High-tech food for the ears

Anyone who begrudges the growing popularity of electronic music needs only to listen to local DJ and musician Jon 7 for 30 seconds — listen to him talk, that is — to realize that a man this illuminated by his art could have nothing less than his soul invested.

“I’ve lost my [equipment] and had [it] stolen,” he states, without rancor. “But I love what I do, and I’ll never give up.”

Jon 7 played in several Asheville bands before discovering his deeper passion as a solo electronics whiz.

The advantages of being a one-man act are obvious. “I like working by myself because I feel like I can depend on myself. If you flake out on yourself, there’s only one person to get mad at,” he points out.

“When I started getting into electronic stuff, I realized I could create entire compositions just out of my own head, and I didn’t need a whole band,” he continues. “And it helped to know something about [traditional] music. There are so many electronic gadgets and so many computer software programs now that make people believe they’re actually playing music; like, ‘Hey, I’m holding down two buttons. I’m playing music!’ … But music is different than that. It doesn’t come from boxes. It comes from an endless resource of inspiration that’s available to you if you’re open to it.”

Jon 7’s own inspiration draws from an infinite number of tonal prospects.

“I gather my sounds everywhere — from records, from [the] environment, from TV, from radio, from every sonic resource that I can find,” he reveals. “I scour everywhere for a source of sound that I can work with. I say, ‘This is where I’m located — let’s see what I can hear.'”

But when he has to formally christen the muse, incessant food references (perhaps the logical outcome of a recent stay in New Orleans) fly faster than carrot bits in a Cuisinart.

“For me, music is like food, because my ears get hungry,” he explains. “Hector [Diaz] at Salsa’s is probably one of my main inspirations, because I like the way that he cooks. He uses a little bit of everything. People eat there because it’s exotic. I want to make house music that’s exotic, because there’s so much boring house music.” (For the uninitiated, “house” and “rave” music involve decidedly urban, gloriously cacophonous electronic sounds.)

He’s continually frustrated by the club scene’s lifeless offerings, and he blames a laziness ironically engendered by the digital age itself. “It’s really easy, with … software programs to make instant rave music. But it’s the equivalent of throwing handfuls of potato chips out into the audience, instead of inviting them for a smorgasbord of good food. … The music [in clubs] is there to provide a club atmosphere. People just come for the club. I would like people to come to the club for the music.”

When DJ-ing house parties, Jon 7 claims he’s vigilantly aware of his role as entertainer, tailoring his already-malleable play list to the collective mood: “I’ve done eight-hour house parties where I’m the only DJ. It’s almost like planning an eight-course meal. I intuit what people want to hear.”

But as an artist, he’s most true to his own inner vision. Creating original pieces retains a loftier perch, in his aesthetic estimation, than mixing records: “Right now, I’m spinning everyone else’s records. But I also have my little playback devices: a CD player and turntables and a processor, little gadgets that can alter sound, anything with knobs on it that’s weird, so I can mix in new pieces as I make them — be it ambient or beat-driven or whatever. So as I start having the ability and financial support to press my own vinyl, what I see five years down the road is that I’ll be spinning entirely my own material.”

Peering even more ambitiously into the future, Jon 7 divines a closer-than-you-think transatlantic disturbance that he terms “disco warfare” — a nonviolent, but nonetheless ebullient, skirmish, in which the growing predominance of house music in culturally rich European nations will cause frenzied production of rival records there. Americans, he predicts, will snap up these hastily disgorged “limited editions” until they realize that their own unique heritage of jazz, country, bluegrass, zydeco, etc., outgrooves any offerings from the old country.

“I’m getting ready for disco warfare,” he confesses. “I’m gathering all of my elements and secret dub weapons.”

The moody, fitful intelligence of Jon 7’s original pieces linger with a persistence that will likely survive the coming crisis. But he’s impatient to revise what’s already recorded, in order to mirror his own ever-changing psyche.

“My whole life could collapse and then be reborn again in time for the next show, and, of course, the music is going to reflect that,” he concludes.

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