“Last year, Hernan Cattaneo and I played for 15 hours at Stereo in Montreal. If the setting is right you can play for as long as you want, easy.” Speaking about his record-breaking back-2-back set from December 2016, Guy J’s enthusiasm for his craft is palpable. “If I play one of my own tracks in a club and it takes me back to where I was and how I felt when I made it, then it’s a success... from my end at least, ha!”
Lauded as one of the most emotive electronic music producers around today, Guy’s distinctly intimate connection to his work has provided him with international acclaim from the likes of John Digweed, who discovered a young Guy back in 2007, and led him to a number of releases on his iconic label, Bedrock Records.
Born in Tel Aviv, but now touring the world as an internationally-acclaimed DJ, Guy’s experiences have seen him take influence from a melting-pot of different sights, sounds and cultures from across the world. His latest release 'MDQ' is named after an airport in Argentina’s Mar del Plata, home of Mute Beach, a 12,000 strong party that Guy describes as, “the best I’ve ever been to in my life.”
The resonance between Guy’s euphonic sound and his personal outlook on the culture render his production a very personal extension of himself. It is perhaps for this reason that audiences the world over, from the beaches of Argentina to the underground tunnels of Liverpool, find him such an endearing producer and DJ.
Ahead of his March 4th date at the Williamson Tunnels for 303, James Zaremba caught up with Guy J for a chat about Israel’s defiantly-eccentric club culture, Indian pizza shops and his new record label, Armadillo.
Where are you now? I know when chatting with a lot of touring DJs they can be anywhere in the world when they’re on the other end of the phone!
I am at home in Malta. But I do have an incredibly busy touring schedule at the moment. I just got back from Australia and Asia. I played Electric Gardens Festival in Sydney and Rainbow Serpent Festival in Melbourne. Both were amazing and had a great energy; that’s what’s important! Next week, I’m off to South America where I’m playing at Warung Beach Club. It’s a club in Brazil submerged into the forest...
You grew up in Tel Aviv...How has your hometown has influenced your journey into electronic music? I heard the city has a big psytrance scene?
Tel Aviv is less hot on the psytrance but Israel in general has a big scene for it. If we’re talking about psytrance, some of the biggest names in the genre are coming out of Israel; Infected Mushroom, Astrix, Perfect Stranger - all have exploded out of the scene there. Growing up, I was more into Tel Aviv’s underground club culture; techno, progressive house, tech house has always been a big influence and motivator for me. Even today, the club culture is amazing in Tel Aviv. It’s a real 24 hours a day style city. I could compare it to Berlin but with a much, much more crazy lifestyle!
Your music does occasionally carry that trance edge to it; you’ve even sampled a seminal psytrance classic in Andy Ling’s ‘Fixation’ on your own track of the same name. Do you feel that being surrounded by that style of music when you were younger led to the development of your own sound?
Yeah of course. When I was younger I’d go to Love Parade in Tel Aviv. I went for the first time around about 2000; it was certainly an era when all this “classic” psytrance music was coming out. ‘Fixation’, John Digweed’s ‘Heaven Scent,’ all the most beautiful slower tracks that were becoming more progressive were coming out around this time and more noticeably around this festival.
Is there a political edge to Israel’s electronic music scene? Music is often a strong reflection of a culture’s social and political stability...
My music, and obviously people like Guy Gerber’s music and much of the popular psytrance is all very melodic. I think that because of the extreme lifestyle of living in Israel, with peace one day and instability the next, this environment has affected my reality. Essentially, living there and being part of that culture made me feel something different every day.
I went to Israel last year, at a time when it was definitely not at its most stable... you still see people out in the streets, filling up the restaurants and going to the clubs, the energy of the city is amazing. I’m not supporting either side here, but I have to point out that it’s the spirit of all the people that keeps the country going. It’s very easy for the outside world to see Israel differently.
It’s often considered that electronic music as an artform can offer people an opportunity to make music who may not necessarily have any formal musical education...considering how melodic your music is, can i assume you were taught music as a child?
When I was young, my parents got me a teacher for piano and my brother taught me guitar. To be honest though, I’ve forgotten everything, haha! At home we heard music all the time, I think that gave me a basis of music as a platform. I was also fortunate enough to have a teacher that taught me how to produce electronic music.
I can remember he once told me that, “When it comes to music, you either have it or you don’t have it.” So for me, it’s not always about being more educated or a better instrumentalist, some people are just fortunate enough to have that creativity inside of them. It’s not just a guitar, drummer and singer, your tools and options are limitless. I don’t think anyone in the world will ever understand the full abilities of electronic music.
A lot of your music is driven by the melody itself. That’s something I find unique about your sound, especially when you turn to progressive house as a genre. What do you produce first is it the melody or the drums or the bassline?
There is no pattern that I follow. I just turn on the computer, sometimes a really old project, and create. If I have an idea in my mind when touring I can come home and just produce it straight away. Immediacy is the beauty of electronic production. It’s not easy to find an original melody or idea that people can connect to, whether on the dancefloor or at home, so it feels great when people are into my music. Whenever I have an inspiring moment, I have to go and write the music. With the release of my latest EP, MDQ/Diagonal, I got home from MUTE with all this inspiration from the festival and created a track that took me back to that time and place.
The new EP marks another release for your own record label, Lost & Found. Where else are you going to take the project in 2017?
This year, we have Luca Bacchetti and Patrice Baumel joining the label, so we have some really different names coming up. The whole idea of Lost & Found is just to release good house music. It doesn’t have to be exactly what I play in my sets or what people categorise my music as. The ambition is one of honesty: to be able to release top quality electronic music. This year is going to be a great year!
Now that you have established yourself as a driving force in the progressive house scene, if I may put you in that category just for now, can you see yourself releasing music anywhere other than your own label?
Bedrock Records will always be like a home for me so I’d love to do more stuff there and work alongside John Digweed once again. With regards to releasing my music on other record labels, I don’t think it matters today, you know. The industry is going through a massive change. I don’t think it is necessarily so important where you release your music anymore. A record label can get you great exposure but if the track is not interesting then people may not be so inclined to keep listening.
Would you put that down to the explosion of online music sources?
If you open up Beatport or Juno and listen to a track and dislike it, you haven’t got to listen again but if you commit to buying a record then it becomes something else entirely. People don’t have to buy vinyl or a CD to find out what something sounds like anymore and likewise people no longer have to release on a famous record label to have their music heard. In the world that we live in, most of us don’t have time to listen to an 8-10 minute track. You listen quick...
It’s probably quite bold of you to introduce the melody a full 7 minutes into your latest track, 'MDQ', I suppose?
[Laughs] Yes! I’m lucky enough to now be in a space where I hopefully don’t have to prove myself quite as much. Not to disrespect my work obviously, but I feel I can now do more with my music than ever before. I’m constantly learning and adapting and I want my music to reflect that. There is an experimental freedom that comes with being a more established artist.
Is this where Armadillo Records gives you that artistic licence to explore new sounds?
Yes. Armadillo is my new label. Lost & Found has always allowed artists a lot of freedom but with my new label I want to take that further. It is pretty much a no-rules policy on the music, I want artists who release on the label to be able to really experiment with sound. Allowing them to be as abstract and as ambient as they desire will make for some really exciting releases.
We have a great team of producers lined up for it; Robert Babicz, Sahar Z, Guy Mantzur and Stelios Vassiloudis will all get to show people another side to their music that may not necessarily have ever been released! I’m especially looking forward to hearing how the songs will all work outside of the club, in people’s everyday lives.
Do you find this artistic freedom differs between various DJ sets as well? With the Williamson Tunnels being a very intimate venue, do you feel as if you can explore more sounds than when playing in front of thousands at festivals?
When I play in clubs, I play a lot of my own music so I always bring new tunes to present to the people. At the Williamson Tunnels I’m going to be playing almost open to close so that will give me that space to try and play some stuff I wouldn’t normally get to try out in big clubs.
Just finally, what’s this I hear about you having a pizza named after your record label?
[Laughs] There is a pizza spot out in Mumbai, India called Playlist. There are two pizzas actually, Lost & Found and Dizzy Moments. All the food on the menu is named after tracks or labels that he loves so I was lucky enough to get two spots. That’s my number one spot over there in India now!
I’ve been going out there for the last six years or so and now I go every year. The scene out in India is really booming at the moment. The people out there are incredibly passionate and very emotional people - they really connect with my style of music because it is very emotive. I get some really nice reactions out there whenever I DJ which is great.
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