Introducing Justin Strauss - this week's Musical Host
Today we are ecstatic to introduce the legend Justin Strauss as this week's Musical Host. New mix and a fresh interview about many things music, including Kraftwerk, the Mudd Club and NYC.
by Herb Essntls
A month ago
Photo by: Seze Devres
Today we are ecstatic to introduce the legend - Justin Strauss as this week's Musical Host. We’ll let these words from Resident Advisor present him more closely:
Few DJs could adequately represent the last three decades of New York nightclub history - no less do so with such iconic credentials as Justin Strauss. Since he was 17, when his first band was signed to Island Records, Justin has had a career that reads like a Who’s-Who of the music scene, spinning at nearly every dance club that you’d ever want to go to. Starting as DJ at New York’s legendary Mudd Club, he spun his way through The Ritz, Limelight, Area, Tunnel, M.K., Life, Centro Fly and more, pioneering his own distinctive sound, and becoming one of the most sought-after remixers and producers not just in New York, but in the world. He has worked with the gamut of artists - Depeche Mode, Sergio Mendez, Tina Turner, Jimmy Cliff, B-52s, Luther Vandross, Malcolm McClaren, Skinny Puppy, Goldfrapp, to name a few – and on over 200 records!
Thank you so much for being our Musical Host this week! We ask each of our Hosts to set the mood for New York City. How did you go about doing this?
- I am calling the mix ‘Themes for An Imaginary Summer. New York City 2020’. Obviously we are all going through something the likes of which we haven’t experienced before with the Corona Virus still very much present and dangerous. At the same time dealing issues of systemic racism and police brutality in our society , which is also very much a clear and present danger. After being quarantined for almost 4 months , and with the nicer weather here, people are anxious to try to get back to doing the things once thought of as “normal”. However this summer is far from anything “normal”and both those issues should be first and foremost on our minds and in our actions.
Let’s talk about (the legendary) Kraftwerk. What would you say is Kraftwerk’s contribution (or legacy) to the music world that still lives on today?
- With each album they released Kraftwerk would push musical boundaries further and further. Experimenting with new sounds and bringing a humanity to their machines in a way not heard before. To me they are the blueprint for all that’s come after and I’m still being inspired by those albums.
We want to learn more about Milk ‘N’ Cookies, and your time as lead singer of the band. Was there crossover in how music was approached, created and produced in these experiences?
- I love the collaborative process, but like any close relationship it is not always easy. Milk n Cookies was my first experience in the music world, other than being obsessed with records growing up. We got signed to Island Records in London when I was 17 years old and we had only been playing together less than a year. It taught me a lot about working together and “playing well with others”. Like any relationship musical collaboration is a process of give and take. I have learnt so much from all of these projects and the people I worked with, and continue to work with. Each one is different in the way things come together, and there are no set rules about how we go about working. They all have been very organic in that respect, and I feel fortunate to be involved in all these amazing projects.
You briefly lived in LA but then returned to New York because of an invitation to DJ at Mudd Club. You’ve since then been named an icon in the history of New York City Nightclubs. What was this time like for you - you’ve referred to it as a home? And what has changed from that time to the present?
- I had moved to LA with my band Milk n Cookies to explore opportunities for us out there. It was a great experience but after almost 2 years there I was definitely missing New York and wanted to return home. My ex girlfriend had told me about the Mudd Club but there was no invitation yet. I came back and the DJ there, David Azarch, invited me to play for a few hours one night. Fortunately for me the owner Steve Mass liked what he heard and offered me a regular Thursday night there. I had never dj’d before that night! The club scene was much smaller back then, especially in the downtown scene. When you walked into the Mudd Club or Danceteria you would see a lot of the same people night after night. It was mostly a group of like minded creative people with an “anything goes” attitude pushing the boundaries of what a club could be incorporating art and performance art, so needless to say was a very vibrant time whose cultural shockwaves are still felt today. The dance music scene has changed since that time and you can’t really compare it. I feel lucky to have been around and part of that period, but I try to bring that feeling in what I’m doing and places I play today which I love as well.
With groups/entities like the Lot Radio, and The Good Room Podcast, for example, in the present time today, are there ways to engage with the culture of music, with the same spirit of curiosity, celebrated community of the past?
- Both those places are like home to me and very special. The way we share music has changed but whether it’s my monthly Lot Radio show or my monthly residency Love Tempo with Billy Caldwell at Good Room, my original passion for sharing all kinds of music I love has not changed.
VICE called you the Remix King. You’ve shared thoughts on how remixing is an organic way to connect with music, and musicians, as a DJ. What makes the craft of the remix magical in your mind?
- I have always been fascinated with remixes since I bought one of my first 12” singles by Betty LaVette called “Doing The Best That I Can” on West End Records that had an 11 minute version by Walter Gibbons. This was early in the remix days and at that point the remixer was basically using all the original components but extending certain parts and creating breakdowns in the track. In the early 80’s Shep Pettibone changed the remix game by doing “additional production” and adding new elements to remixes. When I heard what he did with his Pet Shop Boys and New Order remixes I was totally inspired to get into remixing. Not long after I started doing remixes and definitely loved doing “additional production” on my mixes. It taught me a lot about producing records. I loved taking a record and by changing and also adding certain elements the song can take on a whole new life. I found that very exciting and still do. In addition to all my projects of original music I love doing remixes.
Your Instagram feels like a diary, a wealth of knowledge - dynamic with memories, reflection and thought - into your point of view. While sharing a recent session at the Lot Radio, you reflected on mixtapes, and referred to them “an audio diary.” Do you think platforms like Spotify etc. translates the sentiment? Or do you think we can anticipate a bigger migration to platforms more like SoundCloud, MixCloud etc?
- I think both. Most people listen to music on Spotify and are putting together playlists for themselves or to share with friends. I always used music as a way of communicating how I’m feeling at any given moment. That hasn’t changed. I do it through my dj sets, my radio shows and my productions.
You also post illustrations on your Instagram, to share your Lot Radio sessions. Basically all our Musical Hosts we’ve worked with in the past have some other creative outlet too - why do you think that is?
- For some reason I’ve amassed a collection of drawings that people have done of me over the years. The Lot Radio has a tradition of taking your photo in the booth when you’re doing your show in person to post on their Instagram page. Since due to quarantine the Lot studio had been closed I’ve been doing the mixes at home and sending in. So since I can’t be there I thought a drawing of me made sense. I have also been collaborating with two visual artists, Pamela Villalobos and Sean Dack who have both done amazing work for the video stream portion of the show.
We found a collection of interviews you did on the Ace Hotel Blog. In previous conversations with other hosts, we’ve found some to engage with other art passions. Would you say writing is yours?
- Most definitely. I really love doing that interview series for the Ace Hotel. It was inspired by my obsession with Andy Warhol’s Interview Magazine, which I’ve been reading since I was very young. I love the long form conversational style they used over the years and I do the same.
You’ve called New York, “your home forever”, in your opinion, what is it about the city that keeps you grounded?
- Thats a hard thing to put into words, because NYC is in my blood. It’s the reason and has also made possible everything I do and love. I love a lot of places around the world, but for me New York is home. Although it’s changed a lot and is always changing, I still find the energy and beauty in it. It’s there, you just have to look.