Spotlight on JJ Flores
Is there really much difference between work and play? Not if you love your job. One half of a duo that has pumped new life into the US and UK house music scenes talks about being a child prodigy, playing with fans, and trying to juggle a band and a DJ career while seeking international fame.
By 5.30 in the evening, Chicago-based house music producing dynamo, JJ Flores, has been mitts-to-the-metal all day, knocking out tracks with producing partner, Steve Smooth, before sitting down for a chat and a microwave meal of "creamy mushroom pasta." He and Smooth, have been tirelessly chinking out a new album, due to hit the public around the fall of 2008, since their recent signing to Ultra Records. It’ll be he and Smooth’s second album release since The Collection in 2006, which showcased a selection of the duo’s wide catalogue of hit singles, including the UK chart-topping, floor-lifting remix of “Dancin” by Aaron Smith, featuring Luvli.
“Now we’re actually building an album from scratch,” says Flores, explaining the nature of his current studio toil.
The new album again features Luvli, adding her uplifting vocal stylings to the preview single, “Being in Love,”, released on Beatport.com March 13, 2008. Fellow Chicago DJ and producer, Alex Peace also re-joins the crew for a yet-to-be-released, filthy booty-shaker, ‘Sex Fiend’. Flores’s girlfriend, singer-songwriter Lil’ Lisa, will also be featured on a few tracks. As for other artists, negotiations are still in the works.
“We’ve been talking with a few artists that are a little more known, but I don’t want to drop it now in case it doesn’t happen,” Flores explains apologetically.
Big-name vocals, however, were not what originally launched the duo into US fame—the sizzling disco-flavoured “Get Naked” featured Smooth’s electronically deepened voice, where dance floor dynamite, “Freak You” and the belly warming, bass-pounding, “Time for Love” featured Flores.
Now that Ultra has welcomed them on board, they are going for a slightly wider audience: “We’re bringing in different talent who are writing and singing, so we’re going for more potential dance radio play.”
Radio play is nothing new to the child prodigy-turned-producing powerhouse. His first club mix, D’zyre’s ‘Forever Amor’, was picked up by Atlantic Records in 1991, when Flores was 17 years old--which seems funny given Flores’s creaseless complexion, and unpretentious, spry comportment. Seventeen doesn’t appear to be that long ago.
“It was a long time ago,” Flores laughs.
“I actually started making music as a kid,” he explains. “with little pieces of equipment and old computers when I was a lot younger, like maybe 12 or 13. Just being in the basement and trying to make music with little toy Casio keyboards or whatever I could get my hands on. I didn’t even know it was called producing when I was doing it. I just knew I was trying to make the electronic music that I kept hearing.”
Growing up during the height of Chicago's house music heyday fostered Flores’s passion for electronic music and fixed his interest throughout most of his childhood. Hearing tracks on the radio, then, later on, going to nightclubs, collecting the vibe and bringing it back home, Flores spent hours recreating sounds and adding his personal touch to a growing hobby.
“ I was never really into sports or anything,” he admits. “Once that first record hit, I was like, ‘this is too fun; this is what I wanna do.’”
After hitting the radio waves, there was no stopping the JJ Flores production train. Remixing for big name pop artists like N’Sync, Christina Millan, and Vanessa Williams, and house music royalty like Bad Boy Bill, he began to bang out tracks for US and international audiences. Simultaneously, he helped launch the careers of several artists-- such as Gillette (‘Short Dick Man’, 1994) and Roula (‘Lick It’, 1994)-- with record company SOS Records and his production team, 20 Fingers.
Several years of discovering new talent and putting out novelty records began to take their toll on Flores emotionally, juggling egos and dealing with a growing stable of artists. By the early 2000s, Flores decided he’d had enough and went back to basics, back to producing the house music he knew and loved.
Around the time Flores had decided to go back to producing house, Bad Boy Bill officially introduced Flores to Steve Smooth. The two bonded instantly and created Ménage Music. Their first release, “Get Naked,” in 2003 was snapped up and played around the world by DJs like Seb Fontaine, Roger Sanchez, and DJ Dan. Since then, they’ve repeatedly hit the target dead-on with an upbeat, wallflower-picking style that has even the sourest of sourpusses leaping between lights and linoleum before the second track drops.
“We liked having these records where it’s like, these are the peak hours, this is where everyone starts going crazy, happy,” Flores explains. “There’re a lot of more minimal, laid-back, less abrasive tracks out there that are awesome, but we chose to go with the very loud, peak-hour, driving type house records and we chose to keep that as more of our signature.”
That signature style created a vast following for them in the US, first with Bad Boy Bill’s “Behind the Decks” tour, and then 2007’s “Debauchery Tour.” People have begun flying all over the US to see the duo in action, hooked on the addictive uppers of the team’s signature sound.
“A lot of times at the end people will come up to us and say, ‘How come you didn’t drop ‘Get Naked’ or ‘Deep Inside These Walls’ or ‘Release’ or ‘Time for Love’?’ And we try to fit all that in, but sometimes it just doesn’t work with the night, you know? Plus, we did a lotta records. I mean, we can literally do a two-hour set with all of the stuff we’ve done. I don’t think people really wanna hear that,” Flores explains, chuckling, but then adds, “Maybe they do, I dunno.”
Surprisingly, Flores has only been performing as a DJ for three or four years, after he and Smooth had released the first two singles and their popularity caused him to get calls for live bookings. After studying Smooth’s and Bill’s techniques, he decided it was time to get behind the decks.
“It was the best decision I had made; I wish I’d done it sooner,” he chucks in.
Touring has actually helped Flores in getting inspiration for new music. In fact, he now confesses to liking the performance aspect better than the production end.
“I love the traveling,” he describes wistfully. “I love meeting new people. I love just going out and playing with the people and just seeing how they react to the music and seeing them appreciate it.”
Moving back into the studio, Flores ruminates on the new stuff: “The Collection was during the time when a lot of filtered disco was big, and I guess right now we’re going in—I guess it’s more electro. It’s definitely more vocal, but we’re trying not to lose too much of the party edge that we had.”
After years of close-knit work, it’s surprising to know that Smooth and Flores are still driven to work together and even enjoy each other’s company.
“We’re in the studio every day and going on the road and touring, and sitting in the friggin’ airports and whatever, and we’ve definitely been doing a lot together, but we’ve been pretty fortunate that we’ve not gotten into any major fights yet,” Flores reflects. “It’s been a lotta years. So far, we’ve been pretty lucky. Now that I just said that, we’ll probably just blow up at each other tomorrow.”
Perhaps Flores’s friendly, positive nature is the fuel that propels this dynamic partnership. Don’t let his hardworking nature fool you. In spite of all this studio time and long traveling hours, JJ Flores is just as much of a partier as he is a party-maker.
“For some reason, all my friends love it when I’m drunk,” the self-admitted ‘happy drunk’, laughs. “I go crazy. My tolerance is really low, but I know how much I can drink to where I just let loose and am feeling free and I’m just taking everybody with me.”