We have been fortunate enough to catch up with US artist J. Gabriel, the innovative producer spearheads the Onysia and Convent labels, which in recent times have seen a slew of fantastic releases, and in the coming months will be available via digital. As the label expands, J. Gabriel continues to develop his sound as a producer, consistently delivering high quality sounds across multiple genres such as minimal, deep house, dub reggae and beyond.
Hi J, thanks for chatting with us today. How was 2022 for you? And where are you talking to us from today?
J. Gabriel: For sure, nice greets from NYC, 2022 was great and flew by. I’ve been quite focused on studio work as much as possible, rolling out some new things soon and lots of projects to take past the finish line and get in the pipeline for Onysia and Convent. Have some travel/gigs coming up and then Burning Man so keeping quite busy for sure!
Growing up what were you listening to?
J. Gabriel: As a teenager Pink Floyd and The Doors, especially the lesser known albums like Obscured by Clouds. Also Sublime was on repeat in my car CD player, their dubbier and experimental stuff always fascinated me. Lots of Rap and Hip Hop music, what is now considered 90s classics and also underground artists like MF Doom.
I think my first conscious exposure to pure electronic music was around this time, it was an LTJ Bukem EP… this is before I discovered House music quite late in the game, relatively speaking. I’d already started making Hip Hop and electronica type music in high school, and then moved on to House music in college.
Pink Floyd – Obscured by Clouds
So tell us, where did the Onysia journey begin? What do you look for in an Onysia release? Are you often asking artists you like for tracks, or people sending you demos, or are you already connected with them?
J. Gabriel: It began after realizing I was making too much music that needed a platform of its own haha. But got some very good advice and instruction from a friend who’s run several labels, that was the real catalyst. And it was encouraging to get positive reception from artists who we’d reached out to. That’s how it’s working, although some demos do get sent in, every release has been through the label contacting artists and preexisting relationships, so far.
The Vice EP is going to be a sure hit , tell us a bit about the EP, the processes and how does it feel to have your work remixed by Audio Werner? (Timeless).
J. Gabriel: It’s awesome to have Audio Werner on board for this, been wanting to work with him for a long time and the right moment finally emerged. In my mind he sets a bar for all of us to aspire towards, one of the great producers in the genre really… Far as Vice EP, these tracks were a real labor of love, a more involved process to finish than usual. I was re-recording parts several times on Vice for example…
If you’re curious about the production process, I can say that the tight swing in the drums is always coming from my MPC 3000, mainly real drum sounds not from a machine, hand cut samples from various rock, funk, jazz records. Bassline is a vintage Minimoog i’d had on loan from a friend. I’ve found that what they say is really true, there’s nothing warm and powerful as a real Minimooog hehe. And I do use a Mos-Lab modular on most basslines, but something about that vintage Mini, I think that one is a 72′ … I should beg to borrow that again! Phone Games used the s950 sampler which somehow makes everything sound better, and RE-150 Space Echo on the organ.
But yeah, the EP as a whole just felt like a very personal expression as a fan of more playful, quirky minimal house – that doesn’t seem to be too trendy these days, but I like to think it won’t ever really go out of fashion. And I really do generally prefer these types of colored, saturated sort of dirty sounds and samples rather than anything too clean sounding… Glad you’re feeling the EP, thanks !
When it comes to artwork, how do you decide for the label? Who do you work with for this? Is there a certain labels aesthetic you also love?
J. Gabriel: I can’t say it’s a big focus, but we do like each release’s art to reflect the music, and also the vibe of the particular artist, so we don’t subscribe to a standard format or theme… I feel those factors are more important than the label having some sort of constant visual identifier. If the music is very psychedelic then why not reflect that in the art, or if it’s a more classic sound something a bit more classic looking, you know – how does the music make you feel and what do you see?
Sometimes I feel like album art can be a bit over indulgent and even pretentious, not adding to the presentation of the music but taking away maybe, so that’s a tricky thing…
Personally I like timeless text based styles quite a bit – what Kompakt does is a good example, nothing extravagant in the visual representation. I will say the recent DisDat release of Andrew Weatherall is beautifully done professional art, quite cool! I’m proud of our Transform Dub record, which is some psychedelic art I’d done a while back which felt a good fit for the release.
For better or worse, it’s only the vinyl DJs who are really associating the album art with the music, although the new CDJ3000s do make a big effort at integrating the art on the display, right on the jog wheels even, which is pretty cool. Maybe it’s just me, but I can’t think of a single digital track that I associate with its respective art. Just a state of the world we’re in, I suppose… But I don’t think it’s a fair assumption that music is inherently enhanced by accompanying it with visual art. That said, I do enjoy the process of developing ideas and choosing artwork for Onysia and Convent. It’s an interesting topic…
Can you tell us about any other projects you are working on?
J. Gabriel: There’s a special project coming with Chez Damier, Thomas Melchior and myself, we’ve finished Part 1 of the release already. It’s a bit different than usual, with some heavy vocoded vocals and various interpretations of the original will be released in multiple parts. Looks like that will be on Onysia for the Part 1, and the follow up on Chez’ label. I’m putting together a J Gabriel Deep House Remixes EP which will be a digital release, a few cuts which were previously vinyl only and some new unreleased material as well on there. The next Onysia release after Vice EP is an awesome one from Dorian Paic and Felipe Valenzuela with Youandewan on remix duties. Really love that record, and obviously Youandewan is on fire lately.
For Convent (Onysia sister label) we have some real cool stuff in the pipeline there too… The current release is a collaboration with dub reggae pioneer Scientist and roots reggae singer Vaughn Benjamin, with Mike Shannon & Deadbeat on the remix, that pressing should be ready by end of this summer. Interesting one as it’s oriented towards the Roots Reggae market mainly. There’s a VA in the pipeline with some serious heavy hitters, including Audio Werner – that will come this year.
I also have a non dance music project coming together which has been a major focus, more beats and songwriting which has been real refreshing and exciting.
J Gabriel – Vice EP
Scientist vs J Gabriel – Too Far Gone EP
Can you leave our readers with one tip if they are thinking to start a record label?
J. Gabriel: It should be fun and rewarding for you… I think sincerely enjoying the whole journey from conception to A&R to releasing records is most important. And hold yourself to the highest standards, where the music is concerned, obviously – I think that generally involves taking your time, not feeling in a rush with releases. It’s a lot of work and patience to even attempt at getting things right, then you close your eyes and hope for the best haha