Book Club: Oskar Jeff, Journalist

Welcome to our Book Club series. Reading has always been a part of my life, for as long as I can remember, and I’ve always had a curiosity into what other people were reading, often questioning my family members about the books they had on their shelves or at the pool. Over the last few years, I’ve reconnected with that joy and it has become a constant with my friends, sharing our recent favourite reads, what we’ve taken away from them and what we are excited about exploring next. Bringing those conversations to 909, our Book Club series will delve deeper into other creative’s reading history from what they enjoyed when they were growing up, their most impactful read, quotes and more. In order to extend this community of readers, there is a bonus question for those who answer where they recommend a book(s) to next person who contributes to the club.

For our first feature of 2024 we return to the Book Club with journalist Oskar Jeff. A freelance music writer based in London who tends to cover the more leftfield side of electronic music, Oskar has written for publications such as DJ Mag, The Line Of Best Fit, and Loud & Quiet Magazine where he runs the Siteclubbing column. More recently Oskar launched the editorial arm of one of our favourite platforms Kindred where he has interviewed the likes of Bruce as well as run label and city focused features with re:ni, DJ JM, Ayesha and more. Outside of his writing, Oskar produces and DJs under the alias Dome Zero, releasing on labels such as All Centre, Accidental Meetings, Egregore Collective, Das Booty and more.


Your favourite childhood book? 

When I was really little, I loved a book by Gini Wade called ‘Curtis the Hip-Hop Cat’. It’s a book about a lazy cat that gets into breakdancing, with these great, colourful eighties illustrations. I’ve still got my copy on my book shelf, which I signed with my name at the time.

I didn’t really grow up on hip hop, other than maybe Public Enemy, Beastie Boys or Cypress Hill, which had found there ways into my parents collections at some point. But then I did get heavily into hip hop in my early teens. I like to think back to this book as being a early part of that journey in some way.

Then there’s some Danish kids books my mum would read to me too. The main ones that stick out would be: ‘Folk og røvere i Kardemomme By’ (When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town),  ‘Mis Ned De Blå Øjne (Mis with the Blue Eyes)’ and Halfdans ABC. The first one’s actually a Norwegian book originally, and is about a gang of thieves. The second one is about a cat, and the last one is a book for learning the alphabet by a poet called Halfdan Rasmussen. My spoken Danish as an adult is a little rusty, but my understanding of it is pretty ironclad, and I think being read these books plays a big part in that. It’s a pretty strong indicator to me of how important it is to give children a lot of different ways of thinking early on.

When I got a bit older, I was obsessed with Gorillaz. They released an art book/fictional band biography called Rise of the Ogre which I was completely consumed by. My dad had a clothes shop in Portsmouth, which I’d have to go after school, and I’d wander down to Waterstones to leaf through the pages. I have very district memories of that walk back and forth on those cold winter afternoons, and being overjoyed when finally I got it for christmas.

Memories are quite an abstracted thing, especially from your early years, so anything that sticks out vividly is probably of importance on some level.


Favourite writer? 

My reading is too scattered and inconsistent to answer this properly. Ask me again in 20 years and I might have got my act together enough to have an answer of real value.


Favourite genre? 

Non-fiction, specifically music or art books, would be the closest to the truth. That’s been the case since I was a kid, reading books and magazines about my favourite bands.

My attraction to music and art history is a balancing act; partly being completely invested in it, and partly being incredible sceptical of it. I know it’s all probably half-truths and legacy-building, but at its best it can be the most inspiring stuff to me.

Last year, ‘The Gilded Gutter Life of Francis Bacon’ really grabbed me. The man was, by all intents and purposes, a bastard, but his story was very captivating. The writer, Daniel Farson, was a personal friend and the proximity is what makes it such a joy to read. It’s also an interesting snapshot of the period too.

Music-wise, Marvin Sparks’ ‘Run The Riddim: The Untold Story of ‘90s Dancehall To The World’ was great. It’s almost frantic in its approach, overflowing with information and running of in different directions, but with so much love and knowledge that it’s perfect and feels like it shouldn’t be any other way. This came out soon after I’d started really getting into digging for dancehall 45s, and it helped give some perspective and background on the history and culture. There isn’t enough writing about that era of dancehall – which is crazy cos it’s pretty much the basis of a lot of the biggest pop and underground sounds nowadays. I believe he’s working on a follow-up, which I’m eagerly awaiting.


A book that you recommend everyone should read in their lifetime? 

Kafka’s short story ‘Metamorphosis’ is pretty essential I think. His whole style is quite fitting for this reality we live in, the mixture of paint-dry mundanity and high-speed horror.

I read it while holidaying in the Swedish countryside, my cousin had brought a copy of Kafka short stories. There was a really interesting forward that discussed the nuances of translation, I often think back to that for some reason.

The Trial’ is good too, but it’s more intentionally taxing to read. I think his writing is quite funny, depending where your humour falls. Maybe this is my answer to the favourite author question? I need to read the rest of his work before I’m sure. I’m also not sure that it would be the only thing I want to read if I was stuck on a desert island.


Your favourite setting to read in? 

I probably read most in bed, but it’s not great, I’m often very distracted.

I’ve got my eye on my grandads reading chair, it’s beautifully designed and I try and get a bit of time in it to read whenever I visit nowadays. I like the idea of having a space which is specifically for reading, as opposed to sofa, bed or desk.

The most effective place has probably been when I’ve had a commute that’s left me on one mode of transport for more than 20 mins. Shout out Bow Road to Monument on the District Line circa 2018-2019. I got some good reading done that year. Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’, William Burroughs’ ‘Junky’ and Kim Gordon’s ‘Girl In A Band’ were the highlights.


Are you someone who shares books with friends? If so, which book have you shared recently?

I am to some extent, but I also forget who I’ve given what too, so they often don’t come back, which is fine (mostly). To be honest, I don’t think there’s anything too recent. I lent David Byrne’s ‘How Music Works’ book to a friend at work, thats definitely worth a read for anyone with a vague interest in music as a phenomena, and it’s place in modern life.


What are you currently reading?

I’m currently reading a book of collected interviews by the band Coil. They were an offshoot from the Throbbing Gristle/Psychic TV world. As you’d expect, they pretty left-field in it’s thinking, but it’s been very interesting.

It’s basically a chronological oral history, which is an interesting way of reading a band history. In some ways it moves at a snails-pace, but it also has a level of detail and honesty which can be lost in many biographies. A lot of it is from old fanzines, and I love the idea of working on an archivist project like that, hunting down fragments of information that aren’t just available from a quick Wikipedia search.

Before that, I read a book by Clive James called Unreliable Memoirs, which charts his childhood growing up in Australia. I love his TV series ‘Postcards From…’ and the book reads exactly how he spoke, and it made a good companion on my summer holiday.


Bonus: a recommendation for the next Book Club contributor to read? 

Pretty much exactly a year ago my housemate gave me a book for my birthday called ‘A Little History of Religion’ by Richard Holloway. It by no means a definitive tome, but it covers a lot of ground quite quickly while remaining informative.

When I was younger I wasn’t interested in religion but as I’ve got older the historical and social importance of it unavoidable, so I wanted to dip by toe into it all. This felt like a good starter book. It was written by a former Bishop, so he’s got the right mixture of faith and doubt that this kind of book would need, not blinkered by the naval-gazing of atheism or the blinding light of devotion.

If the next contributor isn’t interested in religion, or is already well-read in that area, then I’d say Patti Smith ‘Just Kids’ was a lovely read, or the Francis Bacon biography I mentioned earlier.