Kris “Jus” Denson, a member of the DJ Collective, D’Vine One Enterprises and one of the resident DJs for Love and Lust Live, is a DJ known for his soulful, sensual and sexy style. Known to keep your body moving on the dance floor, he is making his Summer Oasis Music Festival Debut this year in Idlewild. I had a chance to talk to Kris about his career, why he continues to push himself so hard and his love for Idlewild and the Summer Oasis Music Festival.
Black Widow: What was your introduction to house music?
Kris Denson: It was at a sweet 16 birthday party. A friend who lived in my neighborhood was having a party and said her cousin would be DJing. Her cousin wound up being Steve Hurley. When I saw him, I didn’t know who he was but he started playing and it just grabbed me. We danced all night. I was intoxicated by the music. That’s where it all began.
Black Widow: So when did you decide you wanted to DJ and how did you learn?
Kris Denson: As time went on, all of my friends were listening to house music. One of my best friends attended Mendel High School and he was good friends with Eric and Duey miller. Those guys were doing parties every now and then at the school. They were teaching my friend how to DJ. My friend was the spoiled kid on the block. [LAUGHTER] His parents bought him all kinds of equipment; Technics 1200, the mixer and all that stuff. He had a huge record collection. I had a belt drive and one turntable and another turntable that didn’t even work and my parent’s records. I would go to his house and he would teach me the stuff they were teaching him. I fell in love with DJing then. Unfortunately, my friend was spoiled because he was an only child so if you got on his bad side you couldn’t play with his toys. So we fell out at some point and I couldn’t play anymore.
Black Widow: You were kicked out of the sandbox? [LAUGHTER]
Kris Denson: [LAUGHTER] Yeah! After that, I stopped playing and went back to focusing on sports. I was really good at basketball so that’s what I got back into. My friends Brett, Earnest, Andre and Chris were still buying records and playing. They spent all their money on records and equipment. Any money they made, they would put towards DJing. They were going strong and I was still focusing on sports but I would come to the parties and dance all night. After a while, I ended up leaving the scene. I had been to the parties at the music box and the playground and such but when “Hip-House” came out, I hated it. I was offended at the scratching and such so I just stopped listening to it all together and was listening to R&B and hip-hop.
Black Widow: So when did you decide to return and start playing again? What inspired that?
Kris Denson: That was around 2005. A friend of mine would always go to lounges and such and would ask me to come. He would say, “come on man, they are playing house music”! I never went because it I didn’t think it was all house music. I thought it was a little house, a little hip hop, some steppers music and such. I was tired of being tricked! [LAUGHTER] He asked me one day to go to the Family Den. One day, I was on vacation and decided to join him. I saw all of my old friends and rediscovered house music. The Den was playing more disco. They would have Glenn Underground, Boo Williams, and Jamie 326 playing there. I started going every Monday. I remember sitting in The Family Den and thinking I sure wish I could learn how to mix because there were some other songs I wanted to hear. I had so much music at home at the time.
Black Widow: So you were still buying music even though you weren’t playing?
Kris Denson: Oh yeah. I mean I was still a fan of the music. I just bought stuff I loved. I wanted to make a mix for myself so I could put it on my IPod so I could listen to it at work. I bought a little controller and a little bit of equipment. I didn’t know what I was doing but I was determined to learn. I remember showing it to a friend of mine and he was like, “man we can make money and throw parties” but I didn’t want to do that because I wasn’t anywhere near good. I was just doing it for me. He wound up booking a party without my knowledge and had no equipment! I brought my stuff and did the party and that’s when I met Torrin (Torrin Edmond). It was a few doors from his house. It’s so funny. He came to the party and had this puzzled look on his face. He was like what are y'all doing? [LAUGHTER] He was respectful about it though! He told me that he was a DJ as well and played at a club. He said I should come and check him out sometime. I did. I came up there and saw the DJ booth and was amazed. He was in there beating it!!! I looked at him and instantly thought I had a long way to go. It was a good thing because it showed me that if I was really going to do this, I had to study and practice if I was ever going to be on the level he was on.
Black Widow: Wow… I love that! What did you do to get better?
Kris Denson: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE!!! I bought better equipment and spending more money on equipment and music. I was still DJing with the guy I did that party with and I had a little residency at the time out lounge but it was still about practicing for me. He was all about making money but it was more than that for me. I knew so many DJs and wanted their respect. I wanted to be good! I really wanted to learn this craft. Eventually I quit that residency. It was Nicky and Brett (Morrison) who really got me back together. They invited me to join their collective, D’Vine One Enterprises.
Black Widow: How did it feel joining a collective like D’Vine One? Especially since you and Brett were already friends? What was that like?
Kris Denson: Brett was good at understanding that you can’t just throw someone in the fire. He slowly gave me my own space on the radio show. I started getting better, learning to work with crowds and seeing the difference from playing at home vs playing in front of an audience. It was so much to learn. It was more than just DJing. I was learning how to deal with people too; those moments when people walk up on you while you are spinning in the booth, people who come up to you and want to take pictures or even the obnoxious person who wants to request music and such. I had to learn how to navigate all of that.
I remember playing the D’Vine One anniversary party and Robert Williams came. I was playing a mix of disco, classics and a little bit of soulful. It’s funny because initially I didn’t like a lot of soulful because I had only heard certain songs. I played a disco song and Robert Williams asked Nicky who the hell is that playing my song? [LAUGHTER] Nicky introduced us and I wound up playing his birthday party at Da House Spot in the basement. That was my first big gig.
Black Widow: That’s so funny because you are known for playing soulful now.
Kris Denson: You know what? That same night Nicky told me that my set was good but it was all over the place. She mentioned she thought I played the soulful stuff really well. Later on, I remember being at DJ Cheez's house and Ian Friday was playing. I was in the middle of the floor with my eyes closed. It was incredible. I realized then that soulful house was so much more than I thought it was. I knew then I wanted to play music like that but I didn’t have it. I immediately started listening to and collecting soulful house music.
Here’s an interesting story. I had a friend who knew Curt Ford and she said I want to get you to play at Reynolds. I was like WHOA! HOLD ON! [Laughter] To me, I was still new and learning and I really wanted to be respected. I knew I wasn’t good enough yet. She introduced me to Curt and the 1st thing he said was “do you have a CD?” I’m like, no. He says "How do you come to an interview without a resume"? I said I’ll bring you a CD tomorrow. I went home and made my 1st soulful mix. It’s actually still on Soundcloud. It’s called “lab work”. I gave it to him and he hit me and said I can play. The week before I was supposed to play I came up there to support and hang out. I’ll never forget. I was outside talking to Curt and this guy walks up and Curt says, “Hey this is Kris, he’s playing next week. He’s kinda hot”. The guy looks me up and down like he didn’t like me and says, “Man…he said you’re KINDA hot”. It was sarcastic. I’ll admit it broke me down and made me afraid to play. I wasn’t confident yet. So I made up a lie to Curt and got out of playing. I knew I wasn’t ready. That was probably the best thing I could have done. I just went back to practicing even harder.
Black Widow: I totally understand that feeling. You want to present yourself at your best. It’s so funny because you are a fairly new DJ who has achieved a certain amount of notoriety fairly quickly. Have you ever received backlash as a result?
Kris Denson: Oh yeah but it’s more sarcasm and little digs here and there. It’s crazy. I don’t think they are even trying to insult me but people would question why I was part of D’Vine One. I remember one DJ actually said that since I became D’Vine One and got all their music, I was blowing up! [LAUGHTER] I couldn’t believe it! Why would he think I didn’t pick out my own music!
Black Widow: Wow so people thought you weren’t even picking out your own music. That’s crazy!
Kris Denson: It really is. People who know me know how I am especially when it comes to music. I hand pick my music. If it doesn’t fit me I don’t play it. That’s why I don’t like a lot of people giving me music. I pay my good money for this music. I was so annoyed. I remember Brett telling me then, “Man get used to it”.
Black Widow: That’s crazy how that works isn’t it. People switch up on you so quick sometimes.
Kris Denson: Yeah that’s been a bit of an adjustment for me. People you thought you were cool with will come out of a bag. You think you are going to take everyone with you and they will support but it doesn’t always happen like that.
Black Widow: Don’t I know it. It can be disheartening. I think over the years my skin has gotten tougher and I’ve really closed my circle but it’s not always easy. We have feelings too. It hurts especially when you are a loyal person. When I call you my friend, you are like family to me.
Kris Denson: Yup. It’s hurtful. My loyalty runs deep and once I call you friend…that means something. I don’t take that lightly.
Black Widow: You have those moments where you question everything, even if you want to keep doing it anymore. You have to be open and I found myself closing myself off and I can’t be like that as a performer, I have to be open to give you a piece of me.
Kris Denson: People don’t realize what happens behind the lights. What you may go thru to bring them your art; it’s a lot of stuff that happens behind the scenes that people really don’t see.
Black Widow: How do you choose music?
Kris Denson: I definitely listen to snippets on the website and I see what captures my attention. It has to strike me immediately. I have to have a passion for what I’m playing if I want the people to feel it. You can look at a DJ and see in their body language and facial expressions if they are just pushing play or if they love it. I need to love every song I play!
Black Widow: Do you have a problem being categorized as a soulful DJ?
Kris Denson: Not really, I love soulful, sexy music and lyrics but I want people to know that it’s not all I do. People sometimes think I’m more of a slower tempo kind of DJ and I’m not. My music is sultry but it can still bang. I want people to know that I’m a great opening DJ but I’m also a closer as well! Some don’t know that about me. I don’t have an issue opening a party because that sets the tone but I would love to play in the middle or close out sometimes because that’s a totally different experience.
Black Widow: Do you think it affects your bookings?
Kris Denson: Not really. Honestly, I rarely ask to play anywhere. I pride myself on putting the product out and letting the people decide if I’m worthy enough to play. Most of my bookings come from people who have heard me play. I appreciate that. I like my work to speak for itself.
Black Widow: Now that’s another point of debate. Some say you aren’t “hungry” enough if you aren’t “trying to get put on.
Kris Denson: No I don’t believe that. I think allowing my work to speak for itself gets me more respect. Somethings I’ll ask for but on average I really don’t like to ask people to let me play.
Black Widow: You have a great opportunity to let people know who you are at Summer Oasis!
Kris Denson: Yes it’s also an opportunity to prove I deserve it. I’m definitely excited about it.
Black Widow: Have you ever thought about producing?
Kris Denson: Yes I think that’s my next step. I’m hesitant however because I’m so in love with playing right now. I know producing music will take away from that to a degree but it’s definitely in the plans.
Black Widow: I have a lot of respect for the fact that you were humble enough to know when you were ready to go to the next level and when you recognized that you needed to do some more learning. A lot of people want everything fast tracked. They want money, residencies, notoriety, etc.
Kris Denson: Absolutely, I don’t want anything fastracked. I just want to get better, everything else comes later. I still get giddy when I do a dope blend. That’s because I remember how hard I worked to learn this craft.
Black Widow: That’s where the blessings come in. You are being rewarded for the work you put into it now. What makes summer oasis so special?
Kris Denson: It’s the history of the land, being outdoors and hearing some incredible music. Last year when I was there, I was just imagining what it was like to be in Idlewild during its heyday. It was so rich in history. Once it got dark, it was so beautiful. The lake and the moon shining off the water, I was in awe. It was great! At the end last year, they took a family photo of everyone who was in attendance. It was so dope. It really feels like family!
Black Widow: So what does it feel like to be part of the DJ lineup this year?
Kris Denson: Whew… I couldn’t’ believe it. The word festival and me playing in one just didn’t translate until the promotion started. Once they told me, I had to wait until it was announced. I was on pins and needles waiting for the announcement. To see my name on the same bill as Jihad and Vick and Celeste…that’s just so cool. I respect those who have been in the game for so long. It’s just humbling and I’m grateful. I’ve questioned myself and if I deserved to be here but I’m learning that I do. To be on that stage this weekend is going to be an incredible moment!
Black Widow: Yes you do!!! I can’t wait to see you this weekend at Summer Oasis!
Kris Denson: Yes!!! We are going to have a ball. I’m excited!!! I can’t wait!
You can catch Kris "Just Denson" this weekend at the Summer Oasis Music Festival happening in Idlewild, Michigan! To listen to his music, check out his soundcloud at https://soundcloud.com/jus_denson!
One more day until the Summer Oasis Music Festival! Stay tuned to Black Widow's web for my next article in the Summer Oasis Music Festival Series!!! Coming up tomorrow...a conversation with Summer Oasis Music Festival Founder, Cedric McDougle!!!
Until next time,
See you at Summer Oasis!