ART:CAST SPECIAL & INTERVIEW Justin Cudmore

Brooklyn-based House expert Justin Cudmore is picking up pace again, after his Train Dance release on Phonica White in fall, and delivers a full hour of well- and wisely chosen music surely making one dance on the train and the floor and around. Shifting elegantly back and forth between the different facettes the genre has to offer, Cudmore compiled a delicate mixture of music that goes deep into the core and beyond and covers Justin’s extremely catchy signature sound, which one knows from his releases on The Bunker New York, Phonica or Honey Soundsystem. Namely Cudmore’s sound combines a hypnotic momentum with extremely (dance-able) lush bass lines and just the right amount of vocals, taking his listeners deep into an imagined sweaty underground club to enjoy avant-garde music that was meant to shake one’s body through a night at the Bunker. As smoothly as the DJ Justin guides his audience through this art:cast special, does the person, the artist lead one through this interview giving insights into his everyday life and how it has changed with and within the pandemic, plans for his project with the The Carry Nation, Smart Bar in his hometown Chicago and the desire to crawl on walls and swing around.

Torture the Artist: Hi Justin, how are you holding up these days?

Justin Cudmore: Hi! I’m holding up pretty well. 2020 started out great, but the world came to an abrupt pause in March. It has been a rollercoaster since then, with many ups and downs. It was tough not to get too depressed, but I thankfully focused my energy on creating music in the studio and also tried to remember that this kind of pause in life is something we may never have again – so I’ve tried to take advantage of that and focus on myself too.

Torture the Artist: Has the pandemic shaken your daily routine a bit or have you managed to maintain some kind of consistency in your day to day?

Justin Cudmore: My weekly routine was certainly broken. I think that was one of the hardest things – losing a sense of rhythm to life. But once I was able to create a new routine, I felt more productive and had a more positive outlook on things. Getting some assistance from the US government, although it was a very difficult process (not getting any funds until July), but once that money came it made getting by much more manageable.

Torture the Artist: Did you discover a new hobby or interest during these times? Maybe a new kind of music now that we are all more isolated?

Justin Cudmore: I had to go back to work. Before taking up music full-time, I used to work in online education helping students learn to code. So I was thankfully able to find some part-time work helping my friend’s agency. This work along with government unemployment made it possible for me to stay in NYC.

Torture the Artist: You released Train Dance on Phonica White in September and a remix of Boys’ Short’s Looking on Love Child. When did you start working on the EP? Where did you draw inspiration for these projects?

Justin Cudmore: The new EP for Phonica White was made over 2019 and 2020. As with my last EP for Phonica, it is a collection of music that I made over the years and had success playing out in clubs. Although it did feel a bit strange dropping a dancefloor-focused EP during the summer of 2020 when clubs are closed, it helped me feel accomplished and move on to new projects. I drew inspiration from witnessing the perseverance of so many people in the scene this year.

In the first few months I found it difficult to stay focused and feel inspired.

Torture the Artist: Did you happen to be more in the studio during lockdown and finished more tracks or did you generally have problems working on new music during the pandemic?

Justin Cudmore: Initially in the first few months I found it difficult to stay focused and feel inspired. Every time I sat down to work on music or dig for new music, I didn’t get very far. Without an end in sight and no real outlet for the music with clubs closed, it was hard to stay motivated. Thankfully I had my monthly show on Rinse, which has been an awesome outlet for me during this time. Also, I began working on a new project with The Carry Nation, a DJ group from NYC and dear friends: Nita Aviance and Will Automagic. We made a plan to meet every Friday in the studio. This project and our weekly studio routine helped me make it through some tough days during quarantine and get re-inspired. I’m very proud of the music we’ve made. Our first EP called The Records Department was released earlier this year on Twirl Recordings. And we’ll be self-releasing our next EP in 2021.

Torture the Artist: Did the pandemic affect your release timeline at all?

Justin Cudmore: It did. The Train Dance EP for Phonica was meant to be released much sooner in 2020 before the summer, but due to vinyl delays and Phonica’s shop in London being closed for much of the spring and summer it meant the EP being delayed to the fall in September.

I like to think my taste is always rooted in a particular Chicago, Detroit and New York sound, but I’m constantly filling in the gaps.

Torture the Artist: Has your musical taste changed during the pandemic?

Justin Cudmore: I like to think my taste is always rooted in a particular Chicago, Detroit and New York sound, but I’m constantly filling in the gaps. With clubs closed, I listened to far fewer club promos. I didn’t find the need to stay on top of all the new music because I wasn’t having to prepare for 2-4 sets per weekend. It was nice to take a step back and reconnect with music in a more natural way and not this media that was constantly being consumed and rinsed.

Torture the Artist: What’s a track of yours you are eager to play out on a club soundsystem?

Justin Cudmore: Club Fetish is my favorite track on my Phonica EP. There is a particular dark, sweaty basement-style club I’m eager to hear that be played in. Also all the new music I’ve been making with The Carry Nation as Majorettes.

When producing music at home, I don’t find I need to put on different hats as with DJing.

Torture the Artist: You’re gifted on decks and off, do you think your musical career consists of both aspects balancing each other or do you approach each role differently? How interconnected are DJ Justin and Producer Justin?

Justin Cudmore: That’s an interesting question. I’d say they are very much linked. I’ve always enjoyed creating music, and while in the process of making the music, imagining myself inside a club and the track I’m working on being played. Transporting myself into different places and considering the track being played there has always helped guide my production style. When it comes to DJing, there are so many different variables to consider. In one weekend I may play two or three completely different parties (a queer party, a straight techno crowd opening for Richie Hawtin, or The Bunker in New York) and each means a different kind of preparation. When producing music at home, I don’t find I need to put on different hats as with DJing – I’m just creating whatever comes to me at the time. Producing music has always been a very improvisational thing.

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Torture the Artist: Parties as we knew it seem like a thing of the past at this time (though Brooklyn has made headlines for illegal raves – we can, or not, go there). What do you miss most about the pre-pandemic New York nightlife?

Justin Cudmore: Before Corona, New York, and specifically Brooklyn, was on fire. The scene was thriving. We had probably 5 new clubs open in the last few years, dozens of new parties. I had just started my own night at Basement in September 2019 called Balance. It was really an exciting time to see all your peers killing it and the scene being so supportive. I have no doubt we will grow back even stronger than we were before.

Torture the Artist: What’s the dance floor memory you’ve held onto to weather the worst of Lockdown?

Justin Cudmore: Probably the last time I played Panorama Bar at the end of 2019. Or the second installment of my party at Basement when Matrixxman and Sandrien played.

I want playing music to be fun and never feel like a job.

Torture the Artist: From Basement to The Bunker, Panorama to DC10 you’ve traversed the New York underground and subterranean tunnels across the globe, how do you gear up for gigs and what’s the secret behind your effective body binding sets?

Justin Cudmore: Staying humble, always ready to learn, lots of preparation, but also a trust in myself and my abilities. At the end of the day, I want playing music to be fun and never feel like a job. It has taken ten years to get to where I am and I’ve had many close friends who have mentored me along the way: Kirkwood West, Mike Servito, The Carry Nation. Listening and learning is key.

Torture the Artist: As a DJ, you always seem to govern over your dancefloor with conviction. Are there moments in your career when the dance floor just got full control of you?

Justin Cudmore: I’d say the dancefloor has had control of me ever since my friends and I started going to parties in college – so for the last 10 years it has! <laughs> Once I felt the energy and spirit of a dancefloor, especially as a gay man, it was a place to feel safe and be myself among my friends, it is a place you wanted to keep returning to. And flashboard 12+ years later, my friends and I are still here.

Torture the Artist: You were born and raised in Illinois, based in Brooklyn now. What made you decide to move to the big city ?

Justin Cudmore: Eight years ago I was living in Chicago. My boyfriend at the time was a journalist and got a job at a music magazine in New York City. At 23, he was the one thing that made sense to me at the time so I followed him to Brooklyn and we moved into an apartment in Bushwick.

Torture the Artist: Has Brooklyn shaped you as an artist?

Justin Cudmore: Coming from Chicago at that time, the sounds I was hearing out in Brooklyn were staggeringly different. My friends and I were almost weekend patrons of Smart Bar in Chicago. At this time, it was before The Blessed Madonna took over as the booker and we were hearing a much more European, Techhouse sound, but once I came to Brooklyn and began attending The Bunker New York, I was hearing more aggressive Acid sounds and I became addicted to this style of New York energy I wasn’t hearing in Chicago. My friendship with Mike Servito and hearing him play all the time upon moving here is responsible for this shift.

Torture the Artist: How did your love affair with music begin? Who were among your greatest inspirations and influences growing up and have you included them the one way or the other in your own music?

Justin Cudmore: My love affair with music started when I was young. I picked up drumming when I was in 4th grade and continued that through high school and college, playing in everything from Jazz to Rock bands and New Order-inspired bands in college. I think drumming instilled a sense of rhythm into me that has helped me in creating dance music.

Torture the Artist: If you can teleport to any era in dance music, where would you fly off to? Who would you party with?

Justin Cudmore: Ohhh, there’s too many times I’d like to visit, probably New York in the 1970-80s, or Detroit in the 1990s, or Berlin in the 1980s and 1990s.

Torture the Artist: You’ve mixed and compiled the latest art:cast, what was your approach to it and what shall it depict for you personally?

Justin Cudmore: I approached it as a set I would play at a Bunker party in New York. It’s a collection of old favorites and new music. There is also a new, unreleased track of mine in there.

Invisibility would be great, but I’ve always wanted to be Spider-Man.

Torture the Artist: What can we expect from you in the future? Any new projects on the horizon?

Justin Cudmore: In 2021, I’ll be focused on this new Majorettes project with The Carry Nation. We’ll be getting our second release off the ground and tapping some close and very talented friends to do remixes. Very excited to share details on that soon!

Torture the Artist: Can you share the last five tracks on your listening history?

Justin Cudmore: Here they are…

  1. DAF – Brothers
  2. Romanthony – Hold On
  3. Roman Flügel – Parade D’Amour
  4. Ce Ce Peniston – He Loves Me (Steve Silk Hurley 12” Mix)
  5. Roisin Murphy – Jealousy (Crooked Man Rhumnba Mix)

Torture the Artist: If you could have any super power, what would that be and why not invisibility?

Justin Cudmore: You know, invisibility would be great, but I’ve always wanted to be Spider-Man. Maybe it’s a New York thing, but crawling on walls and swinging around always seemed like it’d be pretty enjoyable. Flying would be a close second, or mind-reading. <smiles>

Interview by Marie J. Floro