'Real Talk' is a series of artist-penned essays that appears on XLR8R from time to time, and our latest missive comes from Hieroglyphic Being (a.k.a. Jamal Moss), who we asked to comment on some of the controversy that's sprung up in recent months surrounding his unique approach to DJing. Fresh off the release of his The Seer of Cosmic Visions collection via Planet Mu, Moss graciously agreed to tackle the issue, and also used the opportunity to talk about some of his history and influences and how they've come to shape his current artistic outlook.
XLR8R has asked me to write an essay "In Defense of My DJ Style," noting there has been some commotion lately about my "unorthodox" DJ Style.
Firstly, there's no reason for me to go on the defense or feel offended about my situation, because I have basically tried to get in where I can fit in. That's part of the basic hustle of the industry. When I started out, I, generally speaking, just wanted to do live PA shows. If people don't know who you are, you have to get in front of them so they can see you and get some kind of perception of what you're about. At the beginning, I had to go on the road and do whatever I could. I wanted to play live, but for some reason, people were more attuned to having me come play vinyl. That still blows my mind, because I never tried to push myself as the disk jock, or as a selector. I figured I'd just give it a go and then hopefully people would get what I was about and then try to get me to do the live stuff.
Nowadays, it's a balance. They (promoters) still want me to play vinyl, but when it comes to live shows, some people are still skittish about that situation. When people come at me at DJ gigs, I think they are pissed off because maybe they expect me to be playing live. I'll get people in the crowd trying to figure out what is going on. But I'm trying to figure out what's going on too! Still, I go through and do what I am supposed to do to the best of my ability. Sometimes I'll crack up because people's perceptions of what's going on at that moment can be so skewed. I just go with the vibe of what's going on in the surroundings. I try to acclimate myself to this very obtuse situation. I play stuff that I'm into, the stuff that influenced me as I was coming up. And in turn, hopefully when they hear what I play as a DJ, when I go out and play live they'll start to understand where those influences come from. Basically, my dream is that people will come out and support the live shows—which is where I think my purpose is meant to be. I am more into the abstract experimental stuff. The problem with being labeled a DJ, especially for me, is that I'm not a DJ. Some people consider me to be the worst DJ ever, but I've never said I was a DJ. I have no ego about playing vinyl because I'm from Chicago, and in Chicago, you have dudes who can get on six turntables and be flawless.
I can't embellish or explain in fine detail what I am trying to convey when I am there in the moment playing records in a club. It would be self-propagating BS on my part to attempt to do so. But I can say that I do try to play stuff that people will appreciate, in a format they can understand. Maybe my attitude is different than other DJs, because I have never really clicked with DJs, even here in Chicago. I only ever clicked with DJs as a dancer. For me, it was only ever about the vibe, or certain eclectic selections, because those are the things that gave me muscle memories. Hi-hat patterns, snares, notes, melodies, and all that stuff have been translated into tunes that are in the core of my fiber now because I've danced on the floor to them for many years. For example, many people can say they like a certain style, but I might say it ain't for me because I don't feel any real vibration coming from it. All I can do is step up and say, "This is what feels right for me." I'm dealing with my own specific muscle memory whatever musical situation I find myself in.
When I go out and play records, I do get a sense of what people feel the most. That helps me sit down as an A&R person to decide what kind of material to put out on my label Mathematics Recordings (Groove Distribution). It helps me grow further and develop in artistry all around—running a label, playing out, and making tunes. If I play a certain record, and it has a certain aesthetic, I can tell—the whole vibration of the room changes, the music has a certain dynamic, the alpha waves in the brain change, the synapses in the bodies of certain people in the crowd change. Later on, I'll remember that moment—I think it's called muscle mirroring—and I try to go back and capture some essence of that when I mess around and create back at the house.
The same thing applies when I hear demos coming from certain artists. I'll try to listen for that vibe and energy on the material they've sent me and if I hear it, I'll take it out and test it. I'll sign it when I feel that the tune is hot because it's getting that same kind of dynamic reaction. I put things out because I feel they are the epitome of what I came up with growing up with in Chicago. When I hear people half my age coming up with this stuff, it amazes me that somehow the universe transmitted that same frequency to them to be able to grasp that era. It doesn't matter that they might have heard it through some Blogspot or some other DJ like Kerri Chandler, Joe Claussell, or Theo Parrish. For these young artists to send me stuff, I feel honored because it reminds me of stuff that came out in the early or mid '90s. In other words, even though I am not that happy with the state of stuff that comes out on other labels, I try to the best of my ability to represent the music that nurtured me. I just want to represent what I know. But for every one person I put out, there are a lot of people I have to tell "no." And for every one person whose record I put out, there are five people I need to sit down with and nurture. Because I have expertise from the floor, from being out there making movements, I can give those artists an idea of the scope of what they are aiming for. Again, it's that muscle memory.
If I look back and think about some of the key events that gave me muscle memories, the first one was probably around fifth grade in my school. People weren't really calling it house music then, but we had a holiday party before the winter break and I heard some tunes played on a cassette tape from a college radio station that just blew my mind. The second event was in my freshman year at the sock hop at my old high school. I remember it was Boo Williams and a couple of other DJs playing. It might have been Gene Hunt too. And they played a whole bunch of stuff. And of course this is aside from the Music Box situation that I've talked about many times and can't keep talking about—you know, that whole Ron Hardy situation. I just remember moving a certain way at the sock hop. I was lost in the music, lost in the bassline, outside of what was going on around me. I heard things that moved my spirit and in turn, I moved my body. It made me realize that I could dance to this stuff for the rest of my life. I wasn't worried about anything else. I was just happy being a dancer. For me, everything goes back to that point.
Basically, when it comes down to it, there are certain things that just resonate throughout me. But because I've stopped being a dancer now, it's all become spiritual and mental and I think my creativity has been lacking because I've slowed down on the movement. I need to get back into movement in order to instill a better output from my end I feel. I'm critiquing myself on certain things, just comparing what I am creating now to what I was creating back then. There are certain tunes where I can be spot on, but there are certain tunes where I'm not because the influences are different now—spiritual memory, mental memory—and they are slowly suppressing the whole awesome movement memory that kept me vibrant, fluid, and energetic back in the day. I'm actually conscious of that now and I've got to somehow embrace that again in order for me to be stronger and better at my craft.
Right now, I have four astral bodies that are displaced within my physical body. The movement, the spirit, the mental spirit, and the emotional spirit—they are all disconnected at this point. When you hear what I do, you can actually sense that. For my Planet Mu album The Seer of Cosmic Visions, it's all about the separate astral parts of me becoming one. Part of me is 15, part of me is 22, and part of me is 32. And as of 32, I lost it—I have no more of that raw muscle memory. The whole process of The Seer of Cosmic Visions project, and I thank Planet Mu for hooking this up, is that they captured the movements of my life, those moments when I sat down to actually try and capture those movement memories and make them into actual physical sounds.
The Seer of Cosmic Visions has got stuff from my catalog from 1996 through to about 2013. A lot of this came from cassette tapes, minidiscs, VHS tapes, whatever; it got to a point, and maybe that's why it's good, that the physical sat in the background and the mental started to arise. I started to learn the process of developing as a creative artist. I called it The Seer of Cosmic Visions because literally at the age of maybe 12 to 16 I somehow did a remote viewing kind of thing. I had a vision when I was dancing. There was no one in the background. It was far in the future. I was older, heavier, and in a certain environment listening to a tune. I felt that somehow through this situation, this sound, I could elevate myself. Later on, when I was in my early 20s, this came back to me again—this revelation. I had the same experience of being elevated. And then again, in my 30s, no BS, that tune that I had visions about came into being—I finally created it. I know this sounds esoteric. I've learned to embrace this kind of thing now. If we want to go on a Doctor Who-style narrative, this is my fourth iteration in life, in this physical life. I've done many things before this and will probably do many things after this. But to get back to the DJing thing—I don't really give a shit that people think I'm the worst DJ because I never claimed to be one. It's kind of ignorant and futile of them to knock me for something I never claimed to be. The way I look at it, it's a big cosmic joke.