From posting home videos to dedicating much of his music to his children (i.e. ‘Father Feelings’ album, and lyrics in his latest ‘Brothers’ ep) Jus-Ed is not afraid to show how much of a family guy he really is. That’s him, Jus-Ed, and he doesn’t give a Jams Fuck about what you think! In fact, he is probably considered like a father to many, if not several hundreds, even thousands, thanks to his tunes that have been played out constantly by established Djs around the world, and of course his Underground Quality label & crew he set up and nurtured over the past decade. Jus-Ed is one of THE fathers of the underground. He is also a truly heartwarming, spiritual dude, and it’s not just his dreadlocks that give it away. Listen to him educate you and you will understand. We get a good dose ourselves on one unusually warm summer day at Peckham’s Number67 cafe…
Hey Jus-Ed, how’s it going? This summer you celebrated more than 10 years of Underground Quality with your first UQ festival in Berlin! You played alongside your wife Jenifa Mayanja, with who you officially married earlier this year. Firstly, congratulations!! And secondly, how did you two meet?
I went to a rooftop party in Manhattan and that’s where I saw her playing records. I was completely blown away. I kept thinking that I had to get close to her and that I love her taste in music! I gave her my CD and a flyer, and invited her to my party. When she turned up the only thought that went through my head was that I needed to get behind the tables! I wanted to impress her. She wasn’t paying me any mind but later that evening I ended up giving her a ride home to Brooklyn and we must have talked for 3 hours straight. I liked the fact that I could say what I wanted to say. I’m an honest guy. I don’t have any regrets from my past. I’ve spent a lot of time growing up, making peace and amends so that I now have a clear conscience. This is who am I, this is where I come from. It was also a way for me to tell her, “Listen, I like you, and if we’re going to do anything you need to know upfront I’m a broke unit. I’ve been refurbished, I’m running well, I have a life time warranty provided I don’t use any drugs or drink, and you’re the first woman that I’ve met that who I feel is very intelligent, you have input, and you don’t want anything from me.” We became friends and that’s how it started. She was the one with the DJ career and the party! I wasn’t playing at the time. I remember saying to her, “you have a record out? Oh shit!” [laughs]
It must be something special to meet in a different country to play together.
Yes, very exciting. No matter how attractive DJing is, it is still very lonely. Who wouldn’t want their partner, the love of their life to be at the gig with them. (So you don’t have to flirt with your co-worker!). And when you go back to the hotel you’re not by yourself or forced to be in a situation where you’re with somebody for instant gratification, to not feel lonely. It is a pretty lonely job. It’s also difficult to be in a relationship when you’re on the road all the time. Or if you have kids, you miss out on so much because you’re often away.
My wife and I, we’ve been together for 11 and half years now. I support her 100% and vice versa. But not to the extent that we’re co-dependent, I can’t function like that and neither can she, you end up sucking the life out of the other person. You have to have the ability to be by yourself.
So going back to your gigs, whenever you play at a big venue do you find it challenging to engage with the crowd? I guess you must be used to it by now?
When I first came out of retirement and started doing my own parties, my crowd totaled twenty to thirty people. In the last couple of years I’ve started playing for larger crowds so I’m not as intimidated as I was initially. It’s nerve racking at times but it’s exciting too.
There’s also the personal element. I love being able to reach out and touch somebody in front of the DJ booth, or even single out someone and see that they’re really grooving and wave out to them. At the larger events, you’re waving to the crowd as opposed to an individual. But I do still seek out individuals and try to make eye contact. The more popular you become, the bigger the audience you have and the less personal you can be, perhaps less accessible from the crowd’s perspective. But yeah, I’m still learning from this.
You’ve gained a lot of popularity but you manage to be consistent in the quality of your music. Why do you think it happens to so many artists, that when they gain more fans they tend to lose the quality of the music they deliver?
Over the years I’ve discovered artists and labels and have been very excited about the releases but yeah it has seemed like the quality of the music and the artist’s passion has become less strong as they’ve gotten bigger and bigger. For me, I wasn’t trying to be the number one DJ, or the most popular. I just make my music from the inside, and the only way I could do that without any interruption in the quality, was to own the label myself. I decide what’s going to be released. I also distribute my own music, so I decide what’s going to be sold and when it’s going to be sold. I think that’s one of the main factors: it’s up to me what I want to do and what I don’t want to do.
Do you ever do things that you don’t want to do?
No. With DJ gigs, if the agency strongly suggests that I do a gig because I need the exposure, then yeah I’ll do it but as far as music goes, I don’t compromise on that at all. Any of the artists that I’ve worked with over the years, they’ll tell you… I’ll say, “yeah I like this one, no I don’t like these two. You have to send me something else”.
Why did it take so many years to release this EP?
Well because four years, actually almost 5 years ago, we started work on it and we weren’t able to get back into the studio to finish the tracks, to get them to the level we wanted, get them just right. We’d been playing the music but on the business side of things, it wasn’t yet a finished product.
I learned early on, on my second release actually, that you should never rush to release a record. Once it’s released, that’s it! My second record, the UQ004, out of 500 copies only 100 were sold.
Well that was quite early on so…
Yeah but that was at the time when the vinyl business was still good, before it took a dip. The music that I was releasing was too far advanced. It took two years to sell that record and now I can’t keep the record for myself. But yeah you can’t rush to do things. I’ve put out records where I didn’t make the labels correctly. That was 005. I was so busy trying to release it that I messed up on the artist names and the label!
So how many copies did you have?
1,000 units. I had to leave it like that. Everybody was telling me not to worry, that I had record out. Now it’s a classic. [laughs]
What were the names you misspelt then?
Next Dimension – it should have been Joseph. And I didn’t get the track name right either! Everybody who works with me knows that I misspell names so over the years I’ve learnt how to do spell check. I’ve had fans telling me, “hey you misspelt this word!” But you know, some things I misspell on purpose.
Going back to the Brothers EP, can you tell me a bit about the story behind that? Move D was supporting UQ before anyone was supporting the label…
I don’t know how he found the records…oh wait I do know…Piccadilly, the record store. In the beginning Downtown was my distributor. When I finally met with David in Heidelberg, he took me to the record store (Piccadilly).
To be completely honest, in the beginning I thought he was too chummy [laughs].
But I thought Americans were naturally friendly with each other.
Ya ha ha there’s the street side. Not necessarily street side, but the African Americans side. Yeah we’re friendly, but we have also been taken advantage of over the years so we’ve learnt how to be more aware, to not trust in the first instance, read people and understand their angle.
When I first started out I had no booking agent. I was coming to Europe for the first time and I didn’t know the politics. And so I got into a big misunderstanding with one of the clubs, as the smaller club was booking me, and I didn’t understand about flight shares and the big club was yelling at me, “how could you do this? We’re booking you.” And I was like “look I don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about”. And David got in between and was like, “yeah you gotta be careful with that”. And we’re not talking on the phone or Skype. It was on the message board or he was sending me an email. I was like, “Who the fuck was this guy, telling me where I can play or can’t play? Just mind your business!” I did tell him that and then I blocked his email. I was very rude to him…Yeah, that was very immature.
So I learnt a lot and very quickly. David continued to be, in my opinion, like water on a duck’s back. He was always loving the label, the music and he supported the radio show. Then, when I went to Heidelberg to play a gig I finally met him and I felt like such an asshole. I met his crew. I had played for forty-five minutes and then the sound system went off! So I played for like an hour and a half with just one monitor. It was brilliant! There was too much love! I’m embarrassed to say this but it’s the honest truth, it wasn’t until two or three years later, as we became really good friends. After that, I went to Heidelberg for the second time and we actually mentioned working in the studio together. I have to also admit that I was shy – I’m not great with drum machines and other equipment like that. I felt I would be off balance but David is a master and a great teacher, he made me feel so comfortable, my creativity flowed and we worked really well together.
To be honest, when it comes to making music I don’t work well with a lot of people. I don’t do studio time with everybody, but with David it felt so natural, like an extension of my creativity. We’re also close to the same age, he’s a family man too so he has the same interests and responsibilities, also the same struggles.
When he came to Berlin to do a jam session at Tape club, I had a moment of clarity where I realized that I had never apologized to him for my initial behaviour. I asked for his forgiveness, he was so receptive “don’t worry about that Brother, I understand.” We hugged each other. It was an emotional moment. We’ve been brothers since. He’s been there for me and I’ve been there for him. Whenever we need each other we are there. So there you have it!
The first time we went into the studio he was really impressed by my work ethic, if I’m going to make music I go and I do it, and I was really impressed by his mastery of all the equipment. He pressed “record”, we started going and made those four tracks in four days. That’s when “It’s a Struggle” was born. I wrote the lyrics in the studio because I was struggling. If you listen to the lyrics, you’ll understand:
“How can I break your heart to let you know I’ve gone astray? Struggle.”
And then you hear the part about forgiveness:
“I need a day, I need a year to let you know that our love is true”.
It’s poetry drawn from a real life experience but it was also representative of what David was going through. You’ll have to interview him and he’ll tell you his side of the story but we were both struggling, big time. We were taking the negatives from our lives and using our artistry to make something positive.
In the description of The Brothers EP it’s written “Move D and DJ Jus-Ed pay tribute to the genre ACID”. Why Acid? What makes you attracted to this sound?
Four and a half years ago there weren’t many popular acid tracks, so David and I brainstormed. I was adamant that I wanted to make some acid music and since he has a museum of drum machines and equipment, the 303 became the center point around that. Five years ago the sound would have been ahead of everything else out there. We’ve been playing the track out for the last four years and the movement has developed.
As an artist you’re always trying to figure out how to reinvent yourself, you want to stay attractive to your audience, to your fans and you want to be innovative. I don’t know if we’re necessarily innovative in the equipment that we use as it’s the same equipment that people have been using since they started making music but we’re innovative in how we do it. It’s very reminiscent of the eighties where the microphone was left on and you could hear the other things going on in the background. You’ll often hear us saying “Are you ready brother? Are you ready for this? Yeah, check it”. I like to leave all these things in. Cos this is a jam session and we’re in the studio and it’s just me and him vibing. Just by listening to the track you can feel how much love, passion and energy we have for what we do. It’s embodied in our music, and in that way our music engages the crowd, especially the women!
How did you find their reaction to your new EP when you played it out?
Every other month we were saying to each other that we needed to get together and put it out. We never put a big hype around it as the production wasn’t finished. We always played it in our sets, either separately or together and watched. That’s the beauty of being a DJ, you can actually try your stuff before it gets released: to see if it’s really going to work!
Do you play lots of unreleased tracks in your sets?
Oh yeah, absolutely. People are always asking me what I’m playing, I tell them that it’s one of mine but that it’s not out yet.
“When is it going to be out?”
It’s often still in the simmering stages as I want to see how it works on the dance floor. I do feel that women and dancers are more expressive, the gay community too, about letting music tell their body what to do. There are some tracks that are formulated so that you know when the break is coming; it’s engineered correctly so it’s a hyped track but when you have something that’s free flowing and there’s space in between the music, you can add your own vocals, you can add your own video to the rhythm of the music. People that are passionate about music- dancers and musicians- always gravitate to my music because it gives you the freedom to be creative in your own mind. And wow, when it comes to dancing I prefer to make my own lyrics whilst I’m dancing to a groove, as opposed to being told what I should think or how I should feel. That’s a big difference between my music and other people’s music. I’ve had major producers ask me, “What is the formula?” But there is no formula.
It could be complete nonsense mathematically but if it works and you present it properly, that’s how to do it, that’s how I do it. Like I said earlier, I make music from the inside to represent where I’m at emotionally in my life and I don’t worry about anybody trying to cookie cut. Each piece is original. Even if I gave you all the elements to make the track you still couldn’t reproduce what I do.
There are certain artists that have their unique sounds. Fred P is one of them, DJ Qu is another, Joey Anderson, Anton – these guys, I consider them way more advanced than me as far as production is concerned. You hear a record and you ask, Is this QU? Is this Fred? Aybee is another one. Those guys are prolific. Me, I’m like a pit bull, I just charge at what I’m doing. If you like it, great, if you don’t, I don’t give a fuck. [laughs]
How much of the music you play is your music and UQ music? Do you ever dig for other records or do you tend to stick to your music?
To be honest since I started, my music has always been very awkward. People tend to like it or love it. There’s a lot of my music that didn’t fit with what the masses were making so it was difficult for DJs to incorporate a Jus-Ed record into their sets. Omar S once told me, “play your music when you DJ…if you don’t play it who’s gonna play it?” So that’s always been my mentality.
Initially I was playing 40% my music and 60% other people’s music but as I grew the label and the roster of the catalogue, I was able to incorporate more sounds and more music that worked with what I’m doing. The plan initially was to find people who shared my mindset of music. And then I’m able to sell my sound even more so because it’s more palatable. I’m not doing anything that hasn’t been done before. For example, Motorbass, they’re doing all kinds of musical rhythms, samples, vocal stabs, and you say, “this track is bananas!” but then you ask how does that go with a regular 4/4 track?
Me, I always play leftfield and over the years I’ve been trying to master the art of creating energy with different genres, from old school to new school, from techno to tech house, from deep house to commercial house, progressive to trance. I play everything! That’s what pitch is for. There are certain techno tracks that you play at a normal speed and it just does nothing. But if you pitch it down to a minus 4, all of a sudden it becomes super sexy. I’ve always played records as an instrument. I’ve never thought of it as “this is the hot record that you guys have been waiting for”. I play records musically, to create a vibe, sometimes euphoric, sometimes emotional.
Like Koze! You go to see Koze play because you love him and you know that you’re going to have a good time. DJ Harvey is another DJ that I respect. Just to do name drops if you will [laughs]. Those two guys stand out right away. Charles Webster is another, again Motor City Drum Ensemble, even though their music is mostly classic disco and rnb, but it’s the way they play it! Theo Parrish, also another one. I didn’t know any of these guys when I first started but that’s the way I feel that music should be played. It also comes from the guys that I used to listen to on the radio: Tony Humphries, Timmy Regisford, Vic Money.
In the eighties I would play the instrumental of Phil Collins’ “Sussudio” but I would play the acapella of La Di Da Di over it. I was forced to be creative like that. Working back then, and I worked for the Marriott hotel, you would be bound by the billboard charts. You’d actually be fined if you played something that wasn’t on the charts! You had to chart everything at the end of the night. The hotels owned the records and they gave you the money to buy the records and you would have to buy the label’s releases that were out on the billboard charts… It was well organised… also a pain in the ass! [laughs]
Then I would cross over: I would play Lisa Lisa “I wonder if I take you home” but I would jack it with Strafe’s “Set it off”. [Sings] “Set it off on the left y’all, set it off on the right y’all”.
And this wasn’t on the charts but it’s how I got my education. I was someone that just wanted to play music… I broke all the rules. Vic Money was another one. He was bound to the radio FM and had to play according to the charts. So what would he do? He would always play an instrumental version of a charted track and dub the vocal version over the track and everybody would be hollering at him, “Go Vic! Go Vic!”
So this is how I experienced how music was to be presented. I have my own patented mixes. I do live edits, for example I’ll play “House Music” by Eddie Amador and I’ll jack it with Copacabana. Only a few DJs can keep up because Copacabana is not quantified. That’s a live band playing so if the bass player went off or the drummer went off, it went off! You also have extreme pitching, like +4, -4 to keep up with quantified records like “House Music”. Once you get through that labor of love, for me, that’s working! Not like with a laptop where you can loop one segment of it, or even with CDJs where you can loop and play a record easier. Vinyl is a different story. It’s a skill set.
Let’s talk about your Jus-Nomaly EP. How did you come about it?
Over the years I’ve tailored my music so that it’s more DJ friendly, so that there’s always a minute intro with a rhythm so that people can mix in, but Jus-Nomaly is Jus-Ed…unbridled Jus-Ed. [laughs] Some of my music is intentionally off, like “Katzbach Gruv” – that’s the one with the strings and the heavy kick. I was impressed by the number of people who gravitated to this record. I’ve had more women come up to me with the video clip, “Wha-what is this?” I see the video and I’m like hey that’s mine! Oh shit thank you! And that’s really a treat because I don’t know what record is going to make the most impact.
There was a writer in Chicago – he was the first person to nail me accurately – he wrote, “Jus-Ed’s music is the line between House and Techno”. That’s exactly it! I’m not house and I’m not techno, I’m in the line that divides it. That’s where I sit.
And so after spending over 10 years helping artists, helping their careers take off, my DJ profile has taken a hit somewhat. I need to focus on my music, my production and putting out my tracks. In the last 2 years I’ve stopped taking outside music and artists and for now I’m only releasing Jus-Ed’s music. I actually have another EP that came out only recently. It’s called Goatee UQ061 and it’s me and Mr. G.
Mr. G and I are both Goatee brothers. That’s why I named it that.) I’ve been playing it out for the last 6 months. Another romper!
You’re focusing on your productions. Are you still going to be collaborating with other labels like CUP?
UQ has been distributing independent labels on an invitation only basis. I haven’t opened it up to the public because I’m not interested in trying to push a lot of music. There’s a whole process. I want to distribute timeless music from certain artists. I’ve had this with Diego Gamez and his Deep House label. His Travelling Through Phases EP has just been released. Then CUP, the Danish based label, of course. You can check out all the latest releases on the UQ website www.undergroundquality.com.
It seems like you are doing a lot of things.
Yeah, that I love! And streamlining! So yeah, this is the first public announcement that UQ is doing distribution, and it will be based in Germany next year. UQ is moving to Germany in 2016!
I guess moving to Germany is naturally the next step…
My business and my customers are based in Europe, UK and Asia. It’s all based over this way. That’s one thing. The second thing is that all my gigs are over here and the transatlantic travel is wearing me thin. If business is better in another place, the best thing is to relocate. The other aspect is that I can provide a better level of education for my children here in Europe. There are also better opportunities to travel and see the world, whilst they’re still young. I don’t want them to be tunnel visioned. I want to use what is accessible to me to provide opportunities for my family. If I were an IT guy, I would move to Utah and live like a king, but I’m not! [laughs] And besides, there’s no scene in Connecticut for what I’m doing, for what I’m good at doing. I can’t do it where I’m based in the States, it’s too far away and by the time the money trickles down to me, I’m barely making it. The records for example, the records are so expensive because they’re coming from the States but once I’m here in Europe, the records will be more accessible. This is what will work for me and my family, me and my wife and my kids.
What words of advice would you give to DJs that are just starting out?
Don’t be consumed with music. That’s an off balance. You need to continue your education, you need to keep a social aspect in your life and above all else, you need to do a personal inventory of yourself. Even though music is your passion, you still need some type of balance – you need to take care of yourself. Just because you’re wearing nice clothes or you smell good, or you have good diction, that doesn’t mean that you’re taking care of yourself. Just because you have money in the bank that doesn’t mean that you’re taking care of yourself.
In this day and age, the industry in house music and more generally the underground scene is not the industry of old. The industry is me. The industry is the independent label. That is the new industry. We’re pressing our own records, we’re distributing our own music, we’re caring for our own artists. There’s no life binding contracts anymore. For sure they’re still out there; the other day I asked my best friend, and he’s been a car salesman for over 30 years, “Don’t you ever think that at some point you’ve sold the last car?” He replied, “Ed, there’s a seat for every ass, there’s an ass for every seat”. [laughs] That’s the saying of the car salesman, and that applies as a general rule.
Me, I encourage new artists to also trust the process. Now the younger generation thinks that you have to be high to make music. I’ve been asked a few times whether I’ve been high when I’ve made certain records. I wonder if that’s an insult or a compliment. To be honest with you, I don’t get high. I did that years ago. I’ve never made any music high…ever. My point is that if you are blessed with talent, you have it. The guys that ended up dying because of drug abuse, it’s because they didn’t keep the balance. They didn’t exercise; they didn’t have anyone encouraging them to exercise their social skills. They retreated to isolation and they used music as the answer to all. When their confidante, their lover wasn’t satisfying them anymore, they turned to drugs, which took their talent down a different path. But your talent is a God given gift. How you care for it, that’s your choice. And there are great artists who have survived drug abuse: Paul McCartney, Sting – who now use their talent to do even more incredible things. The downward spiral is not an inevitable though, I guess it’s a part of the process if you choose to go down that road.
So yeah, trust your creative process and make sure you get out of the studio and breathe fresh air, exercise and eat food. Because the bottom line is that you either have talent or you don’t. You can’t force it.
You can learn it, can’t you?
You can always learn to beat match. You cannot however learn to be a great music selector. That’s something you inherit. You could say, “oh that guy’s mix was so tight, it’s seamless”. But then all I’m thinking about is getting into my bed right now. Oh I got to get to work in the morning. As opposed to the person who would lose a million dollars if he was asked to mix two tracks without messing up [laughs] but instead the next track that he played rocked the party to another level, it was fucking phenomenal! This is selecting!
So you think you can’t learn talent?
When you have talent you have to practice. At home, I take two records and I practice, and make them sound like one. I record my sets because I’m always trying to perfect what I do. This comes naturally as an artist. And yes I can teach you (whether you have the gift or not) – you can learn to mix records, you can learn to beat match but to be an entertainer. That is something else. You either have it or you don’t. There is the chorus line, the people who have learnt to entertain. Then there’s the lead singer who has the gift to carry the fucking show, without the chorus line, because they’re naturally gifted. Whether they’re strung out on drugs or not, the raw talent is in them. Like great architects. Everyone can go to a school to be an architect. But there are only a few great architects because they have that gift, they have that vision. Their lines are immensely clean, they’re not calculating. It’s a gift. Once you are able to find what your talent is, and that can sometimes be a whole life’s struggle… Then you will be on your way!
I always knew I was a good DJ and I always knew I was a good percussionist, but I didn’t have any mentor telling me, “hey you got the gift man!” and encouraging me to do pursue a career in DJ-ing so that’s why it took so long for me to come into what I’m doing now.
Another attribute to my talent is that I know talent. I know how to be able to spot talent from a mile away. Every artist on my roster is very gifted. Now what they do with it, that’s entirely up to them and they can testify to that. So if you have good taste in music, you know it.
I hate it when people ask me what I think of their track, I’m not your A&R. A&R get paid to decide whether something is good or not. I’m not getting paid to do this. I just can’t do it. My reply is that if you have good taste in music, then you know whether it’s good or bad. And if you can’t tell the difference in your own music then keep practicing!
Your Friend Ed Jus-Ed That is…
Thanks Ed! Really appreciate your openness and words of advice. To anyone reading this now, here’s Jus-Ed’s podcast for your listening pleasure…
Text edited by Kaajal Shah
Cafe photo by Number67
“Street Party” Photo by Grégoire Mariault