Some people find their calling at an early age. Guy J counts himself among them; his career in music production began at the tender age of fourteen. Cloistering himself in his bedroom, turning down his homework for drum machines and synthesisers, our young hero (then just Guy Judah) was completely immersed in a world of beats and bass lines. "I was very focused," he remembers. "I spent all my time in my room working on this music." He has a strong accent and his voice crackles slightly across the connection. He's relaxing at his house in Antwerp, Belgium, where he's lived for the past two years. "I was a complete geek, all the time, hardcore," he continues. "When I started, what I was making was really amateur. It takes time to create something. It takes longer to create something good."
It's funny just how many talented producers and superstar DJs will readily admit to being "complete geeks". Today's near-absence of analogue synths and drum machines in electronic music production have made nerd skills a must. Spending hours hunched in front of a computer screen in a dimly-lit basement was once a pastime enjoyed only by hackers and programmers; now, the next generation of musical prodigies have joined them, plugged into Logic or Ableton tweaking synths or getting the compression on that kick drum "just right" well into the wee hours of the morning.
"I feel a bit old saying this," says Guy with a laugh, "but back in the day... 13, 14 years ago, to create a sound you really liked and were happy with, it took a lot of time. It's not like that today. You have everything that makes it easy."
Despite his nostalgia for the good old days of analog, Guy is by no means a technical Luddite. He's currently working on a set of synths for Brighton-based sound design label Loopmasters. "That's something new for me. The idea is to share, to give new tools to up-and-coming or established producers. I hope I will give it my maximum!"
Giving things his maximum is nothing new for Guy. He worked hard on his music throughout his teens, before releasing his first track at the age of 21. But it wasn't until 2007 that he caught his big break. His track Save Me, an emotive track with glistening strings and tight grooves, caught the eye (or rather, ear) of progressive house legend and Bedrock Records co-manager John Digweed. Guy was rapt. "John had always been a legend to me. I grew up on Bedrock releases, on his DJ mixes. Even now, when something is happening with Bedrock, I still find it very exciting. It's not something I've just got used to. To be part of Bedrock, it's a dream."
Save Me was one of the tracks on Guy's debut album Esperanza, which came out on Bedrock the following year. A collection of diverse genres, with prog and tech house sitting side by side, sprinkled with touches of trance and spaced out with gentle ambient tracks, the album was well-received by critics. Resident Advisor gave it four stars, called it "inspiring and truly immersive".
Since then, Guy has honed his production skills and showed his range, dropping massive tracks such as 2007's lush, rhythmic Lamur, released on Bedrock alongside a stomping, bass-heavy remix from label-mate Henry Saiz. 2009's Shaman was an interesting foray into tech house and was equally suited to headphone listening as it was winding up dance floors with its left-of-centre rhythms and whirling oscillations.
It wasn't until last year that Guy dropped his second album, 1000 Words, also through Bedrock. "With this album, I was trying to deliver something more mature. I’m learning new stuff all the time," says Guy.
Our interview is at this point interrupted with the ringing of a doorbell. Almost immediately follows an outburst of loud barking, seemingly inches away from Guy's laptop microphone. I nearly fall out of my chair. "That was just Nala," explains Guy, returning a minute later. "She is the guardian angel of the house." What a lovely name! I ask if it means something in Hebrew. "Ehhh... no. It's from the King of Lion." Right. Of course.
Guy left Israel several years ago and now resides in Antwerp, Belgium. It seems like a quiet little town for a globetrotting DJ. I ask Guy what first attracted him about the place. "Well, I met my lady here. So... it's in the name of love!", he laughs. "For now we are staying here. It's a cool spot. It's quiet, but it still has a good dance scene. I play here quite often. It's also very easy to travel around Europe because it's very central. You can easily get to Amsterdam or London just on the train."
So what else does Guy get up to when he's not touring or making music? "I’m with my lady. Just chillin', you know. Or doin' stuff, you know. I also love photography. It's a hobby I would like to take to the next level one day." I ask if Guy's interest in photography has anything to do with the title of 1000 Words. "Nope, no. Sorry!" We laugh a little.
I ask about the club scene in Tel Aviv, where Guy grew up. "It's amazing," Guy enthuses. "I wish it were like that everywhere. It's a proper 24/7 city, especially in the summer. In winter it's not so hardcore, but even then you can go out every day and find house music, pop music, whatever you want."
And how about psytrance? With big names like Infected Mushroom, Skazi and Astrix, as well as a new generation of progressive producers such as Perfect Stranger, Israel is one of the world's biggest psy exporters. "Yeah, Israel is known for it," agrees Guy. "But you can find everything there. Whatever you want to find you can find in Israel!"
"I'm mainly into house music. But I had a time when I used to love a lot of hard techno. For me, that's the proper techno. Adam Beyer, Chris Liebing, stuff from ten years ago. At the time there were more differences between genres. But in every genre you could find something you would be connected to."
"I still play a lot at Cat & Dog, in Tel Aviv. For me it's the perfect club! The vibe is just amazing. But there are a lot of clubs there, it can be hard to follow all the new ones."
I quiz Guy on his touring setup. Like an ever-increasing number of DJs, he's ditched carrying around fat wallets of CDs for a stripped-down digital setup. "When I DJ now, I use Ableton with an RME Fireface 400 soundcard and an Evolution UC33 MIDI controller. It's a very simple setup. But I love trying to make the most of it."
Although Guy does like to work a lot of his own productions into his sets when he DJs, he has no immediate plans to develop a live set. "I think to do a live set you really need to bring instruments. If you do it live, do it proper. But it looks a bit crazy to do, with all the keyboards and other equipment. I enjoy what I do now. Maybe in the future I will play live once in a while, but it's crazy stressful the way I see it."
In June, Guy J will be back to do a few shows around Australia. "I love it there! I always have a good time. Always, man! The parties are always amazing, and the vibe too. People are just there to enjoy. I have family in Sydney I visit as well. I really enjoy it every time in Australia."
As for the rest of the year? "I have a release coming out on Cocoon in June as part of L [the latest release in their alphabetised compilation series]. I don't focus on producing for just one genre, so being on Cocoon I hope to get exposed to a different crowd. It's something new, I’m really looking forward to see how it will influence my career. It's a big step."
I ask Guy if he has any parting words of wisdom for aspiring DJs and producers trying to get noticed. "Yeah: being patient. It's not easy to get your name out there. Today it might be easier to make the first step, because of the internet. But to establish yourself you always need to be patient. Always try to learn new stuff. Be open to new music. Good music is good music! You don't have to say, "I love only this, I listen only to that". And always try to upgrade yourself! It's not about buying new stuff, it's about trying new stuff, learning, listening to other people's technical advice, all of that. But being patient is the biggest thing."
It's certainly helped Guy to get where he is today. "And I love it. Just working on music, man. I’m happy doing what I’ve been doing for the last 14 years: travelling, making music and living from it. I hope I will stay doing it!"
And so do we, Guy!
BY MORGAN RICHARDS
Guy J [ISR] plays New Guernica on Sunday June 10.