Welcome to Carhartt WIP radio and the world of London-based Apron Records. Founded at the end of 2011 by London DJ and producer Steven Julien, previously known as Funkineven, Apron's releases reflect his passion for individual takes on house, disco, experimental, acid and electronic. Formerly a hip-hop dancer and a rapper, Julian eventually found his true calling in production. He initially made a name for himself with releases on Eglo records, before launching his own label and the eponymous Apron EP. The label has gone on to release music from the likes of Greg Beato, Seven Davis Jr., Max Graef, Lord Tusk & Brassfoot, Shanti Celeste, John T Gast, Hanna, Delroy Edwards and more. For Carhartt WIP Radio, the London boy put together a mix with old material and soon to be released Apron stuff from new artists like AshTreJinkins, and Dreams from Los Angeles, and mysterious producer Molinaro. To gain some deeper insight into the musical world and work of Steven Julien, aka Funkineven, we met up with the in-demand producer on a rainy summer’s day in London to talk about his formative years in music, his first steps as a producer and the story behind his thrilling record company. Enjoy.
Hello Steven, you have gone by the name FunkinEven for a while, but recently, on your album Fallen you appear under your birth name, Steven Julien. Can you tell us a bit about the change of name?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: From that album on, all my work will be published as Steven Julien. I am tired of the word FunkinEven. When you hear the name it gives people an idea of what they can expect and this has completely nothing to do with what they will hear. Also it has the word funk in it that leads to wrong expectations.
But your music includes funk influences along with many other genres like house, disco, experimental, acid and electronic. How come you have so many stylistic influences?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: I am not bound to a style. Growing up, I had different genre passions through different periods. The first genre is hip-hop, reggae, raga, Caribbean music, Jamaican music – because that was what my family was listening to. My uncle is really heavy into hip-hop and I saw the coolness, the dancing, the style, the beats – everything. As a child I was mesmerized looking at that, so I became a hip-hop dancer in school. We had a dancing group and joined competitions at the end of the year. Then we formed a hip-hop group where we all rapped. But I was a shit rapper.
Did you ever release something?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: No, we just did it for ourselves. Because I wasn’t a very good rapper I positioned myself as a producer. I was heavy into production and sound and wanted to find out how they did all this with sampling and so on. So I tried production and the rest is history. I just fell in love with producing and started to make beats for the group. And then I start to get into weird electronic stuff because I had drum machines and keyboards. I just recorded stuff on a cassette tape. It was just weird stuff from hip-hop to broken beat and electro.
Was that in the 90s? Who influenced your music back then?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Yes, it was in the 90s, I was a teenager back then. And the people who I had been around influenced me. Different members of my family have been into different things. My mom was into one thing, my stepdad was into another thing and my uncle was into another. They also had sound systems and did parties at warehouses. Even my mum did parties at home where they bring the sound system to the house. So there was no way of avoiding it. And all these sounds influence what I am today. And then like due to many house parties DJs would forget their records and leave them at my mom’s house. They’d pile up and pile up, and my mom just took some and gave them to me. From her I inherited all different kinds of records, like Johnny Hammond's album Gears and such stuff. And then you find out: That’s the sample that this hip-hop producer used and blah blah blah. It helped me a lot you know.
So you learned a lot of music history accidentally?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: It was on the plate you know.
How did you end up launching a label at the end of 2011/beginning of 2012?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: I was with Eglo Records at that time. I had been making music for years but I did not feel confident enough to give it to somebody until I played it at Plastic People in East London. I played one of my songs and everyone went crazy. At that time Floating Points and Alex Nut had just launched Eglo. Sam (Floating Points) really believed in my music – but when he saw the reaction of the crowd he was convinced. So I did my first releases with Eglo, then I did some Disco edits and I asked Alex if he could release them on a white label label. He said: “Hmm, it’s with samples and I think we should stay away from that with Eglo. But why don’t you do it?” I was like: Okay. My friend Kyle Hall from Detroit who runs the label Wild Oats gave me some advice like contacting Rubadub distribution, using this pressing plant and some other insights. So I thought, ‘this could be easier than I thought’. And then I thought: If I’m releasing my first record, it should not be an edit recor,d it should be original material and I want to release it properly. And that was the first record, which is called The Apron EP. That went okay.
How did the name Apron come up?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Oh that’s a joke between Kyle Hall and me. I can’t tell the joke as it could be offensive but let’s say it means every chef, every factory needs an apron. Once you’ve made something you need an apron.
Why you did not release the disco edits first?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Because I wanted to show me, what I am doing. Also in the beginning people were confused. They pigeonholed me as an Eglo member – I was a bit strange, so I did my own thing, but I am not away from Eglo. We still work together. It was always fun with them and exiting. The disco release was then the second Apron release and it is still the fastest selling record I released so far. It fits to the time, it was an edit and I think the packaging was also a reason for its fast sell out. It was a hand-numbered edition of 250 vinyls pressed on marbled white wax, housed in candy-stripe paper bag with a free gold sticker. It looks like candy. On Discogs it got quite expensive, so I did represses.
Who was the first artist, after yourself, who you thought I need them for Apron?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: I think it was Delroy Edwards and I. Aha no it was Greg Beato, a Miami producer who was around nineteen at that time. I would do my NTS mixes and I saw this guy Greg Beato commenting on certain things. He had a profile picture that caught my attention so I thought I would check his stuff out and it just blew me away. So I contacted him and asked if he would like to do an Apron release and well he was: Hell yeah I love you guys. He kind of blew up. I’ve done four releases by him and every release sold better. That also helped Apron to take off.
A nice way of doing A&R. Any new stuff that comes out soon and that has a similar story behind it?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: No, not really. Coming up is an Apron L.A. series – two artists from LA, one called AshTreJinkins and one called Dreams. They will do an EP each.
How do meet these guys? While djing around the globe?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Not really. It happens to me very naturally. It often falls into my lap when I am not really looking. It’s all very organic – most of the artists I feature have the same passion that I have, so we have a lot in common.
Could you point out an Apron release that was the biggest hit so far?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: They are all hits. But if you mean a hit in terms of sales, then it’s Greg Beato like I said before. Then Seven Davis Jr., Max Graef and we just released one with Hanna, which has been going well. Hanna, aka Warren Harris, is a legend and I put him next to Larry Heard. He is like the Larry Heard that no one knows about. He is also a massive influence on what I do because his first album Severance was like a blueprint to me. If you listen to that album now, it is so Apron!
Are there other albums that are as important to you?
You are also a DJ. How does a good party and its energy get reflected in your music?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Everything is an inspiration to me. While I’m making a track I think a lot of how it could work with a crowd. Or I think what happened to a crowd during the last party I played and try to bring this energy into my music. When I am in a crowd or when I am playing I always pick up things that I later bring to the studio. It is an inspirational rotation.
How do you work in the studio: analogue or digital?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Analogue. Not exclusively but 98%, because of the warmness of it. The fatness of the sound. The frequencies. For my next album/EP I’m very happy with the sonics compared to my last project.
But you are not a trained musician?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: No, everything came just like that step-by-step. Records, an 808, then going deeper, going on Youtube checking video tutorials. Also trial and error is important. You need errors to grow. I like happy mistakes, and if they are good I keep them. You need to take risks you know. Also when I DJ I am sometimes bored because after a while you have a certain way of playing records. Then I think, ‘fuck it’ and as soon as you do, a new fresh spirit comes and the crowd goes wild.
Do you also want to play your music live in the future?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: I definitely want to take it all into a live element. But I need to get it right. I want musicians to be involved. I don’t want to hang out in front of my computer and look like I am just reading E-Mails. It has to be visually strong.
You also run a monthly NTS show. Does this show influence you as an artist too?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: As I said, it’s a constant circle. Sometimes also just driving in my car inspires me. That is the main reason why I have a car. I love to drive around in summer when the sun is going down listening to what I just made in the lab to see if it fits the vibe, whether the weather’s pretty or ugly.
Is this also the reason why you feature a car in the video to your track Fallen?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Yes that is the main reason. It is inspirational to me to drive.
Do you listen to your newest stuff in the car too?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Sure, I just did when driving to our interview. I listen to final mixes, drive around and see how they move me.
You are also very often on the road right?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: The last three years been crazy touring. I can cope with it, but there was a moment last year when my body collapsed and I needed to rest. I blacked out on the plane and they had to put me into business class – which was nice though. Traveling too much can take over your whole body. It is not good. It is amazing to travel and have success. And it still feels like the beginning to me.
Did you ever thought about calming it all down and doing a permanent DJ residency here in London?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Yes, an Apron night would be great. Something that 100% represents what I like. But so far I’ve had no time to plan this.
Do you think your music would be different if you had grown up in Brighton for instance?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Well I would say my race and my culture is a massive influence on who I am and what I do. Places like Berlin would not be right for me. Is there a black community? Is there a place where I can find Caribbean food, music and so on? That is very important to me. And not only black communities, also Asian, Indian culture. My family comes from Grenada, Jamaica, Trinidad. And there is more... My mom for instance always wanted to put me in the best cloth. And this is till today a big influence on me. We did not have a lot of money, but we made ourselves look presentable – and that is still important.
And is there something that you always wanted to explain about your label Apron?
FunkinEven aka Steven Julien: Oh – Apron is one of those things where the aesthetics, the sonics, the sound, the movement all speak for itself. Everything comes together right, in my opinion. And this happens without pressure. The ball is rolling. It is just energy. What I give out it comes back. Also for everything I do, friends are very important – Femi from NTS is one of my best friends and when he started NTS some people said: Really? And a lot of those people who said that now have a show on NTS and have left places like RINSE.fm. A lot of people doubted what he wanted to do. Not me. We started together at the same time, we had a vision and we made it real. And we grew together. It is great to do such things with friends, 98–100% are all passionate about music or art. It is nice to run a label in such an environment.