Artist Feature: Kush Jones
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For our last show in 2020, we bring you US DJ and producer Kush Jones, famed for his fresh take on the footwork genre. As one of the most prolific new electronic dance musicians out there, the Bronx-based artist has kept his fans satisfied throughout the past year with monthly releases on his Bandcamp site, including his Strictly 4 My CDJZ series, which has showcased his talent as a multifaceted producer.
His powerful, fast-paced footwork sound flirts with acid, drum and bass, hip-hop, house, jungle, techno, and funk, but despite its eclectic nature, his music remains carefully crafted, possessing both a clarity of vision and a hyper-modern sensibility. For Carhartt WIP Radio, Kush Jones has conducted a mix consisting exclusively of his own material – some of which has already been released, with other tracks debuting for the first time.
As usual, we sat down with our host for a digital face to face, to talk about his artistic aims, possessing a relentless work ethic, his passion for footwork, and why “Kush Jones can do what he wants.”
One of the first things that came to our attention when exploring your work, was that everybody says you are always busy. Is that fair?
Kush Jones: Well yes, I am always into music. I very much use music as a tool to make sure that I'm okay. A lot of people have something that they always fall back on, or that they go to. For me, I always try to tap into music because, you know, when I have a shitty day, I'm gonna come home and work on something. It’s my safe place.
How did you come to find this safe place?
Kush Jones: The first time I got involved with music software was in high school. I was pretty young, like 15 or 16. There was an afterschool program where they taught music software. And the teacher of the class had his very special thing: he could fit his whole studio into his backpack. So, he had his computer, he had a little mixer and one keyboard. And he loved us all playing on it, it was cool. And I was like, “Yo, I want to do something like this.” I just took it from there.
But today you produce on more than just a computer?
Kush Jones: Yeah, I bought a lot of gadgets: a couple of drum machines like a 303 or a Korg Minimoog synthesizer, a Korg Volca modular, and a little four-track mixer. Before, when I was making music solely on the computer, I basically translated an idea into music very quickly. Because it's a computer, so you can be quick and throw a sound in wherever you want. Whereas the instruments and machines, everything is hooked up. It's all in sync. Now I basically take what I was doing on the computer and translate it to these machines. I'm a fan of sitting down and saying: I want to jam, I want to make music quickly.
As people can see on your Bandcamp page, where you announced your intention to release 40 albums in a year for your Strictly 4 My CDJZ series.
Kush Jones: Yeah, in the beginning, I thought so. I was like, I gotta crank out 40. But then I was also making projects in between that time where I was like, this doesn't fit the theme of my “Strictly 4 My CDJZ ” series, as it was meant to be a project for DJ tools. On the first couple releases I used samples, but then I was like, I don't want any samples. I wanna go forward. I want to make straightforward music, no samples, everything played out. And then in between that, I started doing projects with the footwork folks from Los Angeles. But again, it's a process. It's a journey. It's like when I get that I get there. I have music in the pipeline for that series and I have music in the pipeline for other things, too.
Is DJing a process for you too? Or rather, a competitive thing where you show your skills?
Kush Jones: A lot of times it's a bit of both, you know. Obviously, you want the people to be vibing on what you're doing. But you also want to learn to DJ differently in different circles like the footwork peers. So, when I play clubs where it's like a regular dance party and people have fun there, there is not much competitiveness. But, my favorite round to DJ is in the footwork circles. For the dancers. And there is a lot of competitiveness, because footwork is competitive by nature. So, the dancers are basically in a circle together and compete. And as a DJ, you have to play the music that is in sync with their moves, which is complex as footwork is very tight, precise, and technical – but at the same time also free. When you’re DJing and things are out of sync even slightly, and the dancer can't get it, then they're gonna look at you like: ‘You got one more time and then we get in somebody new.’ So, it can be tough, but it's one of my favorites to play at footwork parties.
Your own music is mostly instrumental. Did you ever consider singing or rapping on your productions?
Kush Jones: Ha, funny question. I mean, it's funny because everyone in New York at one point wants to rap, but I don't. I was always a writer, but more like poems and stuff. I never considered rapping for me. If I ever do it, I would do a spoken word album. When I talk with my friends about it, they laugh because they're like: ‘Yo, you have a lot of shit to say.’ And I'm just like. I do, so maybe I should just take what I say, put it in a positive energy and just be like alright, well, we have a record, you know.
In an older interview you said that through listening to the FM radio during your childhood and to the record collection of your grandparents, you heard a lot of music with positive messages. Messages that embrace life and teach something positive. Do you think this is something that modern music is missing?
Kush Jones: Yeah, back then you would listen to records about love and like how you should treat people right. And you'll hear all this with an uplifting spirit. Like nice melodies. Nowadays, not many people sing or rap about positive things. You know, just a song about how you love somebody and that you like to take care of them. A lot of people say that music isn't supposed to be political. I'm just like, ‘Yo, if you listen to a lot of the classics, they're talking about politics.’ Even about things we're dealing with today! I like that, as I feel music is a way for people to communicate because a lot of times people don't have an outlet. I feel like more people should be talking about what they need to in songs. I mean, Twitter is cool, but music is deeper.
And as a DJ, what do you like to play?
Kush Jones: I like to play footwork, juke, house, techno, rap. Lately, I've been playing more jungle, breaks, and Drum and Bass. And a lot more things, because I make a bunch of different sounds all the time. So naturally, if you make all kinds of music, then you go and play all kinds of music. If you go to most clubs that cater $25 drinks and have VIP and stuff, you have to stay constrained to a certain sound. Otherwise, the managers are in your face and say you need to switch back. But clubs I like, like Bossa Nova Civic Club or Mood Ring in Brooklyn, are booking you as an artist. They book you because of your style. But I have to tell a positive story about a manager coming up to ask for a change. We played at club Razzmatazz in Barcelona. It was me, Swisha, and Iberian Juke. We were there for playing footwork the whole night in June 2017 and they were going crazy. They loved it. I think it was me that switched to like dancehall. And the second I started to change it, someone came up to me and was like, ‘Yo, you need to go back to what you have been playing before.’ I never had that happen before. They said go back to playing footwork, because everybody came to dance to footwork. I was like ‘sure I’ll go back to it!’
Do you like to be seen as a footwork artist per se?
Kush Jones: No. I like footwork. I like jungle. I like different aspects and different sounds. I get tired of people just trying to categorize. I would like to hear them say: ‘Kush Jones can do what he wants.’ And I feel like every artist should feel that way because you could be from Chicago and make footwork, and then let's say you hear dubstep and your style changes, you include dubstep and even house. So, it should always be free. At least that's how I feel about it myself. It's like, I make music that I enjoy and much of the joy comes from just experimenting, and not having to be regular or constrained.
How do you feel Covid-19 has impacted your career?
Kush Jones: I can't DJ as often as I want, so, I said alright, what do we do now? Well, I'm home, so I can make more music. I was working at a job but then everyone got laid off. So I said, you know what, I'm just gonna focus on music fully. And I've been doing that. I'm making music every day, I'm trying to do something to stay busy every day. Sure, it sucks because like, I'm not getting gigs, but I'm not gonna be mad about it. I'm gonna continue working because nothing for me was taken away. It was just like, we're gonna postpone, we still want to involve you, we still want to work with you. I can't cry over spilt milk, it's gone. You know? So, during this period, I'm gonna make sure that I'm doing something constantly. That's why there was a release every month this year.
And there will be more to come?
Kush Jones: Yes, I am already working on the next project with Future Times. A double LP. I actually reached out to them and asked if they were interested in releasing something else, and Max hit me with the idea of doing a double LP. But yeah, I've just been trying to stay busy and make music.
Kush Jones discography