If house and techno are the roots of EDM, then few artists have been more enduring exponents than Chicago DJ-producer Curtis Jones, AKA Cajmere, AKA Green Velvet. That's because Curtis has preserved the raw, body-jacking essentials of those sounds for as long as he's been making music.
Whether it's perky vocal house as Cajmere or acidic hard-hitting techno as Green Velvet, Curtis has kept the authentic no-frills virtues of underground electronic dance music intact. It makes his Cajual label's new 20th anniversary compilation album, Only 4 U, essential listening for EDM fans and scholars everywhere.
Ahead of a gig at the Electric Pickle on Saturday in support of the new compilation release, Crossfade caught up with the legend himself to discuss everything, from his funk roots to his drug-induced religious conversion and the new Cajual compilation.
Crossfade: Your father was a DJ and musician. What kind of music did he play? And how did growing up around him shape your musical tastes and sensibilities? Were you into dance music from an early age?
Cajmere: My father was a mobile DJ in the '70s, and he mainly played blues, funk, and soul. He is solely responsible for me always wanting my music to sound "funky." When I would play my productions for him, he would always say, "That's nice, but where's the funk?" The first electronic dance songs I remember hearing from him were Parliament's "Flashlight" and Donna Summer's "I Feel Love."
You were a chemical engineering student before leaving school to focus on music. Are you generally drawn towards science? And if so, how do you think this mentality applies to your music-making?
I still love science and even more so sci-fi stuff. The things that my chemical engineering background taught me were to be a good problem solver, think outside the box, and to be organized in creating music.
What made you decide to launch the Green Velvet moniker? What differentiates the project from your work as Cajmere?
I decided to do projects as Green Velvet in 1993. I did this because at that time, I was solely know as Cajmere and my more popular songs were house. The DJs and my fans wanted me to only do house. I came up with Green Velvet so I could do techno. As an artist, you never want your creativity to be limited.
Green Velvet tracks like "Preacher Man," "Answering Machine," and "Abuction" feature first-person spoken-word narratives of sorts. Is it your intention to tell personal tales? What inspires the material?
Well, I'm one person like all of us with a lot of different names. Thank God, I don't have different personalities, because then I might need a little help. I get my inspiration from younger artists, as well as the '70s and '80s.
What can you tell us about your alleged born-again Christian conversion after a drug experience in the late 2000s? How did this experience change your lifestyle, outlook, and approach to music-making?
Well, I was brought up in a Christian family, mainly my grandmothers and mom, and have been a Christian all my life. I was a lost sheep for a while and during that time I was around some wolves. Somebody spiked my drink at a party and I started having a hard time breathing. I later discovered that GHB, the "date rape drug," can cause symptoms I experienced. It's a drug that was common with some kids in the dance scene. At that time, I prayed to God to spare my life and vowed that I would live right. From that time on, I've learned that it's important for me to do what I can while I can, and to give God the glory. I'm not perfect, but I'm more loving.
House music has had strong spiritual undercurrents since its inception. Do you find a closer connection to the music after your religious conversion?
I was brought up Christian and my songs, from the beginning, were influenced by that. My first Green Velvet song was "Preacher Man," and the first song on my Cajual label was "Brighter Days." But after renewing my vows to God, I have a deeper appreciation for music. There are some days where listening to some good music gets me through the day. Also, I'm more in tune with how to move others on a deeper level with music.
What was the concept behind Cajual when you first launched the label and how has that concept evolved over the years?
The original plan with Cajual was to basically continue the Chicago house music tradition. That part of it remains true to this day.
What can you tell us about the new Only 4 U label compilation? What was your criteria for selecting material spanning two decades? How do you think some of the older records stand up today?
The Only 4 U compilation is definitely a part of history concerning house music. The music was selected by Quentin [Scott] at Strut Records. I wanted someone else's perspective on the most valued tracks. Some of the older tracks hold their own next to the newer ones, and at the same time you can see the evolution of the music.
What's next for Cajual? Can we expect another 20 years?
I plan on developing a lot more younger artists, as well as working with the veterans. You can definitely expect another 20 years if the Man Upstairs has it in his iCal.
What have been the highlights of 2012 for you so far and what do you have going on for the rest of the year?
The highlights of 2012 have been working with Jamie Jones, reconnecting with a lot of artists, and celebrating 20 years of Cajual. For the rest of the year, I plan on staying busy in the studio as well as traveling.
What else does the future have in store for Curtis Jones?
Spreading more love to more people.
And what can Miami expect during your performance at the Electric Pickle? Cajmere, Green Velvet, or both?
It's a Cajmere set, and I'll definitely be bringing the funk.
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Cajmere. With Will Renuart. Saturday, November 24. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. The party starts at 10 p.m. and tickets cost $15 to $20 plus fees via residentadvisor.net. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.