Puerto Rico is not necessarily known as an electronic dance music hotbed, but the island did spawn one Jonny Cruz, a DJ-producer who has started making waves on the international tech-house scene these last couple years.
It helps that Cruz is a card-carrying member of the artist collective behind hotly-tipped Toronto label My Favorite Robot, with whom he shares a penchant for darkly-tinged bass-driven deep techno.
It so happens that Cruz has been a Miami resident for years now. Of course, that means he's put in his fair share of time behind the decks at local hotspots like Treehouse and the Electric Pickle.
This Friday, catch the man himself in action when he joins a plethora of international DJ heavyweights for LINK and Miami Rebels' Get Physical vs. My Favorite Robot label showcases at Treehouse for Art Basel Miami Beach week.
Crossfade: How did you first get into electronic dance music? Were you exposed to much of it while growing up in San Juan?
Jonny Cruz: Well, my favorite bands as a child were Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, so I think I was already hooked on from a very early age. But probably officially when I started going to outdoor raves in Puerto Rico back in 1997. Puerto Rico had a very healthy scene back then, and the parties were at amazing venues, so I guess, yeah, I was exposed enough!
When did you get into DJing and production and what were your first musical projects?
It wasn't that long after I started going to parties that I found myself wanting to be part of the show. As a young kid, I was a hip-hop MC. At the time, they were bringing a lot of drum and bass DJs from the UK -- guys like Bad Company, Ed Rush & Optical, Stakka & Skynet, Mampi Swift, Goldie, the list goes on and on. The thing was they would bring MCs with them, so I was immediately drawn to what these guys were doing and how they expressed themselves on the mic and introduced the beat -- I was blown away.
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So I remember I would write lyrics at home, kind of imitating these MCs, and it sounded pretty legit. I would perform to my friends and they were all feeling it, so I approached some of the island's big DJs at the time, and landed a spot MCing for one of the top guys out there. I went on to perform a bunch with him, and he actually taught me how to DJ. His name is DJ Gulembo -- he is a bit of a legend in Puerto Rico.
So yeah, after that, I started DJing a lot and basically slowly but surely started letting the MC thing go. I got much more of a rush blending records than spitting bullshit on a mic. As far as production goes, that came in 2001 when I went to college for audio engineering. After finishing school in 2003, I moved to New York and worked as an assistant in a hip-hop studio. On my off-time, I was in there producing drum and bass. Later, I linked up with 3 guys and we formed a collective called Identity with which we released a lot of great drum and bass tracks. Pretty long story, but yeah, that's pretty much how it all started.
When did you first move to Miami and how has living and working here informed you as an artist? What do you think are the pros and cons of the Miami dance music scene?
To be honest, when I moved to Miami, it was circa 2009, and I hated it. The promoters were all fighting for the same lil piece of cookie. There weren't that many options as to where to party. The bookings were hardly impressive. And as everyone knows, Miami is more known for cheesy commercial house music, so yeah, I was not feeling it at all. But then something happened, all of a sudden the bookings started getting better, there were more options, there were more people, it was getting really good, to the point that nowadays I think I am proud to say that Miami has one of the healthier underground house scenes in the U.S.
Getting signed to My Favorite Robot really broke you to a lot of new international listeners. How did you hook up with the label?
I hooked up with the Robots back in 2010, when I released an EP on MFR with producer Emerson Todd called The Kiwi & Coconut Pie EP. After that, Jared [Simms] and I kept on talking on Skype a lot and sending each other music. One day, Jared basically told me he was really feeling the direction I was going in as an artist and asked me to be one of the core artists of the label. Needless to say, I was super exited to hear him say that because I could see the label going where it's gotten, and much more. So I am really happy and proud to be part of this team. We are all good friends and it just works!
You currently divide your time between Miami and Berlin. What are your impressions of Berlin? Is it really the techno utopia all the heads make it out to be?
Man, Berlin is my home. Every winter when I leave, it's emotional. I have the best friends out there -- it's just amazing. It is the utopia for techno, that's for sure. I've established so many great relationships there. Eventually, I want to make the move out there on a full-time basis, but my tropical skin has to get used to the 6-month long winters. Or I can just tour and DJ outside of Europe during the winter. [Laughs]
The Miami scene is rife with budding young producers who aspire to your type of international success. What advice, if any, do you have for them?
My only advice, I guess, would be: if you really have a passion for it, and you can't see yourself doing anything else, go for it! But don't do it halfway. If you go out, go all out. It's kind of hard out there, but perseverance makes the impossible possible.
2012 was a big year for you professionally. What were some of your personal highlights and favorite moments?
I think the highlights of 2012 were two things. First was in January, at the BPM festival. We were doing our My Favorite Robot showcase at Canibal Royale in Playa del Carmen. And after our party Wolf + Lamb asked us to take over the downstairs of La Santanera because they wanted to play the terrace, so it ended up being Jared [Simms], Voytek [Korab], James Teej and me tagging all night. It was amazing -- we killed it.
Second thing was this summer in Europe. I went to Croatia with a crew of friends, including the PillowTalk guys. We were on a yacht for two weeks at this festival out there -- life-changing.
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So what can fans expect from you in 2013? Any forthcoming projects or releases we can look forward to?
Loads of stuff! Got one more tune coming out on a stimulus package on My Favorite Robot in March or April, not sure yet. A track coming out on a various artist compilation from One Records (Subb-an and Adam Shelton's label.) EPs on some other labels, releases as well on labels like Souvenir, etc.
We are also launching our own label, which is Touch Of Class Records. First release is "Dirty Hands" by Signal Flow & Jonny Cruz feat. Aquarius Heaven, including a DJ Tennis (Life and Death) remix and "Drug Lips" by Signal Flow feat. Navid Izadi including a remix from PillowTalk, and many more surprises! Don't want to say too much just yet.