Justin James is an up-and-coming minimal and tech-house producer out of Windsor, Ontario. His latest breakthrough is his new track “Suck My Soul,” which stepped its way up the Beatport Genre Top 100 after being featured in Richie Hawtin’s recent recording for Mixmag. He’s also seen some major success on Imperanza and on Recovery House. Today, we’re going to chat with him about life in Windsor, his involvement with classic Detroit-area artists, and what the future holds for him.
It’s great to be talking to Justin James today! So, Justin, let’s jump right to the topic that’s on everyone’s minds: what it’s like to be a minimal techno producer out of the same city as the man whose name has become synonymous with the genre, Richie Hawtin. From the time I’ve spent in Windsor, it seems many people view him as a hometown hero. Do you feel inspired by Richie’s massive success, or does it put a lot of unnecessary pressure on you at this stage? Or both?
I feel very lucky to have grown up where I’ve grown up. I’m very fortunate to have the influences I have. Yes, Rich is a huge inspiration to me, but the link between Windsor and Detroit is what truly inspired me to fall in love with this music create the music I create. Rich though, in all his ventures, has been a huge influence. The way he conducts business through music is like no other around. He is a marketing and promotional genius. And, whether you like it or not, that is a huge part of this game these days. As a result not only am I inspired by what he does artistically, but also what he does to create the hype behind everything that he does.
So it seems like you’ve managed to form a personal relationship with both Hawtin and the legendary John Acquaviva. Other than geography, how did that come about?
Well, there’s a long and short story to this question. But, for the sake of time I’ll settle for the middle to short version. For years I had went to the various partied that Rich and John threw around the Windsor/Detroit area. While in University I did a documentary on “Detroit Techno” and Rich allowed me to come in a shoot some video footage for the documentary. That would be the first time I actually met Rich. Years later I started sending him demo after demo. John, on the other hand, I happened to meet at a squash tournament in London, Ontario, Canada. I approached him and told him that he was party of the day that changed the way I thought about music (and life, for that matter) It was DEMF many years ago. It was the transition for Mix Master Mike, main stage at DEMF to Acquaviva at Motor then off to Rich at City Club. Needless to say, I left City Club that morning with a new outlook. From that discussion with John at squash we kept in touch and he helped me get into DJing, and from there production. We still play squash when we’re in the same city. (He’s never defeated me…but he claims he’ll be able to beat me best of 27). I’ve been quite fortunate to do work for both these icons and hope to do lots more in the future with them.
A lot of people probably aren’t aware that you also hold a residency at The Boom Boom Room in Windsor – a club that spends most nights playing top-40 dance tracks, but occasionally brings in a headliner (from Ferry Corsten to James Zabiela). One of my first times seeing you play was an opening set you did for Joris Voorn at this venue a couple of years ago. Would you say that being associated with a club was a major part of your success to date? Would you recommend that aspiring producers seek out similar residencies?
Again, I consider myself to be very lucky to be where I am from. Not too many people have the opportunity to play alongside so many of the artists that they admire. I’ve had the opportunity to play alongside Richie Hawtin, Dubfire, Joris Voorn, Shlomi Aber, Carlo Lio, to name just a few. The Boom Boom Room and it’s owners, Remo and Renaldo Agostino, have taken to risk to book these talents in a very small market, and have had a great amount of success doing it. This has allowed me to forge many strong relationships. I don’t know if it’s a necessity to be successful as a producer, but it is super fun. The key to producing, i think, mostly lies in writing good music and getting it in the right hands.
So when I was recently traveling through Europe, visiting places like Berlin and Amsterdam, everyone seemed to have this idea that the Detroit scene is still one of the most active in the world. Do you agree with this sentiment, or do you think that it’s not as big here as people might imagine?
I have lots of friends that are doing lots of great things in Detroit. Whether it’s throwing events or writing music, there is a lot going on. Detroit has a rich history and so much is going on. It’s hard to say though where the scene is at. The scene seems to be split between the various genres of dance music. I know that not too many big names have jumped out of Detroit since Seth Troxler and the Visionquest crew, but I’m sure someone or a group is ready to break out at any moment.
Alright, now for a hard question. A lot of people have referred to the appeal of minimal techno and tech house as a trend – one that peaked in the latter half of the last decade. Many techno fans in the US and Europe are now giving more attention to labels like CLR or Ostgut Ton as the new (and yet, old) sound of techno. Do you think that the Minus-style minimal sound is evolving in a way that will continue to interest die-hard techno fans?
This music is all about change and pushing the envelope to make something new using technology. From what I know about Minus I can honestly say that there is no concern about following trends. Minus is a label dedicated to pushing boundaries and displaying art through sound. I hope that the “die-hard” techno fans will stay interested. This music is and always has been about the future. If we decide to stay in the past then I know that’s not “Future Music” and as a result is no longer techno. I strongly believe that this has to do not only with the style of music, but also with how the music is produced and how the music is presented to it’s fans (DJing or otherwise). Especially in the this age we live in, we need to start pushing the boundaries and making something new, not simply recreating something that we’ve heard and has already been done in the past.
You regularly offer Ableton “masterclasses” in the Detroit/Windsor area. How did you come to be an Ableton instructor? Given your background in education, do you think that this sort of thing will always have a place in your life?
I love ableton and I love teaching…As a result I especially love teaching Ableton. A few years ago I was certified by Ableton as an instructor and started offering lessons to people. I think that it will certainly be something that will always have a place in my heart and in my life. It’s amazing empowering individuals to create. Those “aha” moments that they have when they realize what can be done are so rewarding. Not to mention, the finished product that that develop and share.
So now you have a track on Richie’s recent MixMag mix. And rumors are that your tracks are getting played all over the world by Dubfire. What do you think the next step is for you?
I’m very fortunate to have the support I’ve received to date. The next step is to keep writing new material. Some EPs are in the works for some amazing labels and until they are released I’ll keep producing originals and remixes as well as playing out as much as I can.
Great. Well thank you again for taking the time to talk with us today. Any messages or shout-outs you’d like to share with the world?
I just want to thank you and hope I can continue to share my music with whomever will listen.