IMJUSTINBRAUN: High-Fiveing Himself… Again
When it comes to interviewing opportunities, OTB does its best to create an environment where musicans are comfortable opening up to us and get facts that might not be disclosed to a lesser publication. We have found that the most effective way to do this is to assign interview opportunities based on relationships, preferably in person in an intimate setting.
I’ve got a lot of pretty awesome gigs coming up that I want to brag about, so when scanning through the 104 writers on the OTB roster, it came as no surprise that the writer who has the best relationship with myself, is, well, me.
I had the chance to sit down with my favorite DJ, IMJUSTINBRAUN in the Admiral’s club lounge at Philadelphia International Airport while he was waiting to board his plane to Chicago. He will be stopping in the windy city to quickly to pick up his DJ gear before heading off to Playa Del Carmen, Mexico; where he will be celebrating his 30th birthday with Unlisted Presents: Coven at the Coco Maya Beach Club on January 12th and 14th.
How did you get your start?
I’ve had a set of vinyl decks in my living room since 2008, though I never really took it seriously. I really just used them as a drunken gimmick to [attempt to] pick up chicks at my parties. Mastering my craft, getting gigs, or even practicing hadn’t really occurred to me.
Then in the spring of 2014 I had a major life crisis that caused me to re-evaluate everything. For the first time ever, I had a shitload of free time and no real direction. To fill the space, I got into yoga, partying, and music in a pretty big way. My first gig was at a yoga studio in San Jose, California in April of 2015. It’s been a complete obsession ever since.
You allude to a personal crisis and reinventing yourself, what happened?
In the spring of 2014, I was working for a software startup that I’d founded four years before. We were at the tail end of closing a round of VC funding when the cocksuckers who were supposed to make me a millionaire (on paper) pulled the plug at the last minute.
Afterwards I took a step back and realized that I’d been working so hard that I hadn’t even noticed how fucking miserable I was. I was working 18 hour days, six days a week, and for what? To pay the mortgages of a bunch of employees? To provide services for a bunch of douchy traders who never paid their bills? To support my unemployed girlfriend who had a terminal case of fun allergies? Fuck that. I fired everyone [girlfriend included], moved to a shitty apartment, and took the summer off to YOLO.
Where did you go from there and how did this warp into a career in music?
I decided that I’d spent so much time neglecting my friends and personal relationships, so the first order of business was to rebuild those. I started reaching out to friends I hadn’t seen in awhile, and was pleasantly surprised to find that they were all way cooler and more successful than they were when I left them. They were into dance music in a big way, so I started going to clubs and warehouses with them.
Were there any defining moments you can think of that pushed you into this?
Two actually. The first one was in July of 2014 at my first afterhours. I’d lost my phone earlier in the evening so I couldn’t shazam anything, but I remember sitting on this couch, holding hands with my friend’s girlfriend, watching the sun come up through this huge loft window, and thinking to myself “Holy shit a lot has happened to music while I was away. I don’t know what the fuck this is, but I want more.” A few weeks later, I came across this Tchami set on soundcloud and it hit me. YES!! THAT’S THAT SOUND AGAIN! DO MORE!!!
The second came after I’d played my first gig at a yoga event. One of the students came up to me asking if I’d post my mix on soundcloud so that they could use it in other classes. When I attempted to do so, my mix was bitch slapped down due to copyright restrictions. I had this huge “aha” moment when I realized that there was huge business opportunity here. Prior to that, I’d been struggling with the idea that as much as I loved music and yoga, it wasn’t going to pay the bills. As soon as I realized that if I busted my ass and built something that improved peoples’ lives, I wasn’t going to have to write trading software anymore. After that I was all in. Shortly after I was put in touch with Daniel, and it didn’t take long before we were business partners.
How would you describe your style?
I’ll be perfectly honest and say that I’m still sort of figuring that out. I just started playing out last April and it took a few months before I was even getting serious gigs, so developing my sound has been somewhat of a learning experience. I think early on I was really all about that future sound, though I’ve made a bit of a transition into a bouncier day drinking kind of sound. One thing that I really get off on doing is trying to troll my crowd a bit.
Trolling the crowd?
I like to play tracks that will divide a dance floor. The human mind is a powerful instrument that I’ve found fascinating to study. When the ear hears a note, the brain will predict what the next one will be. If it predicts correctly, you get a little dose of dopamine in your reward pathways, which is what makes music sound pleasing. Musical theory and staying in key is built on this.
If you hit a note that is ever so slightly off, the brain interprets this as “close, but no cigar.” In a crowd, there are two types of personalities; those who love being teased, and those who are intensely annoyed by it. There’s very little in-between. Playing tracks that are slightly warped can help you really learn about the personalities of a dance floor. Some people will move right up to the front of the crowd and start losing their minds, others will glare and get out their phones.
What was your most rewarding moment as a DJ in 2015?
A good friend invited me to play for his birthday party in Austin over Halloween. It started out on a boat, then moved to this club called Slate. The club was fun and I played well and had a good time.
The boat was another story. Remember that scene in Batman, The Dark Knight, where The Joker dressed as a nurse and blew up a hospital? That was my costume. The crowd was all these 40 year old raver types and most of them are DJ’s and producers. To say that I had a crowd of finely tuned judges would be an understatement. I headlined that party and I just remember changing the entire vibe of that boat. People were mostly mingling and drinking and then I went on. Ten minutes into my set and almost everyone was on the dance floor losing it. I was by far the rookie on the team and I don’t think anyone saw me coming. Getting the approval of an intimate crowd of musicians who are way above your pay grade was incredibly rewarding.
What do you have planned in 2016? Any collaborations or new tracks in the works?
I’m not ready to start producing yet. I believe in paying your dues and I’m still so new. I want to feel like I’ve really mastered the art of playing other people’s music before I’m to the point where I can start producing my own. My focus is really on playing out and learning from my mentors. January and February has a lot of excitement there.
By far the most exciting thing I’m doing is playing at the Coco Maya Beach Club in Playa Del Carmen on Jan 12 and 14. The event is a six day rager that will be live streamed on OTB’s homepage and January 14 is my 30th birthday. I’m playing at Spybar for Transmit in late January, headlining Squad Tuesday at Graffiti on January 19, and January 20 at Lokal for Consumed.
For the yogis out there, I can be found at the Hyde Park Corepower on Jan 30, Feb 24, and March 7.
Who would be your ultimate collaboration?
Claude Vonstroke is my hero. I’m a huge fan from both a music and business perspective. Again I can’t really comment on his production technique because I’m not focused on that at all, though his music blows my mind. The man truly knows his craft from a business perspective as well. I remember listening to an interview of his on Resident Advisor right when I first started looking into the possibility of doing this full time. He was explaining how he made his way into the label business and I remember thinking “wow, this dude has just saved me a fortune in mistakes I would have made otherwise.
1/19/2016 – Graffiti for Squad Tuesday: 116 W Hubbard. Doors open at 10, no cover charge, free pizza
1/20/2016 – LOKal for Consumed: 1904 W North Ave. Doors open at 9, no cover charge, kitchen open till 10