r.ss – Groove Podcast 414

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Photo: Press (r.ss)

You might have never heard of r.ss, but that doesn’t mean it should stay that way. The Chicago-based DJ and producer, who has put out music under the akabou moniker and will soon release an EP as bluets, is affiliated with the low-profile, high-quality Kimochi label run by m50, another DJ and producer who doesn’t seem to be keen on appearing in the spotlight. While building up a bit of mystique around them is a branding exercise for some, this clearly isn’t the case here, as r.ss’s contribution to our Groove Podcast proves: This is what it sounds like when someone deeply cares about the music and working with it, and very little else. It’s a stunning mix. You can never be quite sure how many tracks you are listening to at any given moment or if any of them is being played at the intended speed; there’s abrupt changes in tempo, style, and mood, even a moment in which a record starts playing and is immediately being stopped again before the DJ picks up again, seemingly unbothered by what feels like a mistake but also very, very right. None of what happens in these 68 minutes sounds accidental or sloppy in any way, but always curious and concerned with tapping into the potentials of the materials. This, simply put, is DJing as an art form. High time to get familiar with r.ss.

How did you get into electronic music and what did your first steps as a DJ look like?

I was exposed to electronic music and sounds from a pretty young age. The indie and pop music that was playing around me growing up had integrated electronic sounds into what was coming out. My older sister was into alternative as well as club and electronic music and passed down a lot of the music she liked. I also played a decent amount of video games so I was introduced to a lot of styles before I knew what they were. I didn’t get into electronic club music until later on. I started liking experimental styles of music more and more and naturally that led to becoming more interested in electronic music. I kind of fully hopped on the bus after experiencing deeper, weirder kinds of house and techno at festivals and through DIY parties. I didn’t really know what DJing was and wrote it off initially, but I’ve always gotten really excited about discovering and collecting music and making playlists or mixtapes for people, showing people music, etc. So by the time I was discovering dance music I liked and started understanding what DJing really was, I thought it was an exciting thing to try. I was living at a student co-op at the time and there were a lot of parties. Through all of that I got the chance to make some good friends and also access some gear and DJ in front of people.

You’ve been involved with the Chicago collective Support System and hosted a slew of events between 2017 and 2019, both in more clandestine venues and at clubs such as Smartbar. What was your motivation to start Support System, what concept did you follow, and why did you discontinue the series in the end?

I had some friends living in Chicago and moved out here into a loft space with them. We were all getting a lot more into dance music and I was getting into DJing more. The space was magical and we were able to throw a lot of parties there, some really bad but many I thought were quite special. It started out as a college party spot but over time, the events began to feel much more intimate, with some really compelling musical experiences. A lot of the time it was local artists that were somewhat new to DJing, or DJs that just weren’t getting as many opportunities to play. The idea for Support System was pretty much just to try and create a space for outsiders; develop some type of community and try to come together. Playing at Smartbar and the likes and trying to market ourselves as something was short-lived; I think the core of what we were doing was in the underground parties so those things didn’t really translate in the same way in my opinion. Rent was too high and we got pretty burnt out too. When you’re living at a spot like that you get a lot of people that you initially think are friends, but later maybe felt like they just wanted something from you.

You run the weekly radio show Counterbalance on Wax ‘N’ Cats. How do you go about programming the show, especially in regard to the guest DJs?

I treat it as an opportunity to regularly play and listen to music that I’m excited about or to try out new things. It’s the perfect balance of having structure and pressure, and something that’s really laid-back and just a way to have fun. I think naturally certain styles and things make their way there, but overall there’s nothing really regimented or serious about it. As far as guests go, it’s really just been friends and people whom I’ve met on the internet. I’m really open to submissions. I like for it to be an outlet for people who’ve never played before or just for people to do something new.

You are also a fairly regular guest on m50’s etc radio show, oftentimes going B2B with him or with fellow DJ and producer Dreamlogicc. How do you prepare for sets such as these?

I’ve never actually gone B2B with Lgcc, but sharing programming during the radio or at parties has always been a pleasure and I take a lot away from it. Playing with m50 is similar, it’s always a learning experience for me and it’s a great challenge, because I think him and DJ Lgcc both just take the art form of what DJing can be, and constantly push it into new directions and change your ideas of what DJing is. I think preparing for those sets are pretty much the same as for anything else though. I just go with a feeling or bring records I’m excited about playing or listening to. I really like sharing the decks with people because it is a type of conversation though, and whatever the other person or people are playing obviously influences the feeling you’re having or the ideas you’re having. I see DJing as a form of improvisation, and when you’re playing with another person or several people it adds more variety and it becomes another type of conversation. I feel that way about collaboration in general. But it’s also just really fun hanging out and playing music with friends.

What was the idea behind your mix for our Groove podcast?

It started out as me trying to pool together some music that I was listening to and taking inspiration from around the time that I was making some of the music that will be featured on my upcoming release. There were a few Kimochi releases in the bag and also some releases by Kimochi artists from other labels and projects. So the mix is made up of music that’s connected in some way or another to the label. There are a lot of really interesting musical rabbit holes to go down there.

As you’ve already mentioned, you are also active as a producer and have in the past shared some of your “toons” on SoundCloud. What role does producing music play in your life?

It’s not too different from DJing, I just try to have fun and explore ideas that make their way to me. A lot of it is just tinkering around and trying things. I started messing around with making music a while ago, but in general I think I consider myself to be a novice as a musician/producer/DJ, which I’m happy with. I like keeping that beginner’s mentality with things, and try not to take it too seriously but still care to be present with the process of creating. I’m more interested in exploring ideas and feelings than making anything perfect. Imperfection is actually more interesting to me than perfection. The SoundCloud playlist is just made of some sketches mostly. A lot of them were WIP or unfinished or just messing around. I haven’t visited that playlist in a while but I’m hoping to share more music through different outlets going forward.

In 2019, you released a mini-album as akabou on Forest Management’s now-defunct Afterhours imprint, the first and so far only release under that name. How did you approach the making of that record?

Well, I met him by chance and we became friends. He was interested in hearing some of my music so I shared some and he wanted to collaborate on a release. I finished working on some of the demos I sent him and we put out the CD. The approach wasn’t really different from the way I work on other stuff. That music was made around the same time as some of the stuff on the upcoming 12”; when I was first trying out making electronic music really.

The EP will be released on Kimochi Sound, again under a new pseudonym­, bluets. Does this mean you will be taking a different path, stylistically speaking?

Not exactly, at least for this. Like I said, some of the content from the upcoming record I actually made a long time ago, and they were made around a similar time as other stuff I’ve shared. I just work on stuff and when the time comes to try and finish it or present it, I start thinking about ideas related to a release or whatever. I do think that a lot can be expressed through the presentation of something. Having different projects and aliases is one way of doing that, and it’s also just fun having some distance from the work in a way. I probably will explore more style specific projects in the future, and do currently, but I’d say that bluets came from a feeling that to me feels representative of some of my work.

Last but not least: What are your plans for the future?

Hopefully chilling. I’m getting more into cooking and I also want to try building more and growing more things. Going outside a lot more this Spring, Summer, and Fall. Hopefully making and finishing music, sharing it more when it makes sense. I have some other mixes to work on that I’m looking forward to. Continuing to do the radio show as consistently as possible, probably with more of an emphasis on in person attendance from guest performers, guest listeners, and featuring more communal improvised live jam sessions. Hopefully can get into the Cool Room more for that. I’d like to collaborate with new people and keep working with existing collaborations. Would love to travel and check out other music scenes and meet nice people! Shout out to Froggy frog, goo, cakes, and Em.

Stream: r.ss – Groove Podcast 414

01. Vtgnike – greh (chutzpa, self-released)
02. Vtgnike – badboy (trippin in bali mix) (chutzpa, self-released)
03. Echologist – Slow Burn (Filter Dub) (Subterranean, Steadfast)
04. Mokira – Ghent (Ease, Filippa K)
05. NoinoNoinoNoino – Tonight Part2 (8, Caoutchou Records)
06. You Dee – Containerport (Adapter, Onitor)
07. SW – Untitled (Untitled (SUE015), SUED)
08. Anton Zap – Kingdom (You Are Not Alone EP, Millions or Moments)
09. Shielding – Timekeeper (Collecting Seaweed, Wisdom Teeth)
10. Loop LF – Drifting Forwards (Drifting Forwards, Well Street Records)
11. HVL – Wild Combination (Lucky Star Of The High Minded, Rough House Rosie)
12. Area – Innate Obscurity (Innate Obscurity, Ethereal Sound)
13. Aos – Graftten (Den Heliga Ån, Under Molnet)
14. Lord of the Isles – Quadralogue (Night of the Endless Beyond, ESP Institute)
15. RDMA – Utopia & Visions (The World Needs Changing, Greta Cottage Workshop)
16. Benjamin Brunn – Developers Developers (Music Under Pin, BineMusic)
17. Gys – Glo (Subset_Echo, Zero G Sounds)
18. Lubin – Ambivalent Robot (Future Laboratories, Untilmyheartstops)
19. RDMA – Demand (Refract, Kimochi)

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