The DNB Vault had a chance to chat with American D&B veteran DJ & Producer JO-S. During our numerous exchanges, we talked about his early days in New York, his move to California, his numerous releases on various labels, his vocal work and finally we asked him what keeps him dedicated to the music and where he feels he is going next! Here are some excerpts from those exchanges.
What made you want to become a DJ and to be part of the movement?
Like a lot of DJs, I started off playing Hip-Hop and wanted to learn how to scratch. About a year after I got my turntables, I was introduced to the rave scene. I started going to Caffeine parties on Long Island where I was raised.
Jungle music was easy to latch on to because of its Hip-Hop influence. By 1997 I was spinning as a Drum & Bass DJ in New York City and surrounding areas.
What inspires me most about Jungle / Drum & Bass, is the diversity of the sound. I feel it is the most dynamically produced form of electronica. Unlike most genres, that are centered around a thumping kick drum, the variety of breaks used in Drum & Bass keep it fresh and exciting. I got the drive to want to start producing when I became fascinated with breakbeats and sampling.
Around the year 2000 you got heavy into the production aspect of things and If we remember correctly, your first record was on Caffeine and the name of the tune was Syphon. Shortly after you had a few of your records signed to the Drum & Bass label Rawkuts, an off-shoot of the seminal Rawkus Records, which then led you to releases on Argento, Taciturn & ASR. Can you tell us about that time in your life and also what led you to make a move to California?
Caffeine Records had a store that I worked at where I sold my mixtapes. My residency as a Caffeine DJ provided an outlet for me to release my music. At the time, I was part of a group of DJ’s, Breakdancers and Graffiti artists called Green Tribe. We infiltrated NYC. I also started a relationship with Odi and Datcyde who introduced me to DJ Seen and Wally Pish Posh of Rawkuts Records who signed my 2nd release “Beehive / Desire”.
Wally was living on Long Island so it was easy to receive coaching and feedback from him. Within the same week, I signed a track called “Turbo” to DB, for his label Higher Education. Initially Wally wanted “Turbo” for Rawkuts, but he picked another tune instead and I’ll always respect him for that.
My releases were like a domino effect, catching the attention of J-Smooth and JG in Philly who signed “Spitball / Blisterpack” to their label Argento / GFS Recordings. A lot of these tunes were featured on my 1st original artist mixed album entitled “Firing Pin” which was picked up by Al Gordon for his label Taciturn Records. It was released nationally in most Tower and Virgin Megastores in 2000.
Shortly after, my DJ schedule started picking up and subsequently, I started playing in Los Angeles quite often. This is what inspired the transition over to the west coast. I produced my 1st tune on the west coast called “Forever”, alongside the vocal talents of Audio Angel, which came out on a UK based label named ASR. Subsequently, the track received support from the likes of DJ Hype and Clipz on BBC 1Xtra.
Around the year 2009, you started to lend your vocal talents to Lenzman which led you to releases on massive labels like Spearhead, Shogun Ltd. Metalheadz and Hospital. How did you connect with Lenzman and what led you to work together on those tracks?
Right from the start, I had the tendency to want to spit rhymes on the mic. I was a B-boy, in a sense, so incorporating my vocals was a natural aesthetic for me. Lenzman found out about me by way of Detroit based Sinistarr after he heard our track called “Vines”. Me and Lenzman collaborated on “Emeralds” for Shogun Ltd. initially. We went on to record “Fade Away” for Soul:r, “Coincidence” for Metalheadz, and “Stellar” for subtitles.
You seem to have been keeping busy with your vocal work by collaborating with the likes of SPY, Mixmaster Doc, Eveson, A-Sides & Bachelors of Science. Quite an impressive list of Artists. Is singing something you plan on continuing to pursue and are there any new releases on the horizon? Who else would you like to collaborate with on some vocal tracks?
After working with Lenzman, email and Aim requests started coming in from across the pond for my vocal work. I collaborated with other notable artists such as Eveson, for a number called “Time Flows” that came out on V Recordings. I did work for Bcee on “Mr. Bidigan” for his outfit Spearhead. A-Sides reached out and so we recorded “Spiritual Synergy” for Eastside. Myself and S.P.Y. had a release on Hospital called “Future Tense” and on a gig in San Fransisco, me and the Bachelor’s of Science boys cooked up “Never Die” in their studio for a release on Code.
More recently, I finished up 2 vocal collaborations with a budding new rising star coming out of New Zealand named Eavesdrop. We have something called “Relentless” forthcoming on Spearhead. I am also using my vocals more on my forthcoming original work.
You are celebrating 20 years in the game this year, so it’s safe to say you have seen different stages of growth in the American Drum and Bass scene. How do you feel the scene has changed from the earlier days to now?
I giggle inside a little bit every time the “Drum & Bass is dying” motif comes up. Everything comes in waves of development and collapse. Drum & Bass music is eclectic in nature so it always changes. That’s what makes it exciting. Sometimes, certain styles don’t pop off and the double time speed seems to fast for some people. That was a classic argument when I first started.
It is true that Drum & Bass isn’t in the forefront as much as other forms of electronica, but this circumstance created an exclusive environment that nurtures progressive expression. In terms of exposure, distribution modalities are a bit out of sync with current trends and a lot of D&B artists refrain from sharing or they withhold material.
Through my exploration in working with BPM ranges outside of D&B, I developed 2 music groups in the vein of Trap, Footwerk, Juke, ect. As a consequence, I learned how these other genres tend to develop more rapidly than D&B, and I also became more aware of their pitfalls.
Moving forward, my intention is to take what I’ve learned by providing mentorship to up and coming producers who want to put in real work. I formed the Step Up Collective as group to begin the motion towards sharing and opening access to resources. Through tasks and challenges, the content derived from the group will be released for free, focusing on PR support and organic, social media propagation to get more exposure rather than relying on labels to release the music and having no control over content.
Now that you mention the mentorship role you would like to take, this would probably be a good moment to introduce the new video Tutorials that will be hosted on the DNB VAULT and will be there for free for everyone. Can you give us a bit more information on this concept and what you look to achieve with it?
I was using Cubase since I started on an Atari 1040ST computer. Within the past few years, I learned Ableton simply by watching tutorials on YouTube and it sped up my workflow tremendously. One of the things I learned by watching tutorials, is they focus primarily on techniques that other producers have used previously to reach a desired effect. I began to notice a disconnect between purpose and intention.
In the tutorial series, presented by the DNB Vault, I will focus on providing instruction on universal processes that aren’t DAW specific. It is my feeling that if you know how to use the tools at your disposal, you can translate your unique ideas more rapidly, rather than reaching for a technique in order to sound viable. Since I work to develop self-sustaining life actualization techniques, I will also be incorporating other suggestions regarding your disposition towards the creative process and how to get out of writers block.
What can we expect next from you and do you have any parting words for the fans and Drum & Bass aficionados?
Well after several years of focusing on my vocal work, I shifted my mindset back into studio mode. I’m sitting on over a dozen tunes that I’m considering releasing independently, as well as signing to a few labels. It’s been some time since I played out of state, so I’d also like to ramp up my performance schedule as well. I will continue to develop the Step Up Collective, where I will inspire my fellow artists to follow their instincts. It looks like I’m progressing into taking the role as an educator. I’d like to share what I’ve learned in the last 20 years to help others Step Up! I’ve always had a grass-roots, street-level mentality. I do this to make us all big so if you need help, feel free to reach out!
DNB Vault presents a video tutorial series with Jo-S, #jostips2dnbstardom.