'Still Hittin' 'em Outta The Park!'
For the past decade, Los Angeles native John Kelley has been considered one of North America’s foremost breaks DJs - a true pioneer of the West Coast sound. Over the past few years, he has been busy perfecting a selection of edgy, well-crafted tracks that combine his signature desert breaks with a new flavor of hard tech-hop and broken beats.
John Kelley was originally known for his sets at Full Moon Gatherings. The influential series of raves held in the deserts outside Los Angeles during the mid-'90s created an emergent sound, led by breakout producers like Crystal Method, Überzone, Bassbin Twins, and Electric Skychurch. Fused with the breakbeat genius of UK acts such as Leftfield and Underworld, Kelley pushed the intensely funky, hard sound of breakbeat techno from the underground into the masses.
The release of his debut artist album, A Night in the Park, marks a new chapter in Kelley’s long-standing career and, most notably, his transformation from DJ to world-class producer.
Chatting recently with John, I first wondered what makes him one of North America's foremost breaks DJ?! "Woah! If I answer am I admitting to it? I’m just a beat junkie at heart and play what I dig. I like hard, funky beats and love to work a crowd…making people smile and shake their asses makes my night. I think that’s what people respond too."
'A Night In The Park' combines your signature desert breaks along with some hard tech-hop beats, but why has it taken so long to come to musical fruition? "Too much on my plate, dammit! I’ve also always found touring exhausting and that left little time to focus on production for me…just wanted to sit on my ass on the beach after flying all weekend! It was really very frustrating after a while. There was a lot to learn as well, from arranging to songwriting and production as well. Or maybe I’m just slow!"
With regard your new album, where did its title originate? "Ha! I’ve gotten that a lot already. Well, the name of the SONG comes from the idea I had in my head when writing the song. It was kind of a cinematic vision I suppose. I imagined this guy having a bad night walking through a park in LA or some other urban area…just runs into trouble you know? …ends up running for his life due to bad luck followed by more bad luck, kind of humorous really. I wanted the album to have an urban feel to it and felt the song captured that and was a good example of that as well."
Which new track are you most proud of - and why? "Hmmm…well, that’s a tough one. I don’t know if I can really pick just one. I was very happy with the way 'Desert Days' came out, but I think 'Eighty-Eight' and 'Sky Dye Drive' were the most rewarding. They involved the most collaboration and it was cool to see it all come together on all three."
Paint a picture of those nights performing your sets at the Full Moon Gatherings! "Man. It was pretty f**king cool. Full moon, dry desert lake bed, 70-80 degree weather in the summer at night, and a line of headlights that just kept coming and coming…the crowd just going for it…I remember looking out on the dance-floor at our 1 year anniversary and the whole crowd was just going berserk. The best part is the sunrise and the morning. Lots of smiling faces. Lots of great memories. I was very lucky to be a part of that."
Tell me more about your first DJ paycheck and what you used it on! "Records! I was so stoked to be able to have some cash to pay for records that actually came from playing them. I was like…”Cool, I can actually pay for my hobby now.” It was funny at the time too. I had such a fun time playing and then the promoter is handing me cash on top of that. Surreal."
What other DJs are currently out there that you admire ... and why? "Doc Martin, DJ Dan, and Carl Cox are at the top of the list but there are a whole host of others: all those guys that are out there because they love it, not because they love the notoriety and all the perks. Doc, Dan, and Carl all really conduct themselves professionally and just love DJing. They are always talking about the crowd and music, not frequent flyer miles and crap like that. Plus, they are all wicked DJs."
Have you ever had a major electronic breakdown mid-set which resulted in a rather embarrassing moment for you?! "SO many! It’s not really embarrassing though, it’s usually not your fault but people always look at you like it is. This isn’t really electronic but the worst is when some trashed guy/girl comes by and bumps the decks or worst yet, stops the record or something. Everyone stops dancing and looks up at you with a look that’s like, “What the f**k are you doing?” It always seems to happen right when the dancefloor is getting ramped up too. As far as electronic…mmm…yeah, buggy equipment sucks…happens a lot in the desert when sand gets into just about everything!"
What cheesy '80s song would you love to cover if asked ... and why?! "Cheesy? There are no cheesy 80’s songs! Hmmm…I dunno maybe something like Tears for Fears' 'Everybody Wants To Rule The World' could be made into a nice morning house track…or 'Come On Eileen' :P"
If there were just 3 words that described John Kelley's music, what would they be? "Dark, hard, and funky!"
Finally, if you were asked to record a single for charity, and had to choose 3 other musicians to aid you in the project (including a vocalist!), who would they be, what instruments would they play, and what would the name of the song be?! "Lennon on vocals, Hendrix on guitar, and Bonham on drums performing, 'Peace in the Middle-East.' I guess I’d just stand around in awe and gawk the whole time!"
Interviewed by Russell A. Trunk
If you would like to win an AUTOGRAPHED copy of John's brand new CD, just answer this easy question: John Kelley is the legendary pioneer of what well-noted breakbeat?!
Send me your answers and if you're correct you'll be in the running to win one of these great new CDs! Just send us an e:mail here before October 31st with your answer and the subject title 'JOHN KELLEY SIGNED CDs' to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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