Flosstradamus—a.k.a. J2K (Josh Young) and Autobot (Curt Cameruci)—rocketed to fame, quickly started to fade and then mounted a comeback that turned them into international stars. Today, the duo—whose style blends electro, hip-hop and house—continues to push with innovative products like the first vape pen-housed album and a fashion line highlighted by HDYNATION hoodies. Last April, Flosstradamus’ HDYFEST even replaced the Cannabis Cup as the top 420 event in Denver, Colorado taking over the Red Rock Amphitheatre. J2K, who recently released a free solo mixtape under the name Me2, recently spoke with PRØHBTD about the many Floss career highlights.
You just toured South America. Were you able to get out and explore the cities, and did anything interesting happen down there?
I got quite sick with strep throat down there, but I will tell a story that I was not actually there for. Curt was in Buenos Aires, Argentina mapping out directions to some location, and some kids road up on a dirt bike and tried to snatch his phone from him. Curt fought back, struggled with the guy for a little bit and eventually he won. He got his phone back. He got jumped on a back of a bike and rode off. That's kind of a negative story, but the trip overall was a huge positive.
When we tour around, even though the internet makes the world a lot smaller place, we'll go some place where people have no clue who we are. You'll think that we don't even exist as artists. South America was the opposite, even with the language barrier. If I said, “Put your warning signs up,” the entire audience knew what that meant. I put up the hand single that represents our gang, our crew. We saw that, and the crowds were massive, and they were really responsive. South America was a really amazing, it was a great experience for us and cool to see how many fans we have down there.
Your crazy West Fest show is legendary. It made the police go crazy and created some show issues for you in Chicago. What actually happened at West Fest?
That was interesting. The kids were just having a good time. Even though our fanbase likes to smoke and chill out, the shows are the opposite. They are super high energy, and the kids were moshing and going crazy. The security guard, I guess, had a problem with that, and he got sucked into the mosh pit. He got roughed up, and the cops didn't like that. They put the kibosh on that, but they left the lights up, and I just kind of took that as an opportunity to vent frustration I had over the years with the Chicago PD. There are plenty of reasons you could be mad at the Chicago PD, but specifically in that case, we've been doing this for six years, and we’ve been shut down in so many ways while doing something relatively peaceful and harmless and legal. We took that out on them, and they didn't like that, so they had us removed from the Mad Decent block party lineup [in Chicago], which was a few weeks after that. Mad Decent just moved us from Chicago to Philly.
The funny thing is, the Chicago Mad Decent block party got shut down by the police as well. If we would have been on that one, we wouldn't have got a chance to play, anyways. It was a blessing in disguise, actually, that we got to go to Philly. The good people at Lollapalooza sort of broke the curse and had us back. They had us at our first outdoor festival in Chicago in two years. We are all good, now.
Going back a few years, “Total Recall” was a big song for you, but you had issues with the sample that resulted in a the cease and desist email. When music is being given away for free, what do you think the rules for sampling should be?
My general sense on it—and this is not just because this is what we do—but if it's not generating a profit for you, then you shouldn't have to clear the sample. There's plenty of situations where artists do use songs for profit, selling on Apple, streaming on Spotify or even getting licensed for movies or commercials. In that sense, it's great. Everyone gets paid, it is all good. For us, people sample our music all the time and put it up on SoundCloud or on mixtapes or play them in sets. I think as long as it is progressing music and moving things forward, more power to them. That's really what we are doing, we're sort of a big community of musicians. If someone is not making a profit off the tune, I don't think we should have any real issue with it. Again, that is my personal stance on it. Some people feel it differently.
Going way, way back, tell me about famous Town Hall Pub shows you use to do. What made them special?
The Town Hall shows were special for us because Curt and I have always been underdogs. That is sort of our story. We were trying to get these club nights in Chicago at different nightclubs, and they just wouldn't have us. It was a different time in Chicago. People were just wanting to hear house music or electronic music on some sort of level, and our style was sort of all over the place. There really wasn't a home for that sound yet. Curt's girlfriend at the time was working at this hole-in-the-wall pub. It was really like a Grateful Dead dive bar that held 75 people. They gave us one Wednesday night a month, and we started our party there. The first couple of months, it was just our friends, but then we finally filled it. Not to incriminate anyone, but they let a lot more people in than 75. There were nights during Lollapalooza or Pitchfork [Music Festival] with 300 people in there, maybe more, standing on the bars, standing everywhere they could. It was a very special time establishing us, and a lot of artists come through like A-Trak, Diplo, Cool Kids, Kid Sister, a lot of the Chicago rappers at time.
It was a place where people had platforms to do new songs, try out material, and that became a really special thing for us. Still to this day, we look at it as a platform for what we are even doing now.
You were the first artist to put out a release, BANNED 3D, on a Vape Pen. What inspired the idea?
It started with me and Curt just being fucking stoned and thinking these Vape Pens are USB charged, but we hadn't seen one yet that had data on it. We were like, “There has got to be a way that you can make that into a flash drive.” It didn't exist, so we actually went directly to a manufacturer in China to have them make it. We always look to come up with innovative ways to release music, and we put extra effort into that because everything we released up to that point was digital. We said, “Hey, it's BANNED 3D, let's make a physical item,” and it all just came together.
In interviews, you have been open about how Floss had two waves. You had an initial surge of popularity, which ebbed for a bit, and now it took off again. How do you think this experience made you better as artists and as people?
As artists, we got to fail a bunch. We had to watch ourselves make mistakes and fall on our face. I am sure you've heard this before, but with a lot of artists, the best stuff comes from those moments in which you are at your lowest. For us, with the branding, the production, the way we release music, what we do with show money, how we've invested that back into the brand and the show and the performance… it gave us a business structure and mentality this time around where we don't take it for granted. We've really, for the last four years, put our heads down and fought our hardest to make a name for ourselves. Even though we came back with a new sound and original production, as an existing artist around for 10 years, a lot of the music publications and Pitchforks of this world were like, “Flosstradamus, we've already heard them, yada, yada, yada.” For us, we really had to make a name for ourselves without having that initial buzz or attention. That was really good for us.
As far as people, the mistake we made before was touring ourselves to death. We toured pretty much nonstop for six years the first time around. It brought us to a really bad place where we weren't being creative or living healthy. In a general sense, we just weren't healthy people, and it made us really unhappy and got us to a bad place. Whereas now, being on the road, we are eating right, working out, being mindful of how much time we put into touring and promotion and music. We're really trying to work on finding a balance with all of that. I am not 21, I am 31. I know that's still young, but it's a very large difference in the way that you look at the world.