Change is one of the few guarantees we have in life. In the stark and expansive desert regions of the southern United States, geographical changes have reshaped the region over millions of years while cultural and societal changes occur more rapidly. In the electronic music scene of Phoenix, Arizona, there has been drastic change over the past two decades. What started in the warehouses moved to the clubs and from the clubs to the festival stages. Juheun has continually navigated this ever-evolving scene, and seemingly always with his finger on the pulse. As people's taste in music develops, some artists come and go with the passing of time, unable to find a way to stay current in the ever rapidly changing global music scene. More than simply keeping himself relevant, Juheun developed a formula to thrive. Whether it was sound, style or medium, Juhuen was constantly reinventing himself and remained a constant on the music landscape without having to compromise.
For over twenty years, Juheun has left his mark on the industry in his home of Phoenix, but in the past decade, he's also turned his eyes globally. International appearances in Egypt and Kuwait, as well as a cover feature in Mixmag Brazil highlight the world vision. From humble beginnings throwing his own warehouse parties and running weekly radio, to holding down residencies at Phoenix most adorned nightlife institutions and warming up the room for A-list international headliners, to sharpening his production skills to a flurry of releases, Juheun has always managed to be one step ahead of the curve. His dynamic and expansive sound can be attributed to a balance between his analogue collection and his affinity for the newest electronics and technology. His inspiration spectrum is diverse, inclusive of fashion, film, science fiction and innovation. All of which combine to shape his approach to expression. In today's event landscape where DJs come and go faster than the seasons change, Juheun has built a career upon hard work, determination and evolution. His modern approach borrows from the past to reinvent the future, where he continually impresses the next generation of modern music aficionados.
The Phoenix music scene isn't as globally recognized as those of LA, Chicago, Miami or NYC. Tell us about coming up in the Phoenix and Arizona nightlife scene?
Arizona has consistently been bringing in some of the biggest names in the industry, and you can always see Phoenix listed on pretty much every tour schedule across all electronic dance music genres, yet we’ve always kinda flown under the radar. It’s interesting to think that we rank in the top five largest populated cities in America but are often overlooked compared to the coastal scenes.
When I first moved out to Arizona in the early 2000s the underground rave scene was massive. It wasn’t abnormal to see parties pulling in upwards of 5,000 -10,000 kids every weekend even when there were multiple events. Most of the clubs and bars were playing top 40, rock, pop, and hip hop. Dance music in general in America wasn’t as big as it is now. I remember thinking, “I wish people would love this music as much as I do”.
After a few cold winters in Chicago diving into the culture of house music, I decided to go back west and settled on Arizona through a job opportunity. At the time most of the scene was drum and bass, trance, and happy hardcore. I was playing house and electro and there wasn’t much of a scene for that yet so I started organizing my own raves and there’s no shortage of crazy stories from those parties.
My parties created some buzz and this led to weekly residencies and promoting club nights when I came of age. Through the club circuit, I started to meet the local industry legends like Jas Tynan, Senbad and Pete Salaz who were holding down the deep house club scene at the time.
Are there any local hero's or venues that helped to shape your trajectory or direction?
I have so many names I could drop, but I’ll try to narrow it down. I met a rave promoter named Michael Zak, who gave me my first opportunity. He taught me the ropes and was the main reason I started throwing my own underground parties. We’re good friends to this day and I can’t forget how much he changed my life.
My first club residency was at Freedom in Phoenix. It was the only spot in town that was consistently bringing in International talent. I cut my teeth playing alongside almost everyone who came to town, learning the art of the opening DJ which is a very crucial skill. Freedom set the tone for what was to come.
The scene started to become consistent thanks in part to Thomas Turner, owner and operator of Relentless Beats/RBDeep. He’s always booked artists for passion vs profit and his dedication has been admirable. We went from small bars to clubs, to throwing the biggest events Arizona has ever seen. The scene here wouldn’t be where it is without Thomas.
What would you cite as the biggest challenge you've faced creating a career for yourself based out of Phoenix?
I focused a little too much on the local scene when I should have been setting my sites more globally. Part of that is due to my neglect of producing in favour of DJing. I spent years just honing my skills until I had the chance to open for the legendary DJ Bad Boy Bill at Freedom. I used to be a staple in the front row at his shows when I lived in Chicago. While we were in the green room I asked for the OG’s advice on how to build my name and he told me I needed to start producing music and signing records.
And if you could change one thing about the scene in Phoenix, what would it be?
Oh man, this is a loaded question lol.
There’s a generational gap between back then and now. EDM and bass music are at their peak, and Relentless Beats has had the scene on steroids. The newcomers are still excited for the festival scene, which has left the club scene a bit inconsistent when it comes to underground stuff. We are still getting out of this new wave's infancy and only time will tell what’s to come. It’s like we reset the clock and it’s gonna take more time before things pop off in techno and underground again.
You're chaperoning us for a night out in Phoenix: dinner, drinks, dancing, activities, raves etc. Where are we going?
If you're a foodie like me, Phoenix has some amazing options ranging from your typical Mexican spots to high end Asian inspired cuisine like Nobu or Mastro's City Hall for a steak. I can swing either way, but we would deff keep it within these realms. So either tacos at La Santisima, a hot bowl of Pho at Pho 32 or possibly Ramen Dozo for hearty noodles.
After dinner, we’re hitting my favourite rooftop “Bar Smith” for a drink where my homies Senbad and Pete Salaz hold it down every Saturday. Once we catch a buzz, it's off to Sunbar or Shady Park to finish the night off at either a Circuit or RBDeep event.
And after a big night out, what is your go-to brunch spot in the city and what should we order?
Nothing beats a hot bowl of Kimchi Jigae (Kimchi Stew) and Galbi (Korean BBQ Ribs) at Hodori, hands down my favourite Korean joint in town. Great for hangovers, but also great If you're into Korean food in general. Their entire menu is off the chain!
How did you feel when your mother let the secret slip that your dad had previously worked as a DJ in South Korea? Have you ever talked to your dad about this?
Well, at first I was shocked, then kinda upset but not really if that makes sense. Seriously, how could I be mad at that?
I had called my Mom to let her know about an upcoming gig in Egypt. I think before that, she probably thought DJing was just my hobby as I’d never explained how deep I was getting into the whole DJing/promoting world. She had so many questions about the gig, who’s paying you, are they flying you out, where are you staying etc. Towards the end of that call, she finally let the cat out of the bag that my father was a DJ back in South Korea before I was born! I even remember sifting through my dad's record collection when I was younger, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, The Rolling Stones, he had all the good records. It's turned into a family joke now and I often ask my Dad about it when I get the chance.
What's the earliest memory you have where you felt connected to music?
One of the first concerts that my Dad took me to. The Rolling Stones, myself, and my father all connected on another level that night… it was fucking epic.
The life and times of being a DJ are often revered by fans. Artists are often viewed as international jet setters playing gigs in front of audiences across the globe. With that in mind, name a career highlight for you to date?
My very first overseas gigs in Egypt and Kuwait in 2009 have to be the most memorable by far for many more reasons than just the gig itself.
Have you had any career-low points that made you question if this was the right path?
This is a weekly if not daily question I ask myself. As artists, we’re always questioning everything, whether it’s our music, profile, branding, gigs, mixes, etc. This has been amplified with the pandemic, digital music sales, live shows etc.. sometimes it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel. It seems like every week is questionable these days.
It may be cliche but I feel if I’m not questioning, then I’m not pushing hard enough. I don’t know if I will ever feel like “I made it”. The bar has been set so high that no matter what you achieve, it’s almost like what’s next? Even after all this time, every day I wake up feeling like it’s my first day and that I need to push and work even harder than the day before. The best thing I’ve found to do for myself in these moments is to think back on all the amazing times and relationships and experiences I’ve had to this point. I could honestly say that If I quit now I would be more than content with everything I’ve achieved and accomplished so far in my career.
You've got quite a history of switching up your performances from playing vinyl, using hardware or going fully digital. What drives the decision making when choosing a medium to perform your music to your fan base?
I used to try and keep things completely separate. So I would play vinyl or I would play digitally with CDJs or I’d go full live with my laptop, Ableton and some midi gear. I felt like it was important to keep things separate so people could really get into the vibe and feeling of the medium I chose. Playing vinyl is a completely different feeling and vibe from playing digital, and same with the live setup. I get the chance from time to time to choose what I want to play on, but normally I leave it up to the promoter's request.
Vinyl or digital, and what mixer are you using?
Lately, I’ve been using a hybrid between vinyl and digital with the CDJ3000s. During the whole lockdown time, I did a lot of online streaming on Twitch from home where my vinyl collection is. It was nice to be able to just turn around and grab a vinyl off the shelf and drop it into a set. I started to incorporate this more recently at my gigs and request a turntable with my CDJs. I always like to carry some vinyl, including classic wax exclusives that have been in my crate for decades. But as much as I love playing vinyl, it’s been getting harder and harder to do since most DJ booths are no longer designed for it. You always end up running into issues trying to play vinyl. So having the reliability of CDJs in the booth and a single turntable to throw on the occasional banger on 12” is perfect.
I’m heavy on the Pioneer-V10 mixer. I’m still getting used to it, the V10 has a completely different feel, it’s a beast! You can feel a big difference from the DJM900, it’s almost like a hybrid Pioneer x Xone. I love the fact that it has 2 additional channels, an isolator section, and the send/return feature for the FX is nothing but clutch!
We've heard that you have an affliction with fashion. What labels do you seek out for your drip?
My closet consists of mostly Rick and some Julius pieces, scattered with some random streetwear brands like Bape, BBC, and Supreme. As far as jeans and such, I rock a pair of Rick Owens drop-crotch sweats and depending on the night I'll bust out a pair of Naked and Famous jeans, Rick Owens or Blue in Green Japanese denim.
When it comes to kicks, my weekly rotation consists of Adidas Yeezys, Jordans, Rick Owens boots, or my new favourite Converse X Rick Owens collab high tops.
You're closing Exit festival at Sunrise, head to toe — what are you wearing?
Sunglasses by Vava Eyewear, Rick Owens Jeans and Tee, and a pair of Adidas Yeezy 350s on feet.
The state of our environment and natural surroundings is always a talking point these days. What do you think is the single most important thing your fans can do to reduce their current impact on the environment and why?
We gotta look towards the future and stop dwelling on the past. I think climate change is inevitable as long as we humans are here on this planet. However, we can do things to help slow it down by simply just being more self-aware when it comes to our carbon footprint. Just doing little things and being mindful about turning the lights off, turning the water off while you’re brushing your teeth, recycling when you can etc. Remember, what you do may not change the world today, but if enough of us do our part, it will make a global impact that will be felt for years to come.
Outside of music, we've heard you also have an affinity for working with film. How did this start and what projects have you been involved in?
Originally I had aspirations of becoming a film director and even held one of my first jobs at a movie theater. I had set my eyes on attending USC (University of Southern California) film school until I realized I still had to take core classes like math etc. This was right around the time that I had attended my very first Rave/underground party and that totally changed everything and needless to say things went a different direction.
Even though my main focus is music, I’ve been able to connect it with my passion for film.
Technology is so accessible nowadays, anyone can do it with the right knowledge and tools. I’ve been lucky enough to share my talents with the label and for the past 5-6 years I’ve been filming and editing event promos and recaps, creating animations for all the releases that have come out, and even had my hand in helping to create some of the visuals and animations for other artists on the label including Sian. If your interested in seeing some of my work, check out my other IG page: @buffer_underrun
It's 2014 and you're catching a red-eye flight from NYC to Ibiza to play the ENTER season closing party at Space Ibiza. What movies are you watching on the flight over?
Blade Runner 2049
Ghost in The Shell
List three tracks that you never get tired of playing:
1. Dusty Kid 'Kollera (Original Mix)'
2. Egbert 'Straktrekken (10 JAAR LIVE Remix)'
3. Enrico Sangiuliano 'Ghettoblaster (Original Mix)'
List one track that you are absolutely tired of hearing:
That's a tough one! Even songs that get stuck in my head on repeat and may be annoying, I still believe it's in my head for a reason. I think not hearing music in general would be more annoying.
The world is ending in apocalypse fashion and you can add only one of your tracks to a time capsule to be sent into space, which song would you choose and why?
That’s an easy one! My track ‘Arrival’! I created it just for this specific type of occasion. The idea and concept behind it was a soundtrack to an alien invasion. We would be the aliens, and the invasion happening on another planet as we end our time on Earth, we must explore and inhabit another. So when I listen to ‘Arrival’ I’m picturing the moment we enter this new planet's atmosphere in a giant spaceship.