One of last year’s most pleasant surprises came in the form of a single-sided, thirteen-minute deep house monster from Toronto legend Abacus that appeared as the second release from Brooklyn label Innermoods. While “Basic Amounts” served as my introduction to label head James Duncan, he’s not a new name to anyone who’s been kicking around underground dance music for the past couple of decades. Hailing from Toronto, Duncan’s background as a trumpet player has led to playing in Toronto noise-rock quartet Skwever during the early 90s, later playing with Metro Area on record and in their live shows and appearing on Kelley Polar’s 2005 album Love Songs of the Hanging Garden alongside numerous other credits. Duncan has also been active as a house music producer for nearly a quarter century, starting his own Le Systeme label back in 1999 and has released on labels such as Dance Tracks, Real Soon, WNCL Recordings, and Razor N Tape Reserve. A real lifer, Duncan’s unwavering passion for dance music and varied career history makes him someone with a lot to say and I called him up a couple months back to learn more about his own past, his experiences as a professional musician, and what he’s seeking to achieve with Innermoods.
Edited by Jason Rule
James Duncan: I’m trying to get back and get to know some of these folks because they’re all new to me. And all the people that I knew are either retired, they don’t live in [NYC] anymore, dead or (laughs), or they’re really big and getting bigger. I was doing a lot of free jazz too and I’m trying to get back into the circuit again and it’s just so different. It feels like a college town now and everyone knows each other.
Zurkonic: It seems like people don’t meet each other at shows as much as they used to.
James: And that’s how I met people. Just these crazy people who were at clubs that I’d see all the time and [we’d] be like, “Hey, what’s up. Well, I’m on this record.” “Oh shit, that’s awesome!” “[And] I have a label” Well, come play my night.” And it’d be like great, that’s how music works! But it doesn’t work that way anymore, it seems. It’s just volume, volume, volume, volume, volume. And you throw enough stuff at the wall and maybe something will stick. I’m on a few labels’ mailing lists that will go unnamed and they’re putting out so much crap. And sure, maybe there’s one good track in there. But they’re putting out release after release and it’s just all the same guys, it’s a bunch of edits. I hope the edits wind up soon. [Laughs] It hasn’t changed. It’s the same. It’s so self-fulfilling now. They’re rewriting history and putting themselves into it. It’s just the new norm. It’s fine, but it is what it is.
Zurkonic: Well, and speaking of the new norm, having lived in NYC in the late 90s/early 00s and being back there now, what is different in terms of how dance music is experienced and appreciated?
James: The one thing I would say is the lack of record stores. It used to be the main outlet to get music, right? And I’m totally for the democratization of music and people being able to put out wherever they want however they want. But record stores would curate and present music. And they would present a really wide range of music. They would have all the dance tracks you’d expect. But they had a whole other wall of other shit, too. So you could go in there and you’d be at the rack pulling something out and some cat or some girl beside you would be like, “If you like that record, you should try this record.” And it didn’t really matter if the person was well-known or whatever. If they could figure out how to get a record into a record shop, it meant a lot. Even if it wasn’t ultimately a great record or if it was riffing on another theme, it was still a big deal.
It was also a central place for the community. You had to physically go there and interface with more vested interests of the community because they were making an effort to go there too. I would just go every three or four days. And those were the days I was sort of broke too. I wasn’t working. [Laughs] I would just save my fucking money and bring a bunch of records into the city. There were a place where I could go and sell my overage and then I would go and do a tour.
The fact that you’re [now] buying stuff on mail order and you’re just getting the fact that like, hey, there’s a record review on RA or you’re just looking at it on YouTube, which is great, I do it too. I go down YouTube k-holes too. Now you’re getting booked because you have 40,000 views on YouTube, which is great. But from a record you did that has no context. It’s not being DJ’d, it’s being critiqued as not being DJ’d. It’s just interesting to see dance music working on those parameters, right? So, now, the record is an accessory to the other parts of the system that feel much more important. It feels like the live DJ gig or the gig is the more important thing now and having the cult of personality that goes around. You have to go see somebody because they have a personality and then you go see the set and it can, no hate on anyone, sometimes be the same set that you heard from someone else.
Going back to what’s different, there were always big names and there were always people with a hot record. But it felt like the spectrum was wider. Now, it’s like… The places are probably more expensive to build, so they can’t be as adventurous with bookings. And then the crowd, they’re expecting certain things, so you have to check all these boxes.
Zurkonic: I call that the dance music grocery list.
Zurkonic: And so much of music consumption these days feels like the act of, say, grabbing your slice of deep house here, your dash of breakbeat here…
James: Yeah, exactly. [Record stores] were party to their own demise because they didn’t see what was coming. Or they tried but they sort of didn’t… But it is what it is. And there’s a tokenism of record stores still available, and a fetishism about record stores. And it’s almost like the record has become the high-class item and the democratization item is just putting it on Bandcamp and some kid liking it. But now it’s two different parallels. The record became the thing that was democratic and now it’s the one-percenter who has the money to make a record. That’s affected bookings, and what people can put out, [and] the shelf life of the record. A record seems to have a shelf life of about three weeks now.
Someone [at] Resident Advisor got in touch to do reviews of Innermoods stuff. He’s a nice cat, but I said I didn’t want to send him my stuff for review. I didn’t want some random writer writing about something I feel is super important to me or like super precious and using it as a platform to say about how much they hated dance music or house music or whatever. Because I went and read the last five 12” record reviews there and I remember one review was like, “You don’t use the words house music and genius together very often, but this person….”
Zurkonic: And that’s the thing that always gets to me with a lot of dance music journalism where I find myself sometimes feeling like there’s this weird, very writerly impulse to dress things up in this hyped-up language and it’s like, you don’t need to qualify this. It’s good on its own.
James: It’s really good on its own! You don’t have to do anything. And a lot of people say that to me. “Why don’t you do a hybrid, why don’t you do your trumpet”, and blah blah blah. I want to do a great dance music record. That’s a good, hard thing to do. And sure, you can just go on to Discogs and latch on to whatever’s Googled the most. But you’d be surprised. There’ll be a record and it’s going for $35 and you’ll be like, even if you just follow through and go to the other Discogs page and go through their label, you can find a track that’s even better for $3.
Zurkonic: What gets to me is that there is so much stuff out there, but you really do have to dig for it and if you only follow what some site tells you to check out, you’re only going to get a very limited view of what’s out there.
James: Now there are people buying records and there are people supporting. But, you know, it’s sort of different. It’s like reissues and edits. Now we’re doing house edits, because we can’t edit any more disco records, so now we’re editing house tracks. And there are new people out there doing great stuff. There’s people still doing great stuff. But it’s a harder grind to sift through everything. What I do like about social media and YouTube is that obviously it’s really cool to interact with people that are your heroes or whatever. But also it’s like the matrix can get tweaked now too, right? People can buy likes. So take it all with a grain of salt. That’s just the way the game is focused right now and that’s just the way it is.
Zurkonic: Could we go back to your background and what your path to making and releasing dance music was like?
James: I started playing trumpet in grade four, 1977 or whatever. And that was a separate sphere, that was just stuff I did at public school. I was trying to learn how to play guitar. In ‘77 or ‘78, I got a guitar, and these guys I knew had drums and this other guy had a guitar - I was the uncool kid but they let me play once in a while with them.
I started with that and then went to high school and we had a radio station there. So I was DJ’ing for high school in 1982, playing the school dances, and buying records because I liked records. Still playing trumpet in high school in high school band stuff, but not thinking about it doing it in a band. I still tried to do bands, they were terrible, terrible punk bands. I was never successful at it. We used to just go out and go dancing, but this was before house. Like, 1985. There was a place called The Twilight Zone in Toronto that became incredibly influential. But we would just go there once in a while as kids if we would make the trip downtown. I didn’t know it was a Richard Long soundsystem, or modeled after the Paradise Garage, or that Derrick May was hanging out there - I had no idea anybody was hanging out there. We just went there because it was a place to go to and it was open late. And then I got accepted into music school and they were like, you can’t do any of that other stuff. So I was like, OK, I guess I’ll just do trumpet.
Zurkonic: Which music school did you go to?
James: University of Toronto. They had a pretty good music program. That was just as house hit, I remember all these records being like, oh, what’s going on with all these new records? I guess I can’t do that because now I’m in music school and they tell me I got to do this music all the time. Like, classical music, or whatever…
James: Yeah [laughs]. That wasn’t the scene for me, so I left and I started a band again and I started to DJ again and I started producing. I bought a sampler, eventually. Even though in the band, I was sort of doing more post-rock, coming out of that scene, but I really got into hip-hop because I was really into jazz. And they were sampling all this jazz stuff that I really liked. And I was trying to play a bit of jazz at the same time. I used to have a four-track in high school and I would try to make little tunes at home. I had a drum machine and it probably ending up sounding like bad Level 42 or something.
Zurkonic: What sampler did you get?
James: Well, the first one I bought, I bought it off a friend of my mine, I bought a Prophet 3000, a Sequential Circuits. I saved up all this money in about 1993 to get it. It was like $900, which was a lot of money back then [laughs]. And so my friend wanted to buy an ASR-10 and so he sold me his [Prophet 3000]. I didn’t have a sequencer or anything. I didn’t even know you needed a sequencer. I was just so amped to have this freaking sampler. So I was just doing these loops and I had a four-track and I would make these little beat tapes. They were terrible.
I was buying lots of records to sample, I was looking for jazz samples and breaks just like anybody else in the 90s. [Trying] to find the classic records. And they were hard to find. They started having to put [the sample credits] on the records, finally, so that helped. And then the ones everybody was sampling all of a sudden disappeared. So I was like, let me buy this one that’s twenty-five cents and that nobody else wants. I can’t use it for hip-hop, but wow, it’s a really good record. Then just by chance, I started hearing some house producers that had been looping up disco tracks. I think I started with a DJ Sneak record. And then a friend of mine played me Phuture “Acid Tracks” and I was like, wait a minute, this is like a punk rock record. It totally made sense and I had heard some looped house records and I was like, wait, these guys are sampling? And they’re sampling these disco records? What’s this stuff?! So I really got into house. And I was trying to DJ and I was like, wait, these guys DJ too? Oh, cool! I never put it together. Even though I was a DJ in the 80s playing dance parties, I was such a moron. I didn’t make the connection. I was like, oh wait, I can DJ these house records together! [laughs]
I started trying to make house records and I got really into it. I put together a demo and I sent it to Morgan Geist at Environ. And then I sent it also to Terrence Parker and I sent it to the Stickmen. And they all got back. We were trying to send out our band demo tapes in the early 90s to big labels like Dischord. And no one was getting back. So not only do these dance people get back, like, Terrence Parker wanted to put out one of my tracks. The Stickmen got back. They didn’t want to sign those tracks, but they were really, like, hey, keep sending us stuff. And Morgan had great feedback. So that was sort of what was the gateway drug. And I was like, why don’t I move down to NY? I’m going down there to play music all the time, why don’t I just move down there? Morgan and Darshan had just started Metro Area—I probably talked about this on Jason’s show—Morgan would send out these mythical emails, like, “Metro Area playing with a drum machine.” So I would be envisioning this amazing concert somewhere. I made a pilgrimage to see them play. And I ended up meeting Morgan and he put me on a few of his records and they were great. And that’s what ended up with the DFA stuff and all the Environ stuff from that era I’m on with trumpet.
I was still doing my own records and I started my own label - Le Systeme. It was sort of a joke name. But it was really just for me to learn how to make records, to be honest. It wasn’t like Innermoods where I’m signing people and trying to present music and have a vision. I just wanted to learn how to make records, how to make the music, how to manufacture them, how to have a distributor, the ins and outs of getting paid. I only put out my own stuff mostly. I didn’t try to promote it or anything because I didn’t think they were that great, I would just do them and then I’d see what happened. Some things did ok, and they ended up getting me DJ gigs—I played with Morgan at APT in 2002, opened up for Alexander Robotnick at Club Love, did a bunch of Metro Area live dates (Winter Music Conference, PS1, Joe’s Pub) when the album came out in 2003.
I got my European citizenship around 2007. I decided to move over there for a bit, I went to Barcelona. And then I ended up moving back to Toronto for some family reasons. I did one record for the label up there, a couple records to get it back up running again. And then something brought me back down here [to NY], some day job stuff. It was sort of on a whim, [thinking that] I want to run a label but I want it to be a real label now. Not in the promotional sense, but have other artists and other people I really respect on it.
Zurkonic: Build it and see if they come.
James: Yeah, build it and see if anybody comes and checks it out. If nothing happens, at least I have seven releases that I’m really happy with. Or hopefully ten. I only got to nine releases on the last label and that was over a ten-year period. I pressed a hundred white labels in 1999 and I consider that my first release. But it wasn’t distributed. So it was just me selling them at a local shop in Toronto. And at Dance Tracks. I had a bunch of boxes I took down here with me. They really liked one of the records I did so he signed me on a record for Dance Tracks. And he was like, “Do you got any more?” Yeah, I got all these white labels I can’t get rid of.” “Bring ‘em!” I would just sell them at Dance Tracks because they didn’t really want them in Toronto. They sold out in a second. Dance Tracks was getting the records through a distributor, the regular releases…and then they and all the record stores closed. And I felt really depressed. I would go and hang out at with David Mancuso at A1 all the time. And he was working at another shop. I would meet my heroes at the record stores. Like, someone would be introducing me to someone, he’d be at the racks, he’d be like, “Hey James, check this guy.” And I’d be like, holy crap, I love your records. I’m so happy to talk to you. It gets a little bit like that now, but it’s different There’s no real industry nights. I don’t really go out on the weekends, but everything is on the weekends now. There were a few nights you could go during the week and chat with people. And now, full circle, that’s how I ended up where I am.
Zurkonic: What was the Toronto techno scene like?
James: It was really good! Well, there were a minimal techno scene, which basically became the Berlin minimal scene. When I first moved to NY, everyone was talking about Montreal. I was like, “Montreal?” Perlon had opened a label up there, there was Akufen, Algorhythm, and The Mole and Adam Marshall and all these guys. I started going through the emails and was like, wait, these are some of the guys from Toronto! [laughs] So they had all moved, the whole Techno, minimal techno scene in Toronto, which was totally separate from the house scene - they did not intersect. They didn’t do parties together, they didn’t do nights together. It was almost contentious, a little bit. And NY was a bit like that too. It wasn’t contentious, but it was different pools of people. People would know each other or whatever. But there weren’t big collaborations going on.
The [Toronto] scene was really strong. There were a bunch of great labels up there. There were The Stickmen, Nick Holder was doing stuff. He had a couple of offshoot labels. Dino and Terry were up there on the house scene and also DJ’ing a lot. 83 West were signing a lot of tracks from NY producers. They’d go down to the Winter Music Conference and just buy a bunch of tracks and then those tracks would all come out during the year. And there were a bunch of good labels up [in Toronto]. DJ Sneak was up there, who I loved at the time.
Zurkonic: Really? I had no idea he was up in Toronto.
James: Yeah, he lived there for a long time. And he had a record store, Sneak Beats. When I was living in NY, he had just opened up a retail version of it closer to another friend’s record store. I remember going down there in 2003 or something during a visit. And I walk into buy a record and there’s DJ Sneak behind the till. I was so nervous. I could have said, hey, I’m the trumpet player from Metro Area or Morgan Geist. He would have known those names. But I was so petrified, I couldn’t say a word. I just bought my record, I paid, and I sheepishly walked out. Because I was really into him, you know? [Laughs]
It was a really good scene, but it was still, “We’re not New York.” I was like, “Yeah, but you guys are amazing! You guys have labels!” They had it so much together that they had a pressing plant! They were doing everything at Acme Records. They were doing all the Plus8 [and] the Definitive records there, a lot of Detroit labels there. Like...you got a pressing plant. You got all these labels. Like what’s going on? “Well, we’re still not New York. We’re still not the big dogs or whatever.” And that’s sort of what it’s like anywhere, you know? I guess it’s easier to say that once I moved to New York because you realize it’s just another community. The level is very high in New York. There is a reason for that. But also, coming from [Toronto], it was pretty good up there. You have to go somewhere else to see value in your own spot, sometimes.
Zurkonic: Going back to the topic of sampling and house music, I think that’s what really made me obsessed. Like, you were talking about the records that would get sampled in hip-hop and as much as I love that stuff, I never liked the idea that there were records you could sample and those you couldn’t. Whereas with house, just the eclecticism and breadth of what they’d sample. Half the time I wouldn’t even realize they were sampling anything!
James: I know! They have a drum machine that might be doing these [unknown] parts rather than sampled drums from an SP-1200 or something. And how do you get the sampler to talk to the drum machine? Oh, you’ve got to buy a computer! Oh, I get it! Because I could never understand why people would need a sequencer. Like, “I don’t know. What do you need that for?” To get the drum machine and the sampler to talk to each other. It was like, listening to the records, reading the magazines...you had to piece it together. I call it assumed knowledge. Everybody in the magazine assumed you knew everything. And then on the record, you assumed you didn’t know anything. You were just listening with your ears. Computers were expensive. I got an early Amiga 500. An ex-girlfriend’s dad had one lying around. But it had a built-in MIDI port so it worked. Once I got it to talk to each other, like, it took me days. Sometimes it would just take days to get the two things to talk to each other. And then you’d screw something up and you’d have to do it again. So it felt like a victory even just having a pattern with a sample in it.
Zurkonic: It’s funny, man. With sampling, like, I just have to remind myself, this is a process that used to take all night to even get to the point of making music. Like, you’d have your MPC and before you could even get to making music, you’d have to spend a good chunk of time cutting up your samples. It just really puts contemporary technology into perspective, for me.
James: That’s what I do with the MPC. I still use the MPC 2000XL. It’s still mid-90s technology, but at least I could get a flash card, do everything on the computer, and then load everything that I use over and over again. I use a lot of the same sounds.
I’m trying to learn Ableton. But because it’s so different from a traditional DAW in some ways, I can’t wrap my head around it. People are like, “Oh, it’s so easy.” But I just don’t know where to start with it. But with an MPC, I know I can at least start with something I want to work with. And then the sequencer is built inherently into the process, right? You’re already starting to think about arrangements. I actually do everything on the MPC. It’s sort of limiting. I’m trying to break out of that and use some synths but it’s just a different way of working. If you come from the hardware side or the DAW side, it’s a big jump the way Ableton sets you up. It throws you into the process at a different point, I find.
Zurkonic: And you use all samples for your music?
James: Yeah, it’s all I do, everything’s sampled. Whether it’s single hits or little loops and then build a track around that. Or it’s a melodic idea or a vocal sample or something. And obviously the game’s been blown up. Every sample is accessible and everybody knows what you’re using, but I still use them. [Laughs] I have basically every drum machine just as individual hits. That becomes a fun thing too, where you’re just digging for sounds. I like that. The challenge is how do I make something that still captures my mood. So you try not to use obvious things. But if I do, I make it an homage to it.
Zurkonic: Well, and that’s what keeps me coming back. That you can use these “obvious” samples in a really creative and not obvious ways. Your imagination is really the only limit.
James: Yeah! The problem is, I find that it’s just all chocolate now. You go to a night and it’s just all the good parts [of a song]. And it’s the bad parts [that] make the good parts good. That’s what was so cool about some of these records. You’d be like, why did they put that in the middle of the thing? It sort of sucks. But when the good part comes in, it’s like, oh man, that part’s good. And now, when it’s just the good part, you’re like, I can’t have another seven-layer piece of chocolate cake. It’s so decadent, I can’t take it anymore. It’s sort of makes these really amazing, special records secondary or taken for granted. Like, of course that’s a great disco record. It’s like, of course everyone knows that. Yeah, but it never used to be. It just used to be a really great record that everybody played.
Not all of those records were hits and some of those were copycats, but there are some really amazing moments in them. So when it becomes something that’s the background music to a club night because you got to hang out with the cool people, it’s sort of sad because those are amazing records. Most of the edits are not attributed to the real artist, and all of a sudden you’ve got a career out of this. I sample. I have paid some people for samples in the past when I’ve been asked. Or I’ve done due diligence to reach out if I know it was a sample and make sure everybody is cool. Or at least tried.
I love disco edits. But sometimes when it’s a completely different track and you find the original track and it’s so close to the original, it’s just been arranged a little bit. It isn’t [titled] “edit of whoever,” I find it a bit weird. I wouldn’t really do that.
Zurkonic: I get this depressing sense of watching dance music history and contemporary dance music be boiled into a commodity and removed of its nuance and complexity. Like, there is a huge swathe of the dance music community that relies on a pretty limited set of tools for their musical fix and that’s kind of missing the point, because this music is all about digging and going beyond the obvious rather than a blind adherence to some nebulous conceptualization of “the rules.” Like, the fuck?!
James: I know! Everything is codified now in some ways. There are rules. And I certainly didn’t get called to the meeting when these rules were figured out. This is all foreign to me. Like what you were talking about earlier, your ear used to lead you. Like when [DJ] Harvey used to play here in New York. I would just go down...no one knew who the fuck he was. He would play upstairs at APT and he was just a bar room DJ basically. And I would go and hang out with hime. And he would play crazy stuff. Maybe my palette wasn’t advanced enough, but I was like, “These are crazy records.” And he put them together in such a beautiful way. It didn’t really matter what it was. And I know there is a school that now codifies Harvey or the Balearic school. It’s just like, What? Geez. Why don’t you guys just play a record you like?
James: It’s the way systems are set up. It’s always been that way a bit. There’s always been techno people and house people and they never really cross-pollinated. But yeah, it feels like the edit culture, there’s rules there. And it has to be this way and we have to use these drum breaks and it has to have some side-chaining bass or whatever.
And it does have to check all the boxes, too. Like, well, if it’s an edit, it has to have a cool label with a stamp. I mean, I’m just doing labels with stamps too but because it’s super cheap. [laughs] But it’s like, “We had to pay the graphic designer $40, $70 to do the stamp and then we had to make the custom stamp.” And then that becomes expensive! [laughs] Like, well, it has to have all these things or else it’s not a proper thing. And it’s like, OK, I’ll just stay home and watch UFO videos [laughs]. I’m not going out. This sucks.
I don’t know. Maybe I’m looking back with rose-tinted glass. I’m sure it had its warts. It just felt a bit more ad hoc and by the seat of your pants. It didn’t really feel like there were rules. It was either, “this person’s got a really hot track” or “this person has got a really good track record and they’ve been true to the game”, and thus they’re getting booked. And it’s just a whole different vibe right now.
Zurkonic: What do you mean by “really good track record?”
James: Well, maybe they put out a lot of records and you’d just be interested to know what they DJ like. They’d be getting booked on merit. They’re in town and they knew somebody, so they hooked them up. They’ve been running their own label out of Dallas or something. Well, let’s go check them out, they’re in New York. And why are they getting booked? Not because they went to college with somebody. They have a label from Dallas and they happen to be in New York, let’s put them on. The more the merrier.
Zurkonic: Like, oh, I came across this artist due to following what I like.
James: Yeah! “I want to check out what this person is about. I want to hear what they’re DJ’ing,” you know? “I like their records. I like what they sign.” It’s not because they did coke with somebody. Or they’re on the upswing and all their social media and stuff is ready and they’re about to break out, so I guess I’ve got to go see them. Then you see them and their DJ set sounded exactly like DJ XYZ a couple weeks ago, so why am I seeing this person? I don’t know, I guess I’m just not hooked in enough. Maybe I’ve aged. I just always felt like the draw to me was that your ear would lead you to find out somebody. And then inevitably you’d get the chance to hear them DJ. And now everybody’s a DJ so it doesn’t really matter.
Zurkonic: I don’t really think we can downplay the way that the few existing music sites have taken a page from the platforms and really removed a lot of the existing nuance and depth of contemporary dance music in favor of convenience and the illusion of being a “connoisseur.” Like, I only talk about the RA-ification of dance music because I’ll talk to other people my age and younger. And they’re so confident about their knowledge, but if you push them a bit, you’ll quickly realize that they’re just reading RA and watching Boiler Room episodes and grossly overestimating their own knowledge and understanding of dance music history.
James: Right, exactly! Because I follow this one outlet, I know everything. Maybe being in New York you get spoiled, but like, just because I went to Dance Tracks or Sonic Groove...like, if I went over to Sonic Groove, they had a whole different stepping ladder of folks and a different star system. These are totally different records than they had over [at Dance Tracks]. And then if I went over to Dance Mania, they had a little different star system and it’d be like, wow, I don’t know anything.
But now it’s like, this is it, this is all there is about dance music, it’s all from Resident Advisor. I can buy all my tickets there as well. Great. How convenient. It’s one-stop shopping. It’s like the IKEA of dance music, right? I guess that’s OK, but you’re still buying a knock-off of an Eames chair made out of plywood. Not to say they don’t cover good legitimate people, but that’s not the whole story. There’s other stuff going on too.
Zurkonic: I just read what they cover and all I see is everything they’re not covering, the insane number of blind spots that they’re in a position to pass off to readers. And again, they cover a lot of stuff that’s awesome, I just wish more fans would realize that it’s only the tip of the iceberg.
James: “Blind spots” is a great way of putting it. What I call it is the “rediscovery grinder.” We rediscovered this artist, so they’re hot for six months now. And when we’re done with them, we’ll put them back on the pile and grab another “unknown” artist that we didn’t know and schlep them around for six months. And then we’re done with them, blah blah blah. It’s this grinder. You see people getting gigs all the time and they get caught up in it and six months later, it’s like, oh where are their gigs now?
Zurkonic: It’s almost like it’s harder, if not impossible, to cultivate an actual career as a musician anymore. Like, you put in the work for two decades, just to become the flavor of the month for those six months and then, boop, you’re back to where you were, not making rent and feeling like, “What’s the fucking point?!” And then we want to act like there are no gatekeepers and it’s just like, oh no, they’re more there than ever and we’re all dependent on their fickle-ass tastes and self-interested acts of nepotism.
James: I’m glad the playing field is a lot more democratic. But I don’t know why we need someone serving up the latest old legend to us. They should just be a part of the mosaic of people you would go see or records you would go buy anyway. But it doesn’t seem to work that way.
Zurkonic: I’m just really fascinated by what the word “curation” has come to mean. My mom is a museum curator and puts so much work into it. And then I see these other people using that title for themselves and it’s like, um, are you though?
James: The curation is there to make the curator look good. The curator is not in the background anymore. It’s like, I’m important because I’m putting this person on, ergo you should go and buy my t-shirt. Or I should get better DJ gigs. What about the happiness of sharing music we love and sitting in the background? Music has rearranged my DNA. I’m a completely different person because of certain records I heard at a certain time. I don’t think that will ever be lost or ever go away. It’s still putting up a good fight and it’s going to win. But right now, it needs the ref to call a break for a second.
Zurkonic: For me, it’s just a recognition of, yo, this shit is a lot of fucking work and the payoffs are few and far between.
James: I only have ten dollars, but I’m going to buy this $8 record and I’ll buy some ramen noodles, or whatever. And that would get you through! There was no “because I know this guy and I discovered this guy, I’m going to get a gig in Croatia because I’m important and now I’m a booking agent or whatever.” So now it feels like there’s this ulterior motive for presenting these people that already should have been put on a long time ago.
There are little things happening, but it feels like the mechanism for people find out about music and finding out about cultures that they like is still coming through the sieve of gatekeepers or someone anointing something that is cool right now or whatever. I don’t know, man. I don’t know.
Zurkonic: So much for the “end of gatekeepers,” amiright?
James: Look at Red Bull Music Academy not doing anything anymore, you wanna call that the end of gatekeepers? Or no more comments on Resident Advisor or whatever. Well, first of all, those things should never have been the gatekeepers. Second of all, I love Red Bull, but I could never figure it out. Why is there a Moodymann poster in the New York City Subway? I’m glad that’s there, but it just doesn’t make any sense. I could never really understand that whole MO.
Zurkonic: They did solid shit for sure, but it’s still like, this is a corporation, people! This should really be giving you more pause.
James: Even when they did the Patrick Adams...I wasn’t in town for that, but they did the live disco thing. And everyone was so stoked….
Zurkonic: I mean, that did look pretty damn cool.
James: Yeah! But has anybody talked about it sense? No! I never hear anything about it. These things are just things. It’s just checking off the house 101 checklist. Like, well, I guess I’m now house 201 because I went to see Patrick Adams’ live date.
Zurkonic: Well, and what gets to me is how organized and ordered this whole process is. It all just feels like an extension of this whole gamification of reality thing and life is just not that linear! Like, at all!!
James: Yeah, it really is! It’s like, there’s a set thing you have to fit in here and we have to have the first tier and the second tier and we have to have enough people for the third tier ticket sales and blah blah blah. And it’s like, I don’t know man, why don’t you just put a show on?
Zurkonic: I definitely feel like the whole rise of festivals represents a shifting mentality. We have all this rave fetishization coming hard from my generation and younger, but a lot of it seems to be in service of selling the most organized, controlled, un-ravey bullshit you could ever imagine!! I just don’t get it.
James: I know! Being a festival about it! Raves used to be insane. They used to be out in the middle of nowhere because that was the only place you could do them. And they would get whoever it was they could get.
That’s what Thomas Cox and I were trying to do with our party the last couple of years…we almost didn’t even put out set times. We had to because people were busy. But we were like, if you just come to this party, no matter when you come, you will hear good music. You might hear someone famous, you might hear one of the residents, whatever. But we didn’t want it to be about draws. We ended up having to do that because we were competing with other events, but this should be like, these folks are putting it on so it’s good. Maybe it wasn’t the best show, but it was something they believed in.
The same with a release on a label. For some reason they cared about this artist and maybe they didn’t get the right record out of them at that time. But they’re on this label and I should go out and check out their other releases or labels. Not just, “I’m only going to listen to everything on that label”, which seems to be happening now too. What about the artist? They do all sorts of stuff on other labels. And it’s a good time for artists because they can get signed to a lot of labels. A lot of stuff just flies under the radar, like their better stuff, because it’s not on the right label.
Zurkonic: Or it works the other way, of course, where a label scores some artist because they hope it will blow their shit up.
James: That’s like what I was saying earlier. It’s this cult of personality. And you see this on social media. I have to say something contentious or I have to speak up for somebody on some social media platform.
Zurkonic: Be the voice.
James: Yeah, and be the voice of somebody. I don’t need a voice. I don’t need anybody speaking up for me or for what the current state of dance music is. I know what it is. And I don’t need to have somebody telling me how a party’s supposed to work. I’ll go to the party and figure it out for myself. Just because they made a bad record doesn’t mean they’re not going to make an amazing record - everyone makes good records and everyone makes bad records.
Zurkonic: Now, of course, I do have to say, dance music will only get better by being more inclusive of all of its voices. And you do hear so many people talking about how they felt excluded from this stuff, and that’s not cool at all, you know? So it’s like, yeah, sure, I’m bitching a lot here. But I’m also thrilled as fuck that more people feel like they can join the party and are actually being invited. That’s fucking huge.
James: Yeah! I will counter that though a bit and say the club used to be always this “safe place.” They were the ultimate safe spaces in some ways. Music used to be the safe place, anyone was welcome. There would be no bullshit. If you [went] to a club and you bumped into somebody on the dance floor? That was a bad thing, I’ve never been bumped into so much on the dance floor….
Zurkonic: Dude. That shit is insane to me!! I’ve never been bumped into so much in my life. Like, do you dudes--and it was always dudes, or at least they seem to be the ones bumping into people and not apologizing--realize how poorly this reflects on you right now? Like, GTFO.
James: Yeah! Like, you let enough honkies in and it becomes...and speaking as a white person [laughs]. It becomes a non-safe space. And what do you expect? It’s a fucking corporate, branded fucking thing going on. And so now we have to re-establish that we don’t really want assholes here. I don’t know if you’ve looked, but it’s the assholes who have been running shit, so of course there’s going to be assholes there. It used to be the ultimate safe place.
I mean, hey, it was still in the bigger wrappings of a culture that was not in as tune as it should have been, I totally understand.
Zurkonic: There has always been opportunistic motherfuckers trying to do fucked-up shit on the floor and at the bar.
James: It’s the emperor has no clothes syndrome. Like, what do you expect when you have a bunch of assholes running the show? There’s going to be--surprise, surprise--assholes. Like, that latest, whatever that dude, Velcro, who everybody loved….
James: Yeah, that latest cover or whatever…
Zurkonic: That shit was SO not cool.
James: So not cool. But that never would have happened before, or at least I hope to think that someone like that would have been called out earlier. The mechanism that got them to that spot...I think in a little bit of a more organic situation probably would have come out earlier. Let’s say someone did something shitty at that club or whatever. Word would get around, quick! Someone booked somebody and they did some totally misogynistic thing to the promoter’s girlfriend or the woman putting the show on or whatever. Shit would get around fast and it’d be like, yo, don’t book that person because they did some stupid shit or they were on stupid drugs and they fucked up. It was a network and sure, that has its inherent problems too. I still feel it was coming from a real good spot and you were piecing together, on a shoestring, something you could do. And it wasn’t so staged.
It’s so funny to think about APT as the last gasp, but it really sort of was. I didn’t go there too much in the later days. But I would go there for Morgan and Darshan’s night 2002/3 era, their monthly. I was lucky to play it. Theo Parrish played there, one of his first shows in NY and like nobody was there. I think there were three people there. Detroit stuff was actually really big up in Toronto but when I moved to New York, everybody was like, “Why do you like all that really badly produced house music?”. So it’s sort of funny to see it change.
Zurkonic: I always would laugh when I’d talk to DJ’s from other cities and they’d be like, “Wow, so NY is really killing it right now, huh?” And I’m just thinking, well, that’s what the internet says, but….
James: I still like to do bar gigs. And this kid came up at a recent one, and he was a young guy, and I was playing my set and he seemed to really like it. He sort of said something along the lines of, “Yeah, so, New York used to be really on the top, right? And it doesn’t seem that way any more.” And I’m like, yeah, you’re totally right. It feels like New York is just another town to go get a gig. People from out of town still love it, but you’re like, these bookings could be in Berlin. There’s nothing...like, the parties aren’t really special. And New York has always been a bit like that. But what I used to love about it was the intimacy of it. I gotta admit, “Lil” Louie Vega’s weekly party has been great. He’s doing a weekly and it’s a Wednesday night. And it’s sort of at this crappy, clubby thing. They do mandatory coat check, the whole deal. But, it’s cool! It’s Wednesday, there’s a bunch of old heads there. He played a really wide range of stuff. He played the whole night, six hours. And it felt like an old night, to be honest. It was great, it gave me hope. If I have to go to another night of edit DJ’s, if I have to go to Output again to see someone semi-half-decent, I might have to retire. You could talk to everybody. You could meet everybody, I said hi to him even though I didn’t really know him that well. It was cool.
That’s what New York used to be all the time, though. Or it was just a raging, cool party. And you’d be so busy involved in the greatness of the event, you didn’t want to talk...you weren’t really there to network. You were there to enjoy the event because it was really good. Like, better than really anywhere else. It’s interesting.
But, like we say, “Brooklyn,” what is that? It’s really expensive. It’s really good space. It’s really hard. Many spaces have closed [if they] couldn’t afford to have any soundproofing. Or whatever you need to buy a space to stay...there’s little pockets here and there. But it’s not like it was, that’s for sure.
Zurkonic: To change directions a bit here, something that I found myself really struggling with regarding a lot of the sets of my peers that I’ve seen was, kind of a lack of artistic purpose? Like, yo, what are you saying tho? Like, that’s cool you played this track and that track, but what’s the bigger message you’re trying to get across here?
James: That’s the thing. If you sort of leave the cookie cutter tracks, the edits or whatever, you do have to think about those tracks. This is going to be a peak and so if I play a song with another peak, it’s just going to beat people over the head. I have to transition to something else or whatever. If you just play certain tracks, it just sort of makes DJ’ing easy.
Zurkonic: It’s like all that dark techno out there these days. Which is fine, just when you have all that and only that, it gets a bit boring.
James: I mean, there were always places for techno in my book. I’m always super sympathetic to the techno mindset, but I do feel techno’s gotten a little bit, one-dimensional? I’m not connected enough to it. If I went to hear a techno set, I’d probably like everything because I haven’t heard a techno set in a while. I did hear some recent stuff and I was sort of like, hem and haw. It didn’t really sound like techno to me, I just sort of love that loopy, Mr. G or The Advent [sound], I love that shit. I would love to just make a record like that… I just remember Adam X and him being crazy. And Frankie [Bones]...like, that’s my impersonation of techno. Just, crazy dudes from Brooklyn.
Zurkonic: Totally! Like, 100000%. For me, it’s just when you start to see this type of music extended into a scene and a lifestyle, makes for kind of a stale vibe. I don’t know, that’s just how I’ve felt when I’ve gone to The Bunker parties or whatever.
James: I used to go to The Bunker parties when they started at SubTonic. Like, the first round. It was just a basement party. I used to do free jazz shows at Tonic. I did one where I actually played upstairs and I waited around and then I just went down to The Bunker party. All my musician friends were complaining about the booming coming from basement, you know? “I’m going down to that party. You’re more than welcome to join me.” They’re like, fuck that, you know? These things sort of become institutions and they have their own codification, I guess. And that’s what you have to do to stay in business these days. So it’s all good, no hating…
Zurkonic: Totally, man. Like, I just remember reading about them online, early on for me. Because they were booking all of these kinda deep techno people that I really dug. When I was old enough to finally go to their parties, back when they were at Public Assembly, I never felt that thing there that I’ve felt at many other places. There were just too many rules, if I had to boil down what I felt.
James: I know. So, what’s it take to break the rules? Do you have to stop doing dance music? Or how do you do dance music and not do the rules? With [Innermoods], it’s not like, one man against the system. I’m just going to do my thing and I’m going to put out records I like and let the chips fall. If that’s not enough to move the needle, then I guess it is what it is and I’ll just do my piece. When I was floating the [Abacus] record around to people and trying...you would not believe the number of so-called gatekeepers who had no idea who Abacus was. It would just be blank stares. I’m on an island here. [laughs] Like, whoa, no one really got it. Kai Alcé got it. He loved it. But he also put out an Abacus record. He got really behind the record, and some other great folks did, but some people online were pissed that it was only one track. And I’m reading a lot of comments and it’s just like “Do you realize how much it took me to get this fucking record out of this guy? He’s totally checked out.” And it’s like, thirteen minutes. I think it’s pretty epic. It’s an amazing track.
I try to put out old folks and new artists. I don’t want it to be a reissue series or whatever. I just want them all to be on the same keel. An old release, a new release, it’s all part of the same vision. Let the music be the statement, you know? If the music stands on its own...like, you could be the most popular hyped person but if your music is freaking good, I would put it out. I don’t really care. Here’s something that’s coming from a certain headspace that’s maybe riffing on it and adding to it and maybe making a comment on it or whatever. Or happens to be a sensibility I enjoy as well, from just a sonic perspective. I hope all the releases have been good and I think they have been.
So the latest record is going to be, like, Dennis Young, who used to be in Liquid Liquid, and even though it’s an “ambient” record, he still ties into dance music through his work with Liquid Liquid. I do want the label to be dance or DJ-oriented records at the core. But then, little, sort of, juts of interest stick out from the edges too, you know?
Zurkonic: Following the logic of the music rather than the logic of trends.
James: Yeah. It’s also sort of intangible. There’s something there that’s really special. Like, if you put it on a wall or whiteboard and you put it together, you could put all the pieces together and sort of analyze what’s happening. And you still wouldn’t crack the code. I feel like, some records lately, they have all the right parts, you put it together, and it’s like, that should work. That should still be special. But it’s not. There’s still something in there...you just don’t know what it is, but there’s some secret sauce. So I don’t even want to know what it is. I just want it to be a really special thing and let it be that.
Zurkonic: Do you feel that the tools kinda set people up to, kinda, not be creative?
James: Well, I think a really talented person will make something great, no matter what the tools are, just by the way a certain tool allows you to interface with it. It’ll have a certain output. That’s what I think about Ableton, it does the engineering for you so well. That’s why I’m trying to learn it. Because then I can take my stems from my other DAW, drop it into Ableton, and do some processing on it to get the mixes a bit tighter, because I struggle with the mixing a bit. That what it does really, really well. You open up one of those plug-ins and it just sounds perfect. The compressor is perfectly predisposed to dance music frequencies. Whatever you need, you just dial it in. It’s so dance music-focused, whereas regular plugs-ins are more focused towards live music needs.
I noticed when people started using Ableton, the engineering of the tracks went through the roof, which was really hard to do...like, I still have a outboard mixing board and do everything on outboard gear. Not that one is better, but [Ableton] did raise the bar and the ability for the tracks to sound good. All these sounds are great. Let’s see what it sounds like in six months and then you go back and revisit it and you’re like, “That didn’t really have any....it sounded great. But I don’t know if it sounds so good now.”
I really like what Norm Talley is doing right now. His tracks are so freaking special, but he’s using the newer equipment so he’s taking his brilliance, and then making contemporary-sounding tracks. They still have his great little melodies and his little riffs. They’re so great. I just feel like someone really talented and really dedicated will do good stuff no matter what’s in front of them.
Zurkonic: It does feel like, both in dance music and in the wider culture, most people are still just trying to catch up with the technological advances. Like, most of us weren’t at all ready for the psychological implications of all of this and, right now, we’re kinda lagging behind what we’re capable of. But we’ll get there!
James: There’s almost a recalibration of “Wow, we went from zero to mach 5 really quickly.” And now it’s like, ok, let’s come up for our breath, see what we’ve created. It’s a good time to maybe make an assessment. Not that anything needs to be negated. But there is sort of a nice chance to be like, you know what? Some of this shit is wack. [laughs]
There’s no shame in making a really good record, or even something that might have been done already, but doing it really well…I don’t know what they did and I don’t really care what genre this is. I just care that I’m invested in something special. I have to listen to this. To have some “skin in the game.”
Zurkonic: And on that topic, let’s talk about an artist who’s released two records on Innermoods, Roberta. I wasn’t familiar with her until coming across your label, and obviously you having signed that Abacus record is what had my eyes scanning the label’s Discogs page, but when I heard “Your Woman,” my response was just, oh shit, this is really, really good! And she was 100% a new name to me, which was super exciting.
James: It’s really good. It’s really good. She’s so talented. And, I swear to god, she has her own label and she was having trouble. It was flying under the radar. I was like “Why isn’t she DJing everywhere? Why is she having trouble getting her tracks signed?” [Although] DJ Deep just charted her last Night Moves record on his chart. When I saw that, I sort of chalked that up as a win. He really liked the Dan Lui record I did too so I sent him the catalog. He seems like the kind of guy [who] got one record and then went out and found everything else she did.
Zurkonic: So speaking of Dan and the artists you work with in general, how have these relationships come into being?
James: I just happen to know them. Dan was one of my main dudes in Toronto. He was a super champion of my early stuff, and he’s a great guy, he’s super talented. He put out a whole bunch of really good cats on his
Chair Recordings label in the late 90s. So someone got in touch with me because someone was going to license something he did for a Fabric CD or whatever, and I still had his old email and [said that] I would love to reissue that Big Smoke Nights Vol. 2. Because that was one of my favorite Toronto records. I love that record.
Zurkonic: Oh shit, I didn’t realize that was a reissue. Oops.
James: Yeah, it’s a reissue. It came out in 2000. I guess it hopefully speaks to the deepness of my connections to get some of these folks back out. And they trust me, so that’s a nice thing - they know I’m going to present the music in a good way, even though it might not make the biggest splash. I might not be out there and I might not have the right PR around it [but] it’s going to get the right ears, I hope at least. So if I’m going to reissue something, I want something that I think is good and to be not be too expensive. If it’s an older artist...maybe, rather than going through their back catalog, I’ll be like, “Give me some more stuff you haven’t put out.” If they’re still active, let me put out what you’re doing now. It’s not really inbound. I don’t really find tracks that way. I reach out. But if somebody sends me something that’s great, I’ll put it out.
Zurkonic: Well, and this lines up with what we’ve been talking about regarding the process of discovery and the organic nature of this whole thing.
James: Yeah, it’s sort of where my own organic things have led me. Like, I played out in Detroit and Javonntte came to the gig. So we started talking and he’s sent me some tracks, which I’m playing trumpet on. And that’s the next thing I’m doing. And that’s just organic. We just chatted and he loved the DJ set and I’m a huge fan of his stuff. So I was, “Look man, why don’t I play trumpet?” And he was like, “Why don’t we do something?" So we’re working on that. It’s all little things that come out of wherever my nose leads me.
Zurkonic: These things don’t just happen, as much as social media might cast that illusion. You gotta work!
James: And it’s having some skin in the game, going to someone’s show, hanging out with them and hearing a little bit about what they are about. I was a huge fan [of Abacus], I used to go and see him DJ in Toronto in the 90s. He had a weekly at this one place and, again, I was too nervous to say hi to him. So after all these years, a friend of mine was doing something with him and they were connected a little bit. So we connected. And I don’t think he knew anything about me or my music, but he knew I was using an MPC. And he was just like, oh, that’s great.
I might also do some Teflon Dons stuff, I don’t know if that’s going to happen but I want to do something. And Aaron has been so cool. He’s the man. I really love Aaron.
Zurkonic: OK, so speaking of going through someone’s back catalog, let’s talk about this Dennis Young record you’re putting out soon.
James: I used to play with Sal in some of his later bands after Liquid Liquid.
Zurkonic: Sal Principato?
James: Yeah. The guitar player in one of the bands also played trumpet. Dennis reached out to him and said he need[ed] some trumpet on one of his tracks. [And] my friend said “Why don’t you get a real trumpet player? Ask this guy James.” I was so happy because I loved Liquid Liquid, but I didn’t know Dennis at all. A lot of this was all over email initially; he sent me some stuff and he really loved what I did, so we got together. He was doing some dance music stuff and started sending it to me and I [thought] this is really cool, and he just mentioned on the side that he had found all these tapes from his ambient record days. He’s been putting them out on certain labels and reissuing certain things, and I [thought] I would totally want to put some of this out. He sent me these three tracks that no one is putting out. I’m in the middle of putting that out right now. The releases are all single-sided and it’s only because that’s the only way I can afford to do them. I can only afford one stamper, so if I couldn’t, I couldn’t do it, [plus] I try to pay everyone a bit of money and, of course, my costs.
The record will be out in the summer, I’m pressing it right now and the pressing plant is really backed up because of the Record Store Day stuff, so I’m in the backlog. I do everything at Archer in Detroit. I’ve been with Mike [Archer] since the early 2000s. I used to send everything to Ron Murphy to master and then he would just send the plates over to Mike and so I always liked that. If I didn’t have Mike, I wouldn’t know where I would be. Fingers crossed that they can keep things going for a while.
I’m not doing digital because I just don’t know how, it’s just a different process [that] I’m still not comfortable with. I think it would just get lost in the wash right now. If someone wants to rip the records and put them up online, I have no problem with that, but if I put up digital files, they wouldn’t sound as good. I don’t have a good digital masterer I trust yet.
Zurkonic: What about distribution and getting these records into the hands of people who actually want to hear them? What’s that like these days?
James: I’m trying to sell [records] cheap. They go out the door cheap, but sometimes it doesn’t end up at the store cheap. That’s a bit out of my hands. But I don’t want [the people buying the records] to be like “I shelled out $14 for this record and then [the label] put it up for $2 on Bandcamp.” I don’t want to do that, [but] I’ll figure out some way. I understand all-vinyl nights, but it feels like I’m getting so many promos and I buy so many good things on digital, it’s like I’m DJ’ing with one hand tied behind my back when I only play vinyl. Ideally in the best of both worlds, you’d have [both] turntables and CDJ’s and you could play everything.
Zurkonic: Let’s circle back to your putting out vinyl-only releases because this is a conversation I find absolutely stupefying. Like, dance music is literally predicated on a type of almost populist elitism!
James: It’s sort of permeated from its original impulse to becoming something elitist, which I sort of sympathize with. Like, these records are expensive now. When I can’t find a record, I go and find it on some comp that’s been put on Beatport or something. I sort of get both [sides]. I get the vinyl-only thing, but some of the releases don’t sound that good. They don’t know the mastering process or they’re pressed on dodgy vinyl.
A good DJ will be good if they’re playing on two rubber bands, or they’re playing two computers with the best stuff ever. They’ll figure out how to transcend what the crowd needs. But that’s another thing too...what does the crowd need? Do they need good music right now or do they just need a background to drink and do bad cocaine to?
It sort of feels like dance music has become easy. And it’s like, no, dance music is a lot of work. [laughs] I don’t want to feel begrudging but it should not be easy. I don’t want to say, because it’s easy ergo you suck, but, at the same time, that shouldn’t be the norm either. I wouldn’t mind to chip the needle back a little bit and make it a little harder,
Zurkonic: What has really struck me is that I came up with this perception that dance music was all about knowledge and if you want to do anything in it, you need to know what you’re talking about. But now, I almost feel like there’s this resentment if you reveal how much of a nerd you actually are, you know?
James: And that used to mean a lot, that used to get you brownie points. Not who you know. Like, “oh wow, this person really knows what they’re talking about. This is a cool person.” The few times I’ve DJ’d in more contemporary settings, I’ve always felt kind of embarrassed because [people there think] the music I play is sort of crazy. Like, it’s not, it’s just regular dance music, but you put it in this sort of sterile context and it really throw[s] people for a loop. This is not supposed to do that, this is just supposed to be a good house track. And you can see it, people don’t really know what to do with it. Oh my god, I guess I should just play edits because this track sort of fucking people up [otherwise].
Zurkonic: I wonder if part of the problem comes down to promoters wanting to give people the illusion, or perhaps the paradox, of choice by throwing four, five, six DJ’s on a bill. When your typical DJ set is two hours, that doesn’t give DJ’s much more room to actually challenge dancers, because doing that well takes time.
James Duncan: Which is what I did like about Louie’s night because he had such freedom to play for so long. He was playing stuff that I don’t think the crowd was really expecting and they got it. It was an older crowd, so maybe it threw them for a bit of a loop. But he was playing some trackier stuff and some stuff I wouldn’t have expected. You had to stick there for the whole night and go with him. Even though the palette was house music, within that he was doing a lot. It wasn’t like, “it has to be adventurous, so now he’s got to play drum’n’bass or now he’s got to do something else”.
Zurkonic: I just get this feeling that a lot of people are at gigs to have their expectations confirmed, to reaffirm that they know everything, and uphold this ordered, simple-ass view of dance music that’s just wildly reductive. I’m always just like, let’s see if they’re still here in five years first.
James: That’s what I always say too; when I get a little despondent, let’s see where they are in five years. And it turns out, I’m sometimes right. They’re not here anymore. They moved away or they’re not even making records anymore. I think that’s the ultimate, right? Where will these records be in twenty years. I made a joke with somebody. Imagine if in the 90s you went to a house music store and they only sold records from twenty years ago, there wouldn’t be any records! Because there weren’t no house records twenty years ago.