Kon is probably best known for his partnership with fellow Boston native Amir, resulting in the Off Track series of albums. They’re surely some of the most highly regarded compilations of all time among serious vinyl diggers. Not satisfied with simply hunting for rare vinyl, Kon is also a member of a group known as the “Super Friends,” collectors of multi-track studio recordings by the likes of Stevie Wonder, Barry White & Michael Jackson. Access to individual parts when editing and remixing has enabled Kon to breathe new life into classic records with a level of control and creativity only afforded to a chosen few.
But when a Boiler Room host introduced him as “King Of The Edits” I remember thinking, “There’s so much more to this guy.” Kon’s first (and only) solo album On My Way is a slept-on classic, displaying such a level of musicality that it’s no surprise to learn that he started playing drums at the age of four. Approaching dance music with a sensibility deeply rooted in hip hop lends Kon’s DJ sets and productions the type of accessibility and crossover appeal which few underground artists share. His upcoming album Kon & The Gang brings together a variety of previously unreleased material by Osunlade, Eli Escobar, Rainer Trueby & Seven Davis Jr among many other friends and contemporaries, tied together with an abundance of soul and musicality. With musical heavyweights like Gilles Peterson & Lord Finesse singing Kon’s praises as a tastemaker, I was keen to try to find out what inspires one of underground music’s most significant agents of influence.
How and when did you first catch the music bug?
My father was a drummer and I started playing drums at four. I had to stop at about eleven years old due to noise issues in the apartment my mother moved to. I also noodled on the keyboard, but nothing serious.
From that point, anything that I could make a beat on became my instrument. I would go into Wurlitzer or Daddy’s Junky music and play with drum machines. Hip hop got me into production. The first studio time I booked was in 1990. That lead to me meeting these guys named Mark and Chuck who formed “Throw Down Productions” and I was sort of the in-house producer. Everybody who was rapping in Boston in the early ’90s was recording there.
“I have absolutely nothing to prove and I don’t care what people think about medium or format. It’s got nothing to do with the actual music itself.”
Did you have a mentor for production or find your own way?
My “mentors” were basically me listening to records and trying to figure it all out. I come from nothing, so I was too broke to buy any gear back then.
Marley Marl is the godfather to me. He was the first to chop up drums and manipulate samples in such a unique way. He created the blueprint for what we have to this very day. Then came Pete Rock, Primo (DJ Premier), Beatnuts…
Do you have favorites among your own tracks?
I don’t end up liking many of my own productions, I suppose because I’ve heard them for hours on end and I don’t want to play them. I am told I should be playing them! But it’s cool when other DJs do. I do tend to play my remixes/reworks of others – MJ, Donna Summer, Chic, and the more obscure titles as well.
Do you still play mainly vinyl or have you made the switch to digital?
I mainly buy vinyl and still collect. I play digital when on the road, but records are way more fun. I have absolutely nothing to prove and I don’t care what people think about medium or format. It’s got nothing to do with the actual music itself.
What’s your hardest-won piece of vinyl? Is there a particular record you’re still trying to get your hands on (a “holy grail” if you will)?
The list is never-ending, but I have grown past the point of being obsessed with “objects” these days. It’s the actual music itself for me, not the format or specific pressing.
A lot of other artists, collectors and DJs now look to you for musical knowledge and expertise. Was it a surprise when that started happening? What does it mean to you?
Yes it was and still is a surprise and I am quite flattered and honored but I am simply a fan of music… maybe a fanatic haha! But, I am still always learning and claim no title, especially “king of diggin.”
Your DJ sets are the stuff of legend. How much do you pre-plan and how much happens on the fly?
I have somewhat of a loose script, but it’s never really planned. [Planning] does not seem to work well when given the fact that one does not know what the mood of the room or crowd will be.
What are your favourite places to play or most memorable experiences as a DJ?
Overseas are my favorites – London, Paris, Japan. Most memorable party was the first time I did Rhonda at the original location in Los Angeles. That party is special and the guys that started it Gregory and Loren put so much into it. They take fun seriously.
How’s the music scene in Boston these days? Who are your favorite artists from the city? How did growing up there shape your sound?
Boston is … Funny. It’s got a musical history rich in the R&B and rock genres that were big in the ’70s and ’80s with bands like The Cars, Aerosmith, Til Tuesday, Spyro Gyra, New Edition, New Kids On The Block, etc. Boston also had a boom with the indie hip hop scene mid-’90s to early-’00s, but that’s done. Armand Van Helden got his start here, doing parties with DJ Bruno at The Loft.
Now, there is somewhat of a small scene but not much. “Make It New” does a party, and there are a few other making noise… Bosq and Soul Clap are originally from Boston, but have long since moved for good reason. This city doesn’t provide much of an outlet. It’s predominantly top 40 college/weekend warriors.
The last “Kon & The Gang” release was back in 2011. What prompted you to revisit the name and project?
Just the overall idea behind it. The play on words and for the two songs I produced on this project I have two session players involved -Yuki Kanesaka on keys and Serge Gamesbourg on bass for one of the tracks.
What’s the concept behind the record?
I suppose it’s as if I had a record label and I asked friends of mine that I am a fan of to submit tracks for the label. Since I have done comps of old dusty records in the past with Amir, I thought, Why not do one of all new original music? Also, Hip hop DJs like Red Alert and Funkmaster Flex have done this as well… So now I’m doing it with dance music.
You and many of the artists on this record (Truccy, Thatmanmonkz, Eli Escobar, Seven Davis Jr) seem to developing a rather unique sound. Is it a natural progression from “edit culture” or a whole new thing?
For me, I have a background in ’90s Hip hop production, which was so sample based… and then then Hip hop fell off hard. I ended up applying that style to creating dance music. Sample-based with original music. I don’t think any of it’s “new” so to speak. I think of it as going way back to the roots of it all.
The album flows beautifully. Do you approach track selection with a DJ’s sensibility, or do you have a different approach to making a compilation?
These are tracks from friends that I’m a fan of and I think they also know my taste as well. So each track is different but I feel they share a common thread. I definitely approached it with a DJ’s sensibility; I think that’s something that I’ve been honing since I was a child (unbeknownst to me at that time): creating moods with songs, specifically other people’s songs.
What’s your take on the current musical climate?
Having traveled so much it’s given me perspective what kinds of music resonate with different regions and demographics. The USA is so different than Europe and the UK. There is so much good new music out that many people in the USA don’t even know exists because the club culture is EDM/Trap. I know so many talented working DJs that pretty much have to play the same old playlists week after week due to the fact that crowds only want what they know.
What do you think we can do about this, as producers and DJs?
This really pertains to the working DJ – the DJ who has a job more than a brand or a career. Either you are born a seeker or a non-seeker. Nowadays most folks in the club are not seekers. They are programmed not to want more than what’s been given. I think it depends on a person’s approach when they come up to a DJ to talk shit, if I will even bother to engage or not. What’s old is new and for every song a patron demands to hear ’cause they “don’t know” whatever song may be playing, that song was unknown to them before they heard it for the first time. So did that song suck then? And what happens what that song “gets old” – do they throw it out like trash?
Music is like friends and family, you revisit them and celebrate knowing each other. When your loved ones get older every year on their birthdays we don’t tell them they suck now ’cause they got older! We still love them!
What does the city of Chicago mean to you, musically and culturally?
Chicago is the birthplace of House. As far as dance music is concerned Chicago has some of the best DJs in the world. Frankie, Ron Hardy, Farley, Cratebug, Derrick Carter, Zernell, Mark and Mike, Jamie 3:26, Rahaan, Sadar, Brian Reeves, Tone B Nimble, Black Madonna, and so many unsung DJs that will sneak up on you and drop songs you don’t know (but then you find out they’re tucked away on an LP you actually own but never were checkin’ for that vibe). Chicago had WBMX and I think that is a major factor.
Funny story: around 2002 or 2003 I’m spinning WMC at The Shore Club. This was pre-Serato (CDJs existed then) so I was still rocking all vinyl, playing everything from Calendar “Comin On Strong” to Bohannon to Patti Jo.
A woman comes up to me with a scrunchy ugly-face look that just screamed “Who the fuck is this dude!?” She asked me where I was from, I said Boston, and she was like, “Naaaaaaa you cant be, you play like you’re from Chicago.” She then tells me she is K. Alexi’s manager and he was also with her. So that meant a little something to me.
Can you name three artists we should be listening to now, and describe what it is about them that impresses you?
The 22a crew out of London are dope. I did a boat cruise at Dimensions Festival with them… Al Dobson Jr and Henry Wu have beats for days. Big fan of them.
Also Eli Escobar. He’s an old friend and not really new on the scene but I love his taste and his production is great.
Finally, what’s coming up next for Kon?
More of this. Remixes and original music. Also working on a very cool project with my dear friend Ben Westbeech aka Breach. The project is called “The Hood.” Stay tuned!!!
Kon & The Gang is forthcoming from BBE Music. A 12″ sampler featuring “Timeless” backed by “Closer” is out now.