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Golden Era of House Music: An Interview with DJ Robert Owens

Aug 17, 2017

Robert Owens is nothing short of a legend in house music’s golden era, formulated in 1980s nightclubs of Chicago— the Windy city of America. If you consider yourself a fan of house music or a melomaniac by any means, we think you'll enjoy this interview. You can catch Owens at Audio Files— a three part music festival catered to diehard music fans, top-tier musicians, producers, and artists to share their passion for music and sound. Expect to listen to jazz, soul, blues, funk, house and other genres at the event.

You’re a legend in the House scene, how have you seen it change over the past few years, and where do you think it’s going?  

I’ve never been someone who follows the trend of movements. I’ve always stayed in my own little lane. When possible I go to clubs to check out what other people are playing. I talk to people to try and understand their emotions and place some of those feelings in my set. From the past, and in the present, this has always been my view on what can move house music forward.

Being a part of the golden era of late 80’s Chicago House music, describe what it was like for those who weren’t there to experience it.

Back in the 80’s one word breaks things down – family. That’s what it was all about. People unified together, loving one another and the club environment. You were removed from any problems you faced in your daily life. The clubs were a home away from home and so many places where I travel to today, I can still feel that same energy - it’s very strong in the Berlin clubs.

What are you most looking forward in Hong Kong? 

This trip will be a short one, it’s part ‘Audio Files’, an audio initiative from JIA Group and KEF. It’s based in Duddell’s, which is a location where the arts and hospitality collide. Downstairs is a two Michelin starred restaurant and we play upstairs. That’s cool.

Do you know of any DJs in Asia doing interesting things with their music? 

 I don’t keep up with what other DJs are doing, I don’t have time! I live almost on the road, forever traveling. Johnny Hiller (Potato Head Hong Kong) is playing the night I am, he was one of the curators of the series – I’m keen to see what he is doing.

What’s your creative process like, how does an idea become a song?

My creative process doesn’t have a set way. Whether working alone or with others, my main thought is ‘just do it’ and let it come naturally. Maybe because I’ve been doing it for so long it’s easy? I go into a studio and write an idea within an hour – it either works or it doesn’t. You can’t be too hard on yourself – if it’s not right today, maybe it will be tomorrow.

Growing up, what types of artists and genres did you listen to, and how did it lead you to House?

Lots of 70’s, 80’s R&B, some disco and many Motown artists. I first learned about disco and house music at Chicago clubs like the Den One and Ware House club. Then I would go into record shops and check the music out by myself.

Die hard traditionalists of Chicago House music seem to dislike what electronic music has become, they say it has lost its soulful nature. What do you think of the subgenres that grew from house music? (e.g progressive house, future house, electro house, trance, deep house)

At one time some people didn’t like house music! I’m all for people opening up new doors – there is room in this world for all to create music and a life that makes them happy.

You’re coming over to perform at the new ‘The Audio Files’ showcase at Duddells, can you tell us a bit more about it? What attracted you to it? 

It’s a music festival delivered in three parts. It’s been well thought out to cater to those who have a deep passion for the artistic integrity of music and understand the importance of sound. I’m going to give it so much love.

We’ve heard you’re working with KEF- how important is your choice of sound system to your music? 

Very important. Having a great sound system is as crucial as having a great microphone.  You hear things clearly, and the whole music experience becomes so much more beautiful.

What can people look forward to from your set? 

Lots of love.

Can you name a favourite track made by another producer? What about it do you love? 

Sorry, no! I go through hundred of tracks every week.

What about a favourite track of your own? Why is it your favourite?

No one favourite, every track is a beautiful moment in time.

Owens will be at Audio Files #2, August 26th, tickets can be found at Ticketflap. Audio Files #1 and #3 will be open to the public.

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Philson Choi