Brite Winter Festival is an annual outdoor 1-day festival held in Cleveland’s Ohio City neighborhood. Brite Winter 2015 will be held on February 21, 2015 and boasts over 60 musicians and bands from around Cleveland and other regions who will be playing on nine stages throughout Ohio City and the W. 25th Street area. Over the next five days, Midwest Action will be presenting an artist/band a day who we think you should definitely check out, should you want to brave the elements and rock out to this truly unique music festival.

When it comes to meshing hip hop, rap and electronica together, Johnny La Rock & Furface are no strangers. Both artists have been producing and mixing their individual music projects for years. Formerly members of the Cleveland post-rap group, Preque Vu, La Rock and Furface have again joined forces to mix their separate musical endeavors and create one unique sound. La Rock and Furface will be joined Saturday night with Will Hooper, guitarist for the Cleveland indie rock band Ottawa.

You can catch Johnny La Rock & Furface together live on February 21, 2015 at Townhall from 8:15 p.m. – 8:50 p.m.

1. Describe your music in 5 words.

Johnny La Rock: Super moody Rust Belt beats.

Furface: Rhythmic, Introspective, Layered, Cinematic, Experimental.

2. What artists do you pull from to influence your music? What do you like to sample most?

Johnny La Rock: I listen to a lot of different music. I’m a big nerd about old-school hip-hop, electro, and r&b, though. Mostly ’80s and ’90s stuff. And various types of electronic music too, from all eras. I’d say those genres influence me the most. People like Egyptian Lover, Mantronix, Jimmy Jam & Terry Lewis, Arabian Prince, Babyface, Bomb Squad, Maurice Starr, Michael Jackson, Prince, Phil Collins, Alias, DJ Shadow, Kid Koala, RJD2 – they’ve all inspired my music and how I go about making it. As for sampling, I mostly just use samples to spice up a track. Just vocal snippets maybe, or a sound here or there, or in a scratch. I usually pull from old-school rap or R&B for a lot of that. When it comes to building tracks, I prefer to play or program the parts myself. I like the core of my tracks to be mostly original. I don’t typically build a song from samples.

Furface: I’ve always been influenced by trip hop and southern hip hop as well as dub and psychedelic music. Lately I’ve been really getting into Fela Kuti and music getting put out by Origami Sound. I don’t typically use samples to build my music but I do use samples as percussive elements and texture in my compositions. Sometimes I use something that I find important or sentimental, autobiographical, like dropping breadcrumbs for me to trace back to old memories later. Other times I just sample what’s convenient, something that I stumbled upon while working or the first thing I find that sort of sounds like what was in my head.

3. There are a lot of DJs who perform “live” shows by just pressing a button on their computer. You guys mix and play your music live. What else sets you apart from other DJs in the industry?

Johnny La Rock: I am always weary of using the term “DJ” when describing what I do. I’m a producer first. When I’m doing sets as an artist, I’m not blending other people’s songs together. I scratch vinyl, so many would see that part as being a DJ. But, when I do that, it’s more of a percussive instrument to me. The sets that Furface and I do are more like a band than a DJ, really. All of the parts are broken down and played and manipulated in real time. There’s not a whole lot of automation going on. Whether it’s samples, or bass parts, or key notes, most of that is played live. Plus, we have a guitarist who plays with us. So, we’re no different than a band, except instead of a drummer and bassist, Fur and I are using electronics.

Furface: We approach our sets from the stand point of a live band. We use the storytelling techniques of a good DJ set in ways that a traditional band can’t, while improvising and playing together as percussionists who don’t always make drum sounds. No two performances are ever the same as we’re always seeking new ways to make electronic music more expressive and human.

4. When you’re up playing on stage, it’s a little hard to see the gear that you use to play with. Can you describe your favorite piece, and what it does to contribute to your sound?

Johnny La Rock: My live set up is pretty simple. I have one turntable and a mixer for scratching and then an SP-303 sampler for everything else. The 303 is certainly my favorite piece of equipment. I’ve had it for a long time, and it’s what I first used when getting into beat making. This is where I trigger samples from and play notes on. The effects on it are amazing. I run my turntable through it, which allows me to add cool effects to my scratches, giving them a more interesting sound. I stay away from computers when playing live. I don’t think they are reliable, and I think using hardware is more fun, both for me and the audience. I’m old.

Furface: My Macbook and APC40 are an absolute necessity for me when performing, but my Midi Fighter 3D is the most fun and unique piece of equipment I use. The arcade style buttons are super responsive and the best thing I’ve found for finger drumming. The Midi Fighter can sense which direction you tilt or rotate it offering a really unique way to add expression to your performance even without having velocity sensitivity. Also the lights on it can be triggered via MIDI providing me visual feedback of various parameters in my set.

5.  What can Cleveland expect and look forward to from you at Brite Winter?

Johnny La Rock: Our set is a combination of my solo work and Furface’s solo work. We take the audience on a journey, a continuous flow of music that ebbs and flows in a variety of moods and tempos. It’s chill and moody at times, but then fun and dancey at others. I think people who may not think they are into electronic music would be surprised by us. From the sounds we use, to our approach to playing live, we are not your typical electronic act. There’s something in our music for everyone.

Furface: Live electronic music improvisation, turntablism spectacles, head-bobbing grooves and hypnotic melodies. Plus William Hooper will be joining us on guitar before his set with Ottawa at Great Lakes Brewing Company.

Listen to Johnny La Rock:

Listen to Furface:

If you like what you’ve read and heard, you can listen to more and buy their music on their respective Bandcamp and Soundcloud accounts. 

Don’t forget to check out Johnny La Rock & Furface live together on Saturday, February 21 starting at 8:15 p.m. at Townhall.

Furface | Johnny La Rock