Residing in Brooklyn NY, Geko Jones is a DJ and producer who also throws the monthly tropical bass party Que Bajo! Geko has a serious love for digging up obscure records from Latin America and remixing so they can be played in the club. He also contributes to a number of websites including our own on the occasion. We sat down with Geko to get his thoughts on DJ culture, digging up obscure Latin records in Colombia and the possibilities of a good remix.
Saxon Baird– Let’s talk a little bit about your background. How did you get started producing and DJing and everything.
Geko Jones: I came to New York around 2003. I think that one of the things that happens to a city when catastrophe strikes, is that funding for arts is one of the first things to go. And I think I noticed in the first few years here there just wasn’t much going on, I think a lot of good artist either left the city or just weren’t vested in creating new things, and so it kind of stagnated in the first few years. I was looking for good parties, and since I didn’t find any, I started to do my own. Later, I hooked up with the Dutty Artz crew and started doing things, but I was already running a soundclash series, and dealing with cats like dubwar and a lot of the underground parties I was kind of getting into. Once I had my “ins” in the underground, I started making stuff and producing stuff on my own to kind of put a stamp down on what my sound was.
SB: What would you say your sound is?
GJ: I’m trying to stay particularly on some proud Latino stuff. I’m really interested in digging up a lot of the folkloric side of Latin music because it’s not something that’s been given a lot of credit. Right now, we focus on a lot of urban music on the radio, Reggaeton and muchato get a lot of play. To me, it’s the same thing, its made to be pop, its still, you know, people in skinny jeans and sun glasses and what not. It’s really not that different. So, I’m trying to bring in some very barefoot, rootsy stuff that reminds people what our heritage is.
SB: Why update it and make it club-friendly?
GJ: For me, when it comes to the stuff from deep inside of Colombia, it’s because it’s not really been popular ever. This music is from regions that haven’t been invested economically, not for schooling, not for running water, or anything. So these people have been left to their own devices, making their own music for a long time. And bringing that heritage outside of there to the world I think is important. And the other thing is that it’s kind of a last generation thing. If we don’t pay attention to this music, it’ll disappear, like a lot of things do over time, so I want to try and prolong that as long as possible.
SB: Can you talk about what record-digging, crate-digging is?
GJ – In Colombia, they have an over 50 year tradition of DJ culture. They are some of the first, besides Jamaica. They had some of the first big sound system parties with turntables. And the record diggers there, because Barranquilla was an international airport for all of South America, a lot of the vinyl came through there early, and as a result they got taster’s choice. And a few people got really big into African music. It’s amazing to me how many African records you can find in Colombia to this day. A lot of people are going out there now too. I know a few shops out there that are really cool. They also have a lot of history with salsa, Discos Fuentes is one of the oldest record labels in all Latin America, formed in 1934. I’m working with Discos Fuentes now, actually, on a series of remixes, bringing back a lot of their old catalogue, and kind of making it up to the time. That’s something I’m enjoying working with a lot of folks on. I’m kind of curating the process. There’s just all this great music out there, and if we don’t pay attention then it just fades. It’s as dope as all the stuff that hip-hop sampled from Motown so I want to shed some light on that.
SB: On that topic, are there any Colombian DJs or soundsystems or producers from back in the day that I would be able to access?
GJ: A lot of the working with folkloric stuff began like 10 to 15 years ago. You might be able to find some early examples from the early 90’s, but not many. For Colombian stuff, Sidestepper is pretty much the name to check for. Pernnet has been making stuff, started with that band, and made other stuff on his own, and he’s been around for a very long time. He’s another cat that I look up to a lot. Contemporary stuff like systema solar in Colombia I’m really big into because they have this fusion of really rave-ey stuff, but all their loops are real recordings of funeral folkloric percussionists and that is, for me, an instinctual thing to dance to this music. It’s definitely genetically embedded if you have blood from there.
SB: Lets talk about some remixes. I really dig the Oscar Neves, Angolan Semba one you did. Can you give me an explanation for how you went about doing that, and how it came together?
GJ: I’ve been fortunate to work with guys who are really nerdy and well-traveled and have amazing music collections. Also, I’ve amassed this really great world music catalogue on my computer via trading. Sometimes just leaving it on random, in like folders unknown, I come across stuff. I’ll hear it from the other room like “what is playing on my computer?” So I’ll run over and check it out. I kind of stumbled on semba and kizomba stuff on my computer.
So the semba stuff I started really getting into it, and not having my studio set up, I brought it over to Uproot Andy’s and I was like, “Look, we need to do this song. Period.” It’s an amazing tune! So we start to do our homework and we realized that a lot of the artists from that era actually died violently, either from the content of their music or just the times. I always like stories of censorship, and how that music tends to really be rocking. The censors always try to kill the most interesting, boundary pushing stuff. There is a lot of amazing stuff during that era. I think that Analog Africa just released another compilation of it called Luanda, the Unique Sounds of Angola. That’s a really beautiful compilation. We actually got another song, a b-side to that. And were trying to discuss, with the label that released them, I think their called Lusophone Africa, in France, to see if they want to release them. We haven’t put those out, actually. We just have them and played them on NPR and that’s been about it. So yeah, they work really well in the club, its really beautiful music, and I’m all about doing a few more of those.
S: How did you decide to actually go about, the technical side of putting it together?
GJ: You start with a tempo, and you know other things in that tempo, it’s kind of like that’s a house-y, UK funky speed, so that’s kind of where we went with it. And because it’s a really beautiful song anyway, and you don’t want to take too much away from the original, you give it a little intro, and little outro, and kind of let it live in the middle. We worked on it a lot recently, though, after that version, and I think we’ve cleaned it up a bit. It’s a little bit shorter, because it’s really long song. Which I think house DJs would appreciate, but he and I are more quick-mix party rock DJs, so we want stuff to get to the point and then give us an outro, so we can get out and get to the next thing really fast. I think that we’ve created a version of it that’s a little shorter and that’s probably what will be properly released, and maybe we will do an extended mix too.
S: I’m also interested in the remix of Boogat.
GJ: Boogat is just one MC, he’s from Montreal. As far as MC’s go, not a lot of cats can really walk up to a microphone for 45 minutes and really entertain a crowd, and he can just kill it. So big up to him for putting the time in, performance-wise. I mean, the cat can spit in three different languages. He’s just a versatile dude, and now he’s getting more into producing his own stuff, and he’s been grabbing rhythms from all different genres, he’s got a really great collective of dudes up there. He also goes out and explores on his own, and finds other producers that he’s into or other people that he wants to collaborate with. I like him a lot. It was nothing big. I wrote a riddim and he rapped over it. Actually, the story goes that I was working on a remix for another group that I work with, and the vocal was cool, but I was just like- let me pass this around. I like the Jamaican way of doing things, kinda like having more of a version culture, and having a few different versions of the tune. I thought if maybe I swap the riddim out from underneath it, then it would be cool. So I sent it out to a couple of people and he sent me that back like a few days later and I’m like, BOOM! It was in Spanish and everything, you know? It was all Latin pride and the girls love it, and so I loved it. I’ve been a big fan of his for a while. Getting to do a track with him was a no-brainer.
SB: Do you feel that it’s a responsibility for crate-diggers to try and reach out to the artist, and try to give them royalties? Like if somebody goes out and gets a bunch of records, and they come back and then they put together a compilation or something?
GJ: I think that’s important, particularly in cases where you have more than a sample that’s a second or two or a couple of bars in a loop. When you’re taking a whole song, and laying an entire verse and chorus over whatever beat you’ve constructed, I really feel like you can’t put your name as the thing. You put the name of the original artist, and this is your remix of their song. I think that this is something that Uproot Andy has been really respectful of and I’ve tried to be as much as possible as well. We really feel that it’s not our place to call something ours if its not, you know? I really wish that people would be more honest and forthcoming about where this stuff is coming from. Plus, even if you don’t have the royalties thing worked out, at least if the tune blows, then that artist will get some credibility. Then maybe people will look into that artist, and maybe they’ll make some money that way. Whatever the case may be, there is a give and take to things, and I think that transparency is really important.
SB: Some DJs look at it as cultural exchange. For example, I’m taking his music but I’m doing my own thing with it. Like “I’m using the artists stuff to DJ and remix but that artists took from someone else who took from someone else.” So there is sort of a musical exchange that goes on over time.
GJ: That goes back to riddim culture in Jamaica that I reference a lot. One of the biggest tunes from last year in Africa was the bam bam riddim with an old tune from Ghana. Or for example, the “Murder She Wrote” track gets sampled all the time in Reggaeton. I just feel that, particularly for me, when it’s a song in duration, that it’s important. There’s definitely DJs who remix Colombian stuff but don’t give it credit and it’s like, “ok, you’re all up in the Colombian stew, but you don’t want to give props to where the flavors from?” That’s not cool to me. When stuff is done badly, I’m even saltier about it. I mean to each their own, though. I can only be responsible for the things that I put out into the world.
SB: I talked with Chief Boima about this and he mentioned about the idea of the law being or standard for morality and how he feels that’s kind of false. Which I found interesting.
GJ: Don’t get me wrong. I’m not a huge fan of copyright law as it stands, but I do take it as my own personal obligation. It’s more a moral code to me than a thing about legality. When we get into the legal terms of it, I’m 100 percent with Boima on that stuff. I don’t really care, you know? I just feel, particularly even more with artists who are not alive and well, that those people to have their just dues because in a lot of cases, people who historically died too young, they won’t ever get the props for how many people became famous for the doors that they opened. When you have artists who are alive and touring and trying to make money, you can break bread with those people. Here stateside, we have access to more press on this side of the planet, you can actually do things for people here that are sometimes in really hard circumstances
SB: Do you feel like the accessibility, because of the internet and the advancement of technology, is so quick that anybody can download free software and put together something?
GJ: That’s exactly what it is. You no longer need a studio to make or record music, you can make it all on a laptop with your headphones. Just wash it through some EQ fake mastering program with a preset, it’ll do a relatively decent job. You can put stuff out there. Stuff like dynamic range and all these things to think about, the stuff that people went to school for are kind of getting tossed out the window, though. Then there’s the whole mp3 versus vinyl thing, and what does stuff really sound like, does it sound like music anymore if your making it on a computer? To me, if it works, if it makes people dance, I don’t really care about bitrate and stuff like that. I’m not as fickle about that. I just feel that the at-home studio has created the possibility for a lot more people to make a lot more mediocre music, if not terrible music altogether. Now it’s just way harder to sift through to find stuff. As soon as you find a little pocket of good stuff, as soon as too many people get a hold of it, then it gets really thick and cluttered and you can’t find as much good stuff anymore. Soundcloud is a good example of that. A year ago on Soundcloud I was finding dope tunes left and right, and now not so much.
SB: I was actually going to ask if you find that the whole Electro-Cumbia thing has become saturated with mediocrity.
GJ: What’s funny is I just feel that less people are making it. It happened, it buzzed, it fizzled, and like our culture does, let’s move on to something else now. Now everybody is talking about moombahton, and give it another six to nine months, we’ll be on something else. By the end of 2012 we’ll be somewhere else. Look a the 3Ball, tribal guarachero stuff. They’re talking about them on Univision and they’re charting on billboard Latino!=
What gives me confidence is that my wave hasn’t really risen yet, nobody really does what I do, and Andy kind of has his own lane as well. Though people may call it tropical bass, by the time they get wind of the hardcore rootsy Colombian stuff that we’re on, we’ll already have an albums worth of stuff from Angola. Then by the time they catch up to that, we’ll be on the next thing. Like, I have some really dope things from Singapore that nobody knows about. I never know where I’m gonna go. I’m nosey enough to be curious, and find stuff that I find really melodic and beautiful and that you can make a lot of timeless stuff with. I have a good ear for what makes people dance barefoot in warm weather, and I keep that in mind always. I like to think, “If I were at a beach, what would I play?” (Laughs) I feel that’s a lot of the success of Que Bajo. It’s a very tropical feeling climate, and in the dead of winter, in a blizzard of 12-inches of snow, we had 200 people out at a bar. No one had any idea of how they are gonna get home, but they aren’t going to miss that party because its only once a month, you know? That’s really what we go for, stuff that people feel like this stuff is amazing, and don’t wash it down with mediocrity just because that is what everybody else does. There’s no need. You can play awesome all the time.
SB – What’s in store for you long-term?
I’ve recently worked with the Dutty Artz collective on a lot of things. We have more long-term goals in mind. We haven’t been releasing a lot of stuff because we are pensive in what we do and I guess a little more cautious. We are working with this record label Palenque from down in Colombia, and we have gotten our hands on stamps on all this really dope rootsy Colombian music. Right now, we are working on this Colombia vs Palenque Records release right now, and it’s still in the very early stages, but we have a lot of really dope producers working on it. This is the go for the jugular type of album that really enforces the sound that I’m most into. Also, we are working in tandems with the artists, so this isn’t just taking their whole songs. We have been granted their stems to kind of do this in a more legal way, and have this out on iTunes and do it properly with a proper press push. This is going to be really important to me, because I have this idea that Latin America is ready for something that resonates across the continent and does something to kind of stir things up and change things and take things in a new direction. For a long time we have been looking from Latin America to Europe and the states for inspiration and innovation when, a lot of what we have historically, a lot of people from outside are finding inspirational now. They grew up with that stuff, so I think it will lead to a lot of of new production houses opening up shop down there, and that’s really important, because I’m a little bit jealous that Africa is really coming up with really dope stuff in Lagos and Nigeria. They have all these dope, vibrant scenes, and it’s very authentic. I don’t see that in Latin America as much. I feel that there are a lot more transplants going to Latin America, and kind of like working with a couple of local artists, but local artists kind of like bridging the gap and doing it on their own. So that’s what I’m hoping with this stuff I’m working over the next couple of years really does.
SB: Why do you think that is, that the artists aren’t really making that crossover?
GJ: There are definitely pockets. You get bands like Systema Solar, that are really on some really progressive stuff. Then on the urban side, you have the San Andreas kids, JD and DJ Booksy, kind of leading the attack. But there is all this interest in cumbia, but I didn’t really feel that the cumbia wave necessarily came from Colombia or came from Argentina. It was a worldwide thing. Mexico was involved in it but again, it really did feel like there just wasn’t as much of it as people might think. The press behind it was really good, but there wasn’t that much of it. When you went out three, four years ago when all of that stuff started getting talked about, those were very niche parties, very small parties, and not like huge scenes or anything. Where just now you have a party in Bogota that’s like five and six hundred people solid everytime, that’s able to bring out big names and work through sponsorship and doing stuff that kind of breaks the norm out there. Three years ago, you know, I was a nobody and they were booking me and getting excited and now they’re doing really big shows. I’m really hyped for them because they are, to me, the authentic people that are pushing the sound down there. There’s a party in Cali called Mi Casa that’s also on the sound and working, playing the stuff from Argentina. There is also stuff that’s coming from up here and Europe, and those to me are the parties that I really watch for. They are few and far between, but its just now getting started to become a popular thing.