Interview: Five Minutes with Just Us
Interview by Arnold van der Walt
DJ and producer duo, Just Us, recently released a brand new track via Polydor/Universal titled ‘I Feel Good Love’ featuring vocals from Daniel Caplin. ‘I Feel Good Love’ samples the iconic ‘I Feel Good’ from the late king of funk, James Brown and has been reworked into a feel-good tune that will make you long for the summer days.
Just Us consists of Steven Lee and Carl Kennedy and over the course of the last decade they have toured the world entertaining dance floors with their residencies in clubs in Ibiza, Bangkok, São Paulo, Sydney, Las Vegas and New York, amongst others. Each outstanding producers in their own right, they gained a lot of recognition after their release of ‘Cloudbusting’, a rework of Kate Bush’s 1985 single. The single was critically acclaimed the world over, but unfortunately it landed the duo in some trouble from Kate Bush herself.
We sat down with Just Us and spoke about their new James Brown rework, how to sample and how they would change festivals.
Hi there Steven & Carl! Set the tone for us. Why did you decide to go into the music industry? Why the arts?
Well we both started quite young with DJing and producing and just making records that would work on the dancefloor. Those records go on and do well and pretty soon you’re playing shows in Ibiza, Australia, South America and Asia – all over really. So in a sense we didn’t choose to go into the music industry – the music biz came to us!
To those not familiar with you, how would you describe your sound? What’s the weirdest way you’ve ever heard/seen yourself be described?
We try to make records that get an immediate response and create chaos on the dance floor. And we love emotive, distinctive vocals and songs hence sampling Kate Bush, working with Macy Gray and having Daniel Caplin on our current single. Pete Tong called us ‘The mystery men from New York’ – that was kinda weird.
In 2016, Just Us was formed after working together on a remix for the second time. What made you decide to work as a project together?
We’ve known each other for a long time and have always rated each others’ productions. And we have a similar musical history so there’s almost a telepathy when we’re in the studio. But at the same time we’re each always coming with different ideas so we get the power of two!
After the release of your rendition of Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’, you’ve seen a lot of success. What was that the journey like since the release of that track?
The immediate post-release journey was a mini legal soap opera and we don’t have enough time to explain everything except for “don’t sample Kate Bush”. But having said that the success of ‘Cloudbusting’ opened up opportunities for collaborating with Wolves By Night and Danny Byrd for example. And we did everything by the book when sampling James Brown!
You recently released the guitar-driven ‘I Feel Good Love Ft Daniel Caplin’. What has the response to that been like?
Pete Tong played it on Radio 1 the week we sent it to him so we’ll take that!
How did you end up working with Daniel Caplin?
Daniel is an up and coming singer songwriter here in New York who we had been hearing about. So we invited him to the studio and his vocals on ‘I Feel Good Love’ are amazing.
Take us through your song writing process. Are there any particular steps you take when putting music together? How does it differ with a remix?
Pre-production in building the basic outline of the track is the first thing we do and especially making space for the song and vocals. Often we have a sample in there just to inspire us. We usually eventually take the sample out but with ‘I Feel Good Love’ we wanted to keep James Brown. We never thought we’d clear it but this time the sample gods were smiling on us…
Gary Numan said: “I have always been far more interested in sound than technique, and how sounds work together, how they can be layered. I think electronic music, (in its infancy anyway) allowed us to create music in a way that hadn’t really been possible before. It created a new kind of musician.” What are your thoughts on this statement?
Yeah we would agree. We don’t give a shit how it’s done as long as when it’s done it sounds like we want it.
Let’s get technical for a moment: take us through Just Us’ collection of gear, tech or software that accompanies your creative expression.
Ableton with the usual array of instrument and fx plug ins. We also have some older outboard kit and keyboards.
If you had to choose between never playing live again or never being able to release new music again, which would you choose, and why?
Well that’s tricky because our DJ sets are mostly our own music and so the two are mutually exclusive!
What do you each keep close by while paying a set?
Back up USBs, spare headphones!
What has been your most memorable performance so far?
Cavo Paradiso in Mykonos, Space Terrace in Ibiza, Hi in Ibiza, Watergate in Berlin, Womb in Tokyo stand out to us.
And which performance would you prefer to forget?
Well when Steven had his Lee Cabrera ‘Shake It’ hit in the UK back then, there were a few ‘commercial’ venues an unscrupulous agent booked him into that he would prefer to forget!
You have both been part of the music industry for more than a decade, working in different parts of it throughout. How do you feel the scene has changed since you began?
Well electronic and dance music has gone global and the distribution method has changed a lot. But the same rules still apply – the biggest and baddest tunes will always find a way to be heard.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would you change?
Festivals: can we play a bit longer than 45 minutes sets?! No, to be honest this industry has been so good to us both and so early on in our careers. We both had early success in the most competitive industry on the planet and have been welcomed everywhere we go and for that we love everything about the biz!
Any new artists on Just Us’ radar that we should know about?
Our boy Adam aka Wolves By Night and of course Daniel Caplin.
Thank you so much for speaking with us Steven & Carl. Before you go, what can we expect from Just Us in the future?
We have just started a weekly residency at Gospel in New York City and are currently putting the finishing touches to some new productions that you’ll be hearing in 2019.
Famous last words….
We feel good!