Many of you lucky enough to be afflicted by the pocket-burning but heart-warming passion that is collecting and playing with hardware synthesizers will be familiar with the work of Jexus. His YouTube synth reviews have become a go-to for both education and entertainment, bringing an offbeat quirkiness to a traditionally staid format of old men talking envelopes and oscillators. Jexus’ work is characterised by oddball, sometimes downright creepy video clips, blended with some of the most exciting sound design and virtuosity you may encounter.
His idiosyncrasies and somewhat elusive persona have raised lots of questions from the synth-coveting community. MNtothat’s Phil Watson and Kevin McAdam learn a little more about the man behind the keys….
Your YouTube synth reviews have a cult following but many viewers are intrigued to know more – who is Jexus?
“Jexus is a regular guy with a regular day job. Actually Jexus himself is intrigued to know why there is any cult following of the demos ;p That is a question for you. Maybe they represent the inner feelings of the born-in-the-80s, growing-up-in-the-90s? I’m sure those born-in-the-60s, growing-up-in-the-70s find those demos less appealing and making less sense. So Jexus is just a current in a river. Sorry for being cryptic, but I don’t want to share the details of my private life. They are too boring and too… private ;)”
“This video was enough to push Phil over the edge to buy a Juno 106”
You’re often eccentric videos stand out from the typical camera-on-synth, single shot gear review pieces – are you telling a story or just having fun?
“I would guess both… Some videos are a spontaneous mash-up of sounds and clips and feel like a feel-good roller-coaster ride, some ended up telling a story or conveying a specific feeling that I had at the time. Besides, if it wasn’t fun – who would want to do it? My theory is that the fun factor (or the attitude of a child, if you will) is a necessary ingredient in every activity and works like an antidotum to various frustrations. It needs to be cultivated. When you stop having fun in daily life, you turn into a zombie living the first day of your last days. And I think that the people of today can sense that (and that’s why their bosses have a problem).”
From the glimpse into your world in your videos, we often see mountains of other equipment stacked in the background. Are you accumulating gear or constantly shifting stuff on to make way physically and financially for new items? If the former, how to you accommodate so much delicate, valuable gear?
“It’s the latter – I constantly shift it. I don’t want to be overburdened by equipment for various reasons. It’s too unwise financially, it gets too cluttered, and it’s too bad for your creativity. The only case when it would seem okay to have more than 15 synths at any given time is when you’re a carefree superstar / pro-studio or a collector, and I’m neither. The more equipment you have, the more effort and time it entails. Finally it raises the question: is this the best way I can spend / could have spent all this time and effort?”
Do you suffer from GAS? (If yes, we feel your pain…). What qualifies as GAS to you?
“I did, but I no longer do. I think it’s just a passing stage. When you reach the critical mass, you realize it’s kind of pointless to accumulate stuff just for the sake of accumulating. When I was a kid, my friends and I collected various items, like stamps or soda cans or dinosaur models. But accumulating no longer works for me in my adult life, it exhausts me. So I’m happy to have been able to win out against my childish addiction, if we can call it that. I would think GAS is either a collector’s thing (and I never understood collectors, maybe psychiatry does), or it stems from the false notion that the more gear you have, the better music you will make. Of course it’s okay and reasonable for a world-class studio to own every piece of gear in existence because it gives them flexibility needed for various world-class projects. But for the regular John Doe, too much gear can be counterproductive and life-wrecking.”
Do you collect synths for the love of synths themselves and playing with them in their own right, or with an end goal of creating recorded music with them?
“Again, both. It’s a win-win situation. First of all, I buy synths because I love synths – I love them more than any other inanimate objects in this world – and when I fiddle around with them, there are these relatively rare moments when I get inspired, so I go along with that feeling and make a song. At the end of the day I want to believe that where there are synths, there too must be art or music or whatever you want to call it. I’ll never forget a chat that I had with a friend of mine a couple of years ago. He had all the cool stuff like the Minimoog and the VCS3 so of course I envied him a little. But he said “so I have the Minimoog, and it sits on the shelf and collects dust, okay, I have it – so fucking what? So I sold it”. This is a good quote that anybody who hasn’t made any music for more than x years should remember.”
Areas we haven’t seen you delve into yet include modular synths, soft synths and circuit bending / DIY – do any of them pique your interest?
“I don’t care for circuit-bending and DIY, I’m not an engineer or a physicist type of guy; I hate diving into engines and guts of electrical devices, using soldering irons and things like that. I do use softsynths. They may sound a bit ‘worse’ than the real analogs, and they may be less inspiring due to the lack of a tactile interface, but they’re comfortable to arrange in a project and sound good enough. And if the project sounds good, then automatically all the tools that led to it must be deemed good – the end justifies the means, sort of. I’m less attracted to modulars. I don’t know, maybe that’s weird – a synth geek who is not attracted to the ultimate synth experience – the modular. Maybe there’s too many cables and they no longer seem like an instrument to me, more like a cumbersome spaceship on a mission, or a tedious job at a switchboard in the 1950s. Or maybe they give too much freedom and power. I mean, would you play a game if you knew you would always win? I personally think there’s more fun and fulfillment when you have to exercise yourself within certain limits (but not too tight). Or maybe I just can’t / don’t want to afford a good modular? I try not to buy synths that are beyond the $3000 mark. But I never say ‘never’.”
Why do you feel that your recently published review of the Alesis Andromeda A6 was so particularly hotly anticipated? Will you be following it up with an A6 video?
“Was it hotly anticipated? How do you measure this temperature? ;) I don’t know, maybe because it’s “the most powerful real analog synthesizer”, whatever that means. If homo sapiens strive for the ultimate experience, which is immortality, maybe the analogus-nerdus strives for the ultimate analog experience, meaning the Andromeda. You know, a kind of ancient drive thing going on here. And folks who know me knew that I would give such material a humorous & vicious twist. I won’t be posting a demo of it because we had a harsh relationship and I sold my unit due to some fateful factors. Some people are fairly disappointed by that, so if one pops up somewhere near, I will grab it once again. As unloved and as unfriendly as this synth was, I could have at least made just a quick demo so that it would have been equally represented along with all the others. Or maybe you have one I can borrow? :D “
Jexus makes the seldom lauded Kawai K3 sing, in true creepy fashion.
What have been your hardest learned lessons on collecting hardware synths and what advice would you give to the first time buyer?
“Well, if you care whether your money is well spent, buy in person. I’ve ploughed my way through many horrors and witnessed many synth-corpses after unpacking the boxes that had been shipped to me. The thing is, I am ready and willing to take the risk, and I get my share of great experiences and horrible experiences. But if you want to avoid the horrible experiences, do research on a given model’s reliability and buy in person. This also applies to the decision process about which model to buy. If you dislike the feeling of disappointment, do a lot of research before you buy the synth “that best suits your needs”. The problem is that aesthetic needs are very hard to define, and you can do the research for a long, long time, and there’s still no guarantee that the decision will be fruitful. My personal approach is to just buy the fucking thing, see if it works for you, and if it doesn’t – just resell it. It’s still cheaper than the value of all the time you devoted for the research, and less mind-boggling.”
With the runaway success of the Korg MS20 Mini and the hullabaloo surrounding the apparent upcoming revisiting of Roland classics, are you in support of the reissue trend, or should re-hashing be left to the clone producers (crOwbx, TTSH etc)? Is there a danger of looking backwards for so long that synth production doesn’t move forward?
“Uhm… Too broad a topic. I guess I’m the supporter of free market economics. If customers want something, then it’s alright to have it around, even if it’s “wrong” by whatever standards. If a company produces an instrument that nobody wants, this fact will be conveyed to them through the brutal reality of financial losses, and they will no longer flood the market with the useless product. The popularity of portable & simple instruments modeled on the experience of yesteryear tells us something about the lifestyle and demands of today’s musicians. So if the near future persistently revolves around rehashing of the past, it means that the past solutions are more valued than the modern solutions. I myself prefer instruments that are physically big enough to be tactile, deep enough to allow technical freedom, and comfortable enough to let the creativity flow efficiently. But if the reality turns out differently, then so be it. I don’t judge it, I just deal with it. Gosh, I have a feeling I’m becoming vaguely boring, too yes-and-no on these matters :p “
Is there an elusive, yet to be acquired, piece of gear that keeps you awake at night?
“No, my mind doesn’t work that way. I always try to keep a balance between being emotional and analytical. There’s a fine line between passion and madness, so I don’t want any object or idea to overtake my mind. The most important thing is to have a good night’s sleep, and when I wake up, I just evaluate the reality around me; I may go and read some fresh ads to see if there’s some cool synth that popped up overnight. And if there is one… I say you should buy it. But if there isn’t, don’t turn your life upside down just to acquire the holy grail and then say “aaaaaaaah, I have it and now I can sleep soundly”. Reverse the process. But if you’re asking me which synth piques my interest more than others right now, I’ll point to the Matrix-12 (vintage) or DSI Prophet 12 (modern).”
Do synthesizers represent work or purely recreation for you? Many people voice that your product demos and patches trump the factory efforts hands down – would you consider demoing for any of the corporates? Will you ever release your own patches commercially or otherwise?
“It’s recreation. I would not be able to support myself doing synth stuff.
As far as creating patches is concerned, it doesn’t make a difference whether a given synth sits in my room because I had bought it myself, or whether someone had sent it to me. If it sits there, I’m gonna make patches on it. So if somebody entertains the idea of me creating some patches for his synth, I’m still alive and my email works just fine. Will I ever do something? I guess don’t know until I do it.”
What next for Jexus?
“Just a next synth. But I can’t tell you which, because I’m not gonna choose it. It will, through the workings of fate, choose me.”
Interview by Phil Watson & Kevin McAdam