A lesson on letting it flow with Guy J — a progressive pioneer [Interview]
“I think I’m being kidnapped by aliens,” tweeted Guy J one day. When prodded about the abduction weeks later, he replied sternly, “I remain in the X-Files; I cannot talk about it.”
The Israeli prog savant, who’s become somewhat of a cornerstone figure in the genre since his breakout over a decade ago, has always carried this cheeky, yet enigmatic sense about him. He’s soft-spoken and friendly in this particular conversation, maintaining an air of positivity as he offers up tales of his past, and glimpses into his future. The open atmosphere Guy manifests through his demeanor could come as quite a shock to some, considering his contributions to dance music thus far.
Growing passion into polished skill
His love affair with electronica began in his birthplace of Tel Aviv. While musicianship wasn’t a common occurrence in his immediate family, Guy, né Guy Judah, recalls, “electronic music was part of the city. It was everywhere.” He was exposed to the sounds of trance, progressive, and techno “mostly from the radio,” he notes, where he swiftly fell in love with the sounds coming out. It didn’t take long for a teenage Judah to want to give DJing a try, and before he was 18, the natural talent found himself scoring gigs abroad.
Ultimately, Judah derives his forward-thinking sound from a variety of influences, which, he posits, “doesn’t have to belong to one category.” In 2007, his stylistic portmanteau caught the attention of the iconic John Digweed. Guy was promptly signed onto Digweed’s Bedrock imprint with “Save Me,” and taken under the famed DJ’s wing as a promising protégé. After building his repertoire in this incubation period, the time came for Judah to leave the proverbial nest five years later, when he forged a new path with his Lost&Found label. Many know the imprint today as a leading authority in melodic shades of dance music and a launchpad for other successful careers which include compatriots Khen, Chicola, and Eli Nissan. With his label’s creation, a Balance compilation soon after, and a dedicated following that began to skyrocket, a tenacious Guy J had officially emerged in the underground dance sphere as an artist worth his revered reputation.
“Every genre of electronic music has elements that I like, so [my music] doesn’t have to belong to one category. You can take whatever you want from different genres; it doesn’t matter.”
Lost&Found was really only the beginning for Guy J. Most who follow progressive-leaning music are well-aware of his storied tale up to the present, which has included three artist albums, an impressive résumé of headlining festival slots across the globe, and a trove of unreleased numbers that keep his fans coming to as many gigs as possible in hopes of hearing them live.
Through all this, however, one could argue that Judah has truly began ascending toward his peak in more recent times. He’s played a large role in bringing progressive sounds stateside. Evidence of this is his debut at San Diego’s CRSSD festival (tickets here), where he’ll be playing alongside fellow stalwart Jeremy Olander. Not to mention, demand for his sonic aesthetic worked its way into Movement Festival festivities in Detroit, where he was commissioned to organize a label showcase amid the darker, percussive sounds dominating the weekend.
Perhaps one of Guy J’s biggest accomplishments took place in May, within the coastal confines of Thuishaven, Amsterdam. It was his foray into festival territory — in the form of We Are Lost. The day-into-night gathering transpired across three stages, and drew in enough attention for Be-At.tv to want to livestream its proceedings. He remains blazé while answering our questions on it, but it’s easy to tell that the event was a resounding success.
Judah affirmed its renewal in The Netherlands, slyly disclosing its pending expansion: “We’re looking at doing it in other cities around the world.” That said, he emphasized that at his core he’s not a promoter. “A few times is more than enough for me,” he feels. DJing and producing remain his driving forces; this is evident in his cadence when he mentions his 20-hour set with Hernan Cattaneo at Stereo in 2017 was too short, and that they’d be returning for more at the end of this year.
Who is ‘Guy J?’
As is evident above, Guy J’s forthcoming calendar is as extensive as his résumé is impressive. However, given the artist’s inherent humility, he was far less interested in discussing his accolades than delving into what exactly defines his artistic core. A person who makes music with such emotional depth makes others curious as to what lies beneath. Discipline arises as the foundation of his process: “I try to be in the studio everyday,” he states. “It’s something I feel my mind needs. Plus, I’ve been used to being in the studio since I was a child,” he continues. He doesn’t have a set modus operandi when it comes to creating, however: “50% of the time, I turn on the computer and let it flow. The other 50%, I know what I want to do exactly. I’ll know I want to create a track that would be good in the set at a certain point in the night, and to deliver these kind of feelings.”
This balance of randomness and structure in terms of creativity bodes well for his sets. “I love playing my own music,” he admits, “not because I believe it’s better, but because I feel I can give my authentic self and a more original experience to the crowd.” He backs this statement physically with each performance, expertly stacking multiple songs atop one another with precision and the build of someone with years of reading a room behind them. “I just let it flow,” he casually answers then asked if there was any preparing done around his sets to facilitate such frequently flawless journeys.
“I think the idea of playing loops. I used to love techno a lot. DJs used to have track playing while another was coming onto it. After three minutes, boom — another one, and then another one. It was non-stop, but it brought amazing rhythms. That’s what I’m trying to do with melodic music.”
On the technical side, Guy has enjoyed an increase of hardware use when it comes to his productions. He not only appreciates the organic nature of more instrumental production, but also the challenge it brings. “With synthesizers and analog gear, you work on a project then when you record, you have one go. If you like it, you like it. If not, that’s it. It’s a different feeling and process, and the sound is amazing,” he divulged. A current favorite among his gear collection is the Elektron Digitone.
The artist’s intense adoration of synthesizers and for playing his own music in sets begged the question: has he ever thought of advancing to live show territory? Actually, the opposite is true for Judah: “I want to travel lighter and to be as stress-free as possible.” His silent perfectionism is apparent as he outlined how a “live show” from him wouldn’t be truly “live” by his standards. “I’m not going to bother practicing on a live show.” Instead, he’s actually moving from laptop to USB plus his trusty Traktor, minimizing his setup further.
Hardware rather serves as a tool for Guy to fully realize the meaning and authenticity within his works. Here is where the percentage of free-flowing songwriting comes into play, as do the melodies that are more often than not described by fans as, “heartfelt.” In the calming environment of his Malta home, where he moved to find peace amid a busy tour schedule, the producer is left with his thoughts and transmits them into song. A recent piece of his that carried the weight of his emotions was “End Of Lost Cause,” which he described as having come to him when thinking about how “the world was changing,” and how governments all over are exacerbating these issues. “People are suffering, when they’re not supposed to suffer. There’s a lot of injustice…It’s crazy how they’re putting everything aside and letting these things happen. Using it for gaining political votes or whatever, or just for money.” Most of his most meaningful music, however, remains unreleased.
“It’s amazing when you manage to transmit what you feel into music — especially to club music. It’s so powerful to see people dancing to something that means so much to you. When I play something in a club, and people are having a good time, for me it’s a special feeling. I get disconnected from what’s happening around, and remember what I was thinking about when I made this track. It’s a powerful process for me.”
Amid the topic of his bountiful stash of IDs and his choice not to release all his music, we learn the final key component in his artistry, and his success in general: patience. Explaining his tendency to hold compositions close to his chest, Judah simply states, “Why not?” Elaborating further, he notes, “I’m not in a rush. If [my tracks] aren’t all going to be released, people will keep them their memory. You don’t need to have everything in your hand — it’s okay. It’s more special, you know?” Indeed, his followers are often seen chattering ahead of each gig about which of their favorite unreleased gems will be pulled out for the night.
Patience extends beyond music for Guy as well. At one point in our dialogue, he tells a story about how everything seemed to be going wrong for him one day, and the resonating lesson he learned from from the stress that changed his outlook on life: “It’s not worth it. Being stressed won’t change the reality. It won’t change the facts of what’s happening.” Instead, it’s better to look at the bigger picture, and know that the negativity felt at certain moments isn’t going to control the rest of one’s life. “We are so lucky to have so many [good] things around,” he reminds us. Maintaining this outlook helps when it comes to making music too. “You can’t force it,” Guy asserts. “If nothing comes up, then just let it go. Just get up from the computer and forget about it. There’s always something else to do. If nothing comes out, then put it aside — tomorrow is a new day.” Sage advice for those experiencing writer’s block, indeed.
Paired with humility, we’re given a musician “for the people” in Guy J. He attracts fans with his hypnotic and ethereal productions, but ultimately keeps them thanks to his easygoing personality and infectious optimism. With 2019 on the horizon, the Lost&Found owner is undoubtedly looking at another legendary year for the books.
Photos courtesy of Guy J’s Facebook.