JKriv: From Tortured Soul To Taking Off Solo

“I’m only interested in having a successful DJ career if I can just do what I want to do,” Jason says before clarifying, “It’s not even an issue for me; I’m never going to play music that I don’t like, I’m never going to play for people who I don’t like, I’m not going to play in an environment that I don’t like… there’s no point in me doing it otherwise.”

This is the charm of Jason “JKriv” Kriveloff. Fresh off a European itinerary, consisting of almost all play and no work, Traxsource put him right back to it, fitting in an interview and mix sometime between his landing and settling in. A reminder of where he’s speaking to us from, the obligatory New York City sirens blare in the background. Kriveloff keeps busy in this bustling metropolis with a monthly party named Reel Good at the new Brooklyn spot Black Flamingo and a loosely bi-monthly residency at Le Bain, both with his Deep & Disco and Razor-N-Tape label partner Aaron Dae. Together, they hot tub time machine the popular NY skyline spot back to the days of unadulterated disco freedom – which JKriv, as an artist, occasionally pines for. While he admits there’s a lot of great music going on in the city that he’s super into today, it’s just not the same. “I think there was a real kind of openness back then where it was really all about the music and it would draw all kinds of people,” he says, citing last year’s Paradise Garage reunion and Larry Levan Way celebration as an example of how it should be. There’s a disparity between that and the generally homogenous makeup of present-day club nights.

His two-week trip was 90% pleasure, starting with Aaron’s Bulgarian wedding. After a week in bachelor party mode, he exchanged the Black Sea for Barcelona with a layover in Istanbul for the night. Jason had been through the Spanish city a few times prior while playing bass with the bands Tortured Soul and Escort, but never with enough space to stretch out and truly enjoy it. His lone gig came towards the trip’s end, joining frequent Disco Deviance and File Under Disco collaborator Disky Trisco in Paris – Jason had hosted him in New York only months prior. Their gig was at the L’opera de Garnier, a national treasure and one of the most beautiful structures in the overflowing City of Lights.

When we bring up Laurent Garnier’s recent comments on the French’s will to fight for “something that is not the everyday, mainstream life,” Jason agrees, adding that the city is taken with techno at the moment. He has some reservations about whether his disco (with some house) oriented sound has as much of an audience as other styles, “But they dig it for sure.” Having been to Paris a number of times, he describes the Parisians as pretty open and not needing an excuse to celebrate life. He notes the city’s cultural acceptance of underground music, mentioning that it’s one of the only places left that still has half decent radio, and highlighting Concrete as an example of the city’s strengths – as well as a real steam room the time he caught house and techno left fielder Max Graef in the ship’s hull.

The guest mix JKriv has put together for Traxsource LIVE! is full of assured heaters that he’s been playing and have worked for him. His approach to the mix takes us from day into night – and back into day, mimicking a full-on night out. It starts off with a pick me up of airy summer vibes and gets more intense as it develops into synth driven nu disco before entertaining an infectious early house sound towards the end. Pretense aside, listeners should really just enjoy what they hear because as JKriv says in afterthought, “I don’t know, that sounded semi-overstated.” Featured in the mix are a few cuts from his label like a preview of one of the new Razor-N-Tape Reserve releases by effortlessly cool up-and-comer Junktion. Also included are a couple samples of JKriv’s own reworking abilities, such as his cheeky take on Talking Heads, a punch drunk white label affair.

What more can be said about JKriv’s sound? He tells how he wasn’t allowed to play the upright bass in band during the third grade because he was too small, clearly was his first unrequited love, “I remember being bummed out about that.” He’s gone on and found a way to make it work; today all his music starts in the studio with a bass line. According to him, pulse and rhythmic sense is what dictates a great bass player like James Jamerson or Louis Johnson. “That’s the thing that gets in us, the rhythm is what we find first.” There’s an overarching theme to his tastes too, “I’ve always been drawn to groove oriented music whether it’s funk or whether it’s jazz or even some rock or anything or soul or R&B.” The man pledges allegiance to one nation under a groove, but the things he’s put his name to have been stylistically diverse and all over the place. “I don’t think there’s any reason to be pigeon-holed, I like artists that reinvent themselves.”

For people new to JKriv’s music in the past five years, his role in the beloved deep house live act Tortured Soul may be news, but he likes it this way. “That makes me feel like I’m doing something right because it lets me know that what I’m doing now is mine and I’ve carved it out for myself.” Not least because he poured all of his creative energy into being the band’s bassist for a decade, but also because Jason considers himself primarily an instrumentalist and a producer – before a DJ. “That’s a big part of me and what I do and it’s really kind of where I came from musically, live performance.” Thankfully, the Escort disco troupe fills any would-be gap for him today. He met the group’s future singer Adeline while gigging with Tortured Soul, and they’ve had a fruitful relationship ever since. It’s one that’s resulted in a lot of original music, including the very first Deep & Disco release, ‘Another Night’, and there’s even more on the horizon: he’s producing and co-writing Adeline’s new EP and has stepped up into a more important role on new Escort material that should see a release before the end of summer. But first, a remix package for their collaborative effort, “Redo.”

It wasn’t until 2004 that Jason started releasing side projects on his own and hardly a few years ago that he started taking the DJing more seriously to get his music out there. But it’s not something he takes “super” serious – or, at least, he looks to the craft for something different than his instrumentalist work. In contrast to the crazy hours of practice and rehearsal time that goes into being in a band, getting behind the decks is a more lighthearted affair for him. A simple pleasure, he enjoys the feeling of providing the soundtrack to a night and taking people on a little trip, a sentiment he ends with, “I don’t overthink it that much honestly.” He considers that he’s always been a selector, even as a kid growing up, and a curator – which explains his two distinct labels.

When asked about their knack for uncovering lesser known talent so early, like The Groovers or Luvless for instance, Jason let’s us in on the secret, giving much of the credit to his partner Aaron Dae’s ears to the ground abilities as A&R. Explaining what feeds this hunt, he says, “I think it is really important to us to not just be relying on established names.” Clarifying that as a small, but growing label with a limited budget, “We have a commitment to find the people who are sort of at the same level as us, are trying to come up in this world, and are hungry.” For him, success is defined by “how proud I feel of what I’ve done” and this plays its part in their duly noted drive for quality over quantity. “I think there’s something to be said for keeping consistency, that’s the main thing.” With things ramping up as of late, the guys have a lot on the docket and Razor-N-Tape’s releases are lined up full into 2016 (for fans of “You Belong” that includes a follow up “at some point”).

A physical product is still a priority for Aaron and Jason, even despite the long wait times caused by major labels clogging up the pipes in search of a slice of the resurrected format’s pie for themselves. Not suffering from the same ailments, digital retailers definitely still have their place in a world of analog fetishism, “But of course I’m totally a pro-technology person. I want music to be distributed and disseminated as widely as possible.” He recognizes that these sites serve different communities and different purposes, much in the same way physical record stores always have. So how do their labels prioritize? “I would say the one place where we focus least is Beatport because it’s just a little bit more geared towards the mainstream than the stuff that we do, but Traxsource is important to us and actually we’ve had some really nice successes with a lot of our stuff on there.”

The idea behind Razor-N-Tape invokes the original method of edits and, while nobody’s presumably still using razors and tapes for any of its releases, artists like Dimitri from Paris and Greg Wilson certainly lend that sort of old-school credibility to the label. With Jason citing Juno as an example of a site sometimes flooded with uninspired reworks, maybe we could use more of this sensibility today, “I think that the intention of the edit has kind of gotten lost. It was: a person sat down because they wanted to make a version that they felt would be better for DJing.” He points the finger at a pervasive laziness and lack of effort, “It’s so much easier to make an edit than it is to make an original piece of music. That’s just a fact and I can say it as somebody who does both: the most complicated and involved rework that I did was still a million times easier than any original piece of music that I ever did.” Deep & Disco’s homier, made from scratch aesthetic makes it a whole other beast. It’s also amassed a massive SoundCloud following (952K as of this writing), but largely due to somebody at the platform singling out their page for new sign ups to automatically follow. In today’s industry, where stats can be bought, the account comes with a disclaimer about it, as even Jason thinks it could come across as fishy. “I’m not looking that gift-horse in the mouth. I’ve benefited from it and it’s been nice, but I had more of a personal connection to what I was doing there before.”

That connection to music is, after all, what it’s really about isn’t it? The conversation takes a more serious tone when we mention that March was a particularly heartbreaking month for 2014 and, now, the subsequent year. Of course, we’re referring to the loss of the influential Godfather of House, Frankie Knuckles, last year, and the passing of Ethan White this year, something which hits far more close to home as one of Jason’s best friends and former Tortured Soul bandmates. He adds childhood icon Whitney Houston (who left us February, 2012) to the list, “It’s always sad to lose somebody whose music you respect and love.” These reminders of mortality have been shocks to the system, but there’s some solace to be had in their memories and legacies living on, memorialized in music. “That’s the beautiful thing, if you make something that lives on beyond you, it’s for everyone… and life is temporary, but hopefully something you create can last forever.”

• Words By: Austen van der Bleek

JKRIV artist/label pages on & releases on Traxsource.