Name: Justice aka Tony Bowes
Current release: Justice's 1997 underground classic Viewpoints has been reissued by Hydrogen Dukebox.
Recommendations: I have recently read The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro, which is a superb piece of storytelling in the Fantasy genre, which to be fair isn’t really usually my thing but this is just so well executed.
Rob Hann is a guy who takes photos In California, Texas and Nevada amongst other US states. His pictures capture signs, gas stations, people and other landmarks primarily found in the desert. A particular favourite is ‘Diesel Fried Chicken’.
If you enjoyed this interview with Justice, follow him on twitter. Or visit the bandcamp store of his label Muj for more music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started producing in 1990/91 and my passion musically at this time was electro, hip hop and the early house productions of the likes of JM Silk and Todd Terry.
I had had a fascination with capturing sound since a young age, probably around 7 years old, when I was given an old tape recorder and started taping different noises onto it. I was intrigued by the notion that snippets from conversations or talking from the TV or radio could be just recorded onto a cassette and played back whenever I wanted.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
As I mentioned above, I had a real passion for hip hop and this is what I thought I would start to write when I got into the studio for the first time. But the rave scene was starting to emerge and seep into my consciousness. So the ‘hip hop’ I thought I was going to do started to become faster and more sped up and morphed into some early proto drum and bass, before the term was coined.
This experimentation and boundary pushing became and still is an integral part of what I do.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
Longevity and integrity are two of the facets I try to bring forward from myself into my productions. There is often a sense of calmness counterbalanced with chaos, which I guess we all experience from time to time too.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
I think the main challenges in those early days were the equipment and technology that we were using/ mis-using. It was first and foremost finding maybe a studio with a sampler or hooking up with a fellow producer who had a home set up that could be used.
Also the limitations of the technology such as the lack of sample time, which also conversely influenced productions as a creative work around would have to be found.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
The first studio I used was in my hometown, Luton, and it was based within a community arts centre. It had a rack mount Casio sampler, a massive Soundcraft desk, a Proteus sound module and various other outboard racks. The sequencing was done inside an Atari on early Cubase. The equipment at these times was quite basic and everything was MIDI triggered. The aforementioned sample time issue was pretty crucial, as I think that first production was all sample based.
Moving forward over the years samplers would become more powerful and more time could be had for sampling. The advent of speeding up breaks is a result of the lack of sample time as breaks would be sampled pitched up to capture more of it.
The music I was making was always nearly primarily sampled based so this would always motivate the equipment used in the studio.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I remember studio sessions dreaming of being able to manipulate audio or sample multiple tracks or pieces from multiple records. Now if you have a Mac you can pretty much do everything there! You can write pretty much anywhere at any time.
It's never made me question the process, It has just made it easier to express myself.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
The studio can be a lonely place sometimes and it has always been a big part of my work to collaborate. If it’s possible to be in the same room as some else allows it allows a fusion of ideas and just being able to bounce ideas around can help greatly with the process. File sharing has made production and pre-production a lot easier too and allows work to be done wherever in the world you or your collaborator might be which can really streamline workflow.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
The day will always start with some coffee, that’s a given. A walk or a cycle in nature I find always helps me to prepare for the day. I have a fixed schedule on certain days where I mentor some students through music and the arts, so I pretty much know what I am doing on these days.
The other days will combine writing or editing some tracks for various projects or running my Modern Urban Jazz imprint. This may involve anything from organising a record to be cut to mailing out records or tapes.
Although I do try to keep to a work schedule, this is easier on the mentoring days, music is a pretty much constant presence in one form or another, so it is hard to separate, but I am mindful of this and do make time for other things such as family etc.
Can you talk about a breakthrough work, event or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
A breakthrough work would have to be ‘Aquisse’ which I recorded as a single and subsequently appears on the ‘Viewpoints’ LP.
It was and still is a very special track as it really did something very different in drum and bass at the time. It focussed around more electro elements and came together really quickly in the session. I did a really quick arrangement, muting tracks in and out on cubase so I could put it on a cassette tape to listen to in the car, this was 1995 after all. As I drove home and listened, the arrangement I had done so far was perfect. So the next session I emulated the arrangement into Cubase and wrote an ending for the track. It was just kind of one of those magical moments where everything just clicked.
I knew I wanted to go in and write something different that was centred around the sound that formed my listening way back, electro, and it just all happened within about 4 hours.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Having the time and inclination are both very important. Sometimes I have my best ideas when I am not near the studio doing something else.
I think the longer you do something it can become easier in the sense that you know how to do it, but also harder as well in a sense of being motivated to do it. I find it easier to create as the day goes on, so I try not to push it too much and let things happen when it feels right or the vibe takes me.
I often walk or cycle and I find this helps with getting into the right frame of mind.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music is definitely a healing force, I can be in a bad mood and listen to say Roy Ayers and it instantly picks me up. I think the world is generally in a bad mood at the moment, but I have also seen music, creativity, the arts and sports get people through it.
All these are very real and important things which are underestimated by the powers that be, but which we very much need to hold onto.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think it should always be done with a delicate touch, give recognition to the influence and its roots and acknowledge that we are all involved in Black music, which people sometimes try to forget or ignore. I think in music, as in life, that equality and diversity is key.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
I can often see sound, the shapes it makes within a tune, colour, maybe a visual narrative, like a short film. Music and sound informs what we see, watch a film with no music or sound and it’s nothing.
So I guess the link between sound and vision is almost unquestionable and interchangeable at the same time.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I really enjoy the role of being an artist and being involved in all the artistic facets of recording as well as running an imprint and influencing the art and photography that can accompany a release, the visual to go with the audio.
A lot of the releases we do are very limited, so allows a more boutique, personal, hand finished quality to the release. I think musically it allows me to be freer in what I am doing and not to be confined within stereotypes or pigeonholes.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
I think music conveys all the emotions we are feeling. Music creates the emotion, it is the emotion. There is nothing more emotional than music so it can heighten life and reflect death in a mournful or celebratory way.