For this new edition of our exclusive interview series, we are featuring Detroit artist Jon Dixon, an incomparable musician, full of talent and passion for music.
Jon has had the opportunity to not only lead the Underground Resistance live acts Galaxy 2 Galaxy and Timeline, he has also performed with Interstellar Fugitives, Amp Fiddler, Jeff Mills, Mike Banks, Derrick May, Francesco Tristano, Carl Craig, Goldie and more. Dixon is one of the city’s most sought-after musicians for every genre ranging from jazz to techno.
Recently, he has been taking another approach towards music and production while currently working on various Hi-Tech Jazz projects. In 2015 Jon started an independent label, 4EVR 4WRD (Forever Forward) to focus on making electronic music fused with elements of Jazz, Hip Hop and other styles of music, and for the next release on his label, he presented his ‘Detroit Get Down EP’ featuring a host of his Motor City cohorts and fellow heavy-hitters within their fields, including powerhouse vocalists Britt Frappier and Sarah Elizabeth Charles, saxophonist Kasan Belgrave, keyboardist Ian Fink, music producer and musician Darrius Quince and the legendary Moodymann. You can now listen -only here to the premiere for his new track ‘How We Get Down (In Detroit)’ to be released with the ‘Detroit Get Down EP’ this Friday 8, 2021.
Read the full interview below, and discover what Jon Dixon has to say, who undoubtedly shares his great knowledge and experience throughout his brilliant career founded at the center of one of the most important and legendary electronic music scenes, Detroit’s.
Hello Jon, thanks for taking this interview, it’s really appreciated. First of all, how are you and where in the world are you taking this interview?
I’m doing good, taking things one day at a time. I’m at my studio in Detroit at the moment, reorganizing some things.
What led you to start with your career in the electronic music scene? How did it all begin?
My career in this scene started as a band member in Underground Resistance’s Galaxy 2 Galaxy band back in 2007. I was one of the 4 keyboardists along with Esteban Adame, DJ Skurge and Mike Banks. A few years later, Mike made me leader of Timeline. Locally around the city, and as we toured, I would meet a number of artists and DJ’s either on the road or at Submerge who I would later work with including Goldie, Radioslave, Moritz von Oswald, and more. I began producing this music in 2008 and was coached by Mike all along the way. Most of the feedback I got from him was “I heard that before…keep trying”. A few years later I graduated to him saying “now you’re on to something.” A few years after that, in 2014 he told me I finally found my “sound”. That sound can be heard on the Timeline release on my label, ‘The Forever Forward EP’.
How’s this and the last year been for you, all things considered?
I can’t complain too much. My family and I have my health and I can’t really ask for too much more. I’ve had the chance to make a lot of music the past year and lots of it has been released or will soon be released. Some of those artists include Norm Talley, Vince Watson, Subjective (Goldie & James Davidson) and Jimpster.
How do you manage to stay motivated to keep producing music, any tip?
I take constant breaks from music which include not listening to, playing, or making music. Claude Debussy said that music is the space between the notes. I believe there can be a great deal you hear with silence. During those silent phases, I hear melodic, rhythmic or harmonic ideas which I’ll record in my voice memo. When I get time to sit down, I’ve got all these various ideas to lay down.
We found out about your upcoming release ‘Detroit Get Down EP’, can you tell us about the production processes and inspiration behind it?
This was an interesting process. As with anything I release, I always give 200% and I want it to be a true representation of me. Most of this music I made in 2020 during the lockdown periods. Making music during the height of the pandemic allowed me to focus on something completely different. It gave me the chance to pause from all the news on the TV and just focus on creating music. Detroit has some amazing musicians and artists and even though I couldn’t see most of them or couldn’t work with them in person, I didn’t let that stop me from wanting to collaborate on this EP.
Tell us about your guests in the ‘Detroit Get Down EP’, which are the vocalists Britt Frappier & Sarah Elizabeth Charles, saxophonist Kasan Belgrave, keyboardist Ian Fink, music producer and musician Darrius Quince and the legendary Moodymann. Why did you invite them and what do you have to say about their collaborations?
Britt is a vocal sniper. She never misses with her vocal ideas! Whenever I send her something to sing on, she always executes with precision. Her tone and vocal ideas are amazing. Sarah is an amazing New York vocalist who I’ve worked with on various projects. When I first heard her sing about 10 years ago, the best way I could describe her voice was ‘pure’. I had to have her on this project. We recorded some vocals in Detroit a while ago and they’re heard on this EP. Kasan is the son of the late Marcus Belgrave, one of my mentors. He is one of Detroit’s best kept secrets and is carrying on the torch in being one of Detroit’s best and brightest musicians. Darrius you may be familiar with from my ‘Want It EP’ which features Amp Fiddler. He did an edit on there as well and I try to include him on as much as I can. The kid is truly gifted at production and as a musician. I say kid because we met when he was about 8 or 9 and he was playing things on the keyboard I couldn’t do back then. Ian came to mind when I tried recording a few passes at a Rhodes solo on the track ‘Words Can’t Express’. I just wasn’t satisfied with what I was doing. So, I thought, who could play exactly what I’m hearing? Ian instantly came to mind. When he sent me his parts, it was just what I was looking for. He’s one of my favorite keyboardists in the city and has been for the past 15 years or so when I first met him while he was in High School. Lastly there’s Moodymann. Who wouldn’t want to work with him? I thought it was only fitting to reach out to him and see if he would be down, and he was. The EP was missing something that was…Detroit. He was the last piece to the puzzle. His contribution truly rounded out this EP.
Congratulations on such a tremendous EP. Is there a favorite track or do any of the tracks on the EP hold a particular special feeling for you?
They’re all special to me. The hard part for me is always choosing what I want to release and how to edit it accordingly. When making this EP, I couldn’t go out and experience hanging with friends, hearing live music and performing live. It made me miss Detroit. So this EP is a homage to the city that molded me artistically.
Tell us a little about your label ‘4EVR 4WRD (Forever Forward)’, are there any other upcoming releases planned to come out this year that you can tell us a little about?
4EVR 4WRD is my Hi-Tech Jazz label, and from its inception, I have always had the idea of blending various genres, musicians and vocalists with my approach to making dance music. I think this EP does a great job at displaying that. I have another release planned through my alias minorINVENTION late 2021/early 2022. This alias is less about who is making the music, but more about the different concepts, approaches and theories behind making it. The first release was a challenge to see if I could make an EP within a month without over thinking it. The 2nd release will be more focused on challenging myself not to sound like myself, along with some techniques I picked up from Mike Banks along the years.
From your point of view, how has the evolution of electronic music been in Detroit, considering its fusion with other genres such as Jazz, Hip Hop, and other styles of music?
The evolution has been incredible. There are more young artists emerging which is always good. I think more important than quantity, is quality. Detroit has a standard and richness about what it produces artistically. It’s hard to explain… that’s just how we get down in Detroit! It’s easy to want to be the most popular artist or DJ, but if Covid has taught us anything, it’s that performing, and gigs could go away tomorrow… then what will your contribution be? If anything?? I do this for the love, and not for the money or fame. And I think every pure Detroit artist from Sheefy McFly to Waajeed can say the same! And that’s what makes the evolution of electronic music in Detroit so unique.
Maybe this is a question i’ve shouldn’t ask, but if you could only take one, which one would it be, jazz or electronic music?
Hi-Tech Jazz!!! A fusion of both!
You have played alongside too many big artists for every genre ranging from jazz to techno. Can you tell us about any experience or name some of the artists from whom you have learned the most as a musician/producer?
I’ve learned lots from Mike Banks, Carl Craig, Amp Fiddler, Jeff Mills, Goldie, Martha Reeves, and so many others. In 2018 or 2019 I was leaving my studio in Submerge and saw Moodymann across the street. I went and gave him a copy of whatever my latest release was that year. He gave me some advice that really has been inspiring me since this whole pandemic started… before then actually. He said, “Jon, it’s a million muthaf*ckers all trying to get in one door, whereas you, you have a million doors you can go through. Remember that!” It applies to so many areas and I know just where he was coming from. It’s moments like those that only make you want to be better at your craft. So, shout out to KDJ for literally opening his door and having a conversation about being part of this project.
Other than being a musician/producer, are there any other passions/hobbies you practice?
I love to cook. I compare music to cooking a lot! You can’t pay your way to be a great chef! It takes time, skills, passion, education and dedication. When you present your food for someone to eat, it will either be two things: good or bad! Music is similar. Although someone can pay their way to the top in terms of being a well booked/paid DJ or artist, the music they make will be one of two things: good, or bad. I never met anyone who prefers their music to be “not bad”, or “just alright”. You want it to be the best possible.
What electronic music producers do you like to listen to? ¿Can you recommend some of them to follow?
Some of my favorites at the moment are DJ Holographic, Kyle Hall, Darrius Quince, Lady Monix, Waajeed, Huey Mnemonic, D-Love and Kareem Ali. They’re all masters at what they do!
Thanks for your time Jon.