DJ Christopher ‘Jillionaire’ Leacock: “You have to give them a good time every night”

Trinidadian DJ Christopher Leacock, a.k.a. the Jillionaire, on the twist of fate that led him to the international DJ project Major Lazer

Christopher Leecock. Photograph by Lou Noble

My thing is, I’ve just always kinda been a lucky fella, you know.

As a kid I didn’t have enough money to buy albums — I was buying bootleg cassettes, mix-tapes. I remember recording off the radio on a Saturday morning, which was kinda difficult, because even though they playing all the hits on 95 FM, you still had to clean the house. The earliest song I remember taping off the radio was Prince’s “When Doves Cry”. I don’t think my first inclinations were to the mix-tape, but I liked listening to the DJs: Chinese Laundry, Tweeze, and The Professionals.

We had a sound system called Mount Zion One Sound System, and we used to listen to a lot of [sound] clash tapes. At the time, the only place you could get those in Trinidad was in the Drag Mall [a collection of small craft stalls, packed tightly together, which once stood at the corner of Frederick Street and Queen Street in Port of Spain].

We used to play a lot of roots reggae. Even from that starting point, we were already like, yo, let’s try and get the freshest tunes. We were all about playing the records before anyone else had them. That was the thing that would make you stand out. It wasn’t like now, where you go to a torrent and you download the Beatport Top 40. It was a lot more competitive, and you had to be a lot more creative as well.

Then, I linked up with Hypa Hoppa [DJ Kwesi Hopkinson] and became part of [hip-hop group] Radioactive. It was a movement. There were so many people involved, and there were people that were quote-unquote “a part of it,” you know. But the thing about a sound system or a DJ group or whatever you want to call it is that it could only really have one or two or three stars — you know what I mean?

All ah we cyar be in that spotlight at the same time all the time. I kinda recognised that from early, and I’ve never really been a spotlight kind of person. I like the music and I like the vibes of it, you know what I mean? I like the lime and I like participating. I like choosing what tunes we should play and what dubs we should voice, and that type of thing. That’s where it all comes from, in terms of being a good selector, and even now that’s kinda like my thing.

Sometimes it is still weird, because I am not really trying to get on stage and say: hey, allyuh, look meh!

The first time I saw Wes [Thomas Wesley Pentz, a.k.a. Diplo, founder of Major Lazer] deejay was in west London, YoYo’s at the Notting Hill Arts Club. We met that night. That was the first year I went for Carnival. I had some Jah Melody vocals for him. I remember standing outside, genuinely having no idea who I was going to meet, and then he came out and he grabbed us and he played the Machel Montano and Destra “It’s Carnival” road mix.

I can’t take any credit for introducing anybody to anything. These fellas all have a rich musical background. What I did do was be a huge nuisance, and say all the time, you should work with these guys. Now we’ve done tracks with Machel Montano, Swappi, Bunji Garlin, Sherwin Winchester. Just this year we’ve hooked up with a bunch of guys and hopefully will keep working with them, build that relationship.

In the beginning it wasn’t as glamorous as some might think. It was a lot of hard work and dedication. I was still running the Corner Bar [formerly on Ariapita Avenue, Port of Spain], and I had to make a decision: I could either go out there and pursue this DJ thing, or I could stay in Trinidad and go back to IT consulting.

I tell people I slept on every couch in every secondary market in America. It was a weird experience for me, because first of all I wasn’t really like eighteen years old, going, I wanna be a DJ. But when I had this opportunity present itself, I was just like: well, OK, cool.

When you step out there and you look out and you see ten thousand people, or however many, they come to have a good time, they come to have a memorable experience, and you have to give them that every night.

Major Lazer is a very close family. If you come backstage, we’re very low-key. We’re very much to ourselves, and it’s cool, because we’re all friends as well, and we were friends before this and we’ll be friends after this.

I think the cool thing about Major Lazer is that it allows people to do something outside their regular zone. Anybody who is singing music, or is in a band, or whatever it is, has a relationship with reggae music, with Caribbean music.

I’m even doing a little production now, and it’s weird, because it’s still kinda new to me, and I am still very useless at it, but I think I work best in a collaborative format. I think I fancy myself a kind of P Diddy or Rick Rubin type of producer, where I have an ear for what sounds good. I know what arrangement will work, but I’m not really the best person to be sitting at a console pressing buttons and twisting knobs and putting on filters and things like that. I can sit with my buddy Richie [Beretta] or I can sit with my brother Hanif [Tawab, a.k.a. Phat Deuce] and be like: here’s a song, this is what we should be working on, this is what I think it should sound like. I could write a drum pattern or I could write a synth line. I could come up with ideas, and then we could turn those ideas into songs.

From the very first time I started travelling, I would meet kids who were doing amazing things, who were way more talented than I was, who were building scenes in their own towns, and they were making their own music and having a lot of fun doing it.

With my label, Feel Up Recordings, these were the first people I signed. It’s stuff that we’re all passionate about and we think should be heard. The people that I work with are people that I am passionate about, because they are passionate about what they do.

I’ve always been interested in meeting more people who are doing cool stuff. So it’s always like, yo, maybe there is something cool that we can do together. That’s always fun.