Weekly updates:

Music

Interview: J-Rocc

Russian rock music, J-Dilla and the Apple Watch

Posted by Finn Houlihan

Coming out of the golden age of turntablism in 1990’s Los Angeles, J-Rocc has ferociously developed his sound and trade tools while still maintaining the familiar warmth and stylings of his background. Coming up with the Beat Junkies crew and genre heroes like J Dilla, his credentials manifest themselves as the approval of his highly influential peers and friends. He’s also just a really nice dude who likes talking about the things he loves and as it turns out, we had some pretty common ground in that respect. We spent an afternoon talking about collecting vinyl in Japan and ’80s Russian rock music while he was down in Melbourne with the Red Bull Music Academy. Check it out after the jump and if you want to know more about the ‘Roc(c), go read up on the time we discussed his favourite spots to stock up on vinyl.

Hey J Rocc, how are you?

Good man, you?

I’m good! In 2011 when you were speaking to the Red Bull Academy about the standalone qualities of Some Cold Rock Stuf, you said you didn’t want it to be a release that just showcased your talents on two tracks with the rest straight collaborations. Then last year, you were involved with one of the most well curated collaborative efforts of 2011 with Axel F and MED. Was that indicative of a personal artistic progression?

It was just to branch out and do something different. Me and MED were working on stuff prior to that and making real beats instead of scratching up breakbeats and stuff like that with him rapping. It just turned into something. One song turned into all these other songs and it was just like “oh, we’ve got an album here!” so it just turned into something. I definitely wanted to make a production type album so I”m not just Mr DJ Guy all the time and let people who bought Cold Rock Stuf know I can work with rappers also.

When you did an Essentials spread with Hypetrak, you mentioned bringing incense on your travels. Are you someone who likes to take home comforts with you wherever you go?

It’s cool to have home stuff when you’re on the road. It just depends on where I’m travelling to and where I’m going to be. This sounds silly but Asia, to me, their incense isn’t smoky and overpowering so when I’m out there, I always clean up on that but something I always have with me is a speaker to hook up to my computer and a few things like that. As much as possible, but I can’t bring everything from home with me.

I get the impression you appreciate the quality and order of Japanese products. Is the distinctly Japanese approach to products, niche objects and precision something that appeals to you?

Now that you mention that, I would have to say yes. Japan has probably the best stuff as far as audiophile equipment. Needles, .45 adaptors and of course the reissues they put out. I wouldn’t say Japan is ahead of the curve, I would say they embrace what’s going on and have good gimmick ideas. They have a good idea of knowing what to make. Like the .45 adaptors I mentioned, it’s a guy who probably just got tired of crappy ones and he knows a guy that’s an actual ironworker or moulder and has starting making them on his off-hours. They just get more into things and are more into detail.

Yeah, a lot of Japanese ware makers will take one element of their passion and that becomes their defining quality.

And they absolutely kill it, yeah! Even at Tower Records out there.

That massive five story one?

Oh my goodness! The CDs are so crazy! Somebody will get the license for West End or South Soul and they just reissue every album they can think of. It’s crazy the way they do things; they give it 100%. They won’t just make a best of compilation of some label. They’ll reissue every album on CD, they’ll have DJ Muro make a mixtape, they’ll have so-and-so make a mix. They give it their all out there.

You’re one of the few DJs who have come out of the analogous era of early ‘90s turntablism and you’ve brought your insights almost completely into the digital era. Is that a disparity that you ever struggle with or is the ability to evolve something that comes naturally?

Nah, I love it. I love the technology. Ask any of my DJ buddies, I’m definitely one of those dudes who wants to get all the new stuff. I hate waiting or asking a company to get something because I have to wait for them. If I see something I want to try out, I’ll buy it.
Z-Trip was one of the first DJs I saw with a Pioneer 500 effects box. I went home that next day and bought one. I love technology. Anything to do with any advancement. I’m into Ableton and all that, I love it. I’d hate to be that dude still lugging records around. That’s for the birds. Been there, done that.

Also, if your records are your babies, then you risk damaging them and that’s even worse.

For sure! And I digitise half my stuff. I’m at home recording albums all day long. I’m always digitising my own collections, I’m not a dude downloading off a blog. I don’t feel guilty playing off of my computer because half the old stuff on my computer I’ve recorded off the wax myself.

It’s gotten to that point where if you’ve digitised it yourself and matching that to timecoded vinyl on platters with Serato, the differences cease to matter.

Definitely, because it’s first generation dub. You’re the first dude to record it. Otherwise, you can hear files when they get copied and copied and copied and copied- you can hear it. A guy just told me they call that effect ‘pink noise’. I don’t like the pink noise, kick that out.

I don’t know if I agree with this, but people often say a sign of a good DJ is when you don’t know when they’re transitioning between tracks and I think degraded audio quality between tracks is the sign of an untrained DJ.

Yeah. It’s definitely bad to go from CD quality down to an MP3 quality track. You can definitely tell the difference between the two, no matter what anyone says. You have to train your ear, but you can definitely hear the difference in both files.

I’ve seen you rep an iPod Nano as a wristwatch. Reckon you’ll cop the Apple Watch?

No. I don’t want everything syncing up to my body, basically. I kind of like the Nano more because it had different faces and I could listen to music on a plane with it. I like to wear a watch so it was just helpful in that sense. The Apple watch, I don’t want to be Dick Tracy making phone calls with my wrist and always being accessible. Sometimes I like to leave my phone at home when I go run errands and when I go to the store or record shopping.

If it’s on your watch, my goodness gracious, you can’t get away from nothing. You’re gonna be like “Man, I called you! I know you got it cos you got it because I’ve seen you with that Apple Watch, man! You can’t call me back?” and I’ll be like “Uhhhh” I’ll have no excuse anymore! It’s gonna be ringing right there on my wrist.

 

“As long as you know about me, that’s all that matters.”

 

I never considered that point, actually.

C’mon man, I need some quiet time every now and again. You’re gonna be in the bathroom and it’ll start ringing! Oh, man. There’ll be no escaping your phone. My nephew has the Samsung one. He’s with it and it’s crazy. I need to get another iPod Nano, I lost that old one I had that you’re talking about.

Your Beats on Tap(e) cover is a Soundcloud smartphone display and that graphic on the analog medium of cassette tape is really striking. Is that an idea you had?

Yeah, kind of. I just wanted to make a beat and I didn’t want to put it on CD. Eventually I’ll make a volume 2 but really, I just wanted to make a cassette. In the states, everyone’s buying cassettes right now. It’s a big comeback for tapes so I was like “shoot, I’ma make a tape”. I went to Stones Throw and told them the idea and they were like “okay, what’s the title?” and then Jeff Jank created the cover. It took less than two weeks for everything after I turned in the CD master.

If you hear the tape at the beginning, I take an A-Roadium mixtape Dr Dre cut and that’s Dr Dre in the intro talking about “you got ganked” and ganked means there’s nothing on that tape and the joke’s on you. I jacked that from a Dre tape, took a tape and put it on a tape, super dirty. [Laughs] I wish I had some copies with me to show you.

You run with the Beat Junkies, got a strong history with Dilla, done work with MED, done work with Madlib. Have you noticed a renaissance with your sound in terms of fan appreciation or has it been consistent over the years?

It’s been pretty consistent. I would say I get newer people jumping aboard more than anything. The people who came up with me are too old to go out, basically. They got kids, they got family. The people that are seeing me now are people that got hip to me 2-3 years ago. I do have long time fans, for sure, but I get new people on a regular basis. As long as you know about me, that’s all that matters.

 

“The people who came up with me are too old to go out, basically. They got kids, they got family.”

 

You’re lifting samples like that Dre sample which is semi-obscure, you’ve used what I think is a Bollywood sample-

Yep! Cold Rock Stuf has that sample you’re talking about.

Yeah. Some of your lifts are crazy obscure or just so far out of an expected vein of influence that it’s immediately striking. What’s the weirdest stuff you’ve found that you’ve felt compelled to incorporate?

Russian music. There’s a compilation from these LA Guys named Hit ’n Run and they have Gaslight, Ras G, all the LA cats and they asked me to make something for them and I had this Russian loop and it was the craziest thing ever. I made it more of a new wave type beat. It’s some Joy Division, New Order type stuff. That’s probably the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard and felt so compelled by it. I wish I knew Russian to tell what he was singing about.

Russia and Germany have the weirdest music as far as the rock goes. I like to buy a lot of the foreign rock stuff when I go overseas.

Definitely with Russian and German too. Speaking broadly, you quite often get these songs where they’ve taken a MIDI guitar sample or something, you know what I mean?

Definitely, I do know what you mean. That’s probably why I gravitate to it so much because it already sounds like a sample of some sort.

Yeah, and then it’s in the top 20 in that country’s charts and it seems so strange, especially with Russia, that they have access to conventional Western rock music but there’s no clear differentiation when it comes to reproducing an authentic rock sound.

I like it because they hear American rock in ’72 or the ‘80s or whatever and you can hear them trying to replicate it but they don’t know how do they do it in their style which makes it even more fascinating. It makes it so much better for me because they’re messing up along the way but it’s the difference that makes it sound so great.

You’ve seen a huge evolution in emergent music scenes over the last two decades, especially in LA. Have you in any way been involved in the current curation and construction of the National Museum of African American Music opening in 2017?

No, what is that? In 2017.

Yeah, they’re trying to create these in-depth displays and exhibits of predominantly black music movements. Ma Dukes donated a bunch of Dilla’s original gear so it’ll be on display there.

I have that [stuff] at my house! I didn’t even hear about any of that. 2017, huh? Okay. I know his sampler and his keyboard are on display at the Smithsonian. I didn’t even know about that man. I’ma do some research. I’m going to have to check that out. Got a little while to wait, but I’ll remember that.

Weekly updates


Weekly updates