Interview: Jon Rust
Interview: Jon Rust
The London DJ sheds light on the UK music scene, staying balanced and the natural energy pulsating through Dimensions Festival
Dimensions, Croatia's four-day underground electronic music festival, is a veritable force for any fan to take on. The festival's UK-based team gathers over 300 artists to perform in Fort Punta Christo's seven unique venues, and knowing who to catch can be as dizzying as traversing the ancient grounds in the dark after a mesmerizing stop by the event's energetic main stage. We were fortunate to receive some guidance from London-based DJ Jon Rust, who not only performed a dance-worthy set at Outside The Fort this year, but also served as our musical Virgil by helping to navigate the surplus of names and genres. Here, we talk to him about the UK's position as an electronic authority and how he stays balanced in a creative industry that thrives on booming beats and late-night parties.
What is the marker of a great DJ?
I really believe it's authentically presenting what we are listening to. A lot of people make a lot of noise—that's why anyone can DJ—everyone can churn out shit, but if you listen; you know a good DJ will have a good ear because they listen to music and listen to musicians and then they come back with something. And that agency is what a DJ is about: taking something and then responding—recontextualizing stuff. Functionally, it's about making people dance.
One year ago, you quit your day job to focus entirely on music. How do you stay focused being your own boss?
A techno DJ friend of mine from years ago said to me, "If you want to do music, do a job that you kind of hate and it will give you that push, because if you do a job you kind of like, you'll never break away." I ended up being an analyst for an internet startup—even though I hate numbers. So I've learned a lot over the past year—like how to create a routine, because there's no one telling me to do shit. But now I wake up and put music on with breakfast; I kind of DJ all day. For breakfast, I have a few go-tos like Weather Report—I'm a big jazz fan—or soul, gospel if I'm feeling religious. I have Sunday music, Monday music... but it starts with music and food. And before the computer goes on, I actually meditate as well. All of that's so linked; your mental well-being, your physical well-being. I'm not a very spiritual guy, but you have to take care of all of the levels in your life.
When you meditate are you thinking about what you might play that night or are you just letting your mind empty?
You think about sensation, you think about what's there. When you're just your own boss you could think about all sorts of things, you can over-think things and just make it worse. I try to keep the creative stuff at the beginning of the week so that the week starts inspiring. I learned from the startup not to start the week with all the financial stuff, because otherwise you're starting by thinking about your constraints whereas you want to think about possibilities. And I swim as well. So for a DJ, it's not like, "Oh sick, you get fucked up all the time"—it really is a lifestyle decision because you don't make a lot of money. I make about a third as I did at my old job, but I'm living. I'm alive.
You're really involved in the London music community, what do you do now and how did you originally start?
I've got a radio show on NTS, which I've had since the first week it started; also club DJ: I do a couple of things with that. Everything kind of sprouts from the Plastic People school of DJing—I used to work there, go there, promote there. And a lot of kids used to meet up around the corner, on a street called Standard Place—now we do events [under that moniker]. We do parties, but change the venue all the time. We wanted to make a party that we would want to go to, rather than just keep going to other people's crap parties. And that's working with my peer group.
Then there's Levels—that's another thing—which is me working with my elders. The idea is very much like a round table. Levels was originally me, Judah from Deviation and another guy called Floss Daily, who used to work with Roy from Hype Williams. In and around that, it's really special events. The first one was on a bank holiday. But no one was doing Sunday parties anymore and, traditionally in music, that's when all of the heads come out. All of the great musical advancements in UK music, hardcore music rather, came through Sunday night jams. Jungle through [Sunday] roast, Co-Op, Broken Beat [BRUK] and FWD (that created dub-step)—which I think originally started on a Thursday then switched to a Sunday—so we did a year of that and then I created a record label around that. It's all very well doing stuff with your crew—mucking about and having fun—but events come and go. But [the label] is tangible, it's like a piece of art. Resource-wise it's a lot more draining, but equally the energy of it is there. So, yeah: Record label owner, DJ, radio host, event organizer, personality, whatever.
The UK is known for originating several genres and remains a hotbed for musical creativity. Can you tell us more about that?
When genre was blowing up, and it was like, "Oh this is the new genre the new thing"—everyone was really feeling that all of the niches were coming together and dub-step was the thing, even at that time in 2007. People like Judah were doing this party, a little thing. I was working at Plastic People at the time and I remember going to this party and they were into jazz, techno, Detroit, soul, boogie, Afro. And going to a party with the eclecticism of a New York '80s jam with the intensity of a jungle rave, and a chop-change style of Soundboy—I think that's it. The UK, even from history, is amazing for its position within the cultural exchange between Africa, the US and Europe. For a DJ in the UK, it's being able to bring all of those stratospheres together with a unique style. People are also just a lot more accepting here, and I think artists just get heard out properly in the UK.
Do you know what you're going to play before you perform?
I really do freestyle a lot. Everyone has their repertoire, the tracks that they know and people want to hear you play as well and weave into new stuff, but really, it is just about looking out there and going, "OK, what's this need?" I need to be there, to be present. But it is good as a DJ to know where you're going to start so you can always be about three tunes ahead.
As a DJ that relies almost solely on vinyl, do you take issue with laptop DJs?
I played five parties in four days at Carnival, and I was still carrying a record bag and people were just laughing at me. But you get there and you're playing your records and people are like, "Whoa, OK." But really it's all about music. I think the thing is, how does it fuck with your art? Does it fuck with it? Are you doing anything that is extra beyond, that you couldn't do with records? But, I think if you don't listen to records, then don't play them. They are heavy to carry around. And I would like to say, Magma DJ bags are terrible, they last like six months and fall apart. But Floating Points is selling me this badass French bag which splits into two and lets you carry your records more easily.
What's next for you?
We're going to make the Levels Sunday thing a regular thing again, and I'm saving money to put out a 12-inch. It's our second release and it's a record from a couple of guys from Estonia, who I met when I was traveling there last year. It's a duo, called Ajukaja and Andrevski. Ajukaja gave Gilles Peterson his biggest gig before acid house. He is basically the kickstarter for the Estonian underground. I hope that's out by the end of October this year. I actually thought going to Dimensions might jeopardize this plan financially, but everyone's been super-nice and it's been an amazing experience. The festival has real natural energy vibes.
Photos by Andrea DiCenzo