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Conversations with James Gross

Today we’d like to introduce you to James Gross.

James, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I’ve been a musician since the 4th grade. I played clarinet and saxophone in grade school and high school band. Then I taught myself to play guitar in high school. I studied computer science, audio engineering and some piano at UMBC. I have always wanted to be a musician for a living. I was very resistant to djing for a long time because my father dj’ed some before I was born and during my childhood. I finally gave it a try in 2008 and discovered that I was a natural at it. I’ve been blessed to be one of Baltimore’s favorite DJ’s for ten years. I’ve been blessed with opportunities to travel the country playing Baltimore Club music as well.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
There are a few challenges that I have faced throughout my career. The nightlife world is riddled with substance abuse, toxic masculine behavior and racism. It’s extremely challenging to navigate it without serious harm to your mental health. I’ve seen plenty of people come and go over the course of my 14 years career. I’ve grown close to some peers just to watch them get lost in drug abuse and overdose. I’ve seen men do awful things to women and ended many friendships and business relationships over it. I’ve seen security guards abuse their power and cause unnecessary harm. Mostly the struggle has been to create truly safe and inclusive events here. There’s a long list of venues with exploitative and/or discriminatory practices from not paying fairly if they pay at all, ending events when there’s a crowd they deem “unsafe” meaning a noticeable presence of non-white and/or visibly queer people. I’ve been told by talent booking agencies that I needed to lose weight to reach the next level because the only way I could be “sold” to white festival going audiences is if I present myself as a sex symbol.

I believe most people like myself get into music and performance arts in general to uplift and inspire people. But once you’re in it, you’re bombarded with some of the most harmful human behavior around. It’s a daily struggle to persevere through it all just to continue to make space for people to dance.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
Music and movement to me are therapeutic. As an artist, my goal is to create space for people to find a therapeutic release through dance and music. I enjoy entering any space with any group of people present and using my vast knowledge of music to play the perfect soundtrack for that moment. No genre is off-limits. I just love to read the room and deliver the music the moment needs. From a composition & production standpoint, I’m most known for making Baltimore Club music. Baltimore club music to me is the perfect genre. The drum patterns, breakbeat loops and other assorted samples traditionally used serve as a diverse palate one can use to remix anything or take any idea and shape it into a high-energy dance tune.

Before we let you go, we’ve got to ask if you have any advice for those who are just starting out?
I would advise anyone who is just starting out to write down their goals. Check-in with them from time to time and make sure you are truly making moves to get to where you’ve always wanted to be. Just chasing the paycheck will never leave you truly fulfilled but is an ever-present distraction. I would also advise one to always dedicate time to learning music theory and entertainment/music business law. To be a craftsman in music at the highest level requires constant dedication to expanding your knowledge of both subjects.

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