Justin Strauss interview

Who inspired you to become a DJ?
 
Interesting question. It’s 1978. I was the lead singer in a band called Milk n Cookies. We had moved out to LA, and after 2 years out I decided to come home to NYC. An ex girlfriend of mine told me I have to come back to New York to go to the Mudd Club. She said they had a great DJ there, and that I should get a job there as a DJ. I had never DJ’d before, other than playing records for my friends in my basement. I had a large record collection, so I thought it wasn’t unthinkable.      (photo by bryan mette)

I went to the Mudd Club, fell in love with the place and the DJ, David Azarch, who played everything from James Brown, Punk, Rock n Roll, and Reggae. I thought okay I can do this, and build on the music I heard there and add my own flavor to it. Not long after hanging out there for awhile David asked if I’d like to try it. I did and loved it and Steve Maas, the owner asked me if I’d like to do a night there. So I’d have to say David Arzach was my first inspiration. Not long after I started playing there I met Francois K. and went to hear him spin and was blown away. I had been to Studio 54 and other discos, but what he was doing was on another level. And then in 1981 I went to the Paradise Garage                         

 and heard Larry Levan. Nothing was the same after that.
 
 
Can you tell us about the Mudd Club, its clientele and what were your best-loved records from that era?

The Mudd Club was the antidote to the uptown scene. The backlash to the disco scene that was becoming more commercialized. The place itself was nothing special. Downstairs was the bar, with the DJ set up at the end of it, and the dance floor. Upstairs was used as a art and performance space. But what made the place so special was the music and the people who went there. You had all the cool, interesting downtown people, artists like Keith Haring, Jean Michel Basquiat, the up and coming fashion stars like photographer Steven Meisel and designer Anna Sui, all the kids from the downtown bands coming together. As well as Andy Warhol who brought his crowd of interesting people. Just an incredible mix of coolness that was happening in New York City at that time. When it was affordable for artists, musicians, and creative people to live and flourish here. Favorite songs? So many..but some were James Brown “The Payback”, Trouble Funk “Pump Me Up”, The Slits, “I Heard It Through The Grapevine”, The Younger Generation “We Rap More Mellow”, APB “I’d Like to Shoot You Down”, Liquid Liquid “Cavern”, ESG “Moody”, Medium Medium “Hungry So Angry”, Derick Laro and Trinity “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough”,  to name a few.


 
Which were your favourite clubs that you either frequented or played at in New York, and how would you say the club scene has changed over the years?

Wows that’s tough because I was lucky to have spun at some great clubs. The Mudd Club, and after that I’d have to say AREA, which was the most incredible place. Crowd wise like the Mudd Club taken to the next level, really great sound system, and they would change the whole club around every six weeks. It would have a different theme. Really awesome. . But I also love playing at the Ritz, where they had the most amazing bands play every night, from Kraftwerk, to Human League, to the Sugarhill Gang and anyone else you could possibly think of. I also played at the Tunnel, The Limelight, MK, LIFE, Centro Fly, and more recently I’d have to include subMercer. As far as frequenting, the Paradise Garage was IT for me. Nothing comes close to that experience. Every Saturday night after finishing my own DJ’ing gig, I’d head down to the Garage. Lived for it. After Francois introduced me to Larry, we became friends and was honored to be able to hang with him in that incredible DJ booth and dance for hours and hours to the magic he created. The club scene has surely changed over the years due to many factors. Starting from the Aids epidemic in the mid 80’s, to real estate, to the Guillani era crack down on night life, to bottle service clubs. However it is still possible to have great nights and great clubs in this town. Just have to look a little harder.

Jungle Wonz ‘Time Marches On’ (Justin Strauss Remix)


 
Which have been your favorite records stores since you started buying music?

I started buying music very young, like when i was about 7 years old. My dad was an audio love and record lover, so he would take me record shopping with him to Sam Goody which was the big record store chain at the time. I would buy a lot of 7″ singles and some albums. As a DJ, Vinyl Mania was the spot. As well as Downtown Records, 99 Records, Eight Ball Records. So many great ones gone. Still shop for vinyl at Turntable Lab, Rebel Rebel, Halcyon, Dope Jams.
 
When did you first encounter DJ’s mixing, and how did you learn to mix?

The first DJ who I heard really mixing was Francois K. He was working at Prelude Records at the time, and I heard him Dj at the after hours spot called AM/PM. I was DJ’ing at the Mudd Club, and was just basic playing great records but just letting them play one after the other. Francois opened my mind and ears to how to beat mix records. I would hang out with quite a bit back then and one day i said i wanted to try to do that. He showed me the general concept and I just started doing it. I didn’t have two turntables at home, so I just “practiced” at my gigs. I was working a lot so I got in a good amount of practice. In most all the years I dj’d, and I still do, I never practiced. To me, the magic of dj’ing is putting two records together for the first time and creating something unique sounding, is one of the things that make Dj’ing so interesting and special to me. Hearing great DJ’s like Francois and Larry, Tee Scott, Shep Pettibone, and Bruce Forrest kept me inspired.

Fine Young Cannibals ‎- She Drives Me Crazy (Justin Strauss Remix)


 
What got you into the idea of producing? How did the initial opportunities come about?

The idea of producing and remixing was something I wanted to do after hearing certain records and playing them out in a club and thinking I could make them better for the dance floor by adding some elements. This was in the early 80’s and obviously you didn’t have the Internet and access to just about anything. You had to be hired by a record company to do so and I was fortunate to be playing at some of the bigger and more popular clubs in the city, and was being inspired by the mixes of Francois K., Larry Levan, and Shep Pettibone, I really was wanting to try my hand at this.
I was dealing with a lot of the dance promotion guys and A&R people at the labels who wanted me to play their records so i thought well let me try to make one of your records better. I teamed up my a friend of mine and fellow NY DJ Murray Elias and convinced an A&R woman from Elektra Records to give us a record to remix. It was Greg Kihn, who just had a hit with his song “Jeopardy”. They were looking for the next single to cross over to the clubs and they gave us the song “Re-United” to remix. That did okay, and one remix led to the next.

 808 State ‘Pacific 212’ (Justin Strauss Remix)

 Lenny Kravitz ‘Superlove’ (Whatever/Whatever Remix)


 
How did the collaboration happen between Whatever/Whatever and Beto Cravioto ‘No Social Culture’ (Plant Music). Can you tell us about the process of producing that record?

I had met Beto after he had come down to the subMercer club to hear me spin a few times. We started talking and became friends. I DJ’d with him at one of his Kaviar Disco parties. I loved that here was this young guy, interested in playing only vinyl, and had great taste in music. One day he sent me a rough demo of basically the first thing he ever did. Two of his ideas on the demo really stood out to me, his Rhodes keyboard part and the vocal samples he choose. I played it for my Whatever/Whatever production partner, Bryan Mette, and said I think we can make something really great of of this. He agreed, so we went in to our studio and did the rest of the track and mixed the record. I am really happy with the way it came out and the great reaction it has been getting. I know Beto will do more amazing things in the near future and I am thrilled to have been part of his early success.

Beto Cravioto & Whatever/Whatever  ‘No Social Culture’

http://www.plantmusic.com/2012/08/28/beto-cravioto-whateverwhatever-no-social-culture-12/

Do you have any favourite pieces of equipment/ hardware/ software you like to use in making music?

Without trying to sound corny (I hope) I think the best thing you can have to make music is your imagination. I’m not hung up on the equipment. Some of my favorite records were made with some pretty simple basic stuff, but they sound amazing. That being said, I always like to work with keyboards, drum machines and the like rather than computer versions of them. I love my old Juno 60 and 106 a whole lot. And after recording them, what you can do with programs like Logic and Abelton live is pretty amazing.
 
How would you describe your style as a DJ, and where can people hear you play?

I guess i would let someone else describe it, but I like to play great records, new and old, and find interesting and creative ways to mix them. I still use vinyl and cd’s (I love the Pioneer cdj’s), as that’s what works for me.
 
What are your future plans for production?

More remix work and original releases from Whatever/Whatever, and I have recently worked on two new songs with Eddie Mars for a new project we are doing called a/jus/ted that will be coming out soon. Very excited about all of that!

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Foster the People ‘Call It What You Want’ (WhateverWhatever remix)

 

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