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Keeping it Cajual: Cajmere on the twentieth year of his label

Marcus Barnes

cajmere 300x225 Keeping it Cajual: Cajmere on the twentieth year of his labelCajmere, AKA Curtis Jones (or Green Velvet), is a Chicago-born recording artist and DJ who has been involved in music for over twenty years and remains a very popular entertainer, perhaps more so now than he was twenty years ago. He travels the globe every weekend, playing to huge audiences everywhere he goes and continues to produce new music on a regular basis as well as supporting the younger generation of house and techno artists. This year his label, Cajual Records, celebrates twenty years since its inception – and, with this in mind, I caught up with Cajmere to discuss his story so far…

So, it’s been twenty years of Cajmere Records… what’s happening with the label at the moment?

We’re doing a lot of projects at the moment, we’re doing stuff with DJ Pierre, this guy Fred Hush out of Belgium and tonnes of stuff… I could go on and on. Were not just putting out the old catalogue and that’s it, I mean we’re reissuing a lot of the old stuff because there’s demand for it, but we’re doing a lot of new stuff as well.

How do you keep your finger on the pulse and keep the label relevant?

It helps that I travel with my DJing, one of the things I’ve learned is that, when I’m at the venues who’ve booked me, I go and check out the other DJs playing and that really helps a lot.

And you’re touring a hell of a lot aren’t you?

I have a couple of gigs every weekend.

It must be a good feeling to still be in demand after being involved with the music for so long, maybe more so now than you were twenty years ago.

You’re exactly right, I’m probably busier now than I have been in my whole career so it’s very satisfying for me because I’ve put so much of my own time and energy into it and people think it’s easy to do this stuff… It may looks easy but there’s a lot of work that goes on.

What would you say is the most difficult part of what you do?

[Lets out a huge laugh] Interviews! Because you have to plan it and set time aside. It takes up a little extra time where I’d rather be in the studio getting creative, so you know… I tend to do quite a few interviews, if I did one interview a year I’d be probably be more cool with it but it’s nice to know there’s interest in what I’m doing. It’s one of those things, let me put it this way – it’s my least favourite thing to do. It’s still a favourite, but it’s last on the list of favourites!

So, if you weren’t talking to me now what would you be doing?

In the studio working on music.

And what are you working on at the minute? I guess you have a few projects on the go?

Yeah, I’ve been working on a lot of collaborations. I’ve been working on a collaboration with Maceo Plex and a lot of other stuff with artists who are not as well known. That’s basically what I’m doing right now.

What kind of stuff are you doing with Maceo Plex?

It’s kind of techy/housey… I really love what Maceo is doing right now, I played with him at ADE in Amsterdam and we had a really great time. It’s great when I can work with people who I really click with and can really relate to on an artistic level.

You seem to be very in-tune with the younger generation of artists, you’re tight with Jamie Jones too aren’t you?

Yeah Jamie’s one of the coolest people ever. We’re definitely on the same vibe when it comes to music production and the sound of stuff, it’s just cool working with him and hanging out with him.

Who else from the younger generation would you pinpoint as someone who’s caught your ear or you think is really cool?

Jamie and Maceo Plex. Of course you have to look out for the ladies, so I would say Maya Jane Coles, she’s doing some amazing stuff and we always have a good laugh when we’re playing or when we run across each other when we’re playing at festivals. She’s a real sweetheart. Phil Kieran, out of Ireland, I do a lot more techno stuff with him. That’s about it, I know there are a lot of people I left out but that’s who I can think of off the top of my head right now.

I was reading the sleevenotes on the new compilation and it seems as though Chicago was a real hotbed of creativity a couple of decades ago, how does Chicago nowadays compare with back then?

It’s still a very good scene, but it hasn’t solidified itself, in my opinion – we just need something to be that uniting force… like London has going on right now with the deep house scene. We need to get something to bring it all together, we still have all the legendary DJs, but we don’t have something that we do together and that’s starting a new movement for the younger generation. I think we just need some of those new young stars to be discovered, that’s the only thing that’s missing at the moment.

So, is there not that much going on with the younger generation in Chicago?

I don’t want to say that there isn’t anything going on, but there isn’t anything that has blown up, so to speak, and that’s caught fire all around the world. I’m going to try and do my best to do what I can to get the young, undiscovered talent exposure – not only in this city, but around the world.

In your biography there’s quite a poignant story about you having your drink spiked, which led to you ’seeing the light’. Based on that, I wanted to know how important religion is to you at this moment in time…?

Religion is something that’s always been very important for me, but my way of seeing things is a little bit different. I definitely believe in God, but I realised that my role is to do whatever I can on a music level to bring joy to peoples’ lives so that’s for the most part where I like to keep it. I like to spread the love.

DJs have the ability to spread a lot of love and positivity through what they do. I think it’s really important…

For sure bro. We go through enough on a day-to-day level, so it’s nice to just be able to escape from it all or take a break from it all so that you get rejuvenated so that you’re able to accomplish those things to get you through the day. Music is that one thing that I can always turn to and rely on to take the pressure off whatever I’m experiencing. Either I’ll go out and have a good time, or I’ll be at home and be like, “You know what, I’m just gonna push all this aside and listen to some of my favourite stuff, kick back and deal with that later”.

What do you like to kick back to?

I love Italo House, the stuff from the eighties. Funk, be it Sly Stone, Parliament… I love gospel music, it’s uplifting. A lot of the classic house stuff from Chicago, that’s what I like – stuff I grew up with, that’s what I heard all the time when I was a kid. For some people it’s classical because that’s what they heard as a child, but for me those were the things I heard – my grandmother and my mother they both played gospel music, my father would play the funk and the soul and then, when I became a teenager I listened to a lot of the house music, the new wave type stuff, disco…

So, can you remember when house ‘arrived’?

It was really in the mid-eighties, what happened was that… the closest transition I can think of is that there was new wave and the synth pop stuff and the house producers were influenced by that, they stripped it down and made it bassier and a little bit simpler. They made it dancefloor-friendly. It really started around the mid-eighties, around ‘83 onwards and ‘85 was the peak of it. What really launched it was the radio stations here in Chicago, the two stations were WBMX and WGCI and they had mix shows on the weekends.

Yeah, Mickey Mixin Oliver and those guys.

Ralphie ‘The Raz’ Rosario, Steve ‘Silk’ Hurley, Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk… a lot of those guys.

Do you look back on those days with rose tinted glasses or do you recall that there were times that were no so good as well?

No, it was pretty mindblowing [Laughs] Very very intense, and very good… it was off the charts, that’s how I remember it. But I’m not one of those who thinks that’s the best it ever was and there’ll never be anything like that again because I’ve been to some amazing parties recently, just this past weekend I was having a good time. I believe it was good then and it’s good now.

You were a maths lover when you were younger too, right?

I was majoring as a chemical engineer. I was very much into math, I loved it and it was my favourite subject. I don’t keep up with that stuff anymore, once you’re into the arts it’s a lot more fun! I think it’s way more fun painting than making paint, for instance [Laughs]. Whereas, when you’re an engineer you design all the systems to make the paint so that it sticks right, quick drying time… you can just do that, or you can use the paint that the engineer made and come up with a little something something.

Do you think you would have ended up as a chemical engineer if music never took hold of your life?

Yeah for sure. Because it was something that wasn’t that challenging for me, as long as I would have been around some cool people I would have been fine. I’m not as sharp as I was now though, the computers really make you forget a lot of stuff, you don’t have to remember anything these days – you can just use the computer.

Having had your label last twenty years, and to have started in the way you did, must be a great feeling?

It really is, but the thing I like the most is that I’m able to help a lot of unknown artists and help them get out there and do what they love doing. In the nineties, before they were popular they were doing stuff with me because nobody else wanted to work with them – DJ Sneak and Paul Johnson, of course Dajae – a lot of artists who are popular now, weren’t so well known then and having helped a little is the most satisfying aspect of all of it.

I was talking about something similar the other day, the fact that no one really makes it totally on their own, there’s always that somebody who helps you along or gives you a stamp of approval.

That’s how it works, somebody has to put you on, so to speak.. if it’s not a fellow artist, then it has to be somebody in the media who writes about you. You just can’t do it on your own.

How did it happen for you?

I knew Hula Mahone, who had Clubhouse Records at the time, and he was doing a lot of stuff with K.Fingers at Jive Records – they were doing more major label projects, but when I came back from college I convinced them to restart Clubhouse and from there I was able to put out my stuff and also use his studio. So, it’s because of my childhood best friend… he put me on.

You’ve been doing this for over two decades now, I wondered if you have any idea when you might start to slow down?

At the moment I don’t really see it, I don’t like to live thinking that way. When the time comes I’ll address it then – for the time being I’ll just keep doing it and having fun doing it.

Good and, outside of touring and studio work, do you get much time to see your friends and family?

I do, what I’ve learned is that it’s extremely important for me to be organised. If I’m not organised then everything becomes overwhelming, the more organised I am, the more I can do. My trick in keeping up with all the music, the DJing, the producing and hanging out with friends and family is that I’m organised and I make time for everything. That’s the key… I organise myself, I have a manager but I still organise what I have from my manager.

But it’s a good life, right?

Oh dude!… It’s the best, I can’t even explain, it’s really the best. There’s nothing like it, you meet so many interesting people – that is what puts a smile on my face, meeting all the different people out there. It’s really fun.

You have a real strong image, from the unusual shades you wear to your green hair as Green Velvet, is this something you built up over the years or has it always been part of you?

It’s actually both. Part of it comes from the things I built up over the years, but for me to initially start with it is the way I was introduced to artists who were my childhood heroes. The things I learned from Sly Stone and Parliament Funkadelic, David Bowie, Grace Jones – those are the things that inspire me.

Finally, where’s the music taking you next?

It’s going to get better and better. I have some really good ideas, I bought some new synthesisers so I’m looking forward to making some good music and seeing what happens. I really look forward to working with a lot of the new, young DJs and producers so that’s where I really focusing…

Cajmere is playing at Corsica Studios on Saturday Dec 8th as celebration of the release of the Cajual Only 4 U compilation which is out via Strut now.

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