Adam J Smith is the man of many talents. He is a celebrated musician, DJ, writer, promoter and now label owner. Smith currently plays bass for the reformed Newtown Neurotics and with the Motorheads of power pop Los Pepes. For almost two decades, up until its closure, he promoted concerts at the legendary venue The Square in Harlow Essex. As a DJ, he has worked with artists like Steve Diggle (The Buzzcocks) and The Rifles. He is also the diabolical mastermind behind the music site, Black Wax and hosts Lets Go! on Totally Wired Radio. Not only that, he launched the record label Black Wax Noise Division by releasing Chinese Junks Permanent Reduction EP in February 2021.
Originally, Black Wax started out as a regular way to share music. Since October 2020. it has been instrumental in promoting Let’s Go! and Black Wax Noise Division. Unlike other radio programs, Let’s Go! isn’t weighed down by nostalgia. Rather, it’s a show pursuing a modernist perspective by playing selections from contemporary artists continuing the evolution of punk, power pop, glam and garage rock. Although, one can certainly hear the occasional exception. Among the modern artists Smith has boasted in his repertoire, but not limited to, are Duncan Reid and The Big Heads, The Len Price 3, BBQT, Faz Watlz, Dead Meat and Muck And The Mires.
With a definitive buzz around Black Noise Division and Let’s Go!, the sky seems the limit for Smith. To learn more, I caught up with him over a digital pint. We chatted about promoting at The Square, playing with the Newtown Neurotics and Los Pepes, DJing, and what’s coming next with Let’s Go! and Black Wax Noise Division!
NixBeat: In March 2017, Black Wax started as a weekly radio broadcast and now exists as a 30-episode podcast. On the show you played rock n’ roll, glam punk and garage. What prompted you to start the show and why did it conclude?
Smith: Initially it was something to keep me busy after my music venue closed. I wanted an outlet for sharing music but didn’t want to rush straight into booking gigs at other venues. I’d always been interested in radio and the opportunity came up to get involved with a local community internet radio station. But, within a couple of months I had already introduced live music into the show and we did some great radio broadcasts with a small live audience with performances from Murray Torkildsen, Attila The Stockbroker, Paul Collins, Henri Herbert & The Fury, The Teamsters and Brandy Row. Unfortunately the station, and venue it was running from, closed altogether.
NixBeat: From 2001 until it’s closure in 2017, you were a concert promoter at The Square in Harlow, Essex. How did you get involved with The Square?
Smith: I did a 2 week work placement through school when I was 15 which turned into nearly 2 decades. I got involved in volunteering, my first job was handing out flyers at the end of the night. When the final punter had left the building I was given a free pass for the next gig. I would go along to the next gig and as soon as the band finished rush down to the door and start handing out flyers – and repeat.
I was introduced to promoting by Des Wiltshire, Shane Hanmore and Martin Norris. They were very influential and encouraging and let me help them book bands and promote gigs. By the time I was 18 I was working shifts behind the bar, DJ in between bands and booking full bills of my own.
NixBeat: What are some of your favorite acts you’ve put on at The Square?
Smith: There are lots because there are different reasons. Musically some of my favourite bands to have booked and watched there are Swingin’ Utters, The Damned, Buzzcocks, Dogs, The Aggrolites, The Ordinary Boys, The Datsuns.
There have been some bands who although musically aren’t something I’d normally listen to are great to work with so I have to mention Wheatus and DragonForce as some of the bands I enjoyed working with most.
A special mention to The Jim Jones Revue. As far as I’m aware the only band who played as a ‘new’ band who have only every played to a sold-out crowd (3 times). Obviously, some of the bigger bands we had would sell out, and we had some local bands that would work their way up to sold out gigs, but The Jim Jones Revue played within their first couples of years and never played to an empty room there.
NixBeat: Since 2007 you’ve been playing with The Newtown Neurotics as their touring bassist. How did you get involved with them?
Smith: I met Steve [Drewett] whilst I was working at The Square and also in the local Virgin Megastore. I booked a Newtown Neurotics gig, ordered myself the CDs and became a fan. A mate and I used to do an acoustic covers duo and play “Living With Unemployment.” When The Square’s management at the time (local authority) were prohibiting the sale of alcohol Steve was booked to play a solo set on the bill of the last night with booze. Ever the opportunist, I offered mine and Dave’s services to back him on bass and drums respectively, so at the end of his set we got up and ran through a couple of songs with him. The next thing I know we’re rehearsing up a full set as we’ve got a slot on the Empress Ballroom stage at the next Rebellion festival.
NixBeat: You also play with the “Motorhead of Power Pop” Los Pepes. What prompted you to get involved with Los Pepes?
Smith: Los Pepes were the tour support on the final Jim Jones Revue show that I booked. I loved them as soon as a I heard the tracks on the promo CD I was sent. We became mates straight away and my mate Shaun ended up playing drums for them when their original drummer left. The bass player, Seisuke, lives in Japan, so when he returned home Shaun suggested me for the job. It’s a really good set up for me because Seisuke is still the band’s bass player. He writes and records with them, and will come over usually once a year to tour the latest release. And then when he’s back home I pick up the gigs and have done the odd recording and music video with them. It’s more of an international organization than your typical band set up. There’s no stopping it.
NixBeat: To celebrate Harlow’s musical history and community, Black Wax is involved with a project launching campaigns to preserve its history for its future. The first being a series of T-Shirts promoting Harlow’s rich musical past. What prompted you to get involved and how do you think preserving Harlow’s music history improves it’s future?
Smith: I’m a geek when it comes to stuff like that. I have a poster that my dad took off the wall when he saw Slade play the local college in 1972. Hawkwind (with Lemmy on bass), Dr Feelgood and The Pogues have played gigs on a bandstand we have in our town park, The Boomtown Rats and The Pretenders played the Odeon cinema in town, and everyone over a certain age will tell you they saw David Bowie at the Playhouse Theatre or Pink Floyd at the Birdcage.
More recently The Square hosted the likes of Del Amitri, Carter (USM), Blur (then known as Seymour), Supergrass, Coldplay, Biffy Clyro and George Ezra.
Even if it’s not music I listen to I think it’s important to acknowledge those bands coming to play in our town. The T-Shirt project is just a way to remind people of what used to happen and hopefully inspire people do more in the future. I’ve made some with gig posters and old record shop bag designs on them so far. I’m not short of material for them so hope to make more design available soon.
NixBeat: As a DJ, you’ve spun for numerous gigs, including The Rifles “No Love Lost 10th Anniversary Show at The Electric Ballroom in Camden and for Steve Diggle’s (Buzzcocks) album launch at the 100 Club in 2011. How did you get involved in these gigs?
Smith: Mostly by putting my hand up and saying ‘I’ll do that.’ My pal Greg was running the Electric Ballroom at the time and as soon as I spotted the gigs going in I dropped him a line. Another friend, Justin, was managing Steve Diggle’s solo stuff so asked me if I fancied playing at it. I’ve done further sets at both venues which is good, someone must have liked it! I’m often looking out for opportunities to get involved and play music to people.
NixBeat: What has been your favorite DJ performance to date?
Smith: An unusual one, this has to be a pub garden party I did in summer 2019, the last summer we were allowed out properly! A friend of mine had just taken over the kitchen there and was running a BBQ, and the pub were launching an outside bar. By no means the biggest audience I’ve played to, but the space was packed, the sun was shining and I played a loads of old r&b, soul, garage rock, 60s pop. Everyone had a great time and I really enjoyed playing that kind of stuff, am patiently waiting for when we can do it again.
NixBeat: You’ve got a collection of records that spans from genres like soul, garage rock, punk, glam and more. What are you looking for in a record when you add it to your set?
Smith: More recently when I buy singles it’s usually with a DJ set in mind. I wouldn’t say I’ve got a particularly large collection of any set genre, but I have a decent amount across different styles. I buy certain music depending on my mood, and usually an upcoming booking will see an increase in purchases. I’ve always got a list in my head of ‘missing essentials’ but I like to find them in shops instead of taking the easy way out and buying online – the pandemic has changed that habit a bit though.
Album wise though, I like to keep on top of new releases of bands I like whilst filling the gaps in old bands back catalogues.
NixBeat: During the early month of the Corona Virus Pandemic, you recorded several episodes of “Black Wax — Social Distancing.” During these sets you’d play choice cuts from your record box. Examples of tracks used included “Reptile Brain” by Imperial State Electric and “Interplanetary Craft” by Giuda. What kind of reception did you get from these broadcasts and did creating these mixes help alleviate stresses of the pandemic?
Smith: I got caught up in the live streaming hype early on in our lockdown over here, partly fueled by both mine and my sons birthdays being in the first week of lockdown (I was sent home from work to be locked down on my birthday). So I set up my decks and looked into the best way to get online and play records. The initial reaction was great, and I teamed up with a band called The Bonnevilles one night where I did a virtual DJ set ahead of their singer doing a live streamed solo performance – we shared each other’s streams amongst our friends and fans. Facebook wasn’t kind to live stream DJs but I managed to salvage the audio and they now sit as a few podcasts.
To be honest, the novelty wore off quite quickly for me and by the 3rd or 4th month in I wasn’t interested in doing much more – I do listen to others who do so though, and one of my faves is the weekly Chills & Fever show. They moved over to Mixcloud and will soon be coming up for a whole year of weekly live streams.
NixBeat: In October 2021, you launched Let’s Go! with Totally Wired Radio. This broadcast is a collaboration with Acid Jazz Records and Fred Perry Subculture. During each broadcast you focus on releases in contemporary garage rock, punk, glam and power pop within the last couple decades. Groups featured include Chinese Junk, The Exploding Hearts, BBQT, Faz Waltz and The Len Price 3. How did you get involved with creating this show and why do you focus on modern music?
Smith Eddie Piller, the founder of Acid Jazz Records, lives just up the road from me. During one of the lifts of lockdown I was chatting to him in the pub and said if a slot was available, I’d love to do a show, especially without any gig bookings to focus on. He put me straight in touch with the station manager and she scheduled me into their Saturday programming which they were soon to be relaunching.
I see the show as an extension of my gig booking in that, whilst it’s easy to put on the likes of The Damned or The Buzzcocks and sell out the show, the real triumph is booking new bands and introducing them to a new audience, and the audience taking to them. I’ve done this a few times at a local pub, and had great responses for the likes of Thee Dagger Debs and Tommy & The Commies. So, I decided with the radio show that nostalgia would only get a look in if the band were doing something that made it current or relevant.
No-one needs me to play The Sex Pistols for them.
NixBeat: During each broadcast you read excerpts from reviews from several music journalist sources, including some from Nixbeat.com. What kind of criteria do you have for new material being submitted for Let’s Go!?
Smith: Anyone can submit something, am happy for anyone to get in touch, but I advise listening to a couple of shows first to see what we’re working with so as to not be offended if I don’t feel it fits. I like to hear from music journalists who concentrate on the kind of music I play, mainly because I like to hear the music myself. So, I made contact with a few people whose websites and magazines I look at anyhow – the show is definitely not all about me, I just have access to a great platform to share music I like and I enjoy getting recommendations from people I trust.
NixBeat: Where do you want to see Let’s Go! from here?
Smith: The first couple of shows featured interviews (Duncan Reid, Muck & The Mires) and I’d like to start scheduling more of those but to be honest I’m actually finding it a bit difficult talking to people because it currently all comes back to the pandemic. When things are lifted and we’ve got more tours and releases to talk about then I’ll get on it.
I’ve been asked to compile a CD for the Jukebox at The Pipeline (the best rock and roll bar) in Brighton, which got me thinking that a Let’s Go! compilation or series might be a good thing. I don’t think anyone needs to see me on Let’s Go! TV any time soon – we look at screens too much anyhow.
NixBeat: In November 2020, Black Wax also launched its own record label. Your first release has been the Chinese Junk “Permanent Reduction EP,” which features members of The Griswalds, The Ulcers and The Unreleasables. What inspired you to start a label and what has the reception been like for your first release?
Smith: I’ve always wanted to do it, and it’s one of the positives that has come out of the pandemic. I think if we’d been through 2020 as normal, I’d have been too busy with gigs to look at this properly. As soon as I heard the Chinese Junk tracks, I knew I wanted to do something with them. I’d been speaking to a few bands and they were just ready to go first. The responses has been great – I’d no idea what to expect really, and no idea of how many we’ll sell. With a non-existent marketing budget we’ve done enough pre-orders for me to think it’s all worth it. Just patiently awaiting them to arrive any day now so I can start sending them out!
NixBeat: With so much going on, what does the future hold for Black Wax?
Smith: Gigs – I hope! That’s my main passion. I want to get back in the pubs and clubs putting bands on, and playing myself, but I’m not going to rush into it. I’ve no patience now for postponing/cancelling events so I’m going to wait til nearer summer to see what’s going to be possible towards the end of the year.
The second release is lined up for the label and should be announced very soon. I’d love to be able to do a Black Wax records showcase gig with the bands I’m putting out.
Until then I’ll be on totallywiredradio.com 2pm-4pm (GMT) every 4th Saturday of the month, and announcing things as and when they happen via www.blackwax.uk (mailing list sign up available) facebook.com/blackwaxrockandsoul, twitter.com/blackwax85, and instagram.com/blackwax85