As we’ve mentioned on these here pages before, the UK is responsible for a frankly astounding amount of new house and techno talent. Another one we stumbled across recently is j03l. The owner of the Licence to Kill label, the up-and-coming DJ/producer is someone we’re quite confident you’ll be hearing more from recently. A devout fabric fan and regular to the club, he counts the likes of Villalobos and Craig Richards as some of his biggest influences, but is someone who’s very much leaving his own inimitable stamp on modern-day electronic music. Indeed, outside of electronic music, j03l also mentions everyone from Limp Bizkit to Jim Morrison during the course of our in-depth chat. A really refreshing interviewee, he’s also spent time in bands and is a real hardware head with lots to say for himself. Oh – and we’ve also premiered his track, Inglasias, which you can check out on our Soundcloud here
Great to chat to you, Joel. Can you please kick things off by telling us about your musical history? What are your first memories of listening to – and appreciating – music?
Hey guys, great to chat to you and thanks for having me 🙂 My first memory of music is acquiring Aqua – Barbie Girl on tape (I think my dad bought it for me). Little did I know how much this tape would influence my sound later on in life, as I explore the depths of modular synthesis and quirky beats, searching for that first initial high. I always loved music growing up and became infatuated with bands like Sum 41, Blink 182, Limp Bizkit etc (as I’m sure many people did), and imagined performing these songs on stage in front of my school, with the same tenacity of Fred Durst in one of his music videos. Things started getting serious when I discovered The Doors, and in particular The End, which I loved for its weirdness. I used to love going on a trip with Jim Morrison across the ancient lake, riding the snake west, until once I accidentally ended up in Heathrow just off the M25 next to a service station. I found that electronic music could have this same quality, of being a journey, and when I discovered experimentalism through minimalism the rest is history.
Why do you think it made such an impression on you? Why do you think it continues to do so?
I remember my sister going to fabric to see Villalobos when I was just a wee 18 year-old and speaking about how he comes on at 8am and plays crazy music. I thought this sounded super interesting, how a party can almost be a musical marathon, and after checking out his music, I loved how it was possible to combine these elements of experimentalism with rhythm, as I started to see the dance floor as a place for creative potential. After going to see Villalobos and Craig b2b on my first outing to fabric at 18, I remember being disappointed that it is essentially a massive rave, and yearned to hear his minimal creations for hours on end, but instead finding banging house music. This was where I discovered the freedom of clubbing however which has been very influential on my development as a person. I have recently realised that without exposing myself to this necessary component of dance music, of realising its function as a facilitator of liberation, and going out, I can’t create good beats. Recently I popped to Houghton after feeling uninspired, as I was down the road in the Norfolk countryside. I went to see Zip on Sunday evening, and felt the purpose behind the music, watching everybody let their down and having a great time, whilst enjoying myself; it is something I found super inspiring. Then this week I made the best track I have made in ages.
At what stage did you gravitate more to electronic music? Did you immediately feel it was something you were essentially going to dedicate a lot of your life to?
This is probably very cliché but I think it was discovering Aphex Twin’s Windowlicker after my brother bought me a DVD of the work of Chris Cunningham, the director who filmed the video. I started to pair these experimental journey’s with what Jim Morrison was channeling, and saw a poetry within the electronic landscape; an endless artificial space that can be therapeutic, expansive and hypnotic all at once. I have never said ‘I will dedicate myself to this’ however it has been a compulsion to produce music, as opposed to a decision. I am addicted to making beats and 80% of them are terrible. I used to have drum lessons as an eight year old and learnt from then that I am not rhythmically gifted, and therefore have to rely on a huge well of passion to continue to produce, borrowing rhythms from where I can and injecting them into my productions. This passion has probably unconsciously led to me spending the majority of my life producing music, it is not something I have really had any decision over to be honest. It is more an unhealthy impulse, that has distracted me from growing up and getting a ‘proper job’.
What artists, labels, parties and producers etc really inspired you back then? What was it about them that left such an impression on you?
During the dawn of my introduction to clubbing I became pretty obsessed with fabric, and wanted to immerse myself in everything to do with Saturday nights there, and occasionally Sundays. After realising that long term clubbing wasn’t just about experimental minimal beats, and accepting that raving was the name of the game, I wanted to learn about all of the labels and DJ’s that frequented fabric. I was and still am a huge Craig Richards fan, and he has been a musical guru for me really. He was 9/10 times the best DJ playing in EC1, so my tastes generally lay in his hands, and the fabric mix series. Then I would say around 2012 I became infatuated with the Romanian sound, and started to buy records in the same vein. My housemate at the time had some turntables given to him, and I was working in a pub that was extremely generous on tips, so I had lots of money spare and decided to start buying records. The first record I bought was Fumiya Tanaka on Perlon, ‘I Can Tell You of Course I Know it Was’, then shortly after I bought the limited edition of Petre Inspirescu’s ‘Un Livret De Duminica’ then Rhadoo on Understand etc etc. I was really obsessed with everything about this new found sound, finding the same inspiration on listening to Villalobos (and Barbie Girl) for the first time. It felt like artistic music, that was more centred around sound than synths, equipped to deliver long form hypnotic expeditions through archaic and unchartered sonic territories.
I remember going to see Kozo at a private party in North London, who must have played for over eight hours. This was probably my first exposure to a Romanian DJ, and I found it both abrasive and captivating at the same time. I distinctly remember one of the Italoboys coming on to play something that he did not approve of, and being shut down almost immediately. I also then started going to parties like Half Baked a lot, seeing Fumiya Tanaka, as well as my friends’ night Damaged, who would book the more underground champions of this scene. I loved the intimate nature of these smaller parties, and loved socialising with all the different people there. One of my most cherished moments is listening to Suciu at Damaged in 2012 – he has been a long term favourite ever since.
You were also in a band, I believe. Can you tell us a bit about that experience? What sort of music did you make?
Yes, so shortly after this introduction to London nightlife I started on a Sound Arts and Design course at LCC, learning about the history of experimental music, whilst honing my skills and tastes as a producer. Around the same time I started to play in a band with my friend and cousin Mike, and his cousin from another side, Adrian. We were called otzeki, and I sought about integrating what I was learning in experimental sound design into the band world, playing beats and synths. After a lot of work and hard graft, we started to tour quite a bit, and had some minor success, playing Maida Vale at the BBC, and having an album of the week on Radio 1 etc. I am really proud of what we achieved and believed we merged pop, electronics and more bluesy influences pretty nicely! We worked with a super inspiring producer called Beni Giles aka Adhelm, who helped realise our vision of abrasive, sound design centric, slowed down techno mixed with songwriting.
How do you find working in a group compared to working in a band? What’s different? What’s good? What’s bad?
I think the music producer is constantly battling a curse to want to control every element of a track. We all hate it when somebody sits down at our own computer (how dare they) and starts altering the course of a sonic direction. We are fighting omnipotent urges, centred around wanting to have complete autonomy over what we feel sonically entitled to. However, this fight can both awaken you to your own weaknesses as a producer (which are often very hard to confront) and also result in unique outcomes. The camraderie was probably the best aspect about being in a band, spending your whole time with your best mates, working on something together. It is very exciting. I think the price of being a lone music producer who is able to make all the decisions himself is essentially loneliness. Is it better to not be lonely but sacrifice what music you want to make? I think ultimately the experience was enlightening and extremely rewarding, and to be honest I think it is the happier option, despite many arguments! It is also super nice to have other people validate what you are creating, as often you are making a banger, however with no one to play it to you really have no idea if what you are making is any good or not, constantly second guessing every decision you make.
Let’s also chat about your label, Licence to Kill. Is this a James Bond reference? And if so, what is it about James Bond that you love so much?
Yes I am a ginormous vintage Bond fan, and have been since I can remember. There is something so atmospheric about old Bond movies; the espionage, the way Bond checks his hotel room for bugs, the suits, the cars. I love the predictability, and I find it very comforting to watch. Perhaps there is a synchronicity between the formulaic aspects of dance music and the formulaic aspects of Bond. I love how the vintage films offer space to appreciate the ambience, and mood of the film, whereas with Bond films today you very rarely get a break from the score, constantly being injected with music that dictates its’ emotional direction. Perhaps I am subconsciously drawn to the sound of the films, and enjoy being immersed in a vintage environment that is polar opposite to the information bubble we all currently live in, who knows!
Do you try to emulate these guys at all? Or are you very conscious that you need to forge your own style?
I really now appreciate many forms of underground music, and don’t intentionally aim to imitate anybody else. Therefore I think my sound is quite varied, as I still love minimal producers, however also appreciate breakbeat and UKG. I don’t think I have a USP as a result, however I’m not sure if that’s such a bad thing – despite what everyone says.
In terms of a unique character and musician, who do you think represents this in the modern-day scene?
I think a lot of the underground scene is comprised of wonderful individuals who flourish in their own way. These tend to be the guys who do and play what they want, who are not into music as a commercial venture, and for who being into this scene is a way of life. The music industry is so saturated, and with everybody fighting to make a name for themselves, on social media etc, it’s hard to find distinct characters or individuals who stand out. Or perhaps as that is exactly what everyone is hoping to achieve, this ranking of others through the lens of social media does not allow us to see the true character of any individual. It’s hard to say as somebody who also follows the majority of this scene online! As I may be too under the influence of social media myself to comment with an uncompromised perspective. I do think that Villalobos has carved out a whole genre of electronic music, that has of course been developed by the Romanians, which has in turn been developed by many others, so kudos for him for being a seminal producer. My cousin used to get bored of me constantly mentioning Villalobos in interviews when we were asked who our influences are – so I am trying to resist the urge of worshipping him too much. It’s hard!
And back to that question, what is your take on the contemporary electronic music sphere? Has it become too dominated by social media?
Unfortunately I think social media has become a necessary evil of being a ‘successful musician’. It is the first thing people look at when booking for gigs and festivals, or when checking the credibility of an artist. So people who are more dedicated to this image of themselves can end up playing a lot more than people who dedicate their lives to their craft, spending hours and hours of time perfecting their sound – it’s a funny one! I don’t think either way is right or wrong, respect to anyone for having the ambition to make things happen. I always wanted to earn enough credibility through releasing music to start playing gigs, however perhaps this is now an outdated way of doing things.
In terms of parties, if there was one you played over the years that really stuck out, what was it and why?
Playing on a boat party that went down the river Seine in Paris was pretty sweet with my band otzeki! It just went off – we shared a super special relationship with our fans in Paris and it was such a perfect atmosphere. I loved being intimate with the crowd, and as we went under each tunnel everyone cheered (it was a bit stifling at first as I thought they were cheering the music, but it transpired they were more excited by being under a bridge – which was a bit of a kick in the teeth). I also think our last concert at Peckham Audio was pretty special!
I also believe you’re a bit of a hardware head. Can you tell me a bit about your setup and what it entails?
Yes, so I currently have: a Keystep Pro that sequences a Tanzbar 2, a Minilogue XD, a Juno 08A and the bass synth of the Tanzbar – which I love! Then for all the monophonic stuff I have a Beatstep Pro where I sequence a Vermona (probably my favourite sounding drum machine), a Moog Sub Phatty and a Neutron. The Beatstep then sends clock to a Tr8s and I also have an Electron Analog Rytm. It also sends clock to a Doepfer Dark Time that I can also use to control the Neutron, whilst providing CV and Gate info which I can control my Make Noise Tape and Microsound Music Machine with, syncing it with the drum machines. I will often write some music without a laptop – then once it’s recorded I can jump into Ableton to edit it. I also like sequencing all the hardware in Ableton using the Keystep Pro and Beatstep Pro to send MIDI to the different devices. Although I often make the best beats without any hardware at all…!
How do you typically approach a day in the studio? Do you generally have an idea of what you’ll be producing or do you just go with the flow?
I tend to just go with the flow, or edit a beat that I have previously made. As I just mentioned I tend to start something using my machines and then edit it on the computer. Often I will jam out with the modular and create some interesting, strange, rhythmical amalgamations of sound, layer it with some Vermona, then add some other percussion using the Tr8s or the Elektron. Although I have also learnt recently that this can result in sound design focused beats that lack distinctive musical elements – and so more recently have been writing with the instruments linked up to the Keystep Pro first. I can also send clock from the computer to the whole set up – although trying to control so many different things at once is a bit pointless!
I actually came across your music via a killer Doubting Thomas remix that he turned in for you. Are you ever worried with remix requests that they’ll interpret things in a manner you don’t like? Or how do you steer things so it doesn’t?
Mmm I guess a little bit – you’re always hoping that they churn in something as good as they’re best track. So for instance I was hoping with Aurelien aka Doubtingthomas that he would return something in a similar vein to his release on Eastenderz (my personal favourite of his). However on the whole you’re extremely excited – to hear an established artist interpret something that you have created. Luckily I am yet to have a remix made that has disappointed! Fingers crossed it stays that way. I wouldn’t give too much direction to a remixer, if at all, in case you step on their toes or accidentally limit their creative potential.
Can you tell us a bit about what you’ve got coming up musically over the past while?
I have just finished working on a remix for a Dutch DJ called The Policy, which will be released on PIAS soon. And I have a collaborative EP coming out on a new Argentinian label called Calmé music with my friend OOTB – who has just released a killer EP on Kanja Records! Other than that I am just finishing up some tracks for the next release on my own label License to Kill – and searching for a killer remixer to finish off the EP in style 😉
And finally, what have been your favourite tunes of this summer?
Stumbled upon this Ben Nevile banger the other day which has been a real favourite:
Also found this cheeky one on instagram:
I only recently discovered the ANOTR edit of Cog in the Wheel by Baba Ali too – that has been a real anthem!
Oden and Fatzo’s Lauren was also a pretty special discovery, in terms of finding that tasteful pop sweet spot!
And hearing Zip play this one at Houghton was pretty sick!
Also this is probably more last summer but my sister found the Posh 111 one that Traumer had been smashing recently which was a nice discovery! Thanks Frankie!
And this is the most recent record I bought:
Keep up with j03l here