Justin Boland is one of the finest DJs in San Francisco. With an old-school approach to a finely focused musical style, the DJ/producer known as J-Boogie has banged his funky beats on the radio, in clubs and in the studio.
On the radio, his contributions to the “Beatsauce” show on KUSF help keep it a Bay Area fave among underground hip-hop heads. In the DJ booth, he effortlessly unites house, dub and hip-hop during Serato-powered sets. In the studio, this approach is transformed into J-Boogie’s Dubtronic Science project.
And while Dubtronic Science sounds like the guy might be some high-tech studio rat, in reality, the “dubtronic sound” is nothing more than one man’s love of Radio Shack reverbs, cheap guitar pedals, analog delays, and effects on the turntables and keys. “The roots, trunk, and branches” of his sound, as he calls it, is represented by the decidedly un-futuristic trio of Akai’s MPC, Digidesign’s Pro Tools, and Boss RE-20 Space Echo delay. Even then, he describes his Pro Tools version as “old-school Pro Tools TDM.”
For J-Boogie, the production process begins with old-fashioned vinyl-crate digging, as he searches for fresh drum breaks to sample. Whether he’s working in his Fun Machine studio or dropping beats from the DJ booth, he has established certain criteria that help define his musical choices.
“Good beats and basslines are first—from electro to dub, hip hop, and house,” he says. “[It’s] gotta have some bump. Then check the vibe of the track. How does it make you feel? Will it get you on the dancefloor?”
Of course, the strength of all good tracks created from dusty old records is rooted in the quality of the original source material. From his years of working as a club and radio DJ, J-Boogie has developed adventurous tastes and he uses them to carve out the juiciest elements from classic ’70s and ’80s dub sounds, old boogie breaks, and his current weakness—’80s synth funk. “Think leopard prints and shoulder pads on ‘Soul Train’ episodes,” he jokes.
Once he has his samples lined up, he works with his MPC and a plethora of live percussion to add the necessary dancefloor bump. He then layers in his “dubtronic sound,” comprised mainly of budget electronics and another J-Boogie signature—vintage keys like the Rhodes, Wurly (Wurlitzer), or Sequential Circuits Pro-One—to give the finishing touches. It’s been an effective approach for J-Boogie, who has produced two full-length albums and a mix-CD for hometown label OM Records.
But just like a bluesman in search of a good band, J-Boogie says that one of the most crucial tools at his disposal is a “phonebook full of quality musicians.” In playing and recording with a six-piece band, J-Boogie says the experience of working with so many different players also helps expand his production skills and, crucially, his musical knowledge.
When all of the elements from J-Boogie’s “tree” are finally brought together—for instance, on “Inferno” from his latest album Soul Vibration (Om)—the results are far from a retreaded mish-mosh of instrumentation, turntables, and lo-tech electronics. The track is based on a swinging kick drum and bumpin’ bassline that pay homage to the vibrant and deep disco roots of San Francisco. And over that funky foundation, Oakland rappers Lunar Heights drop some proper flow.
The irresistible “Inferno” exemplifies J-Boogie’s “dubtronic” approach—simple maybe, but with a crafty DJ at the helm, always effective.
– Sean-Michael Yoder