* Featured image by Sylvain Granier, the t-shirt DL Jones is wearing is a collaboration between Jones, Mad Decent, and Off The Hook, available at Off the Hook Downtown, 1021 St-Catherine Ouest
Over the next few months, Ford Donovan will be catching-up with some of the most influential culture-makers in the Montreal music scene with a central question in mind: “What makes Montreal’s music and entertainment industry tick?” Using a combination of old metro cards, loose change, and pleading with cab drivers, Ford will trek around Montreal to talk to artists, record execs, and event planners about what they do to help make Montreal one of the best and brightest artistic scenes in the world.
Today’s guest is one of the biggest names in Montreal’s entertainment and nightlife landscape, DL Jones. Leading the charge for Diplo’s label Mad Decent in Montreal, as well as working with Arcade Fire on the fundraising event series Naïve Melodie, DL is a busy guy who takes his ‘fun’ very seriously. I met-up with him at Café Olimpico for an Americano (no milk or sugar) and a discussion about his role at Mad Decent, the importance of creative relationships, and the “meaning of cool.”
FORD: What would you say DL are the core factors that give life to Mad Decent, both inside the context of Montreal, but also beyond it?
DL: Well… I’d say it’s kind of when you get things coming out of left field. The creativity of everything we do… It’s just kind of thinking outside of the box; from the presentation and aesthetic, to the music itself. It’s really hard to peg just one factor. A lot of the artists you’ll see on the label are working in different styles and genres.
FORD: Well, what in your mind defines coming out of left field? I feel like that sensation is different for everyone, so what does it mean to you?
DL: I think one factor is that when you hear something, your first reaction is like, “What the fuck!” [Laughs] But in a good way! It’s like you can feel your brain trying to process the sound and it’s saying, “Okay, this is something new.” When you hear something that sounds too familiar, your brain kind of goes on autopilot. But when you hear something new, the reaction in your head is unmistakable.
FORD: What would you say that you value most about the Mad Decent community? That could be anything from the people that you work with, to the artists that you work with, the events you organize…
DL: I think it’s exactly how you put it – it’s a community. Internationally, those little pockets that Diplo’s developed all over the world kind of shows how we’re all like-minded people. You know, the label just started block parties in India – that’s pretty far away. But when you look at the footage from the party, you see that these are kids goin’ off the same way we do. To be able to reach those pockets all over the world, and to find communities that all appreciate this kind of music, and can get turnt to it just the same, is pretty cool.
FORD: When did you first get involved?
DL: That was about eight years ago. Diplo’s first show in Montreal was with Chromeo, actually. And we met, and kind of hit it off, and I took him to an after party. I had just started doing parties during that time as well, and just kept in touch. And I’ve been doing most of his bookings here since. It kind of evolved naturally.
FORD: It seemed to just grow out of a personal relationship, a friendship.
DL: Yeah, totally.
FORD: Would you say that personal connection is important with the people that you work with?
DL: I think it’s the most important thing. When you build that friendship, that’s when things get really exciting, you can really vibe with someone. If it’s too much of a formal situation, you’re not as driven to “get weird.”
FORD: So I guess it’s kind of good to move past those initial formalities.
DL: It’s hard to put those crazy and fun ideals on a resume. When you already have that bridge built with someone, there’s that rapport that’s a bit more immediate.
FORD: It’s also sort of an intangible thing though, isn’t it? Like, you can’t really force creativity.
DL: Yeah, exactly.
FORD: In what ways would you say that your position ‘changes’ at Mad Decent? At a more corporate institution, tasks and roles are very much assigned. I’m wondering in what ways a creative enterprise works differently?
DL: My job, first and foremost, is to blow it up here as much as possible. Slowly but surely, I’m able to introduce acts that I think are cool, with an emphasis on Montreal artists, trying to further diversify the label, and at the same time, trying to expand our image as much as possible.
FORD: It’s interesting you’ve mentioned the word ‘cool’ a few times. It seems that a big part of your job is to make a call on what’s cool and what’s not. How does that decision-making process even work?
DL: The best I could do with that is just to say that it’s all a matter of gut feeling. I’ve been doing parties for a while now, and if I get excited about something – even though it’s super subjective – that’s what I go with.
FORD: So after that initial gut feeling, what’s the next step?
DL: You just get a feeling about something, and then you try to see how you can spread that gospel. When I’m excited about something, it’s a big part of my job to make everybody else excited, too.
FORD: Kind of the age-old question, but from your perspective, do you find that the business side and the cultural-artistic side of the entertainment industry are constantly at odds with each other?
DL: Yeah, it’s kind of an age-old thing. You basically keep trying to convince a group of people that something’s cool, and once it is, they try to take it away from you. But you don’t want to be a ‘bandwagoner’ either, you know? In terms of trends, you kind of just always want to be on the forefront of everything. By definition, being at the forefront of something means constantly trying to convince people that something’s about to pop off. Really, it’s just a bunch of factors both on the business and artistic side of things, and my job is just to try and make everything gel.
FORD: Why might Montreal be such a constant hub for creativity?
DL: Well, for one, it’s a very transient city. Rent is very cheap. I think a lot of artists can live here and not have to do that much in terms of finding another job to pay the bills. It’s also close to New York, it’s close to Toronto, and so the actual location of the city is really important, too. There’s a pretty tight community here. I think artists support each other well, so that’s a big factor.
FORD: And finally, what is your favourite song, favourite album, and favourite artist?
DL: That’s a tough one! Album, I’d probably say Illmatic, artist I’d say Marvin Gaye, and song – that one I’ll have to get back to you on. Actually, I’m listening to that new Kanye album a lot right now. It’s great, because it’s kind of a mish-mash of everything he’s done so far.
A big thank you goes out to DL for taking the time to sit down with Forget The Box. Look out for the next Mad Decent House Party on April 21st at Newspeak, featuring Walshy Fire of Major Lazer