Genettic: So- you’re from Detroit, and you’ve been based out of Detroit for your whole career?
John: My entire life except for maybe four or five years I lived in Chicago, but Detroit my whole life, in and outside the city.
Genettic: Have you found that Detroit has been a good backdrop for your musical career?
John: I tell you what man, I feel it’s a blessing because I think Detroit’s like, a mecca — a ground zero for great music, you know, and I focused on jazz and electronic music, and a lot of different things, funk, and- I think all of those things really stem from Detroit. And so it’s like I said, it’s ground zero for great music–that’s why I’ve always stayed here, as opposed to moving to New York or LA.
Genettic: I’m a little bit newer to Detroit music…so it kinda seems in some
ways that there used to be a Detroit Techno scene, but it’s not the
same as it was — do you think that’s true?
John: Oh, it is true, but it’s like anything in life — it’s always evolving, you know? And I really got into it in ’89 or ’90, and I started going to Wayne State for jazz, and got like, Richie Hawtin’s “Sheet One”, I was like, “This is my shit,” you know, and I started going to underground parties in the early 90′s, and I actually played the first festival in 2000-
Genettic: Yeah, I was gonna ask you about that.
John: Yup, and I’d always been involved with it, and I think the change is good because it’s like popping right now, it’s almost on a pop level, people feel it. It has changed, and I guess people say negative things about the evolution of it… they might not remember how horrible it was to be in like, places getting raided, and the non-professionalism of it all…
Genettic: Friends of mine that have been around it longer than me have said similar things, like, “It was cool to go to underground parties, but there’s something nice about going somewhere and not worrying about the police busting in and shutting it down.”
John: Yeah, and about once a year it happens where they go around and mess with people… Two or three years ago I was at a place called the Finite Art Gallery by the old Tiger Stadium and it was raided, and I’m like, “Are you kidding me?” — and in court, the judge was like, “Why didn’t you invite me to the party?” — the cops didn’t show up, and they let everybody off. So I don’t know what they were looking for, or if there was payoff involved… Seriously, most of the places I’ve been, it’s been a positive vibe, and the law stepping in is where the negative [vibe] came from.
Genettic: So you played the first DEMF, and you’ve just played at the most recent Movement festival — have you played any since then?
John: I think I play every other year… about 3 years ago I played, I haven’t been around in three years, I did the Red Bull stage, and from 2000 I usually go like every other year, to three years… from the main stage, to the small stage, I’ve done it all, played with a lot of people as well.
Genettic: Outside of the fact that there might be fluctuations in how many people attend — I know that people say that before you had to buy a ticket, way more people showed up, and that’s kind of contested, because you know nobody knows how many people actually showed up for the first couple years-
John: Well they say a million, but I don’t buy it. [laughs]
Genettic: Right, right — that’s what I’ve heard too… but outside of the number of people that show up, have you noticed a difference in the tone or the feeling of the festival?
John: The first year, nobody expected it to even go off, you know, and there was like, promotion didn’t happen until two weeks before, like, I think I was booked like 3 weeks before and it was all by the seat of the people’s pants, that were putting it on at the time. So when it was, just like, amazing, we were in shock that it could actually go down. And I think the tone changes from the people that have actually run it in the past, and I also feel like Hart Plaza has always been a classically free venue, that’s what’s kinda special about this, so I wasn’t necessarily that excited to hear that they were gonna start charging for the festival — ’cause it sets a precedent for the venue, with Jazz Fest and all these other festivals. But I also personally know previous people that ran it, and they’re still having their wages garnished, and things like that, because — as a free venue, it just didn’t make economical sense… so, in that sense, Paxahau made the right move by charging, but like I said it sets a precedent for the venue not to be free for other festivals as well, ’cause you’re missing this great aspect of Detroit that would just roll in.
Genettic: I remember going one year, in like 2001 or 2002, I just went with my family, and they were just like, “Hey, let’s go check out the electronic music festival,” and there was no planning, no one thought about like, “Oh, I have to buy tickets in advance,” and like, we just showed up to it, we brought in a cooler- you can’t do that now.
John: See, it was more family-style, and you got a sense of that in Detroit… but I don’t know if it’s affected the numbers or anything. But in terms of the tone of the festival, like I said, it’s shifted from the different people that ran it, I think Paxahau’s been mad consistent, and, like I said, electronic music’s kind of almost on a pop-level right now… so that’s the tone difference, like people are just way into it. There’s moments where electronic music was, you know, not that, it was really underground, and people just weren’t feeling it at all, you know? I’ve really seen the shift, the ebb and flow of electronic music.
Genettic: I wonder if the fact that there’s so many different types of acts that are being represented here, I wonder if that brings in people that otherwise would be like, ‘Oh, Detroit Techno, what’s that?’
John: Yeah, I like that- I think, well, last year, especially, like it was very grimed-out and dubstep-focused — which I love, like, you saw my live-set, I play everything, ’cause I really have a love for it — and I think, that new energy of that music kinda spoke to youth culture, and gave it a new breath of fresh air, even though people kinda hate on it… but, this year, what’s going up this year, is kind of really like, funky house vibes.
Genettic: So when I was watching your set, I noticed that you had one of the Livid controllers…
Genettic: And I noticed that you had an iPad, and you had your phone, or an iPod set up too-
John: I’ve always produced music on an MPC 2000XL and the 1000 and I’ve always loved how gritty it sounded, just the feel of it, but it only held like, 32 MB, and I always used to carry around like, tables of gear, like it was insane — all analog — and I think electronic music, or like, technology is at the point where you can do it all from your laptop and it sounds good and it’s efficient, even though you saw me with some problems… [laughs] But, yeah, I started using, maybe a year and a half ago, this app called Touch OSC, and it’s open software-
Genettic: Yeah, I’m familiar with it.
John: So you can control, you can make all your own templates, and I love that, because with controllers, I always felt like something was missing… So now with that Livid Block, it’s a one-off they did that was made to hold an iPad…
Genettic: I noticed that! And I was like, “I’ve never seen that before!” And I’ve seen some of their controllers and I’ve even considered buying some of them, and I’ve never seen one of them that had a cutout for an iPad, that’s really cool.
John: I tell you, like three or four weeks ago I saw it online, I’m like, “Oh my God, that’s my deal…” ’cause I had some guy build me like a wood holder for my iPad and my iPhone, but it still kinda felt meek, but that Livid Block with the holder, I was just like, “I gotta have it,” you know? And like $400 later I had it, but there’s still some weird technical issues with it, not in terms of what you saw last night, that was just-
Genettic: Your sound card?
John: Yeah, basically, what happened last night, I bassed the cord out of my computer, like I was bassing it so hard, like all it would have taken was taping that down, and I, you know I’d never had that happen before, but I’m glad that was the situation, you know, and the crowd was really cool about it-
Genettic: Right, yeah, they just wanted the music to come back…
John: Yeah, that’s it. And so, that’s my setup now, like I said, I went from all this analog gear, to my iPad, my iPhone, with TouchOSC, and this Livid Block iPad one-off. And I usually play MIDI guitar as well, and I can control all my synths and um, drum machines on my guitar, but I was being so ambitious yesterday that I made the executive decision to just leave the guitar out, you know, but that’s like, ’cause I don’t think anybody really does that, and has ever done anything cool with MIDI guitar, they only use like the presets, like, Roland’s given them, and like, you can hook that bitch up to anything, and just grind- I can just do anything I want with my guitar, it’s amazing.
Genettic: So is your setup based on Ableton?
John: I just switched over to Ableton, I was using Reason Record for awhile, but it just wasn’t set up for a live thing. And I’ve always had an Ableton endorsement, for about ten years now… and I went back to it, and I was like, dude, it’s so great for live performance now… I’m sure I’ve done a lot of cool things with it, but I know there’s more that I haven’t even messed with yet, but I think it’s a perfect base for live, electronic music.
Genettic: Were there any challenges with you moving your live setup to Ableton — was it hard for you to get into at all?
John: I’m such a nerd about that stuff that, and like I said, I already had, like I said, kind of an understanding of it, and it’s actually very user-friendly… so like with anything, I had some issues, but that was just me having to learn a certain process. And there are some shortfalls to it, like certain things I wish it would do that it doesn’t do yet, but as an endorsee, I guess it’s my job to let them know that. But the transition was seamless, like the drum-racks in there now are amazing so I can play a bit of live drum machine on my iPad, so I was able to transfer everything over relatively quick — like, in a day or two, I think the first time I used it was for, I play Funk Night over Thanksgiving every year at the Majestic, and I ambitiously, was like, “I’m gonna switch everything over,” and in like two or three weeks, and it was… [snaps] It was really easy.
Genettic: That’s awesome-
John: It’s awesome. And I’m really organized about everything I’ve always done, like, not fully, but, so I know where everything is, and so, if you’re organized, it’s not that hard to transfer stuff over between software.
Genettic: So what do you use from a production standpoint, in the studio?
John: I’ve always been more of an analog head in the studio, but I haven’t quite used Ableton yet, I’ve only used it for live, but I’ve used Reason Record quite a bit, but ultimately I end with Pro Tools, you know, and I have a sick Allen and Heath mixing board so really, I could probably produce everything in Reason Record now, Ableton — and then send it all to Pro Tools and mix it, cause, at this point, I’m almost like, everything opens in Ableton, all my ill plugins, all this great shit I have, so I’m like, I could really just start doing final productions in Ableton, which I think is the next step.
Genettic: So you have a very strong instrumental music background-
John: That’s right.
Genettic: You’ve had a few jazz and world-music bands, is that right?
John: That’s right.
Genettic: And you’ve also done a lot of electronic stuff — going forward, do you plan to do, still, a combination of both, are you learning back towards one or the other?
John: I’ve considered all combinations, and I DJ quite a bit, too, I make a pretty good living just DJ’ing in Detroit or playing guitar, and really, it’s hard to have all these focuses, you know, ’cause one always suffers, but yeah, I always plan to keep doing it all. I think on Thursday I’m doing a party for Paxahau at the Port Authority with my jazz trio, and like, it’s very world music, and I’ve recorded with so many people, like Carl Craig and Kem, like the Motown dude from Detroit, and across the board, all these different kinds of music, Amp Fiddler, you know, and all that, a track on Amp’s album that Dilla produced, so like, really been able to play with my, like, idols, and that goes back to the first question of, “Why did I stay in Detroit?” and I’m like, because these people are really- I idolize them, and I can work with them and be friends with them, it’s a special moment in time for me, on that level, from jazz to electronic music.
Genettic: How do you meet all these different artists that you work into your music?
John: Just from playing music in Detroit — I think I’ve been doing this for over 15 years, full-time. And it’s a big city, but it’s a small city, too, and I’m very enthusiastic about a lot of different music that I love, and I approach it authentically and try to be really good at it, if I do it, so — in terms of just getting people on my records, you know, we’re boys, and I have a certain amount of budget, too, so I just say, “Come over and hang out,” and usually it would happen like, Style and Pattern was very fluid, and I would just get a basic idea going, just have friends come over, like Amp or Paul Randolph, and they’d just lay down a bunch of stuff, and I’d have to take it, and kind of, like a piece of clay, mold it into something. Like this guy, Ty in London, he was on Style and Pattern and I really dig him, and he just sent me a bunch of verses and I put it together. I just sent him the basic idea for the track and he sent me a bunch of verses, and I got it back, that’s the magic of technology, like in the early 2000s, and when I was with Ubiquity out in California I would have to actually physically mail them a CD, and it would take like 3 or 4 days for them to be like, “Oh, we dig it,” now it’s just like back and forth, and like I said, he’d just email me back all his verses he did in the studio, and I just paste it together. I did most of the work, I think these guys got off easy, but they’re so mad talented, it’s really just like- like I said, just be talented at my crib and then, you know, then taking it and turning it into something special.