Stone Cold Stunna: Chicago's Drum & Bass Maestro On the Evolution of Music, Travel, and An Exclusive Mix.

"Be yourself. Study the genre you're interested in producing within but it's imperative to give your own voice and sound to keep moving forward. Anything can be a source for inspiration. Whether it be a word, a sound, or simply a feeling, don't be afraid to look beyond Drum & Bass music for your production palette." -Stunna

Chicago's Jay "Stunna" Cappo is a legend. No ifs, ands, or buts about it.

A veteran, Stunna has been around since the early days of the midwest's electronica obsession. He has toured several countries around the globe and has used his intricate knowledge of the Drum & Bass genre to secure him a spot as one of the genre's best producers and DJs working.

No stranger to accolades, he has been recognized by some of DnB’s greatest talents and constantly provides quality tracks and sets for his fans and critics alike. He is a resident DJ for Bassdrive (catch him every Weds) and has showed no signs of slowing down or aging out. He talks to us about the change in culture, the future of the genre, and gives us an exclusive set.

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Prox: The UK seems to have dominated the Drum & Bass scene forever. Have there been any challenges in your career due to being an American DJ/Producer? 

Stunna: There is no question that Drum & Bass has its earliest origins from the shores of the UK, and, for many years, the music's cultural epicenter has had its roots in London, Bristol, Manchester and many other hubs in the UK. I'd say though, in the past decade, the tight knit British Drum & Bass community has effectively embraced many other countries and cultures as technology has advanced its reach to cover a worldwide community.

When I first entered the scene in Chicago, I approached mainly as a producer foremost, and not as a DJ. I guess you could call me a second or third wave member of the Chicago scene, as I didn't immerse myself until the dawn of the new millennium. Seeing as there were not many active producers on my local scene, I networked with artists from other cities, and ultimately, many producers on the other side of the pond. Initially signing a handful of digital releases to Nookie's label, I had a succession of vinyl releases on labels from the UK, Germany and Holland. In the past 20 years or so that I've been producing Drum & Bass, I've never really faced outright challenges as a result of my nationality.

The music itself is big, but the scene itself is relatively small in the whole scheme of things. You find out pretty quickly who the 'good guys' are and who to avoid, haha. I think one's art speaks for itself. If you're making quality music and have a humble head on your shoulders, that can help transcend another's perception of where you live or where you're from.

Prox: What are some key differences in the U.S scene as opposed to the European one?

Stunna: It’s actually been quite a few years since I've done a proper Euro tour, but one thing I did notice overseas was the age of some of the fans at shows. Mainly in the U.S., if they're serving alcohol at clubs, the age is strictly 21 and older. In Europe, there are different laws concerning this, and as a result, you get a much younger audience base and rawer, hungrier energy that seems to be missing at times in the U.S. scene.

Technology has made things very convenient for lovers of the music: one never really has to leave the comfort of their home to enjoy the music these days, with the advent of all these social media platforms that stream live, etc. Sometimes, it feels like as long as you have an internet connection, you can be involved in the scene and connect with like-minded people involved in the scene.  

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Prox: Chicago (or the midwest period) isn’t somewhere I think most people associate with the Drum & Bass movement. Could you detail the evolution of the scene since you’ve been involved and discuss some highs and lows?

Stunna: As mentioned earlier, I actually entered the scene a few years after its initial foundation, so I missed many of the parties and raves of the mid to late 1990s. Chicago was definitely a key hub for both international and budding local DJs to play at nights such as 'Dubshack,' 'The Seminar,' and 'Rotation.'

Chicago has strong roots as the birthplace of House music, and its close proximity to Detroit's thriving Techno scene has helped shape and cultivate many strands and offshoots of electronic music. Drum & Bass no doubt has many influences and source materials, many of them being samples and acappellas from House music. Although there haven't been many events I've seen or played at in Chicago that feature both Drum & Bass and House acts, there's definitely a mutual admiration for each other's sound and community. Again, I think it's the result of a relatively small scene here where just about all the D&B heads know each other and have close relationships with those into other forms of electronic music on a local level.

There definitely was a heyday for Drum & Bass when crews like BassByThePound would throw sell out shows at large venues like The Metro. I think the spillover from the mid-1990s rave scene in Chicago aided the Drum & Bass scene to flourish with a large number of heads that were looking for more club-based nights to attend and were also just crossing the line into legal drinking age. Life stuff happens and a big chunk of those supporters moved on to start families and pursue other musical interests. This sort of left a dry period in the local Drum & Bass scene in the mid 2000s. Many crews have thus stepped in to successfully fill the void and carry the torch into the present day and there has been a healthy stream of local events featuring both upcoming talent and seasoned veterans from Chicago as well as from around the globe.

Prox: It appears that the atmospheric drum & bass popularized in the 90’s is coming back in. What are some sounds and elements of previous eras that you’d like to see return?

Stunna: This reminds me of the age-old phrase "there's no good music any more" and my knee jerk response: "you just have to know where to look." Yes, there was a renaissance in the early to mid 1990s of atmospheric D&B, but there are a number of artists that have never stopped making beats in that vein, and they've also taken new producers under their wings to teach them their craft.

The beauty of Drum & Bass is that it borrows facets from many different musical genres, cultures and eras. Producers that I'm drawn to tend to be ones that have a strong vocabulary of different styles of music and influences. If you study the craft of, say, early Jungle production and its use of reggae samples and breakbeats, you'll realize that in the search for the perfect sample for your new production, you're likely to stumble upon a wealth of various artists' discographies. One thing that's piqued my interest in the past few years, is how the local Chicago Juke and Footwork scene has, intentionally or not, crossed many musical paths with early Jungle tracks. The most striking similarity is the tempo range.

160bpm is the standard for Juke/Footwork tracks and early Jungle/prototype Drum & Bass tracks share a similar tempo. As the interest in Juke/Footwork has expanded into the D&B scene worldwide, many producers have gone back to their roots and experimented with a crossbreed of D&B and Juke/Footwork and have in turn forged an exciting new hybrid music that bleeds future yet gives a large nod to the past. Being a bit more of a producer that incorporates live instrumentation into productions, it's always great to hear new producers unafraid to dabble in live performance on their tracks. It's not technically an 'era' by any shape or form, but it's always a treat to listen to music made from the heart and soul of a true performing musician as he/she integrates instrumentation amongst a world of samples.

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Prox: Where do you see things heading in the next decade for the genre?

Stunna: Having so many talented producers on the scene right now only aids in my belief that the genre will continue to grow and make great strides. Yes, there are still larger, established labels that continue to push the music, yet this is also the age where one can start a label and eventually see if flourish if the product and promotion are positively cultivated. Advances in technology have made it easy and affordable to pursue one's creative goals, yet has undoubtedly blurred the lines at times of knowing who actually knows the basic skills of a DJ. 

Self promotion seems to be an integral element of the modern producer and DJ, yet I find that some of the most talented artists are ones that let their art speak for themselves, even at the risk of reaching a larger audience in many cases. I'm not sure exactly what will become of the scene and community in the next ten years, but am hopeful that quality music will continue to be produced and unveiled.

Prox: Could you give us some tips for aspiring musicians?

Stunna: Be yourself. Study the genre you're interested in producing within but it's imperative to give your own voice and sound to keep moving forward. Anything can be a source for inspiration.  Whether it be a word, a sound, or simply a feeling, don't be afraid to look beyond Drum & Bass music for your production palette. Hone your craft. Practice doesn't always make perfect, but spending time focussing on one's craft can lead to some great things and fun times ahead.

Prox: Please tell us something that influences your work that we may not know.

Stunna: I listen to a lot of obscure 1960s and 1970s movie soundtracks and scores, but maybe some people already know that ;)

Prox: Who are some of your favorite artists, creatives, or intellectuals?

Stunna: I’ve answered this question previously a few years ago, and there are many to mention, but I always come back to Herbie Hancock and King Tubby.

Prox: Anymore information on other upcoming projects and releases?

Stunna: Lots of new original tracks, collaborations and remixes in the pipeline.  Keep an eye on my social media pages and, of course, make sure to tune into my weekly show The Greenroom which airs Wednesdays on Bassdrive Radio.

Prox: Final Thoughts?

Stunna: Big shouts to all my producer friends, DJs and supporters over the years, and thank you for the interview!

Don't miss Stunna on Beatport, Facebook, Soundcloud, and Twitter.

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