Interview with Innerflight: J-Sun Talks Techno to Tokyo
Jason Zucker, otherwise known as J-Sun, is the founder of Innerflight Music, one of Seattle’s premier record labels and party makers. He just returned from a nine-month trip around the world from Thailand to France and many points in-between.
Here he shares his impressions of the international electronic music community and Seattle’s special place in it, electro in Nepal and disco in Laos, gigging in Tokyo and Istanbul, the sound of flat palm on fat booty, novaTRON’s home planet, Kadeejah’s hair, upcoming releases for Innerflight and the label’s Decibel Festival showcase and of course, the basic human right of an underground party.
You can find music from the amazing Innerflight roster on Beatport; just released today is the remix album of m.0’s “Lift Us Up” EP featuring remix work from Spektre, Mynus and Nerd Revolt. From deep tech house to experimental neo-tribalism, glitchy funk to magnetic progressive, this album is an excellent manifestation of the beautiful variety of the Innerflight sound. Listen to and buy it here.
First of all, you are answering these questions from the other side of the world. How have your recent travels affected your perception of electronic music culture both abroad and at home?
Being abroad has reminded me that electronica continues to be more popular and commercialized in the rest of the world than in the States. You just don’t get dance muzak playing over the loud speaker in the grocery stores back home. Even the “underground” parties in cities like Berlin can still be large events with long lines to get in. At the same time, there is something incredible about being at a techno party with a hundred thousand people. Stateside, things are just not on that level. It’s much more subdued. The industry is not as big, but the vibe is often better because of that. The ideal is to have both the hype and the underground vibe, but this is a difficult balance to maintain. I wasn’t expecting it, but being abroad made me appreciate Seattle and the West Coast music scene a lot more.
Where have you heard the best music? What global trends have you noticed in EDM? Will your travels affect what you play when you return home?
Laos had some great music. The disco there is epic! As everyone knows, electro has become the biggest thing in electronica, but I didn’t grasp just how popular it has become until I was in Nepal, trekking 12,000 feet above sea level. In a small village, I heard electro tunes pumping out of a kid’s cell phone. Some of his friends were huddled around the phone with him listening to this bangin’ tune. These people didn’t even have running water, but they had electro!
I’m definitely bringing back some influence of international sounds with me. I love combining organic sounds & techy beats when I deejay and a lot of traditional world music can be perfect for this mixture of the natural and synthetic worlds.
Is there truly an “international electronic music community” and have you found it? Have you played out any, and if so, what did you play?
There are pockets of an international music community in almost every country. On a commercial level, festivals like Sonar, WMC, Mutek, and Decibel Festival represent the electronica slice of the greater international community. Every local area has it’s own unique musical tastes and culture, but there are universals that seem to run through all music scenes in the world.
For music, I loved Tokyo, Saigon, and Istanbul. Then again, those were some of the places I gigged in and that always has a big influence on your impression of a place. People were really feeling the house music in the places I performed at. There were moments, actually most of the times I played, when I would attempt to play more techno and electro, but the crowds were feeling the funk. Maybe people in other countries expect that from U.S. DJs.
My impromptu gigs in Laos were a lot of fun because I was able to play whatever I wanted, no expectations. Laos’s people are amazingly friendly and they really know how to enjoy themselves. They love good beats and they love to dance.
Have you discovered any new genres or styles that you will bring home to Seattle? What seems to be the most popular electronic music out there? Can anything uproot the global popularity of trance? And trance: Why?
In Southeast Asia, nothing exciting was really going on in terms of new music, so I got into the traditional sounds of these cultures. In Vietnam, they have a stringed instrument called the (Bon Bow), and it makes a beautiful pitch bend sound from bending the notes on the string. Long ago, young women were not allowed to listen to the sounds of this instrument for fear that they would fall in love with the man who was playing. I’m excited to hear more beats coming out of the developing countries because there are so many incredible traditional sounds that could be represented. At the beginning of the trip, I played on Ko Chang in Thailand. It was a total reality check for me. I was expecting to drop some techy West Coast funk but the requests for trance from Europeans on holiday were relentless. Some people were shouting at me to speed the music up to 140 BPMs. Luckily I had some solid progressive tunes with me to appease the masses, but I absolutely refuse to play music that fast.
It’s hard to believe, but it seems like electro has knocked trance out of the top spot for global electronica popularity. I’m not sure if this is good or bad though because now electro is what’s hip to hate on.
Trance is like fly paper…Why trance? Why Pachinko? Why do people eat dogs? Why florescent lighting? Why does the entire continent of Europe all go on vacation at the same time? You just can’t ponder these questions or you’ll drive yourself mad.
What is the concept behind Innerflight and where did it come from?
Innerflight is about the journey within. The internal struggle that everyone goes through to be themselves and to follow their heart towards what they really want to be doing with their life. So much of what we do is about more than just music. It’s about self-expression, autonomy, and the community you surround yourself with. Innerflight is a live free or die approach to life and also towards music. We believe in diversity, and the label reflects that musically. I want to help other artists that are also inspired by this concept.
What influenced you to start the label, and what inspires you to continue doing it?
In 2002, I moved to Berlin for four short months to see what all the fuss was about, and I was re-inspired about music. I had been going to parties in the States since the glory days of the mid 90’s. In Berlin, I experienced the same magic that was once spread across the U.S. during the 90’s, and it convinced me that it was still possible to do it again in the states on some level. Everyone who loves electronic beats deserves to feel the magic of an underground party. It’s a civil liberties issue in my opinion, a basic human right.
The people around me are the inspiration to continue on as well as all artists in the world that are following their passions.
What is happening for Innerflight in the upcoming year? What crazy parties and themed events are on the horizon?
We’ve shifted gears in a major way this year. The focus has gone from event production to music production and distribution. Our parties are not the priority anymore. We’re committed to the development of Seattle into a hotspot for electronic music, just as it was for grunge in the 90’s. There are many talented musicians in the Northwest and we want to help develop and promote them by connecting with the greater global music community.
We do love to throw parties and that will never end. However, we want our events to be a special occurrence; that’s how you keep the magic going in my opinion. In an effort to not take ourselves too seriously, we do an annual event called the Tournament of Champions. The party combines a night of sick beats with the opportunity to mash up on your friends in competitions like darts, ping-pong, and arm wrestling.
IFM covers a broad spectrum of genres. How would you describe the Innerflight sound? What theme holds all these genres together? What is the glue that connects Innerflight?
Some say, our sound is best described as “Flat Palm on Fat Booty.” Instead of a specific genre of music, we are bound together by a psychedelic spirit. Music is a “shortcut” into experiencing our collective nature, and dancing is an expression of this. We are known in the NW for having some of the best parties and dance floors around. Where everyone feels connected to each other and to the Earth through the music. By not limiting our releases to a specific genre or sound, we show another facet of what Innerflight is about: freedom of expression. Though we are bound together by spirit, we also recognize that music is a unique expression of the soul, and to limit that to certain types of machine/instrument noises and tempos would be a shame.
Innerflight proves the old adage “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts” to be true in a spiritual sense.
What music do you love to play most? What did you listen to as a kid?
I love to play music that feeds your head and shakes your ass at the same time. The line between house and techno is a gray one. As a kid, I was influenced by my older brother who turned me on to the alternative sounds of the late 80’s. By the early 90’s, I was in high school listening to grunge, industrial music, and hip hop. Things really began to change when I discovered artists like Aphex and The Orb. I went to my first party in 94′ and discovered the SF based Wicked Crew. These guys changed my musical life and showed me that it’s all about making people shake it, and the culture and lifestyle that surround that. They also taught me that as a DJ, it’s about not being afraid to mash up genres and play whatever you feel like playing.
What have been some of your favorite Innerflight shows or events?
My favorite event that we organize is our annual free party in Golden Gardens Park every September, called “Sunset Seattle”. We like to think of it as our gift to the community as well as a last opportunity for everyone to enjoy the summer weather. It’s going down again on Sunday Sept. 20th and this will be our 5th year doing the event. It seems to get better every year.
Innerflight Music is a major player in the Seattle EDM scene. To what do you attribute to your status in Seattle? How did you guys get where you are? Hard work? Hard partying? Kadeejah’s hair?
How about D, all of the above?
The Seattle EDM community is small but extremely passionate. How does Innerflight contribute to this city’s unique EDM culture?
We just do our thing, which consists of throwing parties and releasing music. Seattle has many great promoters throwing amazing events all the time, but there are very few labels actually releasing music. Hopefully our contribution is considered vital to Seattle being taken seriously on a global level.
Conversely, how has the city of Seattle, the climate and the culture contributed to the Innerflight identity?
Even though the electronic scene is small, there are a lot of party makers here in Seattle. In a lot of cities, too many cooks in the kitchen create a lot of backstabbing, but here it’s inspiring to see so many promoters working together. Of course there is an undercurrent of friendly competition, but for the most part we have all become close friends over the years. The other local promoters around us have helped shape our identity into one based on community rather than ruthless competition where the bottom line means profit. This is a very Pacific Northwest mentality and most people that come to visit find it refreshing.
Who does IFM collaborate with? Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
We’ve collaborated to some degree with almost every promotion crew in Seattle. Local promoters: Uniting Souls, Shameless, and Sensory Effect are extended family for us, but now we are beginning to collaborate with more people internationally. Our efforts for the future are focused in this direction.
What music are you loving right now? What sounds are doing it for you? Innerflight has a lot of recent releases out- any favorites?
There always seems to be artists in every genre that I can get excited about. I’m really loving the indie tunes Matias Aguayo from Buenos Aires is putting out right now. For techno, it’s all about Spektre and on the house music tip, Jamie Jones and Thomas Schumacher are on fire. I never get tired of the Dirty Bird and Turbo labels as well.
I’d have to say that our two new releases coming out on the label this September are my favorites so far. The first is a remix EP of m.0’s classic “Lift Us Up” track that will feature new mixes from UK’s Spektre, Nerd Revolt and Mynus. The second release is an electro single by Anglo Satellite titled “Bangin Bogus Basin”. Several remixes to choose from on this one from the likes of Will Bailey, Spenza, Titan, Pellusje, and Anglo’s alternate moniker Snowman. We’re also expecting a new 4 track EP from Nerd Revolt this autumn as well as the highly anticipated novaTRON full length. You can purchase our music on Beatport.
They are throwing “West Coast” theme parties in Bali right now. Is Innerflight part of this West Coast Future Sound Movement? Is Seattle? How is Seattle different from all other EDM communities?
Didn’t make it to Bali, but I would imagine a “West Coast” theme party would have a So Cal motif rather than a NW. Personally, I think knit caps and old growth trees are so much sexier than board shorts and breast implants.
How is Innerflight working to bring new faces into the electronic music community?
We believe in our local artists and trust in their creativity to bring new sounds into the scene. Part of the focus of my travels was to discover and network with other artists and promoters in order to bring exposure on both sides.
Where do you see the Innerflight sound headed, and EDM in general? Any new fads that you think are here to stay? Any you wish would go away?
EDM is always looking for new creative sounds and so are we. There is always a new style of music coming out that draws from previous influences, but still has something new and fresh to keep people interested for a time. Then it blows up, goes commercial, and it’s onto the next cool thing. Then again, what’s popular isn’t always what is good. We focus on what we think is good whether it’s popular at the moment or not. The best labels and music are timeless. Aren’t people bored with dubstep yet? I know I am….
How important is unity in the EDM culture? Do you think Innerflight’s multi-genre sound contributes to community cohesion? How?
Seattle promoters do their best to get along and I think we are a great example of unity within the EDM culture. I can only hope that by representing multiple genres at our parties and on our label we are helping to bring people together. I get bored when I go to a party and it’s the same style of music for 8 hours.
Which artists that you work with are super hot right now?
Tell me the truth: is novaTRON from another planet?
Sure, if you consider Shoreline another planet….
Will Innerflight be involved in the Decibel Festival in Seattle again this year? How?
Being a contributing partner in the Decibel Festival again gives us great pride. We’ll be hosting The Red Eye Afterhours event, exclusively showcasing Innerflight label artists. The party will represent the diversity of the label and feature all live sets from Phil Western, Novatron, Nerd Revolt, & Gel Sol.
Innerflight has a thick and very loyal fan base in the Pacific Northwest. To what do you attribute that?
I’m not really sure. You’ll have to ask our audience about that one, but maybe it’s because THE DJs ARE HOT!!
Are you looking for new DJs/producers to join your crew?
I think we have enough residents, but we are always interested in expanding our label roster.
Tell me about the art car airplane, especially the “elixir bar” in the back- what kind of fun do you guys serve up under the tail?
We built a 50 foot long art car in the shape of an airplane with a bangin’ sound system on one side and an elixir bar in the tail section. We made the elixir bar non-alcoholic, serving up fresh juices and baby coconuts to thirsty citizens of Black Rock City. I spent the entire summer of 2008 working on this project with an amazing crew of friends, and it all paid off in the end!
What will Innerflight be doing in five years? Where would you like to see the label? Will you stay in Seattle?
In 5 years, our label artists will be well established internationally. Seattle will have a stronger resonance on the global music radar, and Innerflight will still be rocking the local underground parties.
Free for your listening pleasure, a taster of artists from Innerflight Music:
Download Mynus’s Original Mix “Follow Me” here.
Download m.0’s “Lift Us Up” remixed by Spektre here.
Download Anglo Satellite’s “Bangin Bogus Basin” remixed by Spenza here.
Thank you Jason, and welcome home! Catch the Innerflight Red Eye Afterhours at the 2009 Decibel Festival in Seattle Friday, September 25 at the Electric Tea Garden featuring Phil Western, novaTRON, Nerd Revolt, Gel-Sol, Manos and Kadeejah Streets.