If you haven’t kept up Justin OH I think it’s fair to say that you have been sorely missed out on something in the past few years.
After having been an established house artist for several years (with releases on Spinnin ‘Records, Armada, Revealed and Enhanced Music), Justin OH began to steer his brand in an entirely new direction in 2018. Formerly known for easy beats and euphoric progressive house melodies, OH made a drastic shift in a new style of bass music on the Monster cat-releases “She’s a Killer” with brutal bass with sparkling arps and a healthy dose of disturbing dystopian dialogue.
Since then, Justin OH has gradually created his own immersive world (i.e. the city of OZ). Every time a song was released, listeners were rewarded with a new piece of the puzzle. a new chapter in history. The occasional crossover episode also occurred throughout the process, such as when XilentThe similarly dark world came into play on “Assemble” last year.
Earlier this month, that story – or at least that era – finally ended with the release of OH’s second studio LP Welcome to the city of OZ. We had the pleasure of speaking with the producer about his process in creating the album, the media that influenced it, the way their collaboration came together, and much more. Read the full interview below:
Hello Justin and congratulations on a successful album release! What kind of emotions do you experience when Welcome to the City of OZ finally hits stores after more than two years of teasers and single releases?
Thanks for the invitation! It feels great to finally have it out there for people to experience. There was a lot of construction and work to get to this point and I think the trip was just as rewarding.
As someone who has been intrigued by the concept of “City of OZ” from the first single on, I am delighted that all the pieces of the puzzle come together for the first time. I have to ask how was this album planned? Was it something that started as a simple idea that grew over time, or was it fully conceived before things started developing?
Much of it was designed in advance before the music started. I think it was very helpful to plan so much of this ahead of time to make decisions and make informed design decisions. You know the rules of the city. They know how it should sound, how it looks and feels. And most importantly, you know the endgame of the story to build on. There are tiny Easter eggs and clues that appeared in songs years ago and were only recently revealed. Fortunately, Monstercat is a label that encompasses these types of creative ideas. I remember when I first approached her in 2017 at the Amsterdam Dance Event with “She’s a Killer”, Jon Winter (the A&R) liked the track and my sound a lot because it was a bit different from the typical dubstep Music at that time. They were also very interested in how I wanted to bring the story elements into the music. I brought animated images, a mood board, screen tests, live show footage, branding ideas, storylines, etc. I must have looked like the Charlie meme from “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia”, “Pepe Silvia”.
The title on the album that really got me to ask you that question is “She’s a Killer, Pt. 2 ”with Feint & Mazare. The song seems to show itself as a moment of triumph and redemption and feels like the emotional climax of the entire LP. I know Mazare didn’t work with Monstercat until a few months after the original She’s a Killer was released. How did this track come together?
Yes, as far as history goes, it is precisely a moment of triumph and redemption. I always knew that I wanted to come full circle with the song that started it all. In 2018 I made an early Drum and Bass VIP version of “She’s a Killer” which I tested as an encore track in my live shows to round off my DJ appearances during my Thailand and India tours. It worked very well and the mood was right. Beat all feelings. But drum and bass was a new genre for me and Mazare had a number of incredible releases at the time that were very much on the same wavelength as me. I reached out to him and it was an obvious choice. One of the nicest guys out there, super glad he jumped on this project and took this song to the next level! Also fine, I met him at a festival in China last year. We connected immediately and I was super excited when he wanted to jump on the track. His expertise really increased the energy of the track and brought it all together. Behind the scenes, the Monstercat team was also very heavily involved in the A&R process, especially since Jon Winter was such a big dnb guy. Great team effort!
What specific media (films, TV shows, books, video games, etc.) can you cite as influences on the history of the LP?
Probably too many to list. The stuff I end up enjoying plays a huge role in what goes on in my head. Aside from the obvious examples like Blade Runner, The Matrix, Tron, Guardian, Robocop, Akira, Ghost in the Shell, Paprika, Arrival, Children of Men, Sin City, Ex Machina, Balance, Snowpiercer, Afro Samurai, Metropolis, Planet der Monkeys, Astroboy, The Twilight Zone, Isaac Asimov, Westworld, Brave New World, Ozymandias, Neuromancer, Wolfenstein, Deus Ex Machina, Portal and more.
They released another album in 2013 called The Time Traveler. It is clear that the album’s title was also inspired by science fiction; Is it even connected to the history of the city of OZ?
Unfortunately they are not connected. I wish I could say it was all part of a master plan, but they are separate concepts. The Time Traveler was my first artist album and here I originally toyed with the idea of connecting the songs together and telling a (loose) story through progress and different genres. Some of the things I learned from that album helped me in City Of OZ.
Regardless, I think it’s fair to say that the Justin OH who made The Time Traveler is a very different Justin OH than the one who made Welcome to the City of OZ, at least as you did yours this time around Concept and your music style are approached. What inspired you to make this change?
I really wanted to see how far I can take the story idea for Welcome to the City of OZ. Having an entire city gave us a lot of opportunities. A whole city full of characters, perspectives and events. Each song played out like chapters that helped tie the different songs together, even though they are of many different genres. Unfortunately we weren’t able to do an album tour this year, but it would have been really cool to see the vision with a live audiovisual performance.
This album is a lot more collaborative than your last. Was this done on purpose to get the message across of working with others to achieve a common goal, or was it just when you were experimenting with new styles?
For sure. It’s one of the main themes in Welcome to the City of OZ. We have been selective in working with artists. I wanted to make sure that the artists somehow fit into the story and can complement the narrative. I think fans and listeners feel rewarded when things are so connected. There are also things that we have planned to bring the fans together and be part of the story. For example, for the song “Killswitch” with Nitro Fun, the footage contained computer code with no instructions or instructions. People came together from everywhere and found that it turned into an encrypted message that they had to crack and that was embedded in the music video. Sounds nerdy, but I love that shit! I must pay homage to the godfather of computers and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing.
I would say that Welcome to the City of OZ is greater than the sum of its parts, with each route built from the others and raised to greater heights than it would reach on its own. Do you agree?
One of my favorite moments on the album is the interlude “Remember This,” which conveys a strong message of hope – especially in 2020 – and provides a dialogue between you and many others. How did you create this track?
Many thanks. Yes this song was made at the last minute and barely hit the deadline! I’m super glad it was like that. I think this year has been a tough year for a lot of people. Everyone was locked up and isolated. I think even though everyone may have hope of saying it out loud and hearing it together, it hits differently. This was also an opportunity to make City of OZ “real” for the fans. These are all of their real voices and real recordings. The fact that they have all come together to make this possible really speaks the message.
After all, are there emerging artists you’d like to give a call here?
Greetings to all the homies on the album; Rogue, Xilent, Mazare, Feint, Jamie,
Delaney Kai, nitro fun. Super shoutout to the Monstercat team and the community!
Welcome to the City of OZ is now available on all streaming platforms (linked below for your listening pleasure). Be sure to see Justin OH at his virtual concert on MCTV on November 26th too!