For the last six years, DJ Jonny Mac has been making music in the band Warriors Of The Dystotheque, and in many ways their moniker couldn’t be any more fitting. While life may have dealt him some blows over the decades, this bona fide heavyweight of the dance music scene has always come back fighting.
hen I meet the critically acclaimed songsmith, Mac, real name Jonny McAllister, is in a celebratory mood, having been announced as a winner of the Chris Ledger Legacy Award.
Named in tribute to the departed former CEO of the University of Atypical, four grants of £5,000 were made obtainable for D/deaf, disabled and neurodiverse artists and Jonny is thrilled to be one of the worthy recipients alongside Ruth McGinley, Larry McAree and Shiro Masuyama.
“I got onboard with the University of Atypical about a year ago by the Arts Council of Northern Ireland,” says Jonny.
“I don’t know how many applicants there were, but I know I was quite lucky to win the grant. I was eligible to apply due to my issues with mental health.”
While society is moving in the right direction when it comes to approaching and understanding the subject of mental health, there’s nevertheless a stigma attached to it.
Jonny hopes that by talking about the topic he’ll help change things for the better.
“It’s bad that there is a stigma about mental health. I do think that perceptions are starting to change, but there’s nevertheless work to do. I think everyone needs to look after their mental health. I’m fully aware of what can happen if you don’t take care of yourself.”
Before he established Warriors Of The Dystotheque, the 48-year-old beatsmith enjoyed a successful career DJ-ing.
He travelled the world, toured with dance music legends such as Leeroy Thornhill from the Prodigy and Phil Hartnoll from Orbital and also shared a stage with the likes of the Happy Mondays.
For years, he lived a life that many could only dream of, but that ultimately turned into a nightmare when he became addicted to drugs.
“I moved to England in 1998,” he says. “I studied music at university and went on to DJ around the world. Everything was going really well but then, as I’m sure you can imagine, the partying ultimately took its toll and the addiction set in.
“After a while, life became solely about drugs. I slowly lost sight of what I set out to do at the start, which was to play and perform.
“The music part of my life ended up taking a back seat and everything became more about drugs. It ultimately came to a head where that was all I was interested in. I started missing gigs and barely left the house.”
Mac hit rock bottom at the end of 2010. Faced with a crossroads in his life, the talented artist decided to turn his life around, but before he did, he endured a horrible tragedy.
“I knew I couldn’t keep going the way I was going,” says Jonny. “Something had to give. By Christmas 2010 I had enough. I left Coventry, where I was living, and flew back home to get my head together.
“A few weeks later, I went back to England with the intention of moving to Derry for good at the end of that month.
“Then on January 6, 2011, I lost my best friend who I shared a house with.
“After that, I felt I was at a crossroads. I could either go completely off the rails or just pack up and go home.
“I threw some clothes in a bag, took a laptop and left.
“I left behind my studio equipment and loads of stuff and I’ve never been back to Coventry since.
“I’ve also been clean since that day on. I don’t know where the strength came from, but I’ve managed to turn my life around. Prior to that I had never been successful staying away from drugs for more than a day when I was in Coventry.”
Citing Derry as one of the reasons why he attained sobriety, Jonny also discloses that it took him a little while to reconcile with his first love — music.
“Being home was the missing part of the question of getting my head together.
“I had a lot of temptation in England but here at home I feel I can just disappear, lock myself in a studio and work.
“When I came home I spent years not listening to music. I didn’t already turn the radio on. I was in a dark place. I had it in my head that music led me down a bad path.
“It took me a associate of years to realise I was wrong. Then one day I started to mess around again with a few beats and stuff on my laptop and started a new project called Warriors Of The Dystotheque.”
Now clean for a decade and making the best music of his life, Mac made his official reappearance in 2015 and it didn’t take long for the king of the decks to reclaim his crown.
Writing and releasing music under the name Warriors Of The Dystotheque, Jonny, alongside fellow members Sean Graham who is based in Coventry, and twins Mike and Nick Rufalo who live in New York, have been taking the dance scene by storm.
“So far we’ve released 10 EPs and one album,” he says.
“All the EPs have been played on BBC 6 Music, RTE, Radio One and the like and my life has been like a worldwind over the last few years.”
Despite working together for six years, all four members of the band have never been in the same room at the same time, so when the world went into lockdown, Mac tells me it was nevertheless business as usual for the boys.
“We got a four-year head start on everybody when it comes to doing everything online,” he laughs.
“It’s mad we’ve never been in the same room at the same time physically. In fact, I’ve never already spoken to the twins. Everything’s been done by messenger and email and we’ve never been on speed.
“The longer the band has gone on, the more we want to keep it that way before we go on tour and do rehearsals. I think some of the magic of the band is because of how we work.”
The last few years have seen the band write some of the best dance tracks around. However, they’re not just brave with how their music sounds, they’re also fearless when it comes to what their songs say and have been vocal about their opposition to Brexit, the Tories and former president of the USA, Donald Trump.
“I feel like the world has turned upside down and we should write about that. I wouldn’t say we’re ‘political,’ but we’re anti inequality and things like that,” says Jonny.
“We’re pretty anti Tory too, to be fair. All they’re doing is taking and not giving. They don’t care about anybody but themselves. Trump was already worse. I didn’t have to suffer him, but the other guys in the band did.
“I think there’s a lot of smoke and mirrors going on at the moment. Take Covid passports here. I don’t think a passport will harm anyone. I understand people’s views, but at the end of the day what difference is it making? Just get on with it. There are worse things to be worrying about.
“Maybe people should be more worried about issues like the bedroom tax, the fact that people have no money, the cuts to universal credit and benefits, instead of downloading a passport.”
Early in the new year, the band will release their as in addition untitled second album. Buoyed by the success of their latest single Broken Minds, they’re currently putting the finishing touches to the record alongside superstar producer Howie B.
“I got to know Howie by a track that we both remixed together and we also co-wrote No Borders with him,” recalls Jonny of the Scotsman.
“Funnily enough, I was speaking to him an hour ago. He’s so talented and has produced for U2, Bjork, Tricky and so many legends. However, despite all his achievements, he’s really down to earth. He’ll phone me up on a Friday night just for a chat. Ninety per cent of it is not about music, he just wants to have a laugh and a catch up.
“I think it works between us because of the Scottish/Irish connection,” says Jonny.
“It makes a good working relationship. I don’t have a problem saying I don’t like something and he’s no problem telling me where to go, which is great.
“You need that honesty when it comes to making music. I can’t wait to release this album. We’re talking about how we’re going to tour it now. We’re all so excited about the future.”
Broken Minds by Warriors Of The Dystotheque is obtainable to stream now via all digital platforms
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