John Summit details origins of self-founded Off The Grid Records [Q&A]
In March, Dancing Astronaut Breakout Artist of 2021 took to Twitter to announce Off The Grid Records, an industry-shaking new project that solidifies his status as a bonafide tastemaker in dance music culture. Although the virgin imprint’s emphatic launch drew a mountainous buzz both online and offline, little to no information exists regarding the label’s conceptual framework. Summit recently spoke with Dancing Astronaut about the origins of his disruptive new brand, revealing that he’ll be spinning a select three Off The Grid-signed records during his upcoming sets at Coachella. Read the exclusive Q&A below.
What inspired Off The Grid’s title and mountainous aesthetic?
John Summit: “So, Summit is a fake last name. I went by just Summit in college, and that’s literally because I love mountains; I’ve been skiing since I was three. Once I had my first release, I realized I can’t just release as Summit because the SEO would be terrible since there are millions of summits. So, I added John on top and it just became this fake name that I use everywhere now. Even my parents call me John Summit. I went to the University of Illinois in Champagne, and at my first gig ever, I was using artwork that looks pretty similar [to the Off The Grid logo]. So since day one I knew that if I were to make a label, I would go with that direction for sure.”
How long have you been thinking about starting your own event brand/record label?
John Summit: “I knew that it was always something I wanted to do. A perfect example, who’s done such a great job at building their community, is something like Dirtybird, where they’re not just a record label but also a whole event brand. When you think of merch, art, community, and label roster as well, they’re an inspiration for sure. And there’s other examples of that, especially [UK label boss] Jamie Jones, of Hot Creations and Paradise, who’s built a roster that he can tour the world with. Instead of just being an independent artist, it’s been about making something that’s bigger than yourself, you know?”
How would you describe the label’s intentional sound?
John Summit: “So the slogan is ‘house without limits.’ And I think I’m a good example of that. When you look at my tracks, from ‘Human’ to ‘La Danza’ to ‘Make Me Feel,’ I think those are three good examples where it goes from dark tech-house to melodic, almost trancey, to upbeat Latin tech-house. The goal, really, is just music I’ll play in my sets. When I listen to demos, it’s like ‘would I play this, yes or no?’ ‘Cause if I would play it, it has to be a fuckin’ banger. But it could also be like a chill track, which is why I’ve been really pushing these clubs and venues to let me play a minimum of three hours. I hate getting demos that are super sick but wouldn’t fit in a 60-minute festival set.”
Booking logistics aside, who would be a few must-have artists on a hypothetical Off The Grid festival lineup?
John Summit: “It’s a Chicago-based label, so Lee Foss, and Green Velvet for sure because they’re both from here. I’ve worked with both of them; I’ve played parties with both of them. They’re both amazing DJs and have their own sounds. I love when Green Velvet gets a little more techno-focused and dark, so I’d imagine he’d be the one closing it out. Across the pond kind of thing, I’ve been loving Patrick Topping lately; his sound is fucking crazy, super ravey. I’ve also been loving BLOND:ISH; she does a great job incorporating world sounds and percussion, which [aligns with] my ‘La Danza’ kind of vibe. Her latest track ‘Sete’ with Francis Mercier is super sick. To round it out, I’d say Sofi Tukker, who I’ve collaborated with, ’cause they’re just in a total league of their own when it comes to live performance and sound. They’d be a perfect addition.”
Can you give us any insight on Off The Grid’s first public release?
John Summit: “Yeah, [it’s coming out] next month and it’s a Chicago-related track. Many people have heard it already; it’s in some of my mixes and stuff, but it’s been through a few updates since then and I’ve added some more vocals. I really wanted to do something [to honor] my home city at first and then expand from there. The first couple of releases will be self-releases, and then I’m going to open up the demo email; I’d feel bad if I opened the demo email now and couldn’t release anything until fall.”
Why is now the ‘best era electronic music has ever seen’?
John Summit: “Obviously I’m biased on that ’cause my career is [centered around] tech-house. Clearly, this is the best era for my kind of music. People were getting really upset about that; I’m like, ‘what the fuck do you think I would think? You think bigroom was the best era in my opinion?’ Like that’s so stupid. But also, as someone who never had any formal music training, never stepped into a professional studio once in my life, had all these label releases from just having a laptop and headphones, I think it’s the best era because everything is available at your fingertips. You can learn how to make music on YouTube. In 2005, you’d have to rent out a studio space just to be able to start producing a track. The flipside of that, though, is the ’80s Chicago-house guys; the reason why 909 is the most used sound in house music is because that drum machine was undersold and just got sold off to pawn shops. It was literally the cheapest drum machine you could buy in Chicago. And I’m grateful for the classic 909 house sound, but now you have Splice and everything at your fingertips. I think it’s the perfect post-EDM phase.”
Featured image: Alberto Gonzalez