For over 20 years, James Connolly (aka L-Vis 1990) has been experiencing and influencing club scenes across the globe, mastering his craft by experimenting and creating communities around experimental and creative sounds.
Connolly’s legendary Night Slugs parties in South London where “anyone and anything was welcome, as long as it was fun,” evolved into an influential record label that became widely known as “a supportive home to amplify disparate, often overlooked and under-appreciated sounds and cultures.” With this project firmly established and in appreciation for his new home Brooklyn’s house scene, in 2014 Connolly began focusing on his Dance System alias, one which was aimed towards the peak time dance floor sound.
After taking some time off to rekindle his love for the club and access the roots of his passion, Connolly has recently re-established his Dance System alias, using this perspective to bring back the joy in nightlife and channel the “playful energy it had in the late ’90s and early ’00s” through tracks that inspire listeners to just let go and have a good time. As Dance System, he has captured decades of his love for the club scene into the creation of his debut album, In Your System. Seeking to bring the energy of his wide range of dance floor experiences to a new generation, he implemented production techniques from the late ’90s in order to capture some of the iconic sounds that influenced him in his early days. Today, he is influencing other DJs with his playful brand of hard-hitting house music that gets to the core of what the music is all about: getting people to dance. The album is completely “him,” representing some of the sounds and cities whose scenes made a lasting impact on the music and himself.
Catching up with him on his journey, Connolly takes us through some of his favorite places and times, gives us insight into his production and goals, and reminds us how to make the most of the nightlife in today’s world.
How did this project first get started? What were your goals when you set out?
I started the Dance System project back in 2014, to start separating my house-ier productions from my more bass-driven and abstract work as L-Vis 1990. House had always been a part of my sound as L-Vis, but I felt that the project was going in a different direction, and wanted to create a differentiation between the sounds.
The name Dance System came to me in a dream… I was so shocked when I woke up in the morning and checked discogs to see if it existed before. It hadn’t! Can you believe it?!
There was no real goals when I set out. The release on Clone was a quite a success with tracks like “Flash Drive” still getting banged today. But then I didn’t make another Dance System record for a few years. When I re-launched the project in 2019, I had more of a vision and a plan for Dance System. I wanted to shake up the world of house music a bit, bring that fun, playful and cheeky side back.
Do you feel that you have met your expectations? Have you been surprised by anything along the way?
I feel I’m really just getting started with the project; finding my way and cutting my own path. It’s been amazing to see the shows come in this year for the first time as Dance System, but my dream and expectations are so high, they just keep me wanting to do more, and be better as a producer and DJ. That’s what keeps me going and hungry. I’ve been DJing since I was fourteen, and I’ve always had the same goal… it’s like the golden carrot dangling in front of me that I just can’t quite reach. Not too much surprises me these days. I’ve been doing it so long, I just take blessings and downfalls in my stride. I’m just so happy that this project is really connecting with people. The big surprises are when people come up to me and tell me how important and inspiring my music is to them. That’s what I do it for. I want to inspire a new generation like my heroes did for me; Daft Punk, Armand Van Helden, Cassius, Chemical Brothers. Oh actually, one big surprise was when Calvin Harris went live on BBC Radio1 and told Annie Mac that I was one of his main inspirations for his new side project Love Regenerator.
I had more of a vision and a plan for Dance System. I wanted to shake up the world of house music a bit — bring that fun, playful & cheeky side back.
What are you most proud of with In Your System?
In Your System really just feels like the most ME record I’ve ever made. I really channeled everything I have learnt over the last twenty odd years and tried to distill it in one record. I didn’t want any collaborations on this project because it was very personal.
The album is a collection of tracks since 2019. I’ve been through quite a lot of personal stuff since then and each of the tracks are connected to very specific moments in time that only I will know about, so even though its a dance record of bangers, it has deeper meaning for me.
Described as a “love letter” to house music and clubbing culture, how would you say that In Your System represents the past, present, and future of the scene?
The Dance System project is all about wrapping up and repackaging all of the energy and excitement I have got from listening to dance music over the years. I want to bring that to a new generation. My sound is distinctly mine because of my experiences. With In Your System I started to use more of the same production techniques as some of the late ’90s greats that inspire me still.
Dance System had become know for sampling but I had never used a sampler before so over lockdown I bought a Akai S3200. It was the key I needed to open a portal to that era! The filters and sound of that thing instantly take you back there. I feel all of my influences filtered through me make it present but there are moments on the record that are really looking forward using old techniques.
What do you think are the biggest differences you have seen in the clubs over your time as a DJ? Do you have a “favorite era”?
I’ve been a clubber since the early 2000s. I’ve seen it all, from Drum N Bass, Breaks, Electro, Blog Haus, Dubstep, and the era of my other label Night Slugs. Each era is my favorite era. Clubbing to me is about being in the moment and not thinking about anything else.
Obviously there have been too significant moments in club world that have changed everything. First was the smoking ban… Although it’s obviously great not to have smoking in clubs (ughhh the way your clothes smelt the next morning), it really kinda changed the dynamic of DJing at that time. You couldn’t drop the energy, because you would lose the floor when people went for a smoke. That made things become a lot more upfront, with less risks being taken. That’s kind of leveled out now, but was a shock to the system back then.
The plague on clubbing and night life now is the smart phone with good cameras. I’m so happy they weren’t around back in my day; some of the states I got in! Clubbing should be about escape, but kids are so focused on sharing the moment with the world on IG, that they are missing the whole thing. I don’t have any photos from inside clubs, but I have the experiences that will live with me forever.
Big tech are driving us to just be about ourselves and not the scene. Why haven’t Spotify got a function where you can check out a record label? Scenes and people coming together have power and can’t be controlled, but individuals can be.
Listed as being based on scenes around the world, I’d love to hear your thoughts on some of the distinctive differences in styles and if you feel that certain tracks on the album connect with a particular club or city?
I think there are four major cities represented in In Your System. Paris with Daft Punk and the French Touch scene, Chicago with Ghetto House, Dance Mania and Relief Records, New York (where I lived for three years) with Armand van Helden and Todd Terry, and my hometown, London. I feel like the whole thing is a soup of those different cities, wrapped up with the edge and grit of London sounds like Garage, Grime and Hardcore, that have also played a major part in my musical journey.
What do you think makes for an exceptional club / scene? Where have been some of your personal favorite places to play?
It’s all about the people, time, place and social climate. I have seen some incredible scenes come and go over the years and at the center of each one was a collective of DJs and producers with a shared vision. The clubbers want to follow, and more DJs want in on the action. Scenes need time to incubate and grow. It’s hard these days with social media and everything shared instantly. Also, the way everything works right now with social media and streaming, it’s all about the individual… Big tech are driving us to just be about ourselves and not the scene. Why haven’t Spotify got a function where you can check out a record label?
Scenes and people coming together have power and can’t be controlled, but individuals can be.
The last few years, with the pandemic, has been the perfect opportunity for governments to kill nightlife, because it leads to counterculture. One of the favorite scenes I was part of was in NYC from 2012 to 2014. It was such a fertile time in the city. I had moved there and was running my label Night Slugs, Fade to Mind In LA was at its peak, with its DJs always in NYC. The Ballroom scene, spearheaded by Mike Q, was thriving. Venus X’s party GHE2OGOTH1K was poppin’, fashion houses like HBA and Telfar were very involved, DIS magazine was pushing the sounds, and there were a few venues like Steel Drums and 285 Kent that were hubs. It was an incredible melting pot of art, fashion and music, and really exciting and inspiring to be around.
What would you say has contributed to your continued success as an artist / DJ? Has your energy or passion for the job changed at all over time?
I have always had a hunger to do better and evolve. Over recent years I have learnt a lot more about being open and patient and to trust in the universe to bring the right opportunities at the right time. Now, I’m just being 100% myself and I think that is what really is connecting with people. I’m confident in what I make and play, because its all me. You just have to stay true to yourself. My passion hasn’t changed since I got my first set of decks back in 1999.
What has been one of your favorite moments as a DJ? What about on the dance floor?
There have been so many over the years… but probably my favorite in recent times was playing Panorama bar. That place has my favorite dance floor as a clubber, so it was such an honor. I just played all of my favorite tunes ever made, and had the best time. Looking forward, I’ll be playing Fatboy Slims Big beach Boutique 20th Anniversary, the original one in 2002 was a pivotal moment for me as a clubber, and one of my favorite nights ever so its crazy that I’m actually playing with him on Brighton Beach with him 20 years later!
How has the In Your System tour been so far? What has been the best part of it for you?
The tour has been amazing so far. I had a great time in Australia and Bali. It still blows my mind that I can go to the other side of the world and people know who I am and love my music. The show in Sydney in particular was very special; over a thousand ravers and a booth right in the middle of the crowd… so special!
If there was only one thing that you accomplished when you were behind the decks, what would you want it to be?
To make people dance.
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