Jones is one of house music’s most innovative DJ/producers. In addition
to playing energetic sets the world over, his tracks “Answering
Machine,” “Flash” and “La La Land” have become enduring
the Green Velvet moniker to make his singularly twisted, funk-flecked
house and techno hybrid, it was as Cajmere that he made his first
musical mark back in the early 90's after ditching school half way
through a post-grad, chemical engineering degree at top-notch US
Up until then music had been a hobby fueled
by cobbling together tracks on a "sixty buck keyboard, a cheap
four-track and a cheap drum machine" while still an undergraduate at
the University of Illinois. This DIY method of production was never
taken seriously and when childhood plans to become a doctor were
shelved Jones was firmly committed to a career as a chemical engineer.
Because his dad was an occasional DJ — and no-one wants to do what
their dad did for a living, right? — a musical path was something he'd
never considered as a teenager. As a child he was into
sci-fi movies and time travel TV shows like Dr. Who and would spend
hours pondering over the possibilities this would open up. He played
the saxophone at school and had a talent for fiddling with a keyboard
but remained largely un-interested in what he saw as his father's
passion. "I did go to parties where a lot of those legendary people
played," he remembers, "but if I'm going to be real about it, I'd have
to say I went just for the babes and the good music, I was never really
aware who was DJing. Not until much later anyway."
time went on Jones discovered what was his innate love and
understanding for house music, a sound that had grown throughout the
mid-80s out of Chicago's deep-rooted disco scene.
It was this
cut-up, tacky, production style of the early house sound that Jones
absorbed and translated into the 'Underground Goodies EP', his first
release as Cajmere (that's CAJ as in Curtis A. Jones) put out in 1991
on his own recently started Cajual label.
GREEN VELVET REMIX "SORRY" MADONNA
year later he had his first massive hit as Cajmere with the brilliant
house tune 'Coffeepot (It's Time For The Percolator)' also out on
Cajual. He then teamed up with Chicago-based vocalist Dajae for
'Brighter Days', a high impact, more mellow house tine that came out on
Emotive. But it wasn't long before Jones needed another outlet for his
GREEN VELVET HIT TRACK " SHAKE AND POP" VIDEO CLIP
to make some "weirder electronic shit" he set up Relief, an offshoot of
Cajual, in 1993. The label gave birth to his first Green Velvet
production 'Velvet Tracks'. While Green Velvet (a name given to him by
a friend's dad) provided a more intense and wickedly creative
production outlet behind studio doors, it also allowed him to unleash
his deeper-seated artistic urges in public, on an unsuspecting
When he emerged as the flamboyant, neon-haired Green
Velvet to front mid-90's hits like 'Preacher Man', 'Answering Machine'
and 'Flash' the shock-waves reverberated throughout house and techno
scenes world over. This elaborately garbed, lyrically wild creature
scored a direct hit, putting his hometown Chicago back on house music's
production map. "I've always been quite shy and introverted in a way,"
says Jones. "So it was weird getting up on stage and doing the Velvet
thing. It's just quite strange that I'm doing what I'm doing now."
Jones had started DJing, playing house and techno under his Cajmere and
Green Velvet monikers. Gigs sprang up in far-flung countries where his
ultra funky sets, dotted with his own productions, would often be
delivered with the synthetic flourish of a lime green Afro wig.
in Chicago, Relief fronted Green Velvet's early releases but also
played host to a new wave of US producers. Artists like DJ Sneak, Glenn
Underground, Gene Farris, Mark Grant and Paul Johnson gained early
profile through the label releasing a string of more aggressive, less
vocally orientated material. But for Jones in his Velvet guise, it was
the vocals that mattered. "I just have to tell my stories," he laughs.
1995 and 1997 Green Velvet made his assault on club charts with a trio
of hits — 'Flash', 'The Stalker' and 'Answering Machine' — each with
their own side-splitting tale to tell.
In 'Flash' Velvet is a
guide escorting a group of nervous camera-weilding parents through
'club bad', showing them all the deviant things their kids get up to.
Recorded live, it's a story that Jones made up on the spot, in the
GREEN VELVET "LA LA LAND" VIDEO CLIP
Machine' throws up a succession of answer phone messages bearing bad
tidings: a landlord's eviction notice, his girlfriend revealing that
her baby's not his and a psychic telling him to "stay in the house,
today, tomorrow and forever". It's a song for which he did all the
voices himself, complete improvisation, while locked up alone in the
"I just get really obsessive when I'm in that mode,"
he admits. "I don't eat, I don't sleep. I don't have to do shit. I can
just do music. That's it."
It was 'Flash' that appeared as the
opening track of the first domestic full-length Green Velvet album, out
on US label F-111. The first album proper, 'Constant Chaos', out on
Belgian label Music Man in 1999, unleashed Green Velvet in his full,
twisted glory, with him marrying normal, everyday occurrences with
bizarre phenomena. In 'Abduction' he sings about little green men
turning up while he's doing the washing up. "I always look at things in
a different way," he says. "I like to see a bit more than the obvious."
By the time 'Constant Chaos' came out Jones had already halted
activity on his labels. Still DJing as Cajmere he'd narrowed the Green
Velvet persona down to live performances only, taking time out to
re-group and work out what to do next.
When he gave Velvet a
new hairstyle — from spiked, green foam nodules to yellow mohawk — he
wrote a song about it called 'What Happened to Your Hair'.
"I just got bored with it," he shrugs. "I mean good God, I can't keep doing the same shit all the time."
Jones' runaway imagination that sits at the core of his Green Velvet
productions. The analog synth squelches and jacking beats of his
deranged backing tracks sit perfectly with his out-there lyrics. "I
just let my imagination go wild," he says. "I try not to analyse it.
I'm not into formulating my sound. I just do what I'm feeling."
the new album 'Whatever', the Velvety one takes this techno punk ethic
to the next level, with the whole DIY aspect of the 80s punk movement
taking over his music once again.
"I do everything," he says.
"I don't have a big major label budget behind me doing all this:
getting a wardrobe, picking the songs, etc. I sing the songs, I write
the songs. I make the music. I do all of it."
'La La Land' was
the first single to be released from new album 'Whatever'. In it Velvet
berates "those little pills" that "kill a million brain cells",
offering a through-the-keyhole look at modern day clubland antics that
while seemingly tongue in cheek, could easily harbour a stringent
anti-drugs message. But is the song just a follow up to 'Flash?'
lot of people think that 'La La Land' is 'Flash' part two or something,
but it's not," he assures. "That track just came out of nowhere." 'La
La Land' is meant to be funny, Jones insists, but admits to an
indeterminate message. "It's not pro drugs," he says, "and it's not
anti, it's just real."
Jones finds music making easy and this
album, he says, took just two months to make. If certain tracks are
darker than his better-known fodder then it's not because making
heavier tunes is a new thing for him. "I just think those darker
creations of mine are just not as popular, so people don't know about
them," he reasons. "I've always done really black tracks and really
white, humourous sort of tracks. That's just life. You have good times
and bad times."
The more industrial, punky songs on the album
came from hours spent listening to bands like Nitzer Ebb and Liaisons
Dangerous, and lots of "underground American industrial stuff".
Jones, as both Cajmere and Green Velvet, received more attention in
Europe than he did in America, but over the years things have been
picking up for this maverick producer. When this album drops it'll set
off bombs over here and Stateside, and who knows what Green Velvet will
come up with then? "I don't want to reveal too much," he says coyly. "I
just want people to appreciate this now, for what it is." - Excerpts
from DJ Mag Issue September 2001.