Interview: Russ Jones

This article was originally published in the September 2014 edition of London Cyclist





















London Cyclist chats to the Hackney-based cyclewear designer, bike nut and DJ

What came first for you: the bikes or the music?

It’s hard to say as they’ve both been passions since the beginning, both gained from my parents. The first family vehicle I remember was a motorbike and sidecar, the earliest music the Mamas and Papas and that whole ‘Summer of Love’ thing. It is still that way for me; I love to ride my bikes, but still crave my live music. That’s why Hackney Globe Trotter is about both... though at this moment with a slight bias to two wheels.

You’re a familiar face at bike events and have your finger in a lot of pies, but you’re perhaps best known as a DJ, Hackney Globe Trotter. For those who might not know the name, can you explain how you got started and the sort of music and places you play?

The DJ thing goes back the early 90s. Having been part of the amazing club scene and the breaking of house music in the late 80s, it was always a desire to be on the other side of the decks. What started as small parties with no big ambition ended with over 10 years’ international travelling and mixes on Radio 1 and 6Music. With my DJ partner of the time (DJ Cliffy) and our club night ‘Future World Funk’, we had a big hand in taking world music into the clubs and creating what is now called ‘GlobalBeats’.

I’ve heard someone call your music ‘tropical’, but how does that differ from the ‘world music’ that we might have heard in the Mambo Inn at Loughborough Junction back in the day?

Tropical is just a certain style of world music. I guess it’s party music from countries like Peru, Colombia, the Caribbean and African countries like Kenya and the Congo. I agree, the Mambo Inn was a great gig, I was there too as a punter.

Do you get to play at many festivals over the summer months? Which are your favourites, in London and further afield?

I used to but now cycle events, races and other work seem to get in the way. In the past I’ve hosted stages at Glastonbury, Bestival, Big Chill, Womad and played at festivals in Asia, Australia, Japan, the USA and all over Europe. I do miss it.

The top festival has to be Glastonbury. One year I played between 4-6am to more than 1,000 people outside with the sun coming up. One of my all-time highlights.

Away from the music your other great love is bikes (and racing) — when or where are you happiest on two wheels?

Hard to say. If I’m on my mountain bike, maybe racing a Gorrick event, it doesn’t come too much better. But then cyclocross through the winter is really fun too. I do the Three Peaks race in Yorkshire every year; 30-plus miles, three very big climbs, and four hours or so on foot and in the saddle. That is probably my favorite outing of them all.

Hackney’s obviously a leader in cyclist numbers these days, but what do they do well there that could be rolled out elsewhere to help grow cycling?

Cycling in Hackney has seemed fairly organic. A pro-active council has helped but, for me, the growth’s been due to a combination of what was poor public transport, the arrival of hipsters, flat roads and a village feel so that you don’t need to travel out of its boundaries too much. But other places, not just Hackney, also seem to have a lot more cyclists these days.

You branched out into cyclewear a short time ago with a range of very distinctive designs — where  do the ideas come from?

They’re essentially a mix of street fashion and ‘old school’ designs; I’ve never been one to wear dark or subdued colours. The cycle fashion over the last decade has been very staid and I felt it was time for something different. If nothing else the fluoro touches might possibly make you more visible, but if you can put a smile on people’s faces at the same time then that has to be a good thing.

And this year you’ve also been organising and sponsoring the all-new Beastway mountain bike races, but at Hog Hill rather than the Olympic Park...

Beastway’s been running for over 20 years and was moved from the old Eastway Cycle Centre when the Olympic Park was built there. After years at Hog Hill it was due to return to the new Lee Valley VeloPark this year, but unfortunately the ‘off-road’ trails that had been built were not fit for purpose and quite dangerous. How this happens after so much money’s been spent is anyone’s guess? So this year’s Beastway was put on hold as the promoter dropped out. Then it was suggested that HGT take it on and continue to run it at Hog Hill. So that’s what we did.

Is cross-country mtb racing in rude health these days?

I’d say so. We had eight weeks’ racing, with 80 people or so attending, aged from seven years to over 60, both men and women. We had a good time and plan to return next year. It’s not as popular as road racing these days, but that’s okay. A lot of people on the mtb scene have been doing it for years and are not jumping on the latest trend.

What’s on the horizon for Hackney GT for the rest of 2014? Where can we catch you playing next?

I’ve just been negotiating with a new factory on the jerseys. The good news is that from the autumn all jerseys will be made from recycled fabric and the quality will be going up a gear. There will also be a Japanese-inspired ‘Sukajan’ jacket, created in collaboration with my wife and her East End tattoo parlour, Shangri-la; it’s pretty different from any other designs out there.

Then from September onwards the cyclocross season starts and HGT’s 20-strong team will be out there in force.

And on the music front I have a regular Latin and tropical night ‘Arriba la Cumbia’ at Passing Clouds in Dalston. The next one is Friday 19 September, with three bands and DJs, so check it out. Also there’s a radio show going out most weeks too (