Occupation: DJ, producer
Current Release: J-Fresh's new single " Trenches" , a collaboration with Clipson and Skatta, is out now. 2021 has been an extremely prolific year for him - " Trenches" follows four earlier releases: "Nobody Rates You“ (with Flamezee), " Drip“ (featuring Ears), and " Ring the Alarm“ (with Brakeman guesting). For a deeper look into his production chops, meanwhile, we recommend his two Instrumental Packs published in 2020 which provide short, concentrated bursts of digital bass stabs, rattling and clattering beats and almost psychedelic cuts and edits.
If you enjoyed this interview with J-Fresh and would like to stay up to date on his releases and gigs, visit his official website for more information. He also has profiles on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What did you learn from the masters of production for your own work?
Probably in my 20s.
As a DJ you would mix tracks together and create a ‘third track’ - a new track. The days of UK Garage influenced me - Tuff Jam, Tina Moore, Artful Dodger and then into grime - Wiley, Geeneus, Agent X, TNT.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important instruments or pieces of gear for you?
Studio wise I'm still moving a lot. I'm jumping into bespoke studio units and also renting studio space by the day or week if needed. Most of the time it's just me and my laptop. I can be on the train or in the car and I hear a melody of something in my head so I record a voice note into my phone.
It’s all about capturing an idea and being able to translate an idea in my head into some kind of recorded format so I can revisit it later time.
When it comes to sampling vs playing something yourself, what are your preferences?
Hip-hop, Garage, Grime - the whole essence is built on samples, little snippets of music and YOU putting your twist on something.
Within a digital working environment, it is possible to compile huge archives of ideas for later use. Tell me a bit about your strategies of building such an archive and how you put these ideas and sketches to use.
For me I don't have a huge amount of ideas that I sit on. But whether it's voice notes on my phone or on a pen and paper on the side of my bed - if I have an idea I want to record it.
Have there been technologies which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you make music?
I don't think there's anything it's really made me question music as such but technologies ... well, I mean I was DJing through analogue into the digital age but I only got involved in producing in a digital age and file sharing makes things so quick and so easy, access to equipment and being able to record things on the fly has just made the process quicker.
Where does the impulse to create a beat come from for you? What role do often-quoted sources of inspiration like dreams, other forms of art, personal relationships, politics etc play?
Anything really. I guess you get a deeper answer if a lyricist was answering this question but like I said you know an advert, a child's nursery rhyme and a melody that come to my head or I'm singing really badly in the shower - literally inspiration all around me.
For you to get started, do there need to be concrete ideas? What does the balance between planning and chance look like for you?
I don't have any concrete ideas as such. I just, when, I'm in a good space and I have the time between DJing and clubs and festivals or radio or my family life. Then I can revisit an idea or melody or a concept I had that I've recorded. But I need to be in the right frame of mind to do it.
What do you start with? How difficult is that first bar of music?
Usually the melody, some shakers, some perc etc. Just a little loop to get my head bopping and then I flesh it out from there.
When will you leave a beat to work its magic by itself as an instrumental and when will you add vocals to it? Do you see beats as an artform in their own right?
In terms of adding vocals most of the work I make is very rhythm based so sometimes there's some samples to lay down or some vocal clips or stabs or some lyrics left over from a previous session that I might like to use or punch in.
More time it’s a straight up instrumental, but if it’s a track that an artist is going to vocal then that's where they add their magic to it and take it somewhere really interesting.
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?
I can't rap or sing so collaborating with vocalists, MCs, rappers is obviously important. Usually you find people online, that's how we get connected with the ease-of-use and technology of being able to send ideas on your own timetables - we’re all busy people y'know.
How do you choose vocal collaborators for a particular beat and what, in your opinion, sets a great vocalist/rapper apart from a 'merely' good one? Do you produce beats specifically with a vocalist in mind?
Just people where I think: ‘You’re sick’. Pretty much every record I’ve made for an artist is made specifically for that person in mind. People who I hear and I'm like ‘you’re cold’.
After you've recorded all the vocals, what is the arrangement process like for you and what is different in hip hop production compared to, say, a rock or pop piece? How do you stand in terms of producing "freestyles" versus "songs"?
I mean I don't produce pop or rock music so I don’t really fully know about the arrangements and how they do things there. But sometimes less is more. I mean I make instrumentals that sometimes get used and then it ‘becomes’ a freestyle.
I make rhythm tracks as dubs, or tracks for artists [I specifically want to work with].
How do you see the balance between writing for current trends, referring to classic sounds or creating a personal signature sound?
I think it's important to try and make the music that you want to make. It’s easy to be persuaded or to feel that you should be doing what everyone else is doing and what is popular.
OK that works for some people but why not just make the music that really works for YOU?
Many listeners will usually focus in on the contribution of the rapper(s) in a hip hop song. But the beat and musical elements provides for the emotional foundation of that performance. How much of yourself is in the finished production?
Yeah I mean production wise there's a lot of my ideas and energy and whatever is in the finished product. Of course, if it's a record with a vocalist or MC or rapper they may bring that extra element to their take on the track and they can take it somewhere really interesting.