We Need To Talk About Jon Casey

Throughout his musical journey, Jon Casey’s captivating compositions have garnered significant attention, catching the ears of industry luminaries such as UZ, GTA, and The Glitch Mob. These esteemed artists recognise Jon Casey’s exceptional talent, a testament to his ability to craft immersive sonic experiences that resonate with listeners on a profound level. 

We had the opportunity to catch up with the talented producer and DJ, known for his unique blend of bass music and groovy swing. His recent release ‘Trial & Error’ on Noisia’s VISION, is an intentional and experimental EP that has been making waves in the electronic music scene, showing us another facet of his musical style as he works in the 170 realm. In this interview, Jon takes us on a journey through his musical influences, his experiences on the road, and his aspirations for the future. From his love for intimate shows to his passion for connecting with the audience, Jon shares insights into his artistic process and the impact of his South African roots. Join us as we delve into the mind of Jon Casey and explore the sounds that define his captivating Jon Casey Sound.

Hey! What have you been up to recently?

I have been catching up on a lot of rest. I have been on the road quite a lot, playing a lot of shows and this is my first weekend off in a long time. So I’ve just been catching up on series’ and just laying back and Being a normal human for a little bit.

How’s the road been? 

It has been amazing. It’s a dream come true because this is literally what me and the team have been working towards. I’ve been playing a lot of shows with my favourite artists and I’m super grateful for it. Super grateful to be able to be playing all these shows and bigger festivals and stuff like that. Last year was a lot of taking as many shows as I can to get my name out there. But this year we’ve been a lot more selective.

What are your criteria? Are you looking for bigger shows, or is it more about the kind of crowd that you’re going to draw and the vibe of the event?

I would like to be playing a lot more festivals but I’d also like to be playing more intimate shows too. I really like intimate shows that have 250 people in a basement then it’s just music and raw energy. Those are the shows where I have the most fun, where you can actually feel the crowd. The crowd is right next to you like the 360 kind of shows.

Is that because you like to have a connection with your audience and your fans?

Absolutely. I love playing festivals and absolutely will always be grateful to play them but there is a bit of a distance and a disconnect because people can’t be on stage. The stage production has its place and it really sets the precedent and a tone, it can create this curiosity around that artist. With the smaller shows, there’s a level of intimacy and connection that you can’t emulate when it comes to bigger production. In America it’s all about production, it’s all about the lights, the stage, the sound is always important, but it’s a lot more visual. It has its place but I’m not a huge fan of the fact that it’s the most important part.  I like shows with the VISION crew, Noisia Selects, it’s really cool to have those kinds of shows where it’s not really a bold lineup, it’s just all about the music all night, and people go there for the music.

It’s not about the lasers and the LED lights and all that kind of stuff. Of course, there needs to be a somewhat good level of production. I understand that, but it’s about the music at the end of the day.  I would like to push that agenda in the States. But for now, at this point in my career, I just have to follow the president and make a name for myself.

Are you based in the States currently? 

I moved out here four months ago. I’m settling in but I miss home so much. I miss South Africa but I’m going back in two weeks which I’m super excited about.

I want to take you right back to the beginning and talk about your childhood and your musical influences. What kind of music did you grow up with,  in and around your household with your family and your friends?

I come from a very musical household, we all loved music. My mum and dad would play guitar and sing in church so I’d listen to them. I grew up listening to a lot of Lionel Richie, Eric Clapton,  Van Morrison, and Aaron Neville, all that kind of stuff. The music style back in the day had lots of key changes in the songs, lots of symphonies, it was super musical. Today, you can have a song with no chords and it’s a hit which is cool, it’s not a negative thing. So I grew up on that and my ear was definitely tuned in that way. 

We would drive to Cape Town or do long-distance drives, a lot and on those long-distance drives my dad would put on some music. He always reminds me of the story when I was a kid and I’d be sleeping in the car. He’d be playing music and I’d wake up and I’d be like “Can I dance?” At two years old or three years old. I always had a passion for music, always, it’s innate within me. It was always gonna express itself or present itself in some way or another way. It just happened to be music production.

When did you first come across this kind of bass music?

When I was in grade four our neighbour used to show me and my brothers some very experimentally electronic music, not really bass driven at all. But I remember he showed me the album Walls by Apparat, it’s one of the greatest albums of all time, super experimental, electronic music. Then there was a game called MotorStorm which came out on PS3 and the intro song was ‘Slam’ by Pendulum and it was super cinematic.  The intro had this monologue and I was like ‘What on earth?’ Then the beat drops and it’s kind of a halftime beat and then it goes into drum and bass. Me and my brothers were like ‘What the f*** is this?’ And that was my introduction to bass music. And there’s always been a love for it since then. That was probably about fourth grade as well. 

But really, I think I properly got into bass music in grade eight. Chee and I went to the same high school and in grade eight we discovered dubstep. We were in a dance crew together, there was this one guy Sebastian who just came over to us with a speaker and he was playing music from Fabric Live, Caspa and Rusko.

Oh, that’s a great mix…

Absolutely! A Classic! Songs like ‘Africa’ and ‘Jehovah’ and that’s where it actually hit us and we became friends through making music. We became dance buddies. He would come over to my house quite a lot because my parents had a good internet connection, and we would rip plugins and just pirate a whole bunch of s***. 

Like most people back then…I don’t know if grade eight in South Africa is in the UK. How old were you?

I’d say 13 years old, so it’s very young. Chee was producing before that, he was on FL Studio when he was 11, I think. We were just making hip-hop beats beginning. The worst, hip-hop beats you’ll ever hear in your life but that was the start. Then we integrated electronic into that and made, what we didn’t know at the time, was half-time, but essentially electronic influenced hip-hop.

When did you stray to think ‘This is what I’m going to do, this is my career?’

The pivotal moment was in 2017. DJ Craze has a label called Slow Roast Records based in Los Angeles at the time, but they’ve moved to Miami now. He followed me on SoundCloud. He was the first big DJ who threw attention my way, and I was like, ‘Oh, am I gonna do this?’ I spoke to Chee who told me to just send him some music. That was the key, really. So I sent him a bunch of songs and he was like ‘Let’s do an EP,’ That was my first official release as Jon Casey. That was the beginning of 2018 and that’s when things got serious.

I knew I was gonna keep doing this. I was studying psychology at the time. I was juggling my degree and music but I was always juggling education and music. 

How did you find juggling studying and making music? You must have been putting a lot of effort into the music to get to that level.

There were challenges but it was a breeze really because I loved it so much. I had so much structure, I was super busy all the time and I miss it, I’m not gonna lie. I miss having that busyness. I was exercising a lot of the time and it sounds like juggling too much but it was so fun. Going to the gym every day, working on assignments, finding time to work on music. I think the busier I am the more I’m able to juggle, because there’s a lot more movement in that sense, and there’s a lot more structure. It really was great. 

Can you tell us about the bass music scene in South Africa and how you fit into it…

There is a scene, but it is very small. However, the people involved are very passionate about it. But it’s not at all lucrative enough to make it your sole career. I played lots of small club shows, a handful, I’d say. It was how I got my bearings with regards to DJing, I started mixing pretty late compared to when I started making music. I’d say the scene in South Africa right now is mainly hip-hop  and house. But the problem is there’s not a lot of money in music, whatever genre. It’s all delegated to the bigger stadium shows.

I know at some point when I’ve made a name for myself, I’d like to go home and push something. Obviously, if there’s not a lot of something in a certain place, it means that there’s a lot of room for that something to grow. But it will be quite hard because South Africans don’t like change, in general. It’s difficult for them to accept something new. They like what they know, and they know what they know. It will take some provoking to start a market for electronic music and drum and bass. It will take time.

How do you think you might start penetrating that market, how would you envision yourself helping the scene to grow within South Africa?

There’s a group here in America called Pangea Sound and what they’re doing is so inspirational. It’s just one night of music but they do stuff all across the board. They’ll have afrobeats, ampiano and house. It’s very colourful and has happy vibes for sure. It’s an environment where everyone’s just listening to music. So I’d like to say the way I’d penetrate the market would be a night of all kinds of music, not just bass music. I wouldn’t want to scare people away. It’d start with ampiano and afrobeats then makes its way into trap and hip-hop and then incorporate bass music.

I’d set the precedent before with the show’s name and the description of the event. Make it known that this is a place where music is judgement free. A judgement-free zone where you’d come in and challenge yourself. Challenge yourself in your ear with regards to what you like, what you don’t like and just be open.

That sounds very cool. So you’ve been making waves for a good few years now, I just wanted to ask what your most pinch-yourself moment has been…

I was at Beyond Wonderland which is a festival in Los Angeles. I was there with NGHTMRE. We have a song together and he wanted a debut on stage, I wasn’t there playing, I was just there to debut the song together. But we’re in the RV with a bunch of other bigger names who were actually familiar with me, like Flosstradamus. And boy, that’s a big name. 

I just wanted to go and say what’s up to Riot Ten, Flosstradamus, and Wuki. They were shooting a TikTok for Beyond Wonderland and they were like, ‘You should join’.  It’s like us four shooting and I was just thinking ‘How on earth did I get in the mix?’ These are heavy hitters, after that, I wanted to chat to TroyBoi for a bit and he gave me the nod like ‘What’s up dude? Good to see you.’ I’m just like ‘what the f*** like I’m having conversations with these people. 

With regards to work, creativity wise the pinch-myself moment would be this EP for sure. This is my most intentional piece of art. There is one song in there that was from years ago because it fitted in nicely, apart from that start to finish this was like something I started with VISION in mind. I’ve never created a project like this before. My projects are usually curated with a lot of music that’s already been made that we put together and call an EP for sure that’s perfectly fine and has its place. But with this one, I started with the European and UK industry in mind. I really wanted to pay respects to it because these territories got me into electronic music. I got the bug to make footwork, jungle and d&b, while still maintaining the Jon Casey Sound.

This EP has set the tone for the next project. It can’t just be something that came before this, it needs to be something that is intentional and whether it’s two tracks or 12 tracks, it needs to be intentional.  

One of my questions was going to be, ‘Was this written for VISION because it just sounds like it belongs.’ But you answered that already… 

I’m glad you could hear the intention in the release.

You mentioned the Jon Casey Sound. How would you describe that to someone that’s never heard your music before?

Interesting. As I said it, I was about to say ‘Whatever that may be.’ But, I can’t be naive to the fact that I do have a specific sound. Everyone has. I think I’d describe it as 155 bpm, but very bouncy and very trappy. This EP is a little bit more experimental. But I would say the Jon Casey sound is very groovy and very swing. Take your concept of a metronome and throw it out the window. Everything is kind of just offbeat. 

There’s a lot of hip-hop influence of course. But I’d say the underlying common theme is, very swinging, but with more trap. I’d say the VISION EP is a good example of how I could join those two worlds. Groovy, but you can feel that there’s an underlying d&b influence. 

What being a musician has taught you about yourself and who you are as a person?

Very introspective question. Being a musician is definitely a tool. Everyone has their tools and doesn’t have to be music. But my tool just shows me that I’m a people person. When I’m touring and meeting lots of people it makes me realise that I love people. I love being in front of a crowd, being in green rooms, interacting with people and being able to provide a good influence. Wherever I can. Small things for example when you’re talking to someone and you shake their hand or hug them or look them in the eye when you’re speaking, just proper engagement and presence. These are innate fundamentals of me. They could have been displayed through a different medium, like if I were an actor or if I were a public speaker, but because I’m a musician, I found ways to present that.

Playing shows or the music itself goes hand-in-hand with having studied psychology while creating music. Not to say, you have to study psychology to do those things. But it really cemented itself within me, throughout those years and now it’s just part of me. 

Do you think your understanding of psychology and your love for people affect the music you make and the way you create music?

As a safe answer. I’m gonna say no. I think it’s difficult for me to create something with so much intention, which is why this EP is so big for me. For the most part, the way that I make music is, and not in a negative sense, but in a laissez-faire attitude. I like to sit in front of the laptop and wait to see what’s gonna come to me, then I’ll just kind of follow what I feel. I follow my muse instead of telling my music what I want in a sense.

In the real world, I’d say with regards to relationships, places, people and all that kind of stuff. It’s difficult for me to incorporate those things in music. Let me not lie to you. I have thought about trying to incorporate that but it’s kind of difficult to break that mould, but it is at the top of my mind to do that.

What have we got to look forward to from you in the near future. What can we expect to hear and see from Jon Casey?

Lots of big American shows, which I’m very excited about. Music wise I’m focusing on releasing singles, I’ve got some albums for the future definitely, I’ve been making some very forward-thinking music and I’m very nervous about putting it out, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But, mostly singles at the moment, no big projects in the pipeline as of now, but that could change tomorrow.  

And my last question, what should we be talking about in the bass music community that we’re not currently talking about?

Oh, that’s a tough one.

I’m gonna say the quote, unquote, extremists of certain genres. I’m gonna talk about the American scene because that’s what I know. But, people who like dubstep, for the most part, are generally more forward-thinking people, for sure. But you get the extremists who only like dubstep or only drum and bass, only this or only that. I want people to have more conversations about opening themselves up to all things electronic.

I’m going to use my sets as an example. My sets start at 120 bpm trap, which is super slow, but super hard and then ends with drum and bass, it’s all about how that sounds. It can be jarring, but it’s all about how you make those transitions, and the sets, if I do say so myself, are pretty seamless. It’s almost like ‘How did we get here?’ But it can go over a lot of people’s heads. So I would like people to have more conversations about how they can put themselves out there and open themselves to new music. Instead of a power hour of just 140 or 150 of house. It needs to be fresh and innovative and across the board as much as possible, because there’s way too much good music out there for you to be stuck at one BPM. 

And I say this in a good way because sometimes it sucks because I’m playing out and thinking, ‘I want to play this but I can’t play this because the crowds might not like it’. I have to make it so it all fits in. But how do you fit it all in? I think people should challenge themselves more with regard to music and have open and honest conversations in person about ‘I do like this and I don’t like that.’ Because if you can fully express your opinions to somebody you can work with something but if there’s no honesty behind what we say, we can’t evolve.

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