Change is inevitable, and nowhere is this more prevalent than in the world of dance music. Analogue gives way to digital, trends come and go, yet NYC’s Joeski remains at the top of his game, and now, in the midst of his third decade as one of house music’s most sought-after stars. Joeski’s electronic music career can be traced back to 1991 when he burst onto the NYC house music scene as a founding member of The Chocolate Factory DJ collective. He delighted crowds at Limelight, Tunnel, Palladium, and NASA, helped turn ‘Save The Robots’ into a NYC after hours institution and earned his first residency at ‘Together’ parties at the legendary Roxy, playing alongside the likes of Danny Tenaglia, Louie Vega, and Roger Sanchez.
Already a fixture on the U.S. and Canadian club circuit, in the late 90’s Joeski added production to his repertoire, building his own recording studio and spending the next few years mastering his craft. In 2000 he burst into the clubs and onto the charts with hit after hit on Electrik Soul, Siesta, Chez, and Camouflage, emerging as one of the most sought-after DJs, remixers, and producers in the scene.
In 2001 Joeski launched Maya Records, with releases like ‘Hustler’s Revenge’ and his collaboration with DJ Chus on ‘El Amor’ propelling the label onto the forefront of the U.S. house music sound that would become a global phenomenon and win him worldwide acclaim from clubbers and fellow DJs alike. Demand for his studio skills grew exponentially over the next decade, with Joeski producing and remixing for the likes of NRK, Ministry of Sound, Defected, Bedrock, Nervous, Cajual and KMS, helping catapult him further into the ranks of the house music elite.
Entering its sixteenth year, his Maya label continues a steady output of quality material that remains fixtures on the Beatport and Traxsource Tech and Deep House charts, with a robust release schedule that shows no signs of slowing any time soon.
When the opportunity came about for me to interview Joeski it was a decision that was very simple. He is an artist that has had an incredible career in an industry that is not very forgiving, and one that demands that you remain current. Joeski first began DJing back in 1989 when he used to organise house parties in Queens, New York. I had to ask about how he first got into DJing and dance music… “This is actually kind of a funny story. I have two sisters, one younger and one older, and this dude fell in love with my older sister. I must have been a kid like 13 or 14 years old and he had to have been in his 20’s. He had a crazy Disco collection, like 1200 or so records just laying around, and he had dreams of being a DJ. Basically, what he did was invite me over to befriend me, you know like the little brother figure, by letting me play around on the turntables. Sayin’ things like “Hey man, if you ever want to come over and play on the turntables with my records, you are more than welcome to”. So sure enough I did, and this guy absolutely regretted it. I was knocking on his door every single day to practice on his records… he lived walking distance from my house and I would, no joke, go over and bother him every single day. And that is how I got into DJing.”
Joeski added that he had recently spoken to him and that the pair of them were reminiscing about those early days. Also, this man still has those very turntables, and all the records too… He went on to talk about the parties, “during that time we started doing house parties here and there with freestyle when hip-hop was starting to get big. Back then there was really a mixture of everything. You would play hip-hop, disco, basically anything and everything. It wasn’t really until the late 80’s when House music even started happening. I actually think I bought my first house record in 1987.”
“Louie Vega had a club called Heartthrobs where he would play freestyle, and that was the big thing at the time. As a matter of fact, I think it was one of the first clubs I ever went to when I was 15 or 16 years old with fake ID and all. Best clubs in NYC were the gay clubs. That same guy who was in love with my sister took me out to The Tunnel on a Sunday Night. Actually, I think my first club was this place called the Saint, a gay club in the East Village. The coolest place ever… the outside looked normal, like a bank. But on the inside, there was this sphere, like a dome inside of it. Yeah, it was so cool.”
Whilst talking about clubs in NYC I spoke to Joeski about his residency at the Roxy club where artists such as Madonna, Run DMC, Kraftwerk, Shannon, Malcolm McLaren, The Beastie Boys, Junior Vasquez, Danny Tenaglia, Roger Sanchez, and Frankie Knuckles played. “The Roxy, that club was amazing and definitely an institution for NYC. The whole hip-hop and breakdancing scene in the 80s came out of the Roxy. They used to have those breakdancing battles, the Rock Steady Crew and those guys. During that time NY had some really great sound systems. Every Friday there was this party called Together, it was Tom Mello’s party. I was a resident there and would close out the party every Friday night. They would turn the lights on 20 minutes before closing and I often played ‘Together Murke’ by Oscar G. We have a Together Reunion event on May 11 in Brooklyn at the Paperbox with Dubtribe Nation, Miguel Migs, Tony Humphries, Love & Logic and myself on closing duties once again. Looking forward to bringing back some of the classics.”
Those days at the Roxy sound incredible and the passion in which Joeski speaks about those days makes it clear how great those days were. As a young DJ, I was heavily influenced by the sounds coming out of the U.S. in the late 90s and early 00s from the likes of Halo & Hipp-E, Onionz, Chris Lum, and of course this very man, Joeski. I asked him what he had learned over the years… “The one main thing I have learned is that consistency is the key in this business! Now more than ever in an oversaturated market.” Very wise words from a man that knows the business as well as any artist out there at present. We went on to speak about the industry as a whole and how social media has impacted artists and fans and Joeski added, “at its very basic roots (Facebook), I think it’s great. I use it as a tool to promote the things I’m working on and to check in and see what everyone else is up to. You can really use it to get to a large audience, which is something that we never really had when we all started in this scene and somewhat of an amazing thing. I really enjoy to keep up with it and stay connected, and certainly think of it as a positive impact on the industry.”
Joeski has not only been involved in the world of dance music and DJing… he spent some time in the bar trade after the arrival of digital music forced a huge change in the industry which clearly impacted him and his livelihood. “During the early 2000s we were doing really well, my partner Chris and I were selling a lot of vinyl. It was a great business and we were killin’ it. Everything was being distributed through our company called Syntax distribution. Seriously big distribution company, we had it on lock. So we started all of these labels because, you know, I work a lot, like always in the studio, and we wanted to create some labels where we could not only showcase our own music but other people’s music that we really liked. So, we started with Maya and saw how well we did.”
“We sold 28,000 copies for the first release. Nowadays, to sell that many copies is just… well, it almost seems impossible, at least, for underground vinyl in general. So we saw a huge opportunity in that and started rolling with it. When everything went digital, boom, the distribution business was non-existent.”
“I had to really re-evaluate what I was doin’ at the time because I wasn’t really giggin’ as much and the economy was really starting to go downhill. I had bills I had to pay, so I had to really think about what my money was doing. So I saw an opportunity to invest with my best friend, Sasha Petraske the mastermind behind Milk & Honey, who was opening up a bar in the Lower East Side and that is basically where it all started. He already had 8 bars before the time of our partnership, and everyone wanted his name on their bars – it was mad crazy and he was a super workaholic. I was super hands-on as an investor, was there every day and hustling and actually got behind the bar. I got trained by the best of the best in terms of mixology. We accomplished so much together and it was truly an honour and pleasure to work with him.” It is a shame I was not with Joeski in person, I might have asked for a cheeky cocktail whilst I asked him more questions!
The move from vinyl to digital had a huge impact on many great labels, and it saw the struggle and closure of labels including Electrik Soul, Siesta Music, Moezee Muzik, and Tango Recordings. I asked Joeski if he thought something had been lost from the scene with this shift to digital? “Music has evolved so much, same with technology. For every label that we had, there’s ten coming out now. There are tons of labels out there nowadays, while some might call that oversaturation, I see it as a lot of talent out there, and people really doing their best to put out good music. Those record labels you mention, that was our sound at that time but music is constantly changing and updating and with that, you can still hear a lot of influence from back in the day. Always, especially in house music.”
With all this talk about classic vinyl labels and the sound back in the early 00s, we got onto the subject of vinyl collecting. I asked Joeski about his vinyl collection and whether it was still growing… “Honestly, I don’t have any more space for my collection to grow. There are 32,000 records in the garage. I have been collecting since the 80s, but I haven’t really bought records in a while. It’s so much easier nowadays not having to carry a heavy bag of records, I mean running through the airport with a 60-pound record bag trying to catch a flight really isn’t a good look. So I mean, I don’t really miss that aspect of it for sure because that is no joke. But, you know, I hear some people say “oh, well if you have those records with you on a gig then you are limited when you are playing” but in my opinion, that’s actually a good thing.”
“Having too much music with you can sometimes get overwhelming and with records you really get to play and own what you planned and brought with you, gaining confidence and trusting yourself and your choices. Neither option is better or worse than the other, but with the digital shift, I can certainly say it’s gotten a lot easier. I am playing all vinyl for an upcoming Mixmag lab that I’m really looking forward to because I get to explore this feeling again.”
What I have found so inspiring whilst talking with Joeski is his positive attitude to both the present and the past. No hate for anything or anyone, just a massive love for all things music, and a true love for his craft. I went on to ask Joeski about his preferred DJ setup which is a Pioneer DJM 900NXS and 3 Pioneer CDJs. “I always love to use the Pioneer RMX 1000 for sure. Personally, I really enjoy the effects on the Pioneer mixer and RMX.”
Joeski has a couple of releases due out in April, ‘Life Changes” and ‘Snatch” EPs. You can check out ‘Life Changes’ below which is a deep techy number.
With a list of releases most producers can only dream of I asked Joeski what he felt were some of the most valuable lessons he had learned over the years… “consistency, be consistent. Especially now more than ever in the over-saturated market, as music doesn’t last anymore and only has a few weeks lifespan.”
“Good work ethic is crucial but it’s hard to call it work cause it’s doing what I love. When you do what you love, you don’t work a day in your life”
Joeski has run Maya Records since 2001. I asked him what he looks for in an artist… “good music is good music, doesn’t matter who makes it. For the most part, I started the label to showcase my work and make up most of the catalogue. I was making so much music and wanted a way to get it out. There are a few artists that have done remixes.” Whilst we were talking about artists and what he would look for I asked if he had any tips for upcoming producers out there… “put the effort into what your music sounds like. Learn about equalization (EQing) and make it sound good. Learn the basics.”
As we moved towards the end of our time together, I had to ask Joeski about his “All Night Long” set at Stereo Bar in Montreal. I asked him how he prepares for such a long set? “You can express yourself in a long set. Short time doesn’t let you get into it. An hour in you get in full on. As soon as you get in you have to get off normally. Allows me to play many different styles from African tribal to techno to everything in between. It’s all about having fun in the end.”
I would like to thank Joeski for taking the time to answer my questions, and I hope you enjoyed the interview. You can catch Joeski at the following locations over the coming weeks:
April 21 – Spy Bar – Chicago
May 05 – St Louis
May 11 – Together – NYC
May 12 – Soul Kitchen – Las Vegas
May 19 – VIVA 20 Year Anniversary – Seattle