Sunshine Jones: "These Are Absolutely Inspirational Times for Electronic Music"
Just like rock 'n' roll, once used by the counterculture to liberate minds and stick it to The Man before selling out to MTV, electronic dance music was also once a music of spiritual liberation and transcendence. Then it became "EDM" and commercial Top 40 radio fodder.
This was back in the '90s rave era, when renegade parties gathered the grooving masses under motorway passes and in abandoned warehouses to experience collective musical elation.
Few acts epitomize the free spirit and PLUR philosophy of that era more than Dubtribe Sound System, the San Francisco production duo of Sunshine and Moonbeam Jones.
They spent the '90s and early 2000s touring the American rave circuit, releasing timeless, lyrical deep house gems on their Imperial Dub imprint, and branding their message of positivity on the hearts of a generation.
Dubtribe's breakup in 2005 (they would reunite in 2010) wasn't going to stop Sunshine Jones from keeping on keeping on, though. And he's been nothing if not prolific over the past decade, running his beloved Sunday Soul radio show, performing regularly, and producing some of the most gorgeous, nuanced vocal house tuneage out there (this past year alone has seen Sunshine drop two critically acclaimed long players.)
Crossfade caught up with Sunshine Jones ahead of a rare Miami appearance this Thursday alongside Tampa's Joint Custody for Analog, a new underground dance music party at Wynwood's TSL Lounge. Just as candid and illuminating as his song lyrics, he spoke to us about his decadeslong evolution as an artist, his new albums, and why these might just be the most inspirational times for EDM, haters be damned.
Crossfade: You've been going strong for over two decades as a producer. How do you feel your work and creative process have evolved throughout the years?
Sunshine Jones: Quite a bit, yes. In 1989, I was programming a drum machine and connecting wires to synthesizers and dragging a huge amount of equipment with me everywhere I went. Sequencing, sampling, programming sounds, patterns and then collecting them into songs was all done on a grid, without a computer. There's really something wonderful about rudimentary sequencing and synthesis. The limitations allow for creativity that sometimes having limitless options actually stifles.
My progress as an artist has covered all of the ground that technology has covered in the last 20 years. In 1989, no one had a cell phone; people were just throwing away their answering machines and getting voice-mail. There was no internet per se, and my first live performance set-up was a TR-909, an SH-101, a Juno 6, a Korg M1, and an Emax sampler. I had to load up the sampler during the set with floppy disks in order to play the next song or two. There were personal computers, but they were really still just glorified word processors and didn't sound very good for much beyond sequencing MIDI.
Today, anything goes. A Mac and some speakers is all you really need. The last ten years have really been more about access than anything else. Whereas when I started, a person had to read and study and learn and then scrounge around used music shops, pawn shops, and places where older electronic devices might be found. Now you don't really need a TB-303 to make the squelchy acid bass sound; you can just grab a plugin and knock yourself out.
There is an upside and a downside to that kind of immediacy. We learned in the late '90s, as it became more and more popular for DJs and producers to make their own records, that just because you can doesn't actually mean you should. The market flooded with people's first 12-inch singles, and eventually it brought a truly vital industry to its knees. I think the same thing is true for producing music. That said, electronic music is a wonderful avenue for almost anyone. Anything goes, and that remains true. I love that your take on the dance floor can be expressed by you with some simple software and the time it takes to express yourself. It's no longer mad-scientist nerdiness; now it's just open up Garage Band and go.