“This is an artistic representation of self-sabotage,” explains Chicago-based electronic artist Owen Bones about his three-track release, the Sabotage EP. “I created it with intent to portray an armed takeover of myself. Insecurity and ego are like weapons against your creativity, and that’s the conversation I’m having on this project.”
Bones’ success thus far has been slow-burning, allowing him to quietly sit back and decide who he really wants to be as an artist. While Chicago’s home to a fair share of rappers endorsing violence and DJ’s adding noise to an overly saturated medium, Bones has an entirely different agenda—one that rejects the title “DJ” altogether and promotes communal positivity.
“I’m pretty vocal about not letting rappers glorify violence,” Bones said. “I feel like ‘the artist’ has a responsibility to promote content that’s beneficial for communities to digest. I love rap, but when Chief Keef’s last album came out, I found myself unable to listen because of the things he talks about. Subconsciously listening to people talking about murder, drug use or disrespecting women definitely has an effect on people’s mental state.”
While most of the music he’s addressing projects aggression outward, Bones’ EP does so internally. From opening track, “Super Late,” to the project’s closer, “Sin Eater,” the Sabotage EP traces Bones’ journey from peaceful beginnings to a dramatic downfall until finally learning to assimilate with the world around him. We caught up with the rising artist to talk about his interactive live show, self-discovery and Chicago.
Why don’t want to call yourself a DJ?
“Long story short, everyone’s a DJ now, you know? It’s not even necessarily that I’m trying to prove that I’m different from everyone or that being a DJ is phony or bogus, it’s just that I’m more interested in creating—in making interesting art. Associating yourself with a title of producer or DJ or any one thing in particular puts you in a shoebox of doing just one particular thing. With developing the live show, I’m trying to take on the title of just, ‘Maker’—someone who’s just doing art and producing interesting things. I feel like ‘DJ’ or ‘Producer’ doesn’t really fit that.”
At one point you did consider yourself a DJ, so what sparked this switch?
“My music has always sounded different then current electronic music trends, but it was really just me realizing that I can do what I want. It wasn’t necessarily that I had any apprehension about being a DJ; it was just that I didn’t realize I could do other things. I thought that since there are these paths that exist, I would follow one of them and work in that regard. Now, with my decision to leave school and feeling more support from people, I realize that I should be uncompromising in my vision and if there’s something I want to do differently, I should just do it.”
You’ve been developing an interactive live show. Explain that.
“All ‘Owen Bones’ imagery is based upon distorted reality, but tastefully distorted reality—nothing insane, subtle glitching that adds an element of surrealism. I’d seen some live shows where people incorporated these elements. I’m a sucker for holograms—anything surreal. I was trying to brainstorm a way in which I could create some sort of space of suspended disbelief on stage around me.
It started just like an idea of triggering graphics live, which led to controlling the visual elements on stage live. Then I was thinking, ‘Okay, what if there was some sort of depth sensing camera that was rendering me.’ I came up with a pretty concise way to implement all of this, but I figured it would manifest years in the future—that I would need label money or some sort of investor. I’m getting bored of DJs standing there and playing music with everyone just staring at them, so I wanted to give people something new. Pretty much on a whim I was like, ‘Fuck it,’ and over the course of a month spent a bunch of money to get this prototype working.”
Having been raised in Chicago, your music sounds unlike anything that’s happening here. Why do you think that is?
“I’ve been playing music for so long, so I guess the concise explanation is that I’ve had a lot of time to find out what I like. I was playing drums for the better half of a decade and we were writing our own songs even then. I was in a garage band when I was 11, and by the time I decided I wanted to get good at computer music, I was already comfortable with letting things come out of my head. When I first started getting recognition, it was a result of literally my streaming consciousness working into making songs. It’s not directly influenced by anyone or anything; it’s just the sounds in my head. I’m able to translate them without any ego or considering if it’s going to be cool or not.”
So, where do you fit within Chicago music?
“I don’t really think that I fit in with Chicago music at all. I have nothing against local musicians and I’m friends with local musicians, but everyone has a group. Everyone has a ‘squad,’ and it’s very difficult to infiltrate those things. I also don’t think I want to infiltrate those squads. In the past, I used to be upset when I wouldn’t get looks from groups or when SaveMoney didn’t want to have me produce all their shit or when rappers didn’t want to work with me; I would wonder what I was doing wrong.
Now that I’m building my own platform, I’m much more interested in where I come from, affecting the community and enacting positive change inside the community. So in terms of Chicago music, I’m just another element of it I guess. I think that I’m just part of the larger ecosystem as opposed to fitting into some niche.”
Is it hard to ignore ego in a genre that seems pretty charged with egos?
“There was a period of time where I wasn’t making much music. My sophomore year [of college], I was feeling pretty bad about myself because I was thinking in terms of, ‘Okay, what songs are going to be strategic that people will want to hear?’ That was a process—a saga in my life when I said, ‘Fuck specifically making things to fit a niche.’ I just decided to make music that I like.
It’s kind of cliché, but obviously there’s still a degree of understanding what would be viable commercially. If I hear a song that I like or hear a remix that I want to do, I’m just going to do it—I’m not going to think about the repercussions. I’ll figure that out later.”
For this EP, was there a specific direction you wanted to go?
“I want Owen Bones to eventually become, not to directly reference other artists, like Gorillaz, for example—they had a very rich narrative, almost like a world they lived in, which had certain characters. But it was also very subtle and cryptic—it’s not explicitly explained, so you just have to piece things together. I became really inspired by that and wanted to start building some sort of world that the Owen Bones reality exists in.
With the Sabotage EP, it was about a period in my life when I was feeling really shitty and quite literally sabotaging myself. I was thinking that I was either not good at music or that I had to do things a certain way, or doubting myself. So I’ve been trying to start establishing Owen Bones as something outside of just this little skull logo I’ve branded things with; the jacket I had designed was to essentially bring that skull into the real world. Everything is just the first step in building a narrative.”
(Wardrobe Courtesy Saks Fifth Avenue Chicago)