A fixture of the US underground house scene for more than 20 years, Connecticut-based DJ Jus-Ed (Edward McKeithen) couldn't be more excited by this development. Ed runs Underground Quality, one of the finest deep house imprints in the business and his radio show on MyHouse-YourHouse.net, a forum where he aims to play "the raw, the dirty, the underground shit you look for," is widely regarded as a must for fans of international deep house. His own productions, meanwhile, have set the benchmark for deep house's signature soul-drenched sound, replete with clever beats and rhythmic chords. As house music catches some of the heat leaving an increasingly tired looking techno scene, we caught up with Ed as he waxed lyrical about the current state of the genre, pressing vinyl, and playing parties with only seven records.
So, what kind of music surrounded you when you were growing up?
Musically, my grandmother and grandfather were jazz musicians, so we had just about every affordable instrument in the house that you could have. We played harmonicas, drums.
My musical background has always been pretty well-rounded because there was classical that we had to listen to because of my grandparents. And then there were the jazzy, instrumental-like guitar albums. I got into classical, actually, because of Bugs Bunny. His cartoons in the '60s and '70s had a lot of classical music in them. It was hard to tell if they were spoofing classical music or not, but there is an education in there as well…like how to rip somebody’s head off to Beethoven’s 5th Concerto. [laughs] It's not something I acquired, but it's always been there.
I think that all babies naturally understand music. They have a natural rhythm. But it's encouraged or discouraged based on the culture, the upbringing, and the society. I think most babies are apt to music. The easiest way to teach a child is with music.
Was music laid out on the cards, then?
Yeah, it was just a way of life, because we were separated from our original culture. I'm half Cape Verdean, so I don’t have any real upbringing in that culture and the other half is Afro-American and here in the United States you have no culture [laughs]. It's been something that we have developed and music has been a part of our way of living. Whether it be church or gatherings.
When did you start DJing?
I started at ten.
That’s quite young. What did you play?
Back then you had funk, R&B, and soul. Those were the categories. For me, the artists were Parliament, T-Connection, Maze, Tower Of Power, Cameo, the Commodores, and the funkier stuff like George Duke and the O'Jays. The list could go on, of course. Faze-O was like one of the very first all-black electronic groups. They had a song called "Toe Jam." You remember that?
[sings] "Everybody Toe Jam…" Devo, of course. I was a big punk head, as well. Flock Of Seagulls and A-ha too.
Where were you stepping out? What was the scene like in Connecticut where you were growing up?
Unlike other artists I didn’t have, erm… I was a Christian boy brought up with discipline; we didn’t indulge in the club life and stuff like that. We did house parties, we did basement parties, we did hall parties, and we partied like we was just in the club. Actually it was probably nastier than in the club at some point. [laughs] But, you know, our parents would come and say, "Turn the lights on" and that’s when we turned them on!
You took a break for a while from your DJing, though, right?
Yeah, a long while. 15 years.
Yeah, drugs, alcohol.
It got bad?
[laughs] I got bad.
But you got yourself back.
Yeah, yeah, rebuilt. You know, in the '80s it was the social movement.
It was a social thing?
Yeah, it was the movement. It was nothing for you to have some coke on the table. But your body can only take so much and businesses get tired of dealing with people who are a wreck. So, it was 15 years and some change before I met Vic Money.
Tell me about Vic.
Vic Money is a big time DJ from Pittsburgh, and when he went back to New York he played for 98.7 KISS FM and he was one of the Mastermixers there. We met through a series of events and he eventually asked me to play with him at his residency on the Lower East Side. I told him that I didn't have any records anymore, but he just told me to bring what I had.
I had gotten about seven records from the Winter Music Conference that spring, so when he showed up at the club he said, "Go ahead and start playing some...wait…where are your records?" I was like, "Right there." And he was like, "That’s it?!" And I said, "I told you, I don’t have a lot of records." So, he was like, "Fuck it! Play them and keep playing them."
So, I did. I went up and played them and I made a 35 or 40-minute set out of the seven records. From that, he knew that I could DJ. It had nothing to do with mixing, it was just [laughs] people were dancing even though they had no clue that I had only seven records with me. After that, he told me that he definitely wanted me to continue with him, and after thinking about it, I agreed. That's where Underground Quality started.
Yeah, Vic and I run UQ. At first, you know, it wasn't really a label. It was more of an institution for establishing unknown DJs to DJ.
Did the UQ parties come first?
Yeah, the parties were giving a lot of DJs who were not that popular a platform to do their thing. We gave a lot of people opportunities to be heard, but while we were always successful in putting on a good party, we were not always that successful in the numbers, you know like dollar amounts.
Did that matter?
Yeah. [laughs] Hell yeah, it mattered. You had to figure out if it was worth it, because by the time you cut the cheese, there's nothing left. Sometimes we only had enough to get coffee and a muffin, but we always managed to pay our bills and stuff. To me, it was a promotion thing and a way for me to pay my dues on re-entry, to let people know who Jus-Ed was.
Well, Lerato manages my gigs, so she just worked her magic. I'm not quite sure how she did it. I don’t know if it was based on my music or if it was based on crowd popularity. I'd like to say I put on the "stellar shit" last time I was there, so that Fabric said, "We have to have them," but I don’t think it was that.
How different was the crowd and atmosphere to your gigs back home?
Europe, period, is much better than America for the house community. Especially for little underground house DJs like me.
So, you feel there still is that "old boys network" back home?
Unfortunately, there is. It's still very jaded! But, when I do have an opportunity to play at home…I mean I had my own party at home for three years.
What was the party called?
Kazulo. I did that for three years and, you know, people had a brilliant time there. They still ask me if there are ever going to be any more parties. But I got tired of being a promoter / door person / banker / DJ. You can't enjoy the night and DJ, so I made a conscious decision to end the party and to pay more attention to my family and devote a little more time to making music. I also wanted to go over to radio, because I felt that radio would be a good way for me to get my music out to a bigger audience.
Your radio show is quite acclaimed, how long has it been going?
I don’t remember the actual date, but it's been going on for about a year at My House, Your House. I got introduced to them by a friend in London and I was interviewed by the founder/co-owner, so I just told him, "I want to play the other music, the underground music. I don’t want to play a 4/4 set or the beautiful shit. I want to play the raw, the dirty, the shit that you look for."
He was into it, so I started playing. I'm not exactly sure how many people listen, though. When I first started he told me I had gotten seven listeners on one of the first shows, so I was like, "I'm not checking this anymore." I know it’s up there now, because we had to change servers and they got a broader band now.
It's funny, though, it reminds me of when I used to listen to house music on the radio when I was younger. We used to string wires through the house with tin foil to get 88.7 FM, the college station, because that was the only place that was playing underground house music. To get a radio station from New York in Bridgeport, Connecticut, you had to do that.
A lot of people tell me that my show reminds them of when DJ Disciple used to do an underground show. I take that as a huge compliment, because he is one of the icon DJs in the house community. I'm just trying to stay true-to-form, though, and give artists that really have got some 'heat' and no exposure a chance. It's better than sitting around browbeating and politicking about "how fucked up the scene is." I would rather be part of the solution and contribute. A virus is a virus, and if I'm a positive virus, it’s going to spread.
What are you using in the studio when you're making music? Hardware, software?
You'd have to ask my son what I use. We use a Yamaha C99, some shakers, and the rest is black magic. [laughs]
It's a secret?
Yeah. You know, it's not a secret if you were there at the beginning when I started. Back then, I was running around asking all sorts of questions to people: "Do you like this?" "How do you think this sounds?" "I'm using this program, do you think this is a good one?" "Do you think I should do analogue or do you think I should do digital?"
If you were there in the beginning then you would know. And most of the cats that I talked to kind of snuffed at me when I first started. They snuffed at me, or said "Keep practicing, it’ll come together." I've had distributors tell me, "We kind of like your idea, but…I think it needs more work. It sounds unfinished." They used to tell me, "It's not what's selling right now."
Did that spur you on to get your own imprint?
It kind of confused me, but then Jennifer—my other half—told me, "You got to stop asking people what they think about your music. You get your feelings hurt, because they don’t get it or because they don’t like it." She reminded me that it's a matter of taste, and everybody has different taste. So I can't profess to being some wise person. I'm not, I'm sensitive and insecure about my shit just like the next person. She set me straight on that, though, and then I took the position of, "Fuck it."
You just let go?
Yeah, I just said, "This is what it is, this is my sentence, my story, my words. If you get what I'm saying or the music that I'm making, then you get it. If you don't, that's alright." I think people make records with the intent that it's going to be the bomb or it's going to blow up and they're going to be the next Masters At Work, or Larry Heard or the next whatever. You know what I'm saying? I think people ought to lower their....
Exactly. Keep it real. The mark of success is that I finished a track and I actually got it into production. If you want to help the vinyl community, stop waiting in line. Go press your own records. If you want to know a mastering place or a place to go, I'll tell you a place you can press 525 records for under $1300. And that’s with the mastering. [laughs]
Stop waiting for Jus-Ed or Kerri Chandler or any other artist or label to press your music, because we have an agenda and we have a limited budget and there is too much music for me to throw my money at. I can't do it. If you believe in your music, sometimes you got to take a risk. Take your own risk. Once it's on vinyl, it's there forever! You do that and there is the empowerment in just that success and you’ll be surprised...
Yeah, I mean there are about 8 billion people in the world and all you want is 0.05% to buy your music [laughs] so that you can go press another record. That's the way I approached it, and that’s the way I still do it. It may not make sense to everyone else, but it's that simple. And, fortunately, people like what I'm doing and it's growing. More people are finding out about it and it's growing gradually. I'm not an overnight…
Nah, I don’t want that, because I'm not going anywhere. I want to grow into the success, so that it's always a solid product. It's not a fad or for-the-moment. We're here for the long haul. And that's always been the case in whatever we've done, whether it be from the first time I started with Vic to different parties down on the Lower East Side to mix CDs to Miami to NY to overseas now. Anybody that I play with, you know, it's always been an enjoyable and memorable moment. And that’s the way it should be.