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Interview

Justin James Introduces His Label, Refused, with an Exclusive THUMP Mix

The rising Richie Hawtin protégé is currently getting love from serious techno royalty and he deserves all of it.

Christopher Metler

Christopher Metler

You just want to root for Justin James. In a cutthroat industry rife with competition, here is a nice guy you want to see finish first. And let there be no doubt: he will. He's just too good not to.

I had the chance to see Justin play for the very first time at a private affair in the Minus Showcase at the Red Bull Guest House. It was there when I saw (and more importantly heard) the talent and energy my friends had spoken of.

So believe me, when faced with the opportunity to have a friendly chat with the Windsor, Ontario native for THUMP about his new label refused., his recent EP, his first Movement gig, and his passion for Detroit techno, I jumped at it. It's a shot to get in on the ground floor of an artist I personally see standing out in the next wave of techno superstars, and who could turn that down?

THUMP: How would you define the vision behind your new refused. label? It's your baby.

Justin: refused. is a means for me to contribute to the special culture of underground dance music, simple as that. Not only does it provide me with an outlet to share my own music and the music of my friends that I admire, but to give new artists a chance to be heard on a larger scale.

Do you remember when it all first started coming together? This was a long time in the making, if I correctly recall from chatting in Miami.

It's been something that I have wanted to do for a while. I just didn't know what steps to take to make it happen. Once I finally got around to learning more about distribution, it was full steam ahead.

It just made sense, right?

I had music and I had music from others, so yes sir, it made sense.

I assume it isn't just any music you are planning to release. What can you tell me about the sound that is going to define this label?

Quite simply, it'll be good forward-thinking tunes that fall under the guise of techno. That means music from myself, my friends whom I admire, and music from up-and-coming talent across the globe.

Does your longstanding association with Richie Hawtin's legendary Minus camp help steer what you're trying to achieve with refused.?

Rich, his business sense, his music curating and A&R practices have had a very strong influence on our industry for over 20 years. So his direction has certainly guided my choices on both an artistic and professional level.

On the artistic end, let's chat about your recent Not The Curator EP. Knowing your passion for the technical side of things, what can you share about the production process of this new release?

The whole EP was created at very different times. As a result, I feel as if I took a different approach to producing each track. To be honest, I can't exactly tell you the exact process! It's something that just happens, you know? But what I can tell you is that I was in a different headspace when each track was conceived.

What about the kind of equipment you used in creating the EP?

I employed quite a hybrid of analog hardware and software devices in putting together each track.

On the road or in the studio? I'm amazed by how many of you guys like to work while on tour. I'd honestly be focused on trying to catch a wink of sleep.

All of it was completed in my studio. I have a comfort zone in there. I rarely do production on the outside.

That probably meant it took a longer time than usual to complete though, no?

At least 2 years. I mean "Not The Curator," "Inquire Within" and "Absolutely Necessary" were being hammered out around the world by Richie Hawtin for longer than I can remember.

Besides the big man, what other kind of support has the EP been receiving?

Other than Rich? So far Dubfire, Luciano, Stacey Pullen, Matte Blakk, Mr. Bizz, MiniCoolBoyz, The Junkies, Shaded, Jewel Kid, and Nathan Barato…

So basically current techno royalty and the next generation right behind them?

And many more [laughs].

Were you previewing it at all at WMC?

I think I played all of them at the Red Bull Guest House event in Miami. As you know, we had short sets.

Yeah, like 30-minute ones! Blink and you miss it…

So I decided to play all of my own tracks. It was pretty fun in that regard.

Tell us about this exclusive mix for THUMP. What's the story that you are trying to tell with it?

I wouldn't say there is necessarily a story I'm trying to tell here. Rather, I'm trying to give the listener a clear idea of what they would hear if they were to catch me on any given night.

So an autobiography of sorts?

Sure, why not!

I know no autobiography of you would be complete without reference to Movement, so what does your upcoming gig mean to you?

Playing Movement is sincerely a dream come true. It's been an event that I have not missed since its inception. The music and experience from this festival has shaped who I am as an artist today. Seriously. This event is one of the most meticulously curated and authentic festivals in the world, let alone North America.

Going even deeper, how has the city of Detroit and your lifelong proximity to it influenced you?

I'm very fortunate to have been influenced primarily by the music coming out of Detroit, the music that influenced the city and the music that it has inspired. I've considered myself a student of Detroit techno ever since I had the opportunity to produce a documentary on the topic while I was in university studying communications.

That's quite an introduction.

Tell me about it. It was my gateway into really understanding, following and falling in love with the culture.