The Urban Bean Company of downtown Detroit overlooks the intersection of Grand River & Griswold, open to the city streets with a lining of large windows. On a Wednesday night I sat in the upper level of the small coffee shop with a handful of people and a room full of sound. Brent Scudder, a member of the Burst Radio crew, had taken over the upstairs for his weekly, Planet Funk, which is broadcast live on www.burstradio.net.
Burst Radio has been showcasing electronic music talent since 2011. I used to attend their Sunday monthly, held at the Grand Trunk Pub (Foran’s) on Woodward Ave. Harley from Detroit, Jeffrey Woodward, & Immerse would host the radio show, DJ, and entertain their listeners between sets with their on air personalities. More importantly, they would always present the best. I’m still rocking one of their recordings from a few years ago (MD! Live, April, 1st, 2012). Their monthlies have been moving around and are currently on hiatus. Fortunately, Brent picked up a weekly at the Urban Bean, calling it Planet Funk. The show has been keeping that Burst spirit alive, though something in particular brought me to the coffee shop that Wednesday night – Konkrete Jungle Detroit.
Aaren Alseri, Derek Chase, Joey Pistoles, and Mark Moss comprise the core of KJD. The four were the featured artists for the May 7th edition of Planet Funk. They each bring their own expertise to the group. As Aaren said on air, “we figure out who’s good at what and let that ride.” The four have been practicing together Monday evenings to prepare for their 3-hour set at Movement, 2PM to 5PM Saturday, May 24th (www.movement.us/schedule).
Derek initiated the creation of Konkrete Jungle Detroit. He had moved from the D to Florida six years ago. There he became involved with Konkrete Jungle South Florida. For those who aren’t familiar, Konkrete Jungle started as a weekly in New York City in 1994 with original residents, DJ Dara, Cassien, Delmar, Panik, and Darkstar. It has grown to be “a global movement with affiliated chapters sprouting up throughout the states and abroad.” (www.konkretejungle.com). There are Konkrete Jungle chapters in many major cities across the country, though it took Derek’s return from Florida in 2012 to get a chapter going in the electronic music haven of Detroit.
“Becoming a member was hard,” said Derek, “but the day I moved home I knew I had to do it.” Derek worked with Konkrete Jungle New York to get the go-ahead for a Detroit chapter. He then partnered with Aaren to seal the deal. Aaren elaborated, “It’s an honor to have a chapter. With Derek, it made sense. We had to do it.” He went on to say, “Derek is the work horse. If something happens to Derek, we’re screwed.”
In the early fall of 2012, Derek & Aaren rounded up a crew of friends and fellow jungle enthusiasts. Joey & Mark hopped on board with MC Bombscare and the ship set sail. There have been about ten major KJD events since the group first started throwing them in September of 2012. Bombscare would host the parties, hypin’ lyrically as Master of Ceremonies. Calico, founder of Datswotsup, joined as representative of the heavy, down-tempo bass he plays. Steve Dronez, DJ and producer, brought the threads and set up shop at each event with his labels, Detroit State of Mind & Skratchlife. Scotty V, an old-school jungle DJ from Lansing, designed the logo and created fliers. Other notable artists in the metro area would affiliate themselves with the crew, including Oktored, Teddy MC, Subverse, and recently, newbie Galaktis.
I’ve attended every KJD show and I can honestly say they all have been quality events with killer performances and big turn-outs. I’ll run into twenty good friends amidst hundreds of strangers. But the majority of these people are there for a common purpose, the music. These are people I can carry on a conversation with, people who can get down to some nasty breaks with me, people who love this rhythm as much as I do. Konkrete Jungle Detroit is steadily constructing a legitimate jungle scene for this city. It’s refreshing to have these shows available to people who thrive off this style of music, my fellow jungle enthusiasts.
That night at the Urban Bean, Aaren, Derek, Joey, and Mark were seated opposite Brent Scudder, between them was a mixer, CDJs, recording equipment, a laptop, or two. This was intermission between Joey and Aaren’s sets. Brent had been asking the group a few questions, on air, to give some of those thousand Burst Radio listeners background. Aaren assured that for KJD, “it’s never going to be this big hype”. “Not here,” Mark added, motioning to the four of them. “Jump-up was around before the bros,” said Joey with a deep chuckle. The four laughed. “Mark’s our credibility,” Aaren said laughing. “Derek’s our workhorse; Mark’s our credibility.”
The group went on to explain that Konkrete Jungle Detroit is all about musical diversity. They believe that people will appreciate jungle more if they are exposed to the different styles of music that it burrows from. As it states on their FB page, “Junglism is the love and passion for all music.” To elaborate on this, I caught up with Aaren, Derek, and Joey after they played. We spoke outside on the sidewalk while Mark threw down some hardcore upstairs, inside the venue. The sound was muffled but I could still dig it, propped up against the brick wall outside. Mark would join us near the end of our conversation, after Planet Funk had wrapped up for the evening.
“How did you get your names? Ronin Selecta?”
Aaren: “I asked a friend of mine, an artist who did a lot of artwork for a band I played in, to make something for a mixtape I did. He took an image from a comic cover drawn by Frank Miller, called Ronin. It was a picture of a Samurai being drawn & quartered. Selecta? It’s a term for guys who put records on the platter. I’m just an arranger. I like music put together,”
“How long have you been going by Dilemma, Derek?”
Derek: “Since day one. Lots of people called me that. It was fitting. I was always causin’ a dilemma.”
The four of us laughed. We did a lot of that during this interview.
“There’s your tag line, Derek. “Always causin’ a Dilemma!” What about Joey P.?”
Joey: “Well you know, I started out as Joe Patron in 1980.” We all laughed again. He continued, “And it just morphed into José Pistolés.”
“What got you into DJing?”
Derek: “Bombscare turned me on to it. If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have known what drum n’ bass was.”
Aaren: “I started out as a bass player in a band. I would lock in most with my drummer. The first [jungle] track I listened to was Mutant Jazz by T Power. I didn’t know jungle was something played on the turntables then. Later I learned that there were DJs that played this music. And then I heard how they wove it together. At first it was really hard to figure out what the hell was going on. But when you know more of the tunes and see what’s happening, it makes a little more sense. So I started picking up wax. Before I had turntables I had no clue. I was playing on Bill Stacy’s turntables.”
T Power vs. MK-Ultra – Mutant Jazz: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ep6QiLXHLy0&feature=kp
“How old were you?”
“And you started collecting records at that time?”
Aaren: “Yeah. But before I understood the relationship – how we went from hardcore to jungle to drum n’ bass – it took me forever to grasp that, say, an amen break wasn’t exactly at a faster bpm. It just sounded busier.”
“Did you guys grow up in this area?”
Aaren: “I am not indigenous to the city of Detroit. I’m from Ann Arbor.”
Derek: “West Bloomfield”
Joey: “New Hudson”
“Where’s New Hudson?”
Joey: “Between Brighton and Novi.”
“What brought you to Detroit?”
Aaren: “Live music”
Derek: “Punk shows”
Joey: “Drum n’ bass”
“Has jungle had its heyday?”
Aaren: “Every time there’s a show it should be a heyday. “ Joey and Derek agreed. “You know, it changes so fast. Was there a heyday ever? It goes up, it goes down.”
Joey: “The turnover is really fast. A lot of people are still there though, that older crowd.”
“Would you call yourselves junglists?”
Derek: “Hell yeah”
“Do you think jungle is exclusive?”
Aaren: “Some people think junglists are stuck up. But you know, it’s not that bro, we just don’t wanna book you.”
Joey: “Then they act like it’s all our problem and not theirs.”
“Do you consider yourselves artists?”
The response all around was an immediate, “No.”
Aaren: “Artist at what, artist at throwing parties? No. Everyone is creative. In that sense, everyone is an artist and they just haven’t realized it yet. You know, this coffee shop we’re standing outside, there’s something creative about this. There are people who recognize themselves too much as artists, and some people not enough. So I guess it’s a question of self-awareness? If you ask me if I think I’m creative? Yes. But do I think everything is a work of art? No.”
“But what you create when you’re on stage, isn’t that a work of art?”
Aaren: “Someone told me that this is a Native American belief but I haven’t been able to find it anywhere. “We’re all hollow reeds. The wind of creativity is flowing through us. We’re channels for the wind.” I’m sure Hendrix would agree.”
“What’s the most important aspect of being a DJ?”
Joey: “The most important thing is determination. I think that anybody can take Kontrol or CDJs or turntables or any DJ medium and call themselves a DJ. But the people that are dedicated, the people that practice, they’re always going to set themselves apart from the other people who are convenient junglists, convenient artists. “The cream will always rise to the top.””
Derek: “I think it’s being able to read the crowd – being able to judge what you’re doing based on what you’re seeing.”
“You can vibe off people. Do you actually feel their energy in the room?”
Derek: “Absolutely. Every time.”
“Even individual energy?”
Derek: “Yeah, I mean you can lock in on someone’s energy. You know, your eyes meet, you feel them there.”
Aaren started singing in a high-pitched voice, “Last night a DJ saved my life”. We laughed and Derek smirked.
Aaren: “This seems like a dumb answer, so I didn’t want to chime in. But you have to know your music. And you have to take people on a journey. And you have to play something they’ve never heard before – being able to make music that doesn’t normally go together go together. Anyone can do the same thing over and over again. It’s doing it differently – that’s the trick.”
“What upsets you about the music scene?”
Aaren: “Uh… bad music?” He laughed.
Joey: “I would say popularity over talent.”
“I don’t like when people come out just to party, when they’re not there for the music.”
Aaren: “I have no problem with people coming out to be social. But if you come out, get fucked up, and you don’t remember what you heard, what’s the point?”
Joey: “Which goes back to my point, popularity over talent. It breeds… I feel it’s negativity. I feel this negative vibe around it. You know, this kid’s face is fallin’ off, he doesn’t even know where he’s at, next thing you know he’s in an ambulance outside the club. I don’t think he was there for the music. Popularity over talent breeds that. I’ve been to shows, you were all there,” Joey gestured clockwise to Derek, Aaren, and I. “Best DJ in the world and there’s a hundred people there. Then you go to Elektricity and there’s some jerk off and he’s got a ghost writer and a big marketing team and all that bullshit. And it’s a full house! It’s that, that’s negativity.”
FYI: Joey was referring to a show DJ Qbert played at the Magic Stick on June 21st, 2013.
Joey: “I think a huge contribution to that is this whole culture of “We’re gonna have a TV show and it’s gonna be based on talent! And you, the fans, are gonna call in and vote!” So they’ve got the best singer there and the best guitar player there or whatever the contest is and the fans get to pick. And the best whatever may not win. The music becomes based on vote.”
Aaren: “DJ battles used to be like that. If you brought more of the crowd, you got more of a response.”
Joey: “Yeah, let’s not be about that.”
Aaren: “Okay so, we were in Miami, backstage at this show and this girl runs up to me and she points and says, “Who’s that?” I say, “Um, that’s High Contrast.” She runs up and takes a selfie. Then she asks, “Who’s that?” “That’s DJ Craze” She runs up and takes a selfie. She goes, “Who’s that?” “That’s John B.” She runs over and takes a picture of him while he’s carrying my girlfriend. Point being, she doesn’t know who the fuck they were, but she was concerned about having here photo taken with them. What the fuck is that?! You don’t even know what kind of music they play. You just know they’re popular.”
“What drives you to continue doing what you do?”
Aaren: “A kid comes up to me and he says, “I’m thinking about getting some turntables. What do you think, man?” I say, “It’s a bad idea.” And that’s all I have to say about that.” We laughed. Aaren clarified, “Even if it’s something you enjoy doing, I would get out now while you still can.”
“Do you have any regrets?”
Joey: “Well there was that one time in Tijuana…”
Derek: “Shhhh, she’s recording.”
“Who do you love?”
Aaren: “My girlfriend.”
Joey: “My family, my friends”
“How are Monday night practices going?”
Joey: “I think DNB is best played on a Monday night, man.” We laughed.
FYI: Joey P. used to throw a Monday night Bassline show at Necto in Ann Arbor with Teddy MC and Sandoz. It was a roarin’ good time.
Joey: “I’ve seen people ruin their lives on Monday night. I’ve seen people getting abortions cause of Monday night, bad break-ups, I’ve seen it all.”
Aaren: “You know, once someone has gotten through the weekend, nothing will knock ‘em out like a Monday night.”
“Why jungle? What got you started?”
Joey: “For me, it was Purpose Maker by Jeff Mills. I heard this like industrial, hard noise, and I was just, Wow, this is different. Shortly after that I heard this really hard drum n’ bass. It reminded me of it but also reminded me of hip hop. It’s just double-time hip hop. That’s what really sucked me in. Also, beer & bitches.”
Jeff Mills – Purpose Maker mix: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vUgwa5sJRKs
Derek: “Jump-up. The tapes I used to get from Toronto were all jump-up. My first record I ever bought was an Aphrodite record.”
Derek: “Rock the Funky Beats” We laughed because it’s so typical. “Laugh all you want. Aphrodite definitely draws people in.”
Natural Born Chillers – Rock the Funky Beats: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0Ne3PER2z4
Aaren: “With jungle, the drum beats were inhuman. They had this organic feel but because of the way it occurred in sequence it was also inhuman. No drummer could actually play what you were hearing. No drummer could play that fast, it’s not humanly possible. And as far as bass goes, sub-bass, I mean, I’m a bass player and I can’t get notes that low. You can’t quite capture that kind of bass. It’s unattainable.”
“What did you listen to before you got into electronic music?”
Joey: “Rap music”
Derek: “Punk rock and hip hop”
Aaren: “I’m like early straight psychedelic jam funk. Like Jack Johnson by Miles Davis, Bitches Brew, everybody loves that one. Late ’69 to early ’74 fusion, funk kind of stuff,”
Miles Davis – Bitches Brew: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4G-jQkKNAI
Joey: “I’ve had an affair with every kind of music.”
“Do you guys think there’s a revival of jungle & drum n’ bass right now?”
Aaren: “I don’t think it ever died. It just wasn’t always “fashionable.””
Joey: “I think the people who have always been here workin’ hard are still here workin’ hard.”
“What is essential to the scene?”
Aaren & Derek responded in unison, “Not the scene.”
Aaren: “Positive experiences. If people have positive experiences that don’t involve drugs, they’ll always come back.”
“What is the goal for Konkrete Jungle Detroit?”
The three of them looked at each other. Joey threw up his hands, “I’m out”. He went back inside. Aaren & Derek laughed.
Aaren: “Go ahead, Derek.”
Derek: “Who me? I dunno, we talked about a lot of shit. There’s just so much we’ve been doing.”
Aaren: “To keep it fresh.” He laughed.
Derek: “To keep doing what we’ve been doing and maintain what we’ve built. Everything else, at this point, we’re not ready to talk about.”
Aaren: “The standard, raise the bar higher.”
Mark appeared through the doors of the venue. Joey followed with his equipment.
Derek: “Mark, what’s the goal for Konkrete Jungle Detroit?”
Mark: “Uh…dominate Detroit with drum n’ bass. Show that there’s more to drum n’ bass than what people think. It’s many different styles, it’s not just drumstep, it’s not just jump-up, it’s not just top-ten Beatport. It’s jungle, there’s footwork, there’s so much more to it.”
“Let’s get a little background on Mark. Mark, what did you listen to before electronic music?”
Aaren: “Crap.” Aaren laughed then slipped inside to collect his things.
Mark: “Probably hip hop. I mean, I got into this when I was 12 years old. I first started playing when I was 12, mashing house and hip hop. I grew up on it.”
“Where did you grow up?”
Mark: “St. Louis. Outside St. Louis in Illinois. I moved here in ’92.”
Joey: “Detroit is actually the bonding force that brought us together.”
“What do you think Detroit does for the image of KJD? What does Detroit bring to the table for all of Konkrete Jungle?”
Mark: “Determination and grittiness.”
Joey: “There’s that word again, determination. We don’t give up!”
Derek: “We’ve been here, man.”
Mark: “I played my first rave in 1992 when I was 15 and I was playing jungle. Well, it was hardcore then. That’s determination.”
Joey: “I was smokin’ doobies under the bleachers then.”
“Where did you get the name, 8en?”
Mark: “I was in this French class in high school and we had to pick a name. I chose Etienne. And I guess instead of spelling it, I shortened it to 8en.”
Derek: “I remember when I had to play before him on my first gig. I was like, 8en, who’s this chump.” He laughed.
“Where was that?”
Derek: “A Michigan Drum N’ Bass party.”
Mark: “I put an “S” in front of it and went by S8en when I played gabber.”
“Where should we go for more DNB & jungle between KJD shows?”
Joey: “Bassline shows (www.basslinedetroit.com). We have content there, interviews with Total Science, Krinjah.”
Derek: “Bassdrive (www.bassdrive.com/v2/)”
Mark: “Everyday Junglist, check out our podcasts (www.everydayjunglist.biz)”
“And, of course, the next Konkrete Jungle Detroit show is your Movement after party, Sunday, May 25th, at the Majestic with DJ Dara, AK1200, and Gridlock” (www.movementafterparties.com/konkrete-jungle-detroit/).
I ran out of time on my recorder. I thanked the guys and said goodbyes, then left the KJD crew behind. Till next time!