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Guest Dose: Steven Julien Of FunkinEven

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Guest Dose: Steven Julien Of FunkinEven

Recommended Dose

Guest Dose: Steven Julien Of FunkinEven

A Mix Of Jazz, Fusion And Techno From The Don Of Apron Records

Guest Dose: Steven Julien Of FunkinEven

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Alex De Mora/Courtesy of the artist
Steven Julien of British techno act FunkinEven.
Alex De Mora/Courtesy of the artist

Welcome to Guest Dose. Every month, NPR Music's Recommended Dose crew invites a knowledgeable and experienced DJ/selector to share personal perspectives on electronic and beat-driven music, and to make a mix from some new tracks they're digging.

Even by the London dance-music scene's exalted standards, Steven Julien is on a hell of a creative run. Since first coming to prominence under the name FunkinEven in 2009-10 as a distinct nonconformist trying to make it in the post-dubstep world, the West London producer has followed the muse down the alleys of his mind. What he's found is an analog-heavy style that mixes an unquenchable love for the diversity of rhythmic music, with the immediacy and urgency that have been his hometown's aesthetic hallmarks ever since pirate radio stations (once Kiss.FM, now Rinse.FM) started serving as its nighttime guide.

Steven Julien's first solo album, Fallen, is out July 5 on his own Apron Records. Alex De Mora/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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Alex De Mora/Courtesy of the artist

Steven Julien's first solo album, Fallen, is out July 5 on his own Apron Records.

Alex De Mora/Courtesy of the artist

"Honest electronic music," Julien says by Skype when I ask him to describe his approach to sound, as well as to the tracks he releases on Apron Records. Founded in 2011, the label has not only been home to his own music, but to a growing list of collaborations with young producers, American and British, who are also blurring genre-lines —artists such as Delroy Edwards, Seven Davis Jr., Shanti Celeste and Jay Daniel.

Apron is also now home to Fallen, Julien's album debut, a singular piece of work that stands at the intersection of analog techno and electric fusion — and, to hear Julien tell it, in a narrative space between darkness and light. "I'm not religious or anything, but I believe everybody has two sides," he says, opening up about Fallen. From its album title on down, the album returns time again to contemplating different types of duality, whether "the love of night versus day, the transition between heaven and hell, the good and bad." Yet the two sides of Fallen are also strangely cohesive, built with big synth sounds played on lower octaves, as well as a lack of sonic polish that's another of Julien's trademark strategies. The result is a wonderfully unique listening experience that's not designed for the club, even if it bears all the trappings.

Julien says that prior to Apron — and, especially, to Fallen — the music he released was too preoccupied with the dance floor. "I won't say it was a mistake, but I will say it was a time when my head was somewhere else." Fallen, on the other hand, "crams in all of my musical knowledge and experiences and love of music, showing that side of me, and what my true passion is."

The artwork to Steven Julien's new album, Fallen. India Rose/Courtesy of the artist hide caption

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India Rose/Courtesy of the artist

That passion is interwoven with London's musical history. Julien grew up in the '90s under the spell of such experimental electronic radio shows as Kiss.FM's "R-solution," but also of going to classic drum-and-bass club nights like Metalheadz, or house and garage nights at The End. Before he made music, he was a dancer ("hype dancing, like what Kid 'n Play do in House Party"), and then in a rap group that wanted to emulate Native Tongues crews like A Tribe Called Quest and Leaders Of The New School; but after admitting to being "kind of s*** as a rapper, I decided to do the production. And my very first tracks were one hip-hop song and one house song." (Julien seems to have been a natural, as he told me that Yasiin Bey, a.k.a. Mos Def, is using one of his earliest beats on an album the MC is currently recording in London.) The love of hip-hop samples led him to collect and admire jazz fusion, old soul and disco records, and when FunkinEven first became a name (on Eglo Records, operated by Sam Shepherd, a.k.a. Floating Points), it was as a so-called "future boogie" producer. What followed was an alliance with new-generation Detroit producer Kyle Hall, a "natural bond" that he says led directly to Apron — and now to Fallen.

"Everything you hear on the album is a natural thing, whether it's jazz fusion or techno," he says of the debut. "I kind of never expressed that in my releases before, though I always thought I had it in me." And now, it's out.

The tracks Steven Julien chose for his Guest Dose mix showcase the same type of musical diversity, as well as a sense of history.

Guest Dose: Steven Julien Of Funkineven

  • Elon, 'Elon Blues'

    Elon, "Elon Blues"

    "Elon is a guy I worked with a few years back, and he gave me this recording that he did. It's just him sitting at the piano and playing. That is probably going to be a forthcoming Apron release. I am taking the label in that direction sonically. After a few more releases, it'll make sense."

  • L.M.Y.E., 'Cali 76'

    L.M.Y.E., "Cali 76" hide caption

    toggle caption

    "The latest Apron release. Again, it makes sense next to Fallen — jazzy samples or sweet chords and hard beats, that is the way forward. It's a method that Tribe Called Quest always uses; I kind of guess that's a house version of that. They aren't really revealing themselves at the moment, but it's two guys from Bristol who work at a legendary record shop there called Idle Hands."

  • Headlegz, 'Jaco's Spirit ... Continued'

    Headlegz, "Jaco's Sprit...Continued" hide caption

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    "I am a big fan of Jaco Pastorius from Weather Report, one of the best bass players in the world. That edit is from Piranhahead. It's a four-to-the-floor version, what you can play out."

  • Seiji, 'Second Nature (Chateau Flight Remix)'

    Seiji, "Second Nature (Chateau Flight Remix)"

    "There was a radio show that Phil Asher and Bugz In The Attic used to have on Kiss.FM in London, called R-Solution. They used to play this track a lot, and I fell in love with it. I'd say, 'This is how I want to make music in the future.' I wish I could make music like that, and I feel like I'm getting there."

  • Poly, 'Moon Beams'

    Poly, "Moon Beams"

    "That's my friend Gifted & Blessed from L.A., an amazing producer and amazing person. When I was in L.A. recently, I played him my album and he played me some stuff, and this was one of his tracks. It suited the surroundings, so scenic. We were listening to this track, driving from Joshua Tree back into downtown L.A. — that is the picture in my mind when I hear it."

  • Steven Julien, 'Jedi'

    The artwork to Steven Julien's new album, Fallen.

    "That was the last track that I worked on for the album. The original take sounded a lot like Delroy Edwards' '4 Club Use Only,' and because of that I had to change it. I did not want anything on the album to sound like anybody else — even if it's my friend. It had to be completely original. So I changed it up a bit. I called it 'Jedi.' It's a saying that me and my friends have: When someone's a boss or gotten to a certain age or a certain level, mentally you've become a Jedi. [I'm] nowhere near [that], but I think I may be on the way."