Few artists had a greater impact on the transtlantic EDM scene in 2010 than DJ-producer Lee Foss. Both with his solo work and Hot Natured side project with Jamie Jones, Foss's singular brand of moody, bass-driven electro-funk dominated the charts and international dancefloors all year, while spawning more than a few imitators.
Foss and Jones also launched the ultra-chic Hot Creations imprint, boasting incendiary releases by up-and-coming stars like Robert James, Burnski, and De Signer.
Perhaps it was his globetrotting clubland adventures in the last decade that informed Foss's unique fusion of styles. He cut his teeth spinning R&B and hip-hop in his native Chicago, partied in Ibiza's afterhours scene, hooked up with Jamie Jones in London and the Wolf + Lamb crew in Brooklyn, and helped foster LA's budding underground EDM scene with Droog and the Culprit label.
To find out, we caught up with the eminent Mr. Foss for an especially candid interview in advance of his Friday performance with PL0T and Mayaan Nidam at the Electric Pickle.
New Times: Were you exposed to much house and EDM growing up in the Chicago area? What were your earliest musical influences?
Lee Foss: I didn't really start noticing and taking part in the house music scene 'til I was around 18. Before that I was pretty much strictly a hip hop and R&B fan, as were all of my friends. I took notice of house when Daft Punk and Stardust were popular, that was around when I started going to raves and got decks. And from there, being in Chicago was hugely beneficial because if you want house, especially back then, that's where you got it, that's where you learned about it, that's where you partied to it. I can't say I had a lot of influences at the time though, just enjoyed individual tracks. I liked hearing Paul Johnson, Stacey Kidd, Diz and Derrick Carter DJ at the time.
How did you first transition from DJing to production work?
I was aware that you needed to write music to really work as a DJ all along, and I was starting to make music in 2004, but it was 2008 before I started writing music full-time and getting anywhere with it. I do think I was always making releasable music, but it wasn't special 'til I was working on it full-time and putting in the hours. Also I think those 4 years in between when I was DJing a lot in Chicago really influenced my taste because I was playing and acquiring so much music. If I had started DJing regularly and making music straight away, in Ibiza in 2003 or something, I probably would have been making music with less depth and I would have had less of a context for what makes a song really special and what classic songs really mean something to audiences.
What can you tell us about your time in Ibiza in the early '00s? What did it impart to you as an artist?
It was definitely a lot of fun. I met a lot of my closest friends to this day in that time. I learned a lot about what a good party is by going to Circo Loco every Monday, and I think the outdoor daytime partying really gave me a feel for how people really should do a party. As far as the music, all being out there really taught me was that you didn't really have to be that good to be a DJ getting good gigs. I mean, there were some incredible performances when I was there, don't get me wrong -- Laurent Garnier on the Space terrace in 2001 definitely made me want to be a DJ -- but mostly Ibiza taught me that I could definitely be a DJ if I put in the work because most people out there playing regularly sucked. The place and the experiences also showed me that music was the thing that truly made me happy and was the most important thing in my life and was worth trying to do professionally.
You also spent some time in LA helping foster the scene there with the Droog and Culprit label crew. What was that like?
LA was something that was a huge part of my development. It took a tremendous leap of faith for me to leave Chicago, and in the long term I was definitely rewarded for it. We had some amazing parties at the Standard Rooftop and some amazing after-parties, and a really good label grew out of the whole thing. At the time it was really exciting, the after-parties were the first time I was playing regularly, week after week with the big-name touring DJs, like back-to-back, and where I was first playing my own music regularly. It was an exciting time because it was the first time I grew in confidence that I was an artist myself and ready for big things.
Do you think LA will continue to grow as a party destination?
I think LA will always grow in fits and starts like any US city. It will have its ups and downs. It's just never ever going to be like the UK or Europe where the scene will regenerate. It takes a special thing, like a spark, to make electronic music have a good scene in the US, and once the people who build it start touring for music or move on it just sort of dies off until the next crew starts their own scene. LA has a ton going for it, especially the weather and the beautiful women, but it's got a lot of issues, like clubs closing at 2 a.m., people having no background in electronic music, no real radio play and the dominance of noisy electro-house.
How did you and Jamie Jones first hook up?
Jamie and I met in Ibiza 10 years ago, and lived together for a couple seasons there. I couldn't tell you how we met specifically. Went to a lot of parties at DC10 and had a lot of good sessions. I can't pretend we got anything really productive done out there at the time!
And how do you juggle your work with Jamie as Hot Natured and your solo work?
Truthfully we've done a ton of music as Hot Natured, but it's all been in very very short bursts. Every time Jamie and I sit down for a session, we are going to get at least one track done, maybe two. So really we don't have to prioritize. We work on Hot Natured very rarely because of our busy schedules but the reason we are able to do Hot Natured is because it works so well. I mean, I do wish we had all the time in the world and it was both of our top priority sometimes, but I'm proud of the work we have done considering the limited time we've been able to devote. Any more the better question is juggling touring heavily, doing the label, etc. with having any time to write music at all.
The Lee Foss sound is very much about vocal samples and old-school jam re-edits, which of course is totally in vogue right now. Where do you think you'll be taking your production style in the future?
Hmmm... yeah those are elements of my sound for sure. It's good that people are into it, so I'm happy to be imitated. I do think I've done a good job of making music in a few different styles that are difficult to pin down. I think some of the moodier deeper elements of my sound and the basslines will always be there. On some level I'll probably always be influenced by '80s funk and disco and '90s R&B and house regardless of whether they come in and out of fashion. I was making music like this 3 years ago and I'll probably be making music like it 3 years from now, but the truth is if you are making good music they'll tie it in to whatever trend is current. 3 or 4 years ago you might have called Jamie Jones a minimal or tech-house producer but I play those old tracks out all the time and they fit right in with what we make now. If you write good music it'll always be in. I'll probably try different rhythm methods over time, like garage, mid-tempo, techno, etc., and I'll probably start producing pop artists, but the things that make me will always be there.
2010 was your biggest year yet. What are your personal highlights and proudest achievements?
I mean, 2010 was clearly delineated to me from the rest of my career -- this is the year I started touring properly and became an artist in a sense. It was the first time crowds were there to see me and that I had fans, so, I mean, it's what I'd been building towards over the years. I think for me almost all my proudest achievements and highlights are related to Hot Natured and Hot Creations somehow though. Our Miami and Sonar parties spring to mind -- the moment at the closing of the Sonar party, just the goose bumps from the ovation and the surroundings and the feeling we had done something special. Same at the end of the Miami party. I guess when I saw the reaction sheet for the U Got Me EP and saw that people were really excited by it and realized it was going to be a big step for me and the label -- that was a nice moment. Ummm... the end of year awards, seeing that I had done well in the RA Top 100 DJs poll and the label had done well and that U Got Me had made some big top 10 lists, some of that really moved me. I would be lying if I said it hadn't because a year ago at this time I was unknown outside of the US and it was a big milestone but also an indicator that things will never be simple again. You are chasing it for a long time and once you have it, it was a moment to savor that the work was worth it.
What do you have in store for the Hot Creations label this year?
Wow, we've got the Pterodactil Disco (myself, Jamie Jones, Robert James, and FB Julian) Big Ass Biscuit/Clive's Alright EP that just came out, which has been getting great feedback. There's also my new EP, Your Turn Girl on Culprit. Next month is Clockwork's "It's You Again" (with a remix I did with Art Department and Robert James) -- I think this could be a really big record. March I've got another solo EP. April is the Hot Natured "Forward Motion" single, which judging by the reactions so far, might be one of the biggest tracks of the year. After that is the Hot Natured album, which is almost done, not to mention the Hot Waves compilation later this winter, which is our new label. We've got loads of exciting EPs lined up this summer for Hot Creations. I don't want to give away too much, but expect to hear some very distinct things from Robert James, Russ Yallop, Richy Ahmed, Miguel Campbell, and MANIK. But yeah, there is a ton in store for the label, too much to mention it all really.
As a globetrotting DJ, what are some of your favorite spots to play out? Which crowds do you find most receptive to your sound?
The UK crowds are probably the most receptive to my sound, though I feel like pretty much everywhere I play it goes well. As far as favorite places to play, Kubicle and Fabric in London spring to mind. Louche at the Mint Club in Leeds. I also think Manchester has been great. Bar 25 (R.I.P.) in Berlin was pretty magic. Spybar in Chicago, Montanita in Ecuador, the amazing Electric Pickle in Miami, the Marcy in Brooklyn, the Standard Rooftop in LA, the W Hotel in Barcelona and Asylum in Hawaii are all amazing as well.
What else do you have in store for 2011?
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I'm going to invent a teleporter that works! Ummm... I've got a Culprit EP out this month, remixes of Ali Love on Back Yard and of Clockwork. I've got an edits EP coming out on Jonny White's No. 19 label called Modern Amusement: Cold As Ice EP. But yeah, most of my music will be coming out on Hot Creations, like I said, I'm very very excited about my EP in March and the Hot Natured single and album in April and early summer. And I guess just more touring, more Hot Natured DJ sets and on special occasions label showcases. And on really special occasions, at the end of festival weekends like Miami, Detroit, Sonar, etc. Hot Natured parties (don't miss those!) Pterodactil Disco Big Ass Biscuit/Clive's Alright is out now on Hot Creations, and Lee Foss Your Turn Girl is released on Culprit Records on February 21!
Lee Foss with Maayan Nidam, PL0T residents. Friday, February 4. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.