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J. Alvarez talks electro, producing, and more

By Ken Taylor
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Seattle’s J. Alvarez has genuine electro running through his veins. Raised on a diet of pumping beats while undergoing his formative years in Miami, Florida, the producer has emerged as a force to be reckoned with, crafting slices of bass-infused electro under his Alvarez handle and his equally respected 214 moniker. With the recent Plastic Spokes EP just weeks behind him and the forthcoming Overseas Highway EP just a bit away (it will see a release next month thanks to the Hypercolour label), we thought it was about time to get to know the man a little better and get a sense of what this bubbling producer’s future may hold.

Can you tell us a little about your background? Where did you grow up, and where are you based now?

I was born in Puerto Rico, moved to Miami when I was one, and lived there for 17 years before moving up to Tampa for university. Then, I transplanted to Seattle about 6 years ago. 

How did you get started DJing and/or making music?

A friend in high school purchased a pair of Technics 1200s and I tagged along to house parties to help set up in exchange for some time on the decks. From there, I would make a trip to his house as often as I could to use his decks. Production was just a natural progression after that—I had a lot of ideas I wanted to understand how to translate into my own sound.

How would you describe the music that you make?

Growing up in Miami, I was exposed to a healthy dose of electro, Miami bass, and freestyle. Electro is a love of mine, so you’ll hear it throughout my tracks in one form or another. A few years ago, my wife described my music as, “A lap dance in the side room of a spaceship,” and that’s how I’ve come to describe it ever since.

Do you DJ or play live? How would you describe your sets?

Both. Last year I took on a lot more live shows, but I prefer to DJ since a live set is really time consuming to put together and there’s a ton of great music that I enjoy DJing. During a DJ set, I’ll run through house, techno, electro, and a bit of everything else. For my live sets, it ranges from a standard laptop and controller setup to a full hardware set. The latter I save for special shows since it’s a lot more to lug around.

Did you have any mentors when you were starting out? Who helped you get established?

No, this was all my own hard work—a lot of trial and error, experimenting, reading manuals, and listening. Mikrolux (which is now defunct and part of the Elektrolux label in Germany) were the first to release my music, so they helped put my name out there.

When did you first feel that you had finally discovered your own individual sound?

It took me a few years of producing to feel comfortable with my output. Still, I’m always experimenting and use two different aliases, J.Alvarez and 214, depending on the style.

How do you explain your music to your family members?

[Laughs] I don’t. It’s not their style. 

Are you the type of musician who knows what kind of track you want to write before you sit down to make it, or do you create music more from a process of experimentation?

Typically, it’s tinkering around with sounds until I find a vibe. Sometimes I’ll go in knowing what kind of vibe I’m after, but rarely does it end up how I set out.

When you sit down to make a track, what’s the first thing you typically do?

I start by firing up the machines. Other than that, I don’t ever start a track the same way. Depending on the day, it could be something I get started on the drum machine or just noodling around with a synth that gets me going.

How long does a track typically take you to make?

This can vary from a few days to weeks. 

Where do you record? (Bedroom, home studio, dedicated studio, etc.)

My home studio.

Do you currently have a favorite piece of gear or software?

Lately it’s the Acidlab Miami (an 808 clone) and the Strymon Reverb pedal. 

Are you a morning person or night owl?

I’m more creative during the day.

Which record do you wish you had made?

I haven’t made it yet. 

If a wrecking ball was headed for your house, which one record would you rescue before it hit?

Just one? It would probably be Global Communication’s 76:14 album.  That’s an LP I will never tire of. 

When you’re not listening to electronic music, what do you listen to?

I listen to lots of different bands, hip-hop, and public radio.

When you’re not making or playing music, what’s your preferred pastime?

Snowboarding. 

If you weren’t a musician, what would you be doing with your life?

I’d like to do post-production for TV and film.

Tell us about your upcoming gigs and releases:

I just dropped an EP and I have several more planned for the rest of the year:

214 – Plastic Spokes EP [Fortified Audio]

J.Alvarez – Overseas Highway EP [Hypercolour]

214 – Submanouvers EP [Frustrated Funk]

214 – Yellow Machines EP [Yellow Machines]

J.Alvarez – Format EP [Hallucination Limited]