Devon James‘ range is influenced by an array of life experiences that have maneuvered his life. Musically, he focuses on experimental styles that are evocative and always focused on excitement. His end goal is to create music that is deeply rooted in staying unique and pushing creative boundaries.
As co-founder of the label, RVDIOVCTIVE Records, his philosophy on uniqueness and experimentation still doesn’t waver. RVDIOVCTIVE focuses on philosophy, community, and collaboration; welcoming artists to break traditional sounds and value vulnerability over hype. Influenced by the now-classic sounds of house and techno that came out of Chicago and Detroit, RVDIOVCTIVE Records seeks to expand upon the groundbreaking work done by so many creatives who came before – and to champion new, exciting sounds that have yet to hit the scene. Devon talks to 6AM about his new record label that is always pushing creative boundaries.
Hi Devon, we’re glad to have you on. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what you’ve been up to to stay busy during the pandemic.
Thanks so much for having me! For the last few years, I have been playing 50+ shows a year, spending a majority of my time on the road. When the pandemic started I tried doing the streaming stuff for a while and that was fun for a bit but felt really ego-driven and disconnected. A month or so in, I got involved with a virtual festival that was going to take place in Minecraft. I spent about 3 months of my life helping to put together this project with nearly 1000 artists that ultimately failed. It was a really draining experience physically and emotionally and I encountered a lot of toxicity on the internet.
After that, I had to take a step back from being online so much and moved up to Maine to spend time reconnecting with myself. I stayed in a little cabin on a lake and went hiking a bunch. I had actually started working on my debut artist album a few months prior too but put it on pause while I was working on that virtual festival.
In Maine, I had a little studio set up so I could work on music while I was there too, and got back into album mode. When I got back from Maine I got a new dog, Lily. I did a cross-country trip with a few of my friends and partners in RVDIOVCTIVE. We stayed in Joshua Tree, making music, cooking, hiking and just hanging out for a month. We then drove back across the country, camping and visiting national parks along the way. It was really nice to take a step back from the grueling tasks of trying to make it in the music industry.
By the time shows started coming back for me in May I had been re-inspired and refocused. It was really difficult at times, I definitely got the most depressed I’ve ever been in my life. But going through all of this definitely made me a better person in the end. I have grown in a lot of ways that I don’t know I would have done otherwise.
Music has run through your veins for many years. What about music helps you stay inspired and motivated?
It’s hard to say what really motivates me other than the fact that music is an extension of myself and it’s how I express myself. It’s just what I do and how I am able to communicate best with the world. But I think one of the most important guiding principles for me is something my mom told me when I was a kid. She always used to tell me that I should never try to fit in and change myself to make others like me or look more cool. She told me I would stick out more if I just did what I thought was cool and that others would follow.
To this day, I don’t try to follow trends or capitalize on a popular sound. I just make and play the stuff that I like and that resonates with me. I find great joy in trying to be different and go against the grain. Not in a snobby or pretentious way, I just want to offer something a little bit different than what you might expect. Like if a DJ plays a song that I might have in a playlist, I feel a sigh of relief cause I’m like cool there’s so many other great tracks that I want to play, that person just opened more possibilities for me.
“I just make and play the stuff that I like and that resonates with me. I find great joy in trying to be different and go against the grain.”
Embracing his individuality plays a big role in Devon’s creativtity.
I think this kind of ethos has made it really simple for me to just stay focused and motivated and not get too drained out trying to compete with what everyone else is doing. I think you find your lane and you just did it at such a high level for a long time that people are bound to catch on and follow you on the journey
Speaking of music, your track, ‘No Boyfriend’ was filled with many experimental tones. What was the process like making the track? What sparked the idea?
When I was in college I had a duo project called Chemicals of Creation. We were into fidget house, electro, and other experimental, underground stuff like moombahton and Baltimore club. Our biggest claim to fame was probably that we beat Drew Taggart (pre-Chainsmokers) in a DJ competition where we had maybe 1 person in the crowd who knew us. It was a Steve Aoki show filled with a bunch of frat bros but we won them over.
I discovered the vocal through my partner in that project, John Kunz. He would play the acapella in our sets and we always wanted to use it in our own original track. I was actually in a session with Gettoblaster not too long ago and decided to pull it into something we were working on. It wasn’t quite fitting with what we were doing there so I decided to scrap most of it and start over. I knew I wanted some big chunky drums so that’s where I started. Then I added a super subby bassline so you could really feel the low-end. Some of the more experimental tones and metallic sounds come from Arturia’s VST of the Buchla Easel. I resampled a bunch of the stuff I recorded out of that and added some different processing to make it weird and quirky.
As a DJ, what drew you into the experimental genre of techno? Do you have any artist influences that contributed to you creating experimental techno?
Well, I don’t really think I’d classify my sound as techno at all but I’m definitely inspired by it and see traces of it in my music. I don’t really limit myself to a certain sound. I love cooking and making the same dish everyday sounds like the absolute worst. I take the same approach to music. I think that’s just how I am naturally but one artist that has had a huge effect on this outlook is Felix Da Housecat.
“I don’t really limit myself to a certain sound. I love cooking and making the same dish every day sounds like the absolute worst. I take the same approach to music.”
Devon’s approach to creating music is following a limitless mindset.
I have been working with Felix since 2011 and I’ve watched him weave between house, techno, disco, indie, and electro flawlessly. I also fell in love with Detroit a few years ago. I think it’s the more soulful and experimental sounds that were born out of that city that has certainly inspired me over the years. Guys like Moodymann, Mike Huckabee, Carl Craig, and Stacey Pullen have had a big influence on my sound and philosophy of music. I think it’s about the journey you take people on, I think that’s all it really comes down to for me. Some other artists/groups that have been extremely influential on my sound are LCD Soundsystem, Totally Enormous Extinct Dinosaurs, Frankie Knuckles, Soul Clap, Justice, Radiohead, Bob Marley, Pink Floyd, and Prince.
Since experimental is your style, what feelings or emotions do you seek to inspire with your music?
On the dance floor, I just want people to feel comfortable and able to be themselves fully. I think creating a safe space that allows people to let loose and release their inhibitions is at the core of what I am trying to achieve. I think that dancing is a very intimate and expressive gesture and for that reason, I think all of my music has these sexual undertones to it as well. I want people to feel sexy and proud to be who they are.
“I think creating a safe space that allows people to let loose and release their inhibitions is at the core of what I am trying to achieve.”
Music is better enjoyed when its experienced in a safe space.
For goals, How are you defining them in your artist journey?
I like to make lists with labels that I want to release on. Someone once told me that if you want something you should hang a poster of it on your way or keep something in your sight that reminds you of that thing as much as possible. I keep my computer desktop pretty clean except for the notes with these labels and other “to do” items that define my goals.
But really I think the ultimate success is just being myself and having people resonate with who I am. I think at the end of the day most people just want to be understood and seen for who they are. I think that helping other people. and artists get to this point is a big part of my journey and why we even started the label. We want to build a community and a scene that is based on support and understanding and not exclusivity and competition.
“I think that helping other people. and artists get to this point is a big part of my journey and why we even started the label. We want to build a community and a scene that is based on support and understanding and not exclusivity and competition.”
Experiencing the techno music with others helps build the techno community.
Anything else you’d like to share as far as new music or other projects on the horizon?
Well, I mentioned early that I started my album during the pandemic and that was a huge accomplishment that I have been wanting to do for years. I am trying to decide what to do with it — whether I want to release it through a bigger label or just put it out on my own through RVDIOVCITVE.
I’ve got a collaboration EP with Gettoblaster coming out on Doorly’s label in the next few months. Also finishing up a few more collabs that I am trying to finish up. As far as our label goes – we have 3 more compilations planned for this year – one in June, September and December. After our first year, we will start releasing singles and EPs, but will definitely still do at least one compilation a year so we can highlight the community of people we’ve been working with.
RVDIOVCTIVE also has a lot on the horizon as far as events too – especially our Summer Boat Party series we do with our friends at SOUP NYC. We’ve booked a bunch of amazing artists this year and these parties are some of the most amazing events we do. Sailing around NYC on a floating club is the ultimate vibe. Lots of other exciting stuff in the works that you’re just gonna have to follow and stay tuned for.
Thanks so much for the chat!!