Backstage With Joe Kay At Soulection Show 400
“Future beats, eclectic soul, forgotten gems, and timeless sounds. All brought to you by Joe Kay. This is Soulection Radio.” The introduction to every Soulection show, the Los Angeles-based collective reaches their 400th broadcast.
Soulection has come a long way since its inception by Joe Kay and Andre Power over eight years ago. From presenting, curating, producing, DJing and releasing music, Joe’s personal podcast has evolved into a weekly Beats 1 show. Unusual for a radio show to be this central to a narrative, its importance cannot be underestimated: “The radio show is not only the backbone to Soulection but has been the number one resource in finding new artists and developing them,” says Joe. “When it comes to the Daniel Ceasar’s, the SiR’s, the Snoh Aalegra’s, the Saba’s, the Smino’s, the Goldlink’s, and countless others, I have these good relationships because I've brought them on the show.”
Joe’s rigorous preparation takes time, and he’s honest about the constant struggle for balance: “To program 120 minutes weekly isn't my full time job. Soulection as a business has so many other entities that demands my attention and my focus. I have my personal life, I have a daughter, it's a lot.” But it comes down to this: “It's more than music, it's about a lifestyle.” Joe continues, “The main message of everything we do, whether it's the radio show, the music, our festivals or touring is, “Doing what you love”.”
Besides this mindset, Soulection is embraced for its music discovery: “It's about putting a spotlight on artists and creatives that we feel need more light...I enjoy the underdogs I guess.” Before we all thought we were A&Rs, Joe Kay was digging on SoundCloud: “I'm not in competition with anybody but myself, but I do take pride in finding things early. I think that's one of my gifts in life.” He still finds “70-80%” of music on the platform, but it’s one of many sources: “I'm using Apple, Spotify, YouTube, Who Sampled, I go to shows; I have zero shame having Shazam open.”
Joe recognises the increased power of hand-picking tracks, and even better, getting sent music first: “There's nothing stronger than the human touch, it's more authentic, it's more emotional, it's real. If I'm receiving music from somebody when it's not even out yet, how can a system find that?”
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A notable differentiator is the team’s global outlook and presence. This is especially admirable for a North American collective because so much sits in their backyard, they don’t necessarily need to look elsewhere (and many don’t). Joe explains the recipe for this is two-fold: “There's the music thatj we put out with artists from different parts of the world; we've been to almost every continent. In addition to that, the artists we bring on the radio show have such a worldwide sound that makes us diverse.”
But what pulls all of these elements together? Consistency. This is the red thread running through absolutely everything Soulection does. From how they sound, to how they look, to who they support, they’ve got it down: “The branding is one of the strongest things about Soulection. When people see the visuals, they see what we look like, they see the aesthetic, everything goes hand-in-hand.”
Putting that blueprint into practice, the night before Show 400 Joe put on his first photography exhibition. With a line out the door, it served as the rehearsal dinner to the main event. Always with some sort of camera in hand, Joe describes it as “showcasing behind the scenes photography that I've captured of artists, travels, street photography.” In keeping with the Soulection vision, Joe explains it’s not always about the final image: “You've got to capture what's in the moment.”
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Soulection’s 400th Show was celebrated with a live event, a concept inspired by their 2018 radio tour: “Let me just invite the world in, and whatever we play that night is recorded and that's the show.” Over 900 fans gathered at a warehouse Downtown for a sold out, yet intimate celebration.
The ambience was supported by an intricate lighting set-up and wall of projected Soulection-centric imagery. With about a third of guests wearing Soulection merch before they walked in, over half were wearing it by the end having bought exclusive pieces on the night. The all-ages event benefited from youthful eagerness, with plenty of people dancing from open doors.
Director of Tour Strategy & Bookings, Andres Uribe introduced the first act, Joyce Wrice and her very talented band. Joe explained how deliberate their programming is: “It's important to have a live performance side, because just a club night can get a little repetitive.” During her 30 minute set, Joyce warmed everyone up with her sweet voice and RnB melodies, which was a reminder of what Soulection does best: introduce you to real talent.
The decks were on the dance floor in front of the stage with a surrounding barrier, creating a hive around the DJ. LA Native Jared Jackson took over proceedings, who Joe described with great admiration: “His passion and skill set on a technical level are so important; he's probably one of our best DJs.” He played over an hour of genre-spanning selections, with a particular crowd-pleaser transitioning from Lauryn Hill’s ‘(Doo Wop) That Thing’ into Usher’s ‘U Don’t Have To Call’. Ending with some of his own White Label house tracks, which sparked a dance circle, Jared finished off with some old school UK garage (to my absolute joy).
For the rest of the night, a full two and a half hours, it was Joe Kay on the decks. By this point, the stage had filled with friends and family (including Joe’s proud mum) who were effectively, and effective, backing dancers. After giving a speech of thanks and introduction, Joe kicked off with a few edits, Jarreau Vandal’s ‘Broken Clocks’ and Jael’s ‘Goosebumps’.
Joe pauses after 30 minutes to bring out Kyle Dion. Prince-esque both in style and voice, he brings a different energy to the room, which Joe inherits when he takes over with an unreleased J.robb ‘A Mili’ remix, followed by a healthy dose of Sonder and Budgie. At one point he plays the instrumental for ‘Drop It Like It’s Hot’ and the entire dance floor is filled with Snoop’s words.
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A little later we’re introduced to TDE’s very own SiR. We’re played three unreleased tracks, and through a short chat with Joe, we’re given an inch of insight into his upcoming album, 'Chasing Summer'. Throughout his set Joe counts down time left, with incense burning next to him and occasionally grabbing the mic, his focus is unwavering. Joe’s expert curation and super smooth transitions makes for a set of exhilaration, nostalgia and pure delight. Even with the crowd thinning out before the 2am close (LA nights end early) the aura doesn’t dissipate, ending with Mac Miller’s ‘Come Back to Earth’.
No one is aware of the pressure of continued success more than Joe: “The fact that people still care enough to listen does mean a lot. It's refreshing and inspiring for me to keep going, because there are times in my head I’m like, “Damn, I don't know if it hits the same”.”
Joe seems to wrestle with the tension of ‘doing what he loves’ and reaping the success that brings, versus the reality for his overall wellbeing: “I feel like if I keep going this route, it's only going to grow, and as you grow, more pressure, more demand, more everything.”
But he does keep going. He leads Soulection from the airwaves every single week, gathering energy from those around him: “It's bigger than me, people are depending on it for so many reasons.”
Soulection is a beacon of personal curation on global scale in the midst of algorithms and homogeneity. It really comes down to this: “The work ethic and the consistency is what makes Soulection what it is,” and if these levels continue, there will be 400 more shows to come.
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Words: Nicola Davies / @nicola_jdavies
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