Today we’re happy to bring you our first extended interview. Our very own Bowly took the time to catch up with KON and ask him some questions about his roots, philosophies, influences and more. Find out more about the edit maestro below.
KON = King Of Nothing, how did you come up with that name?
Well KON is a name that comes from doing Graffiti, that was my tag/nickname in the mid ‘80’s (probably ‘85). I started writing graffiti in ‘83 and I was a B-Boy as well. The whole time I have been collecting and playing records.
So you were basically a DJ from the beginning of your involvement in Hip-Hop?
It depends on what you call a DJ. I have been playing records for other people and myself since I was 4. In that regard I always had access to records and have been going through older peoples’ collections since that young. But I didn’t actually start DJing with 2 turntables and a mixer until 1985.
You come from a musical family… so you always had music and musicians around growing up right?
My father was a drummer. My parents split up when I was four or five, and later on by 1979/1980 my mother re-married with a musician that used to play in a band called Face To Face, their debut LP was on Epic, Arthur Baker produced it. At the time, 1981/82 I had all kind of musicians in my household, people from Spyro Gyra, basically the who’s who of the Boston live music scene of that time. I would go to practice with them and watch. I was 9/10 years old and around these musicians in their late 30’s.
Did this give you the urge to pick up an instrument yourself? Maybe you did?
Yeah, I started playing drums at 4 (playing a hihat). That came from my father, I played percussion… I basically banged on anything I could make a beat out of.
From then on you got into Hip-Hop in Boston, what was the scene like back then?
At that time, hip-hop as we know it now didn’t exist. There was no such thing as a Hip-hop section in a record store. There was nothing on TV. 1983/84 the biggest crew, the best, was the Floor Lords (they’re still around also now it’s a different generation).
The early 80’s in Boston was fresh in both senses of the word (cool, new and exciting). I had family in New York as well so from going to NYC I would see the graffiti there. Both my parents could draw so the graffiti thing came pretty naturally and also, when my mother re-married not only was her new husband a musician but he was also a sign painter by trade. He taught me so much about the mathematics of letters and true essence of graffiti is nothing more than letters. Connections need to make sense, the math has to line up, it has to be correct. So all that stuff, led me to being pretty involved with graffiti, Hip-Hop and then DJing.
I saw the movie called Wild Style, that changed things, but also Style Wars, really made quite the impact. There is a scene where Grand Master Flash is in the kitchen, cutting up breaks and that’s when it all made sense to me. That’s when I said “Oh, I got all these records! This is what you’re supposed to be doing with them! What I’m supposed to be doing!”. I asked my grandmother for a mixer for Christmas, she bought me a RadioShack mixer. I actually still got the picture of the moment when I opened the box. That forever changed my life.
So obviously, early Hip-Hop, Disco and Funk go hand in hand but did you have a taste for Disco on its own, like mainstream Disco back then?
Well, I actually witnessed it first hand. I was in the club in 1979 as a boy. My mother would take me to a club that was called Spin Off on Saturday nights. That was a roller skating club. That was a different time. You couldn’t do that today. Here I was 7 years old and my mother had me pretty young so she was in her mid twenties by then. That was when “Off The Wall” just came out, The Crusaders’ “Street Life”, “Machine”, “Grace of God”, Taana Gardner, there were so many records that I would hear at these nights that also forever shaped my taste as far as Disco goes. So I definitely caught the Disco bug back then. That time, that music, that magic, I have such a connection to that music. I feel blessed I had that opportunity.
The 80’s was a big mixed bag of styles for DJs, were you aware of House back then as well?
House didn’t come yet. House was the revenge for Disco, because of the early 80’s backlash. But yes you could go to a party in the mid/late 80’s and hear it. You had the Jungle Brothers with “I’ll house you”. At that time you had Hip-Hop artists doing house, Queen Latifah, Special Ed, EPMD. There would always be these uptempo house influenced things that you would hear. But also the DJs at the time would play it so you would hear Marshall Jefferson and Fast Eddy and records like this. They were part of the menu for the night.
So when did the editing/remixing or even producing start out for you?
Well it was in ’91. I was in a rap group called Mixed Nuts, Stretch and Bobbito showed us a lot of love. We did a lot of stuff locally. But by the mid-90’s I started to do a lot of productions with another partner of mine. I always kept it off and on, it’s something I like to do.
Had you started producing with sampling, were you already doing edits?
Oh yeah it was heavy sample-based music. Actually the first beat I ever produced is up on my Soundcloud, it’s called “Assorted Flavours”, it’s the whole song, not just the beat.
You’re known for your DJing but also for your edits & remixes. I read your first edit got released because somebody was trying to bootleg it.
It’s the Cerrone one, my biggest and most well known work to date. I sent it to Gilles Peterson and he really liked it so he was playing it on the show. It kind of took off, so a lot of people asked me for it like Jazzanova, etc. One day I was online and I saw a record store in Germany that listed my remix as a pre-order, on vinyl! I listened to the clip and it was straight from the radio show with Gilles’ voice over it. They were gonna release it like this. I couldn’t believe it, so I contacted the shop and let them know it’s me. I said “Listen, you’re not gonna carry this”. So I quickly had to move on it. At the time I had a friend who had been running a record label for a long time. I asked him if we could release that record and if we could beat the date of the other one. We pulled that in a week…
So back then you were only doing edits and remixes for your own practice as a DJ, and giving it to friends.
Oh yeah, I had no intentions of putting that out. But it’s a good thing I did [laughs].
I read that you almost always have the master tapes of the original recording when you edit them, was that true back then as well?
Yeah, that one came from a master tape as well…
I know you won’t reveal how you got ahold of the master tapes… so I won’t ask (laughs)
It’s a tree in my backyard, I just pick it (laughs)
You seem to say there is some kind of network for these though… that make it sound very mysterious. “I need this track you need this one, let’s trade!” So you collect multi-track tapes just like you collect records?
Yeah. That’s just me, but other people collect them as well… there is a few people out there that have some nice collections of multi-tracks and I think the people that really know what’s going on with that stuff, they also know who has what and who doesn’t.
Did your family background help you to find these in any way?
No. I just had some things that other people didn’t have and vice versa, and we traded. That’s how it worked. More importantly, while I may have pissed some people off by putting out some of this stuff or revealing that I even have it, at the same time, from what I understand and what I’ve been told by the people that I really respect and are older than me, they respect my work, what I’m doing. It’s nice to have somebody like John Morales or somebody like Dimitri (from Paris) telling you “Good job! Keep up the good work!” playing your stuff, that’s rewarding.
So do you ever do rough edits from a record or stereo file?
Oh yeah, of course I do.
I know that some people have rules, guidelines about what’s an edit or what’s a remix, they also have guidelines on how to do them. Where do you draw the line between an edit and a remix for example?
If I just take song and just re-arrange the parts, say I get rid of a bridge, I extend the intro, maybe the break that’s an edit. I think the stuff that I do with multitrack sessions, those are remixes. To quote Danny Krivit “What you are doing are full-on remixes”. And he is arguably one of the initial guy who did edits and popularized them in the 80’s.
The other thing that I don’t like is that people call everything and anything an edit and they do it because of this world of “Disco edits”. To me when somebody samples a record and they do a new drum track and EQ, filter it, that’s not an edit, that’s sample-based music. Because if that’s the definition of an edit then that means that Pal Joey’s “Hot Music”, Buckethead’s “The Bomb” are edits, that means almost all of house music records are edits. That’s not true. That’s just wrong to call them that and I don’t know who started that and why people call it that but to me it’s not accurate. If you listen to A Tribe Called Quest instrumental, it’s sample-based music, you’re not gonna call it an edit, right?
There seems to be a trending resurgence of edit appreciation in the dance music world, you see them pop up everywhere. What do you make of this? Do you think it is a catchphrase/buzz word…?
Totally! I think it’s trendy. I mean, to each their own. If someone’s creative and they do a good job, more props to them. There’s a downside, an over-abundance of it, it’s over-saturation. It gets to the point where there are 10/15 edits of the same song. I don’t want to hear Donald Byrd’s “Love has come around” edited for the 20th time, give it a rest, find another song!
Another thing though is I feel that with dance music, all roads lead to disco. So for the kids that were into Justice a few years ago, or whatever house record they were into, when they want to find out about the roots of this well they discover Disco. And I guess the word “edit” helps people to discover where it’s coming from. Much like hip-hop, which is how it started for me. I’d hear a hip-hop song and I’d say “wait a second, my mother has this Grover Washington Jr. record, I grew up on that record!” You can’t be mad at discovery! So however somebody’s getting into it doesn’t matter that much.
Are most of the edits/remixes you’re doing now commissioned by the artist/label or is it still you taking it upon yourself to work on some material you like?
It’s both. I still do things on my own initiative because it’s a song I like. I’m just toying around with it and I make my own personal version. This past year, I’ve done a few things officially. The Loose Joints record and stuff like that. I don’t even know how I arrived at this point, over time you just keep doing what you do because you love it and then certain things happen.
I saw you were working a lot with Caserta lately, you did a remix for his record last year and he seems to be mixing and/or mastering all your new records…
He’s been mixing pretty much everything I’ve done since the album. He produces and DJs as well but mixing is his thing, that’s his art. He really takes that seriously and he watches and studies everyone from like Dave Pensato, all the big names, from the pop guys all the way down. To me that’s a lost art. And I think that with the accessibility through software and plugins so many people can produce and they make these amazing records but a lot of times the mix is horrible because they do it themselves. I think some of the best records throughout time have had someone separate mixing the songs because that’s an art form in and of itself. And it takes a lot of work. I enjoy the science of sounds but I’m not gonna sit here pretending that I can make the record sound as good as he can.
So what’s your studio looking like? What do you use? Hardware/Software? A mix of both?
You can’t do edits with hardware. You just can’t. When I talk to John Morales about it. He told me that he doesn’t miss tape editing, because it was a lot of work. So I use Ableton for editing and producing, I still have my MPC, I got another Akai Sampler but I’m not really using them anymore, because I’d use Maschine. I also got an OP1 synth, I got a bunch of plugins. I love analog, I love synths but I’m not a synth collector. My setup is pretty simple. It’s my laptop and soundcard, my records. Some people spend money on stuff like synths, over the years I’ve spent money on records. I got records in every room. I play original music and incorporate that, but I love sample-based music.
In another interview you seemed to be pretty critical of the validity of the claim to quality of vinyl versus digital when it comes to DJing contemporary music, since most of it is composed on digital equipment. And now I guess you see even more of that “all vinyl set/all vinyl DJ”… what do you think of that?
Look, I’m not gonna give somebody extra point because they show up with a bunch of records. So what? I think this is something a lot of younger people want to overcompensate for… Vinyl is the coolest medium to store music on. Do I care extra if you show up and play records? No, because I wanna get lost in the music, I don’t wan’t to sit there and stare at what you’re doing in a booth, unless you’re a scratching DJ but other than that I have no business staring at you and what you do! I want an experience, a skilled set that is not gonna leave me train-wrecked all night and I want a selection to be on point. That’s all that matters to me.
In my opinion there still is or can be a benefit of something produced digitally or in the box and compressed on analog equipment but not to the extent of justifying all this snobbery around all hardware, all analog, I agree…
How much of this new music pressed on record is true analog or even analog at all? It’s just a digital wave or whatever pressed to vinyl specs. The truth to the matter here is not the vinyl. It comes down to tape. Tape is what that saturation, that warmth, comes from. If you’re not doing that anywhere in the chain of said project going to vinyl, then you’re missing the point in my opinion. And I’m not being snobby to others, I’m just like “Why do you give a shit?” Does it bang or not? All this to say, I put the music first, that’s what it’s about for me.
I know you play with Serato but do you bring out vinyl as well?
Yeah, I do! I always have a stack of 45’s. I don’t like to travel overseas with vinyls because if I bring records, I don’t have room to buy records to bring back. So I like to keep it minimal because every city I hit, I’m going to the record store. Just about everything that I bring out physically on vinyl, I have personally ripped digitally.
Also, a lot of venues are not designed to play vinyl. And you never know what you’re walking into: feedback from the turntables because they are not setup to play vinyl. But I definitely enjoy playing on 45’s, it’s just fun. They’re little, they’re challenging. It’s a different workflow. But it has nothing to do with me trying to be flashy or this vinyl warrior or this champion. I’m record obsessed but it has nothing to do with trying to be cool.
How do you search/discover new music these days. Are you still strictly going to record shops or online or both?
I hate internet digging, I hate pressing play and looking at the screen for hours. So what I end up doing is going through friends. They just give me folders or what I do is check charts from DJs who’s tastes I like and narrow it down. There’s nothing like going into a record store and having the shop workers put on a record in the shop for everyone to hear and getting that reaction, having your mind blown, whether it’s an old record or a new one, it’s still new to you, and you go “What the fuck is this?” and then you go “Oh! It’s this? I need it!” That, to me, you can never duplicate with anything digital.
Do you use Discogs?
I use it only when I’m trying to find something that is out of print or something that I discovered when I do some research. I guess Discogs is especially good for protecting you from getting ripped off for overpriced records. If someone is trying to sell you something for 80 quid in England and then you look around, you can find it for US$30, so in this sense it is beneficial for all of us.
Sometimes it’s the other way around though, I’m on Discogs and I go to a record shop and the guys have actually marked it down or didn’t look online (granted that’s less and less), there is one shop in Montreal like that, they make a point NOT to price according to Discogs, old school in the good sense…
Yeah, I love this, and I feel that when you are like this with people, you establish a good relationship with them, you get some returning customers… they come back to you.
It seems like the prices are getting crazier and crazier though, online and even in real life… and it seems like once a record has been played by this or that DJ the prices are surging overnight.
I’m guilty of being one of those guys I guess [laughs], making a record go for a lot of money. I know I’ve made records that I got for 40/50 bucks go for thousands of dollars. But I can’t control it.
But is it a new phenomenon? Do you remember it being like this back in the days, say 20 years ago?
Yeah, but not to this extent, the price would drive up, you could end up paying 200/300 for a record but now I see records that go for prices that are just absurd. Some people have that kind of money to burn. I’ve had the opportunity to buy some incredible records in the past year or two, for a lot of money and these are records that commend a thousand dollars, but I think I’m over that, like “Now I have it, Oooh!” I don’t know…
It almost feels like “I didn’t work hard enough”. Like “find something that is cheap and amazing, and that less people know or hype”.
And there’s plenty!!! There is so many dollar bin records out there that will whack the party just as much, and even probably more than the rare ones. The only people who care about the rare ones are a very small group of, for lack of a better term, nerds. And I’m one of them, I care about good music, and if it’s rare and it falls under that, well… but I guess I’ve grown up a little bit in the sense that I can’t justify spending absurd amount of money on an object.
There seems to be more of an appreciation these days for DJs who are diverse, go all across the board, like Hunee for example. It seems to be happening more now than say ten years ago. I guess it’s better for you… maybe you’re part of the inspiration or at least this movement in the scene…
Well, I don’t know about that but if I was I’m proud, because I’m from an era where if you wanted to rock a party you needed your crate of classics, you needed some reggae, you needed some house, you needed some breaks, you needed R’n’B and Hip-Hop. A good DJ is gonna take you on a journey and play everything. They’re a sponge, soaking up as much as he or she can, and then giving you their experience, as opposed to “I just play house”.
Who would you name as a personal hero or main inspiration when it comes to DJing? Who did you look up to when you were still a young DJ yourself?
Well, if we’re talking about the DJs that influenced me. A lot of people my age would probably name these guys. Cash Money and Jazzy Jeff from Philly, and if we’re going back to the mid-80’s, Marley Marl as a DJ, Red Alert. These were the influences for me. Locally, DJ Jess Marquis was a huge influence on me and then there was M&M, DJ T. Clarke (?), WILD 1090 was the radio station, those are the guys that shaped me. As I grew there was also J Rocc, who’s a friend of mine and could play any style of music. Also a DJ I have played with in Japan was DJ Nori, he played an all disco set which I had never seen him play. To this day, this is one of the best disco sets I’ve heard. I was blown away that somebody who is so removed from that culture would know what record to play with what record, not just technically, he knew how to put the set together, he killed it and that was really inspiring. There are so many unsung DJs that are so good. My friend from Miami, goes by the name of Why Not, he’s an incredible DJ.
And if we’re talking editing or remixing, who would that be for you? A great influence of yours? John Morales? Tom Moulton since he’s from Boston? Or…
Tom has inspired me early, but I can’t say that he would be an inspiration in terms of modern approach, because Tom’s style is very different than say John’s (Morales). I would say Walter Gibbons, John Morales, also Joey Negro is really good, Dimitri has done some really good remixes, also Reflex. Those would be the guys. But in terms of influencing me, Walter had an influence, Shepp Petitbone, François K for sure, and John Morales’ name is on a lot of records I own, a whole lot. Walter didn’t do that many records in comparison but if you listen to his mixes for the time, nobody was doing what he was doing; nobody! Walter was so left-field, he would just come with a drum break and congas in tons of reverb, just so in your face with it. He was so ahead of his time. It had less to do with a traditional song structure and kind of just getting lost in a groove. I definitely try to incorporate that when I do my style.
Larry (Levan) has done some great mixes as well, fortunately I became friends with John and friendly with François as well and they told me first hand stories of working with Larry and how a record came to be. I’m just like a little kid when I listen to these stories and ask these questions (laughs). These guys are in their 60’s you know.
Let’s talk a little about Star Time. It started out in 2013, right? It seems to be mostly you edits and your remixes, correct?
Yeah 2013. It’s remixes of big names hence Star Time. It’s a play on James Brown’s “Ladies and gentlemen, it’s star time!” It’s George Benson, Donna Summer, Chaka Khan. It came to a point where I didn’t really need someone else to put out my records. There is Recloose who did a cover. We did a 45. He covered Danger Zone with a live band. He made it sound almost like Dilla but with live musicians.
Is Nile Rodgers aware of the Sheik?
Oh, he knows! I wouldn’t get the permission; it’s too much red tape. It’s way too complicated and I don’t think it’s big enough so the labels would wanna be like “Let’s reissue this!”
When you see when the label hit you up it’s never for that kind of stuff but for shitty dubstep remix and they ruin the song.
What’s next for you in 2016?
Well I got a compilation coming out on BBE called Kon & The Gang. It’s all original music, and it features Bosq, Tricky, Osunlade, Eli Escobar, Caserta, a bunch of new stuff. It’s me as a DJ presenting the stuff I like from friends of mine. It’s kind of a mix tape. If you look at the 90’s, a lot of DJs did this. They compiled songs that would be new or old and presented them. One of my own is on there. I also got more remixes coming out and then some more stuff on Star Time.