production company and started doing Not For The Radio etc, because it was a bit of a transitional period for me, I didn’t want to talk about what I was doing”. I pushed on to discover why now? “Now I think people like yourself, you know cool people like yourself, interesting people like yourself, that I’m just happy to sit down and talk with to be honest, and just share what I’m doing, It feels [like] the right time to talk about what’s going on”. I laughed in my head at the compliment, and thought he’s been in the world of media for so long, that he’s naturally media trained. At the same time I could tell he was being sincere and cared about the industry and different emerging platforms and individuals pushing it forward. 

The launch of BBC Radio 1Xtra in 2002 was a technological milestone for Black Music in the UK. It meant that there was an official station dedicated to Black Music, broadcasting across the country and worldwide through the new advancement of DAB radio technology. Duane Jones was at the forefront of this as part of the duo Ace & Vis. Later Channel U (now Channel AKA) broke barriers in the world of TV, and yet again Duane was in the mix, teaming with Ace again to host The Illout Show. Duane has gone on to launch a media company with his Renowned Group that is backed by Channel 4, and the Not For Radio platform has provided an online space that was seriously lacking in UK media. I wanted to find out how Duane had always managed to stay relevant and up on the latest technological trends, “I’ve managed to do it, I couldn’t tell you how though [Laughs]. I think I’ve just got a natural interest in technology, in media, and in music, and in trends. So, it’s just been a natural thing to me to be on Instagram’s, to be on the Twitter’s, to upload content to YouTube”. I was really interested in his experience through these transitions and whether he felt it had given us the opportunity to provide better content to the world. “I think the old guard became really comfortable in just working with each other, so it was the same commissioners, the same producers, the same talent, working with each other and repeating the same content. Without mentioning names and no disrespect at all because they’re amazing programs, but it’s been the same music programming on linear TV for years”. I asked if it had limited the type of artists we’ve got to see? “Yeah I think so, but at the same time it’s made this DIY generation that we’ve never seen before, that’s incredible”. He came back to the compliments again and I really began to see how passionate he was about the achievements that he was referencing; “A great example of that is where we’re sitting right now. Got an incredible self-made stylist to the left, an incredible journalist to my right, and I’m doing my little bit of contribution as well. So it creates what’s happening right now in this very moment”. 

Daune Jones
Daune Jones

Now that Duane and myself had covered some of my significant interests and got comfortable, I was ready to hear his story. I asked him to take me back to the beginning of his journey; “I was always into sport and music, at school I could of done a lot better but I got distracted… I strayed a little bit, didn’t leave with the qualifications I wanted… And then I didn’t apply for any higher education”. He went on to tell me about a discovering a school that perked his interest. A friend had told him; “[At] this school you can study music, dance, media, television”. He tells me he responded; “There’s no such thing”, and then went on to say; “I looked over his shoulder and saw this application for The BRIT School. I photocopied the application, filled it out really honestly, kind of ‘limited qualifications’. They called me in for an interview and a test, and I passed the test and passed the interview. And they were like, ‘We only accepted you because you filled out your application form really honestly’… And that’s when I realised I had been subconsciously studying media and music at a level I didn’t really realise, because I loved it so much”. Hearing about The BRIT School peaked my interests. This esteemed institution has an alumnus that includes Adele, Jessie J, Amy Winehouse and many more. It’s links to the music business are very strong, so I asked whether he felt advantaged by attending; “When I left, telling everyone I went to The BRIT School, and the background that I was from as well. Like I was very still, ear to the street, and kind of still on the street. So record labels and TV channels were intrigued by me. They were like, ‘You went to The BRIT School, but you’re walking in here with a hoodie and tracksuit bottoms, but you still know how to use all this equipment’… So it worked really well for me”. 

The next part of Duane’s journey that it felt natural to explore was being recruited by the BBC; “I saw this advert, it was called Network X at the time, and it was like, ‘We’re gonna play Urban Music, I think they actually called it Black Music at the time”. I interrupted at this point, being really interested to find out if they had made the change to ‘Urban Music’ later; “Well they’ve changed it a number of times, you know some people are uncomfortable with it, internally and externally”. Duane continued his story, “I just went for it man, I was like, ‘That sounds like it’s perfect timing for me’. I went for this graveyard shift and they were like, ‘Nah you need a daytime show… Five days a week’, and I was like, ‘Alright, so that means that this’ll be my job’, the first job I ever had”. I wanted to go back to the people being uncomfortable with the term ‘Black Music’. This was an issue I had seen create distain for mainstream music platforms over the years, so I asked Duane to expand; “It is what it is man, it’s Black Music. People have decided to label it different, at different times. I’ve always called it Black Music, and anything I’ve been involved in I’ve always labelled it Black Music”. It was refreshing to hear Duane’s stance on this issue. I moved on to investigate how much influence Duane was able to have in bringing through new artists; “Yeah I think from Channel U days, I think my show was the first time you had ever seen Dizzee Rascal perform, Kano perform, Klashnekoff perform… Wretch 32 perform and Skepta, Ghetts. So I definitely played my part”. 

It is what it is man, it’s Black Music. People have decided to label it different, at different times. I’ve always called it Black Music, and anything I’ve been involved in I’ve always labelled it Black Music”. 

It is easy to see how important Duane’s role has been with the respect he is shown by the legendary artists featuring on his latest platform Not For The Radio. “Because I did my deal with Channel 4 and set up my production company, it took up a lot of my time… Then I was having withdrawal symptoms. I had been interviewing people for eleven years prior to that. So I was just like, ‘Yo, I need to interview some people’”. Duane continued his story, “I bumped into Posty, and I was like, ‘Yo bro, I’m gonna start interviewing people in my office, make sure you post it on your web-site’, and he was like… ‘Have you seen that show in America that’s popping right now?’ And I was like, ‘Yeah, I seen it’, and he was like, ‘Why don’t we just do that?’ Duane and myself both laughed knowing he was referring to The Breakfast Club show that had become really popular online. I had already had the same idea and launched a radio show with the same formula as well. Through this process I had found that the radio show itself was no longer as important as the online content it generated. With Duane’s new platform they had cut out the radio element altogether; “My office, where we shoot it, is in Central London… So are all of the major radio stations. So I thought, ‘I’ve got the same location as a major radio station’. Then I said, ‘I’ve probably got more connections myself in my own phonebook, without even Posty, but then us together, we’ve got just as much connections as a radio station’. Then I said, ‘YouTube has got as big a reach as any radio station’.

Daune Jones

That was a realisation moment for both of us to be like, ‘We don’t need a radio station’”. I could see the passion in Duane again as he went on to tell me about the advantages of this modern set-up, “There’s nothing that we need [a radio station] for, in fact, it would just be a hindrance, because there will be too many rules and those hidden agendas. We’ve just got the freedom of dropping things whenever we want, asking the questions that we want, how we want, and we don’t like to prep things, it’s just a conversation”. I had been following the NFTR platform since the beginning and pushed for Duane to give me a favourite guest so far; “Oh shit, I should have known you were gonna ask me this” [Pauses]. “Probably Wiley, today it’s Wiley, again tomorrow it might be someone else… He’s got so much to talk about, he’s a legend, he’s a pioneer, he’s an honest guy, he’s a good guy, and his knowledge of music is just incredible”. I upped the anti and asked for a dream guest as well. We deliberated over whether we should restrict it to the UK and decided to go for one UK and one US. In the end, he couldn’t limit it to one for the UK; “This year it has to be Skepta and Dizzee. Dizzee’s dropping a new album, Skepta’s just been inspirational for UK, he’s had an unbelievable year. He’s a very interesting guy as well; he’s been through it all… He doesn’t do a lot of interviews, I’ve had some very interesting conversations with him privately, and I’d like to have that on cameraman, and the same with Dizzee. They’re just like, fascinating people man. Oh also, Giggs. I would like to do Giggs again. That would be another dream guest. The first interview was sick, but it was pre Landlord”. I went to go onto the next question forgetting we had a US choice to select, but Duane cut me short; “US would be Drake by the way”. The answer made perfect sense with Drake’s recent connections to UK music; “There are other people that I respect, but I mean in terms of what Not For The Radio is, and the impact he’s had on the UK as well as the other shit he’s done. For this platform, I’d say Drake”.

So far my questions had been focusing a lot on the music and platforms that were relevant to me. So before we wrapped up I needed Duane to expand on his Renowned Group; “Renowned was started by myself, Wretch 32, and Zeon. Literally it was just like, we need an art space, and we needed to create something like, I’m not just a DJ / presenter, he’s not just an MC, and Zeon is not just an artist manager. So we needed a space, and to create a brand which will be the vehicle into other avenues like TV production, like managing and kind of consulting for artists… We started Renowned with different arms to the brand. So music management, music publishing and TV production… We wanted to work with people other than musicians, and we wanted to launch our own publishing company as well, and we did it man”.

It had been a pleasure to sit down with Duane and hear about his story and his thoughts on the changing times in music and media. I could tell he really cares about what he does, and everyone else involved in and affected by it. We talked more in-between looks as he went on to do his House of Solo photo-shoot. We spoke about my own show, and he showed a genuine interest in what I’ve been doing with it. On reflection of the day, I can see how he has lasted for so long in such a competitive industry, and his passion, drive, good nature and vision will keep him here for a lot longer.

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