Kush Jones: Playable and Club-ready

In New York City, a community of producers is on the rise. From Brooklyn to The Bronx, the cohort of musicians endeavours to showcase the eclectic sound that stretches from one borough to the next as they resketch the city’s rightful place on the map. Unlike the European musical context, it’s apparent that artists in the US don’t feel the pull and binding nature of categorised genre constraints. Instead, the array of producers congregate with one intention: to generate music for the club. Kush Jones is a mainstay in this group, known for his efforts to reformulate what we’ve come to know as club music and as the artwork for one of his releases outlines: Kush Jones’ tracks are “jog wheel ready” and “dancefloor approved.”

Born and raised in The Bronx, Kush Jones has always kept busy. Since 2015, the Juke Bounce Werk member has been piecing together the sounds that shaped his childhood, propelling him forth into the world of sample-based production. Six-editions deep, the Strictly 4 My CDJZ series explores the depth of Jones’ sound and pays homage to the records, clubs and crews he’s encountered. Between pumping out a few lines of merch, playing a steady number of shows and working on new music, Kush Jones spends every moment he can honing his craft.

People often mistakenly associate your sound with straight-up juke and footwork, when in reality your production plays reference to a multitude of club cuts bridging house, grime, Jersey Club and jungle. What was your introduction to those electronic styles?

I grew up in a Black household, so I was surrounded by a lot of Black music. I was blessed with a family that owned a bunch of vinyl, and when my grandma passed, I inherited a lot of her records — a lot of soul and disco. A big part of growing up with old records was playing with sampling. Sampling in songs introduced me to a lot of different genres, either because it was a notable sample or something I remembered listening to. I like vocal samples where someone comes on the track and says some raunchy or funny shit. I usually like to have that sort of track to DJ with. I would listen to hip hop beats and shortly after that, a lot of Jersey Club and house music; the two are completely parallel. I got into listening to ballroom because of Masters at Work, all of those tracks just translate so perfectly. I listened to a lot of classics in house and other genres and slowly started contemplating what would blend well together. The best example is definitely Masters at Work and MikeQ, if that B2B ever happened it would be a special one. It makes so much sense. It’s one musical generation that translates to the next. 

After tracing the origins of those samples, how did you then decide you wanted to transform those tunes and give them your own spin, production-wise?

There was an after school program at my high school that showed us how to use Reason, including how to input samples, drums, and how to use a sequencer — the basics of getting the beat made. I took the class super seriously because I finally had the opportunity to learn how to translate ideas into music. That was a big part of where I’m at today. I actually had someone sit with me and show me how to use software to produce and from that point of 16-17 that’s when I realised I could make music too. Initially, I started with remixes and edits because I wanted to have my own stuff to play out.

How did you get you into the DJing side of things?

I had cousins and older family members that were DJs. A lot of them came from the Carribean, so they were very much about the soundclash and sound system culture. My mom wouldn’t let me kick it with them because they smoked a lot of weed and stayed out late; they were night scene people. I was always interested in what they were doing as DJs. I was very intrigued by dubplate culture; the fact that a DJ had music that no else had and was playing a record that made everyone get hyped, regardless of the fact that they didn’t know the tune.

Since 2015 you’ve been a part of Juke Bounce Werk (JBW), a Los-Angeles based collective consisting of 13 DJs, producers and visual artists. How did you connect with the crew?

A lot of people ask me this, and to this day, I still don’t know how I got into the crew. It’s a real six degrees of separation situation. But the catalyst in it all, the first person that introduced me into the community of juke and footwork is a cat from New York: Regent Street. He put me in a room with a lot of people from that scene, like JBW fam Scatta and LOS. They were out in Jersey, and I thought that was tight that there was a community near me, outside of Chicago. 

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, I had already met DJ SWISHA, and he was playing a lot of 160 edits that we had made together. It was one of those “track ID?” instances where our names kept popping up in those spaces, so naturally, they hit me up on SoundCloud, we started talking, exchanging and then one day I got the call and offer to join. They brought me out to LA shortly after and I played my first rocksteady party, which used to be at Tokyo Beat where you could exchange your drink tickets for ramen.

In 2016 you broke into the juke and footwork scene, debuting on TAR records with SLEEP — a three-track EP laced with samples that paid homage to your love of gospel, jazz and soul.  What have you learned since that release?

I sat in a room for hours trying to get the songs on that debut EP right. I was sweating over it every single day and finally reached a point where I gave up. I thought to myself as long as it’s mixable. If a DJ can take it and play it, then it’s fine. Until this day, that’s the record in my discography that people know me for. 

Whenever I make music for juke and footwork, I always try to consider the dancers first. I still see crews online from Japan and Denmark dancing to that one song from my debut EP titled ‘bang’. It’s a pretty simple track where I tried to merge genres that I like. ‘Bang’ is a jersey club track and there are multiple versions of it I believe, but the first one I heard Nadus and Kdrid on, so I took that track sampled it, sped it up, programmed different drums over it and tried to merge two different sounds that I liked. Since that first record, I wanted to engage in a more autonomous approach to making music that was unique to me. I made the track. I recorded the track. I mixed and mastered the track. This is my record.

Most weekends you’re playing out in a club, somewhere in New York City. How much time do you dedicate to testing out new tracks in a club setting, compared to the time you spend at home producing them? Earlier you mentioned that the process behind the TAR EP revolved around getting the record to a point where it was “good enough” for club play. Do you use gigs to test out new tracks? 

Definitely, if I get booked to play somewhere, I try to play my own records to see how they sound in different spaces. I try to convince all my friends around me to start producing or at least make their own edits to play out. I don’t mind when DJs play other people’s music, but it’s nice to have that ace in the pocket; no one else has this song that you made. When you’re stepping into the club, what are you bringing that’s new and fresh? It’s adding another level to your game and setting yourself apart by flipping tracks and producing your own things. It’s a good way to gauge what makes sense. Definitely with footwork, opposed to juke. If you go into most parties and drop some juke people will lose their minds because juke really translates, especially in NYC. You can dance by yourself in the corner of a party or dance with others; there’s an energy attached to it. You must dance to this beat. With footwork in NYC, a lot of people don’t dance to it because they don’t know how to footwork. I find it to be very rhythmic, whereas others find it to be clangy and all over the place, but that’s what I love about it.

How did the idea for your self-released ‘Strictly 4 My CDJZ’ series originate?

A lot of those tracks were demos that I sent to labels. From the responses that I did receive people told me that I needed to rework certain songs and abide by their rigid release schedules. It got kind of frustrating. I thought it sounded good, but a lot of people told me it didn’t sound like it was ready. I thought it might not be ready for an album level, but these were tracks that you could go and play in the club and that’s mainly what dance music is now, music that is playable in the club and ready to go. The idea was to put out my own shit: simple music that was just ready to go. If you make good music and you feel confident about it, then you can gain access to the resources to put it out yourself, and you’ll actually be surprised what comes of it when you decide to take complete ownership of your work.

How many volumes are you planning to put out? 

Forty volumes in total. I don’t really have a timeline for reaching forty. I’d just like to reach that level before the world is over. When I get a few good tracks together and have an idea and a concept revolving around it, I box it up and then release it at my own pace. Sometimes people are pressing me, and I’m like: “it drops when it drops.”

The majority of your discography is self-released. Is this due to off-putting experiences you’ve had with labels that you worked with in the past?

That’s part of it. Labels want to take 50% of your sales. You can put out those same six songs by yourself on Bandcamp and keep your money. You can do that shit yourself. I’ve seen a lot of people sell their music to labels and not get what they want from it. It’s ok if I fall on my face with these self-releases because I can learn something. Why would you give away that much power and control over your content?

In the summer of 2019, you played a pretty mental party at Bossa Nova Civic Club, alongside London-based DJ FAUZIA and local scene staples DJ SWISHA and MoMa Ready. A colossal lineup like that seems to be a pretty regular occurrence in the NYC club circuit. Out of everything that’s happening in the city right now, what are you most interested in? Whether it relates directly to the current nightlife landscape or the community of producers that exist in the city. 

I feel like I really do have the pleasure of knowing some of the best when it comes to DJs and producers in NYC. Everyone is working on their own craft; it’s never about how popular someone is. You can go to most clubs any day of the week and catch a talent that should be booked anywhere in the world, just so happens they’re in Brooklyn or The Bronx. We’re kinda spoiled here in NYC. There are a lot of entities and a lot of people that are coming up and providing opportunities. The biggest one, in my opinion, is Half Moon BK, with their radio programming and events. There’s a lot of space for events and a lot of clubs right now. Most of them are in Brooklyn like Bossa Nova Civic Club, Mood Ring, Elsewhere and H0l0. There is a home for every style of music and every walk of life. In a lot of other areas, venues are getting taken and shut down.

How instrumental would you say that initiatives like Half Moon BK radio station are for building communities in the scene? And for you as an artist, what role does a platform like that play?

Parties are cool, and I appreciate spaces where people can dance, but it’s also essential to provide a space where others can learn something and apply that skill set elsewhere to do some good. Initiatives like Half Moon are important. It’s important to have spaces where people can go and have access to resources they can use to record a mix or learn how to DJ. Spaces like that are essential to even the playing field out. Are we going to continue this worn-out DJ dialogue and keep going in circles or are we going to give people the tools they need to learn and make their way? There’s a similar initiative happening in Canada called Intersessions, which is run by a group including Chippy Nonstop. They do the same kind of work where they offer panel talks and workshops that involve people that are regularly DJing, producing and coordinating events. Those people come and share their insight.

Words: Claire Mouchemore

Featured Image: Guarionex Rodriguez Jr.

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