Photo Credit: Ania Volovique
For this edition of Hometown Heroes we’re headed to the New York borough of Brooklyn to get to know Kev OBrien a bit better. He steers the Stranjjur ship alongside co-captain Chris Luzz, an imprint focused on helping catapult the careers of lesser-known names in the production game. Their roster includes H.O.S.H., Lula Circus and Nhan Solo, and released the 2012 deep house hit, Fabo feat. Lostcause’s ‘Where I Stand.’
A self-described dreamweaver and self-made survivor, Kev finds inspiration everywhere, especially the concrete jungle around him, and draws heavily from his own life experiences in his work. Having cut his teeth in the Florida rave scene of the 90s to the likes of Sasha, John Digweed and Josh Wink, the incessant idealist is a firm believer that anyone can make their dreams come true, as long as they are willing to chase after them with absolute abandon. Through his music and his label, Kev seeks to motivate and move others to make their dreams a reality. Simply push play on this exclusive mix he made us, and you’re certain to see what we mean…
You are honest in a really raw way about a lot of your mixes, and the personal experiences that inspire them. Can you tell us about this mix?
For this mix, the basis of it is really all over the place. If I get too far into it I will talk for eternity because it holds that much meaning to me. To put it simply, the basis of the mix is to touch, move and inspire. Whether a person is unsure of their path, stuck in love, absorbed in emotion, or just confused, I’d like to hope that anyone who has the feeling of community love that I feel will be able to walk away from listening to it having gained something.
It’s obvious you pour your heart and soul into your music, and your mixes tell very cohesive stories. What is your process when you set out to make one?
I grew up in this music listening to Global Underground and the like from Sasha & Digweed and Dave Seaman mostly. Although I never knew what their intended message was, perhaps because I was too young to really focus in on what I was hearing at the level that I can now, all of my roots were fundamentally set in their soil and based on this notion of telling a story, or sending a message, through the course of a mix.
The vast majority of the mixes I do have an enormous amount of personal reflections, experiences, and lessons learned from said experiences at the time of creating them. It’s not unusual for them to take days or even weeks. I’m not John Digweed, I don’t mix my records for the entire duration of their existence. But I do feel that there is something unique and special about every single mix I release for public listening, otherwise it wouldn’t be worth my time.
My process is rather extensive. I generally decide my message or reflect on my current life circumstances, and go through every single track I have in my extensive library. I know the vibe and the message I am sending very clearly, so this process generally takes 4 to 5 hours, and leaves me with a pool of about 50 or 60 tracks, which I then use as my arsenal.
I hate music that is created on the basis of now. And that is likely why a lot of the music I play does not meet current “trends.” I am all about playing and endorsing music that’s created from the soul and is timeless.
I think a big problem these days is definitely DJs just dropping whatever is ‘big’ at that moment, and tracks getting recycled and played out so fast. A little digging goes a long way to the refined ear.
If you’re not digging, you’re getting nowhere but the surface, and the surface is an incredibly misleading place to be.
Where do you go to find tunes to keep it fresh, besides the collection you have already amassed?
I don’t go anywhere. I don’t know how to say this without sounding like some kind of idiot, but the music I am meant to play comes to me. Whether I created the avenues or not, it simply comes to me, I don’t look for anything. Some things defy explanation, and to me, that is artistry. Sometimes I download or buy shit I don’t even like at the time, and then 2 years later I am playing it every chance I get. The idea is to play things that will make people fall into their place at a party, which is next to one another, without the bullshit and politics that may have brought them there, to realize why the fuck they went there in the first place, which is for the music.
You strike me as an immensely passionate person with a pretty colorful past. What keeps you pushing forward, even in tough times?
I like to consider myself someone who has a purpose. When someone decides to send their life in a very specific direction, such as I’ve done with music, there really is no barrier or situation that can legitimately lay claim to being able to stand in the way of that forward motion. Music is my native language, and a large part of my entire existence and personality, so when the goings get tough for me, I embrace that simply as a time where my senses come alive and creativity is generally at it’s peak.
Have you always felt this deep connection to music?
Always. The first song I can say I remember outside of nursery rhymes and Disney tunes as a child was Starship’s “We Built This City.” I was 4 years old or so. As a 4 year old with a very curious mind, I specifically remember thinking to myself “I want to go there,” without really being adept enough to understand they weren’t being literal, that there really was no city built upon guitar strings and drum solos. I think I’ve always carried that serious, yet innocent and naive perception into everything I listen to.
Don’t you think the undergrounds and rave scene of yesteryear were, in a sense, about building a city, a community, based around the music?
Without a doubt, are you kidding me? I can honestly say that when I first fell in love with this music, it was only 50% about the music in all honesty. Maybe even less. Back in the 90s and shortly after Y2k killed us all and destroyed civilization, rave culture was a massive movement in the U.S. and abroad. I know it was more of a culture here in the U.S. though, because all the big European artists practically lived and made their name in Florida, which is where I was at that time.
We didn’t just have a scene, we had a family, 10,000 strong. On any given Sunday I would be traveling home under suspicious circumstances from as far as 800 miles away, and leaving a crew of no less than 50 people that I knew very well, no matter how far I went. Times have changed though. These days in the US it seems to me to be more about looking cool, acting cool, and pretending to be something that just doesn’t exist anymore.
Do you think there is any semblance of what ‘was’ anymore? Or has it all become a thing of the past?
Really it’s not up to me to decide. It’s a matter of self perspective from an individualistic standpoint. I can’t tell you or anyone else what you’re experiencing, because my life experience and times within this culture is vastly different from that of yours, or anyone else’s. If I were 20 again, I’d call myself a jaded raver. At 33, however, I call myself an adult. But, for me personally, no. There can be no semblance of what was, because it isn’t what is. I’m over “the scene.”
How do you balance being over “the scene” and producing music that is still relevant within it?
I could give fifteen fucks whether anything I produce is relevant to anyone else other than myself. I think that’s half the problem these days, we have too many people going around doing finger paintings that look like the ones that got posted up on the chalk board last month. Fuck your finger painting shit, grab a paint brush and make some fucking art. The scene is all about politics and rhetoric. Labels and name dropping. He said, she said. As an artist, if you allow any of that bullshit to influence you, you’re doing yourself a complete injustice, and may want to question your reasonings for making music in the first place.
What is your ultimate goal with your music, and that of your label Stranjjur then?
My goal in life is to touch people. I can’t help anyone, that is an impossible and egotistical goal, because no one can help anyone but themself. Since I was four years old, right around that same time I recall hearing “We Built This City,” I knew that my life was not how a child in this world was meant to live. I just knew deep down in the bowels of my soul that what I was experiencing was something that too many others have to endure, which I now correlate with basic social disfunction in the society we live in. My goal is to touch, move and inspire people to look beyond what they think they know, and see that their dreams can, and will, become a reality, as long as they’re up for the task.
I equate everything I do with my music in the same context, so Stranjjur carries the same goal. The idea of the label and the brand from the beginning has been, and always will be, to present a showcase for inspiring dreamers and artists to cast their vision’s shadow upon the greater landscape.
With the label, you place extra emphasis on signing artists who are lesser-known. Why is that an important piece of the platform you provide? Does it go back into this desire to inspire others and enable them to realize their dreams are within reach?
100%. It wasn’t really even a choice, more so a calling. I didn’t imagine or create the name Stranjjur myself. One of my best friends in this lifetime, Chris Craig, thought up the name Stranjjur. I’ve always felt like the stranjjur my entire life. It was a no-brainer to me to base the entire brand upon helping unrecognized artistry gain some light in the parade of darkness that influences modern music, and society in general.
You’ve said that you don’t want Stranjjur to be associated with any particular trend or sound, just to consistently produce timeless music. With that in mind, what do you look for in an artist before bringing them onto the roster?
The first thing is obviously the music. But music isn’t enough for us. Both myself and my partner, Chris Luzz, have learned over this past year that we simply do not mesh well with everyone. If an artist is egotistical, not genuine, or thinks he or she knows everything, since everything in their world is about them, we want nothing to do with them. So in this day and age, when basically anyone can fart a decent track out, the number one thing we look for is spiritual integrity. I want to feel as if the people who are releasing music on our label are doing it for reasons other than strokes to their ego.
The latest release on Stranjjur just came out on Friday from Sasse under his Freestyle Man moniker, with remixes from yourself and Baunz. What else is in the pipelines for you and the rest of the Stranjjurs?
Following the Sasse release, we have an EP coming from Ataxia, including Inxec and S.K.A.M remixes, followed by an amazing single from the likes of Hollis P Monroe and Overnite, under their Black 80s guise, with remixes from Brothers Vibe and Patryk Molinari. After that we have a huge EP from Baunz, with remixes from myself and Anna Wall of Defected fame as a collaboration, as well as one of our favorite homeboys from NYC, Beckwith, known mostly for his consistent output on Anjunadeep. There’s also tons more coming, but no sense in letting all of our birds from the hatch, as each release is special in it’s own way.
Follow Kev on Soundcloud HERE
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Buy on Beatport HERE