"The Discos of Tron" is the new release by Justin Johnson (with remixes by Wes Smith, discObeta, Fire-Beat and DJ Loryn). I sat down with the owner of the distributor label Barely Legal Records, Justin Johnson, to see what the heck a Disco of Tron was anyway and what led him up to this release.
Tell me a little background on Barely Legal Records:
I started in late 1990’s working at Satellite Records in NYC. I had always played all styles but I was known for breaks and needed an outlet to put my music out. I had a good resell perspective, knew many contacts and had good info on how it all worked, so I brought my skills to the table and my Dad funded the 1st two releases on vinyl.
How do you pick your label artists?
The thought behind all of them is to put out my own music but also for friends of mine in a casual low-key way. We are not trying to be a big label, I enjoy doing my own thing by supporting the music of friends and family as well as some artists where we have built up good relationships. If I get a demo from someone I don’t know well then I might have someone I know do a remix and package the whole thing.
What is a Disco of Tron?
Part of it came from when the second Tron movie came out and Daft Punk was djing in the club reminded me of the old stand up game from the 80's... The Discs of Tron. It was a nod to something I loved as a kid growing up - contemporary but with an old school flavor. You can hear that crunchy hip hop inspired breaks on the discObeta version you can hear the East Coast similarities that you would hear back at Limelight back in the day. Wes Fire-Beat and DJ Loren provided completely different flavors and spins with their contributions to the release.
How did you choose Wes Smith for his remix contribution?
Wes and I knew of each other being involved in breaks on the East Coast and both living in NYC. For me it was awesome to see someone from back in the day holding it down and becoming successful. It’s on a whole other amazing level, I couldn’t be happier for him. He played one of our Faultline parties (actually the same one you and I played with DJ 138) and we started to build a friendship at that point. He played another Faultline event recently and from there we started talking about a remix option for BLR. It’s hard to get the artists involved after they have been paid, Wes is adding additional value to his product, which is something artists should learn from. I was really excited when you contacted me because I knew that another dimension to the release would be coming in the future.
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Any advice to producers out there wanting to submit to labels? Yours or others?
Spend a lot of time making your track sound as good as you possibly can in your chosen DAW. Whatever your friends tell you - don’t listen to them unless they have at least a somewhat professional perspective. It's because no matter what you make they will be positive because they love you and want to give positive feedback. The reality is that there is SO much noise (literally thousands of releases every week) you really have to figure a way to stand out musically. Not just key changes, but also how good the whole package is and it has got to sound original - it’s not easy. Also, no one is really making money producing tracks so don’t put a down payment on the mansion on your first release. Add value to your production skills by realizing that as an artist you are in the public eye. Basic social media maintenance shows you are active and that you care. Unless you are insanely talented and you do none of that, no one will know about you. Find an artist you respect and admire, follow their model and adjust it with your own voice and have it come from your heart. What works for them?
Ask yourself: What is it you think you have done to make you deserve the attention out of the 1000’s of tracks that are put out each day/week/month?
You are living a lifetime of passion for music, are there any other words you want to say to all the music lovers and breakers out there?
Yes! Be kind to animals and be funky as fuck people! Those who truly love breaks need to continue to get the word out and preach the breakbeat gospel. It's a genre that ebbs and flows in popularity but it is well back on the rise, which is great to see. I would like to see it maintain a certain plateau and it is up to all of us involved whatever level to bring it to the masses. If you are a dancer tell your friends about it... share a link, drag a friend out, don't assume they won't like it. Same for DJs, producers, everyone whatever your level/involvement. Start a monthly - do something! Back when we started "Faultline" [breakbeat monthly with DJ 138 and Eric Riggsbee] we knew there were fans out there and we were right the fans do exist. You just have to hustle and find them!
Also we just finished up our 2nd installation of "Foundation", [drum & bass and breaks monthly we do with the Dystopia crew] with Submorphics. We are building a following in broken beats on all levels. It's a small venue with good sound and an indoor/outdoor space with breakbeats under the stars. The food is actually really good and the staff is great...we couldn't ask for more.
This coming Saturday (Sept. 19, 2015) we're doing a special SF edition of Faultline at Underground SF (the old Top on lower Haight) with guests ShOOey and BENN BA$$. No cover. 21+. 9pm-2am.