Jon Kennedy really made it as an electronic musician when Tru Thoughts, one of the most respected independent labels in the world, signed him over 16 years ago. Despite huge success as a DJ, he still considers himself a drummer first and foremost.
After the release of his debut album, We’re Just Wating For You Now, he switched over to Grand Central Records, where he remained until he founded his label The Jon Kennedy Federation. In addition to releasing tracks under several names – including 777, KRS Jon and Snare Force One – he regularly performs with his live band. Ahead of his return to China, we spoke to him about his style, band and years of experience in the music industry.
How did you first get involved in music?
I was always exposed to music via my mum and dad. They were kind of cool in their listening choices. My mum was a ‘proper’ fan who used to get signed pictures from gigs in the ’60s, from the Cavern days of the Beatles and so on. Later, it was the late ’70s pioneers like ELO, Jeff Wayne (War of the Worlds), David Essex and other semi-obscure artists. They always encouraged me to listen to music over watching TV and bought me a stereo and headphones.
You’ve released music under a number of aliases. Why?
‘KRS Jon’ was to distinguish between bootleg music, cover versions and throwaway tracks that I could not claim 100 percent credit for. They are my ‘Jon Kennedy’ tracks but with classic, famous or semi-famous vocals dropped over them. ‘777’ was my initial recording name from a very early age, which stems from an interest in the occult such as Aleister Crowley and his book of magic, underworld guidance and generally creepy s**t.
The gold question anyone can ask is ‘what genre of music do you make’, and I always tell people trip-hop, despite the genre name getting ‘uncool’. These days, it’s even harder as the turnover of music is so fast. You can be old, out of date and disappear within a month. It’s quite incredible I have survived, albeit at an independent level, for this long. I’m always shocked by who picks up my music and gets in touch.
You’re also in a band? How do you divide your time?
I’ve been a drummer by trade for 25 years. It’s always been the core of my music, since I was playing in pubs around the North [of England] at 14. I was always sneaking into the gigs through the back door because I wasn’t old enough to be in the pub! It’s been a while since I did a live band show. I wrapped the last set up due to differences between members, logistics and a need to keep moving on in both music and life. I’ve had many line-ups over the years, ranging from a nine-piece down to a group of three. There are currently plans to bring it back on a USA tour.
Are there aspects of the industry you’ve grown tired of?
Social media is very draining, distracting and destructive. This was never the case before. MySpace was the first application where a band could have their own ‘website’ for free, but I always had a website and was hard-wired into the net. I was ambitious and had confidence about the tracks and LPs I made, and knew I absolutely had to take this path in my life.
I suppose on the one hand, modern social media is a good thing because everyone gets a platform without trying or having any credit to their name, but on the other you get a watered down version of what’s good, worthy, smart, clean – the throwaway nature of online content.
Just look at Snapchat, Instagram or whichever thing it is that unless you get attention on your shit drops off the list – fuck that! Let’s use a football analogy: I like to smash the fuck out of a ball or do stupid tricks and shit, but if someone comes running at me to win the ball they can have it. I don’t give a fuck about winning. Life shouldn’t be a competition and certainly not when it comes to being a talented soul – be it in music, photography, art or anything creative.