Perseverance pays off. That’s the mantra that Jono Fernandez, who for over a decade has been putting in the hard yards to establish himself as one of Australia’s finest big-room DJs, really buys into.
And why shouldn’t he? He’s just coming to the end of a successful national tour, was crowned Budweiser Producer/DJ of the Year at the 2013 Australian Independent Music Awards in November and is preparing to release an album of his own new material. Yet Fernandez has always been an artist who looks to the future.
“When the concept of taking a laptop into a club − and bridging the gap between the club and the studio − became possible, I jumped at the opportunity and was one of the earliest adopters in Australia,” says Fernandez, chatting to the BRAG between tour dates. “Early on I got frowned upon. People would snarl, ‘Are you gonna play any records tonight, mate?’ Often I’d clear the floor at the start of my set before winning the crowd back again, because what ultimately mattered was what was coming out of the speakers.”
That same technology, namely Ableton Live and some nifty controllers and effects units, is at the heart of his club set-up today. Check out Fernandez’s mini-mix on his YouTube channel, or even head down to Chinese Laundry on Saturday March 29 to see the man do his thing in the flesh. It’s a long way from a couple of 1210s and a crossfader.
“At any one time I might have six or seven tracks running, which would be impossible to do with CDJs. I improvise in every one of my sets and sometimes people would come and ask the name of the remix I’d just played. It’s great to be able to respond that I just did it on the fly and I probably wouldn’t even be able to recreate it! It’s something that I have a lot of fun doing.”
A little creative freedom is something that Fernandez finds important. “It’s really nice when you get a crowd that understands and lets the DJ push them a bit,” he says. “I see myself as someone who is there to entertain, but also to educate as well. You know, play some new music, be someone who is forward-thinking, forward-moving, and I really like the opportunity to do that.”
That creativity is something that the Canberra native certainly satisfies in working on his own productions and remixes for other artists, including dance music giants such as Groove Armada, Cedric Gervais and Morgan Page. The production side of things was perhaps even more likely an outcome than the club appearances for the young Jono Fernandez. Taking his typical approach – looking at what exciting developments were around the corner – Fernandez upgraded from a classical musical education (he plays guitar, piano, bass, violin and flute) to forming rock bands (he also sings) to sneaking into his older brother’s home studio. The endless possibilities fascinated him as a 15-year-old. “I realised that the boundaries with computer music were much broader. There’s only so much you can do with a guitar, drums and vocals as opposed to electronic music, when you can turn almost any sound into an instrument.”
After hounding his local nightclub Heaven for a DJ gig, Fernandez moved to Melbourne, worked for a number of record stores and labels and eventually saw his first record released on Zero Tolerance in the early years of the new millennium. Yet it seems as though the artist is only now, 12 years later, realising his potential. The last 12 months have seen releases on Chris Lake’s Rising Music, Mark Brown’s CR2 Records and local dance institution OneLove. Tracks like ‘Hear Me’ charted well in Australia, paving the way for ‘Let It Out’ to make waves in the UK and the Kaz James collaboration ‘Stars’ to hit the Beatport charts.
Next up, there’s the small matter of completing and releasing a full-length album. Fernandez is clearly relishing being in the studio and following his own musical path. “I do have more freedom with my productions. I’m able to flex some different creative muscles … I’m able to be free, because I don’t necessarily have to consider how the dancefloor is going to respond. I can be free to go wherever my imagination takes me.
“I would say 90 per cent of the album is brand new stuff. I’m trying to incorporate not just electronic music but classical and rock instruments. There’s going to be a lot more guitars and live drums. It’s an electronic album, but it’s not just going to be full of club bangers.”
There’s much to be excited about, but Fernandez is always looking to the next opportunity. Thanks to the prize accompanying his Producer/DJ of the Year title, his next excursion is a potentially lucrative tour to the fertile plains of the USA − playing in top venues in New York and Las Vegas − smack-bang in the middle of an EDM boom, no less. Does he wish this break and the recognition came earlier? “Not at all. I’m a firm believer in success being a lot about persistence. It is really nice to be recognised in this way, even though it has been a long, hard slog for me. I’m not going to lie – I’ve been doing this for a very long time and it’s still very rewarding. The US element of the prize is really going to help.