Interview with Joey Coco

May 26, 2024
Interview with Joey Coco

Area 3000 founder Sindy interviews Joey Coco, a local music producer and DJ known for his vibrant persona and unwavering devotion to music.

Joey is often dubbed the "Sultan of Swing" for his exciting performances and captivating stage presence. His background in hip-hop and ability to blend various sub-genres of House music showcases his contagious passion for music.

Recently, he wrapped up his first national tour promoting his latest EP, Valentino, which was written in collaboration with Canadian producer Jason Hodges and Melbourne vocalist Emerson Alexander, a finalist on The Voice.

The national tour, presented by Sydney-based Refuge Recordings, included headline shows at The Toff in Melbourne, Civic Underground in Sydney, One22 in Canberra, Elsewhere in the Gold Coast, and Oasis in Brisbane.

Joey has worked with labels such as Nervous Records, Love Above, and Music Is 4 Lovers. He is no stranger to the Melbourne club circuit, regularly performing at Brown Alley, Revolver, ATET, Circus, Glamorama, and plenty more. His music ranges from the deep and dubby to the classic and OG, showcasing his versatility as an artist capable of resonating with diverse audiences.

Whether you have encountered Joey Coco's electrifying aura firsthand or heard his tracks pulsating through Melbourne's vibrant nightlife, his influence as one of the city's most sought-after artists is undeniable.

Listen to the interview on Soundcloud.

Follow Joey Coco for updates on his upcoming gigs and releases.

Interview Transcript

Sindy: Let's start with the release of your recent EP, Valentino. Can you tell us more about the inspiration behind this and how you involved Jason Hodges and Emerson Alexander?

Joey: It starts with any producer just making beats. I think this was over a year ago, or maybe right on a year ago. I was making some beats, about to give up on one beat, and then I found this cool sample and then this cool drum sample, and I had some keys on it. From there, I made my version and needed a vocal. And like you said, I love hip hop and R&B. That's my background. So, I had this cool sample of this guy, Bobby Valentino, and he's got this track slowed down. This is when I was 15, and 16 was coming up. I loved this kind of music and was like, yeah, I'll put that over that. I manipulated it, chopped it up, and sent it to the man Oscar, who runs Refuge [Records]. Yes, my big brother. And he was like, yep, Jason Hodges is going to be all over this. I sent it to Jason Hodges. We've done a track before. So, we had that vibe going, and that track did well. We also did that with Emerson.

Sindy: Brilliant. And Emerson, do you know him personally?

Joey: Yeah, I know, Emerson; as you mentioned, I used to do a lot of hip-hop stuff. We were in a band, and I met Emerson probably in 20, I want to say 2012 or 2013, at a bar called Vol Ludo in St. Kilda. We used to work together quite a bit. He was in a band called Mix Method with a few others. I don’t know if you know Agile. He's like a percussionist and DJ. He's pretty cool. He was in the band. We used to go around the vineyard, the Espy, and many places around St. Kilda and play. From there, anytime my band needed a vocalist, he would come on board to fill in, and we became mates. I trust him; he's just one of the best, knows what to do, riffs, and has an incredible voice. It's funny that you mentioned The Voice or props to him. He did well.  

Sindy: I read that you started your music journey in hip-hop, and you just touched on that. So maybe you could tell us what initially drew you to hip-hop and how the genre influenced your style and career path.

Joey: I mean, not to make it about, I guess growing up in Australia, growing up coloured, you look on the TV, I used to watch video hits, Rage and stuff a lot. And you look, you're like, who are the people that look like me? You were sent to that. I love the music and the culture. I was all about it. Even from Sesame Street Days, I love the Rhythm and the Blues; they used to incorporate that. I started rapping. I was like, I'm going to give this a go in high school. From there, it was after high school, it had always been my dream to play with a band. I loved the Roots, so my dream has always been to play with a band and tour. I think it would be like 2011ish. I got a group of mates together, and we started doing that. And we did pretty well. We went on a couple of tours, went to the US, and had a couple of tracks on Triple J. That was the big thing. We've got to get a track on Triple J. Sorry, I don’t know if we're meant to talk about other radio stations.

Sindy: Don't listen to Triple J.

Joey: Disclaimer. It was a great time in my life, and all my mates because it was playing music with your best friends, trying to create music with them. And we had so many influences. Two of my best mates love more heavy music, metal and stuff like that. We were all into a little bit of gospel. A few of us grew up in church, so it was all different influences. And then we met playing all these gigs. We played heaps of gigs. It was too many gigs as a band. You think that, as a DJ, you play too many gigs, but as a band, playing that many gigs and having to go and set up all this stuff is too much. Yeah, wow. So, it got a little bit taxing. At that time, I also started DJing and producing a lot more.  

Sindy: Tell us what inspired this shift from that hip-hop band and how you navigated it.

Joey: I was always into everything. All kinds of music growing up. A lot of my older cousins and family friends. They all went through that old-school Melbourne clubbing period. And they showed me a lot of house music. They loved house music, and that's what birthed it in me. And then going through high school and attending all the birthday parties, I think Electro was big back then. It was like the mainstream electro, but still the Ministry of Sound, all that stuff. And then I also used to get into the hard candy kind of stuff. I always kept an ear out for it, just like any other genre of music, even though I was so invested in hip-hop.

But then, I guess there was just this time. I reckon it was a friend who got started getting into it. He was into everything, and he's a big record collector. Big shout out to Kent Len. When we started going out to parties a bit more, I always thought about going to parties or going out. I thought this track would be a great transition to that track. Any DJ, we're always thinking that. So, I figured I would put pen to paper and give it a go. From there, I started playing and collecting records.

Sindy: Fantastic. Well, you’ve come a long way. So earlier this year you embarked on a national tour, your first national tour across the east coast of Australia, promoting the Valentino EP. What was this experience like?

Joey: Crazy, crazy. I looked back on it and wondered, what the bloody hell am I doing? I can't believe this is happening. Even the ability to sell out, not sell out, but sell tickets. Sell tickets to a show. The fact that I was even able to sell five ten-one tickets, I'm stoked. I'm stoked. I'm a man of simple things in life. But it was nice. It was so nice having a great crowd at all the shows. The Toff was great to do that in your hometown. I think we sold nearly a hundred tickets or something like that. It was pretty cool. And the crowd was small. They're all intimate shows. And that's how I like it. An intimate show is beautiful. City Underground as well. Sydney. It's a hard market, and doing anything there is tough. And on a Friday night, I went out on Thursday, and that was going off. There are some cool places in Sydney now.

Sindy: How do you find the difference? Because, to be honest, I haven't gone out much in Sydney. How do you find the difference in a Melbourne crowd versus Sydney?

Joey: Well, I mean, we went to some bars. There's this cool place, apparently—you’re not meant to say it's like a Music Room-ish kind of place—called the Caterpillar Club.

Sindy: I was like, why can't you tell me the name? Is it a secret society?

Joey: I've read online that it is. It’s a business, though, right? They're trying to drum up business. It was packed. That was on a Thursday night. But there were just some incredible places, and it had a really good vibe. But apparently, everyone goes out on Thursday night, and no one goes out on Friday night.

Sindy: Like a Uni crowd or?

Joey: It was a bit of both. A lot of after-work people are working from home on Fridays now.

Sindy: Oh, true. “Working from home”.

Joey: Yeah, that's what I did after coming home from 161 at 5:30 a.m. last night. I think Civic Underground gets a lot of walk-ins. So, we were thinking maybe there'd be some walk-ins, but there weren't that many, but there were still heaps of people there. And it was great because the Melbourne Lines guys got involved as well. So, they helped us out. Shout out to those guys. They're the best. Sorry, Bondi Lines in Sydney.

Apologies. Apologies Cal. But yeah, it was still great. Everyone was up for a dance, and everyone was keen. We also received great support from my friend Kalu, who's playing at Glam tomorrow night. And Sanchez, who's an absolute legend. Sydney was great. Canberra is amazing. Hot damn, Canberra was sick. That room is probably, I'm going to get a lot of, I don't know, I'll say it, one of the best rooms in Australia. The sound system is incredible. My boys who work there and run the show, Frankie, Ben, and Josh, are the biggest legends in the world. And it was such a good crowd. Everyone was down for it. So that was probably the show of the tour in Canberra.

Sindy:  I wouldn't have expected that.

Joey: Yeah, neither would I. But it was really good. Gold Coast and Brisbane were cool too. Brisbane was on a boat. Have you seen Glass Island on Sydney Island? It's a boat. It's big party vibes in a new place.

Sindy: Is it like ATET? Do you know how to say it?

Joey: I think it's ATET. This is what Walter told me.

Sindy: Alright. Walter must know.

Joey: Yeah, you'd hope so. Well, the best for those boys as well. Best wishes. But yeah, Brisbane was cool. This was the first weekend of March; the weekend before that, it was massive. And they had a massive act the next week. So, I got the lull week. But it was cool. It was fun. Everyone was down for it. Gold Coast was awesome, too. There is a great crew down there. Canberra, man. Canberra. Big up to everyone who came to the show.

Sindy: And it's your name on the bill, right?

Joey: Yeah, that's incredible. I couldn't believe it, especially that Canberra one. There was a poster that I took a photo of, and it was like all these crazy artists. Chaos in the CBD, this person, that person, Rob Anthony, was on there. It was like, man, it was crazy to be on that poster. Blessed.

Sindy: It must feel very special. Now that you've had a taste of touring, are you ready to go back and do it again?

Joey: A hundred per cent. Yeah, a hundred per cent. I want to keep doing this. This has been my goal ever since I was a kid. I wanted to do this: get those frequent flyer points up and get those status credits up and travel and play music, make the people move, meet new people, share stories, and have those experiences. Later in the year, I'll be going to America. New York. I think we've got a couple of shows there. So that would be fun. That'd be fun with my boy Pinto, who's from New York. So yeah, I've got a taste for it, and I'd love to go everywhere.

Sindy: I know some people in New York, so maybe I can link you up.

Joey: Let’s go. Come on, Sindy. Let's tee it up. Maybe you should come.

Sindy: I would love to. You can put me on your business. I'll be a manager. Tell Oscar he can stay at home.

Your energetic stage presence is, I think, one of the most iconic things about you as a DJ. I always see photos or videos of you, and you're lighting up the place. How do you maintain such high energy levels during performances?

Joey: I don’t know because I need to get in the gym a bit more to get that up. It's the music. And even when there's no one in the crowd. I played a bar gig the other day where no one was paying attention to the DJ. They don't care. They want to chat and have a few drinks. But I'm still there, rocking out. It's for music. I love it, especially when you go through so much music weekly. Every day, I try to find music and listen to it, but sometimes, listening to it at home is not the same as playing it out or mixing it in with another tune. It's not the same. So, when you get that groove and that in that pocket, and it's sick, it's beautiful. It's a beautiful thing. So that's what Gs me up. But when you're playing, I'm going to mention Glamorama. When you're playing a show at Glam, and you are playing the tunes you want to play, and the crowds going, they've got that vibe. It's unmatched. It's a beautiful thing. So, that's where the energy comes from. I feed off the energy from the music and the people.

Sindy: Well, you're good at it.

Joey: I try.

Sindy: Can you share some insights into your creative process from a music production point of view?

Joey: Yeah. There's no process at all. I wish there were. I always have ideas in my head. I've got so many ideas that I'm sitting on right now, and I told you before pre-recording that I’ve moved back home. So, it's hard to set my space up, but it's like the house has gone through renovations. There's this, there's that happening. It's hard to concentrate. And obviously, I've also got 50 different things going on during the week. I've got all this stuff going on in my head, and I know what I want to do. But sometimes, when you go in one direction, something pulls you in another, and I honestly go with the flow. Whatever happens to it comes to me. If I've got an idea, I'll try it out.

Probably, I need a little bit more patience. That's what I need. I think maybe it's a common thing amongst producers. We always want the ability to do that gratification right then and there. But you need to work through it and keep going. The process for me is drums, bass, and keys, but not always. Many of my tracks have started with chords, like piano chords or a sample or something like that. That's my process. There's no process. And I kind of like it like that. I need to start working with other people, though. I enjoy seeing how they work, and then I can get and implement some of their tips. But it's all the time.

Sindy: The lifelong problem.

Joey: I know you're a busy person as well.

Sindy: Gosh, yeah, we won't go there.

Joey: Okay.

Sindy: Do you vape?

Joey: Yeah, I want to know where this is coming from.

Sindy: So, where is this coming from? I've actually got some background here. The Australian Government introduced new legislation in Parliament to address what it calls a public health menace. If passed, these new laws will make Australia home to the strictest regulations on vaping in the world.

Joey: I heard about this on the news the other day.

Sindy: The legislation will prohibit the import, manufacture, supply and commercial possession of non-therapeutic and single use vapes. So, the only legal vape products left would require a prescription.

Joey: From a GP.

Sindy: Patients can still use nicotine vapes, but only for therapeutic purposes as a second-line measure to help people quit smoking. Those who violate the proposed laws - these haven't come into effect yet - those who violate the proposed laws could face severe consequences, including up to seven years in prison or fines of up to $2.2 million.

Joey: Is this for users?

Sindy: I think that this part would be for the distributors, but the use of vaping will be banned as well. And if passed, this could come into effect as soon as the 1st of July this year. So, I guess what I'm curious to know from you is, as someone deeply embedded in Melbourne's music scene, you'll have seen how many people are now using vapes and how this has changed in probably the last five years.

Joey: I reckon after Covid, for real.

Sindy: It was like no one vaped, and then everyone vaped.

Joey: Everyone's vaping. And you know what? I'm complicit in this as well. I am not going to judge anyone.

Sindy: My question is, are you concerned by the rising trend in vaping?

Joey: Yeah, it's shocking. It isn't good. It isn't good for you. I think about this every day. I'm like, what the hell am I doing?

Sindy: How many times would you use a vape a day?

Joey: I started last year because I was having a few drinks, and we were walking past a vape shop. I was like, you know what? I'm going to get a vape. From there, I was like, all right, I'll only do this on the weekends when I go out and drink. Then I went to Europe and spent a month and a half there. I was like, I'm on holiday; I want to vape every day. And I came back and was like, oh, it's summer. I'll keep it going. And then I was like, all right, my cutoff is the 1st of March, the first, it's now the 22nd of March.

Sindy: Was there a reason for that date?

Joey: That was just the end of summer. And then since then, I'm like, all right, I need to stop. We need to stop. So, I'm calming myself down a little bit. Even the other day, I got rid of a couple that I was like, all right, no, this is too much. And they were also on their last leg. So, I was like, all right, see you later. But I got rid of a couple and then worked the full day. I was like, yep, sweet, no worries. And I got to the end of the day, I was like, oh man, I'd love a vape right now. So, my jolly self and I went out and got one. I can't put a number on it, but I've been in my head trying to monitor and make sure I don't need it because it's such an easy thing, especially when you're DJing. It isn't good. We're supposed to be custodians of the venue, and there are all these signs. Sorry, venues, I'm sorry. All these signs are everywhere saying no, and then we are doing it. It's not good.

Sindy: Were you a smoker before?

Joey: I was a long time ago, mostly when having a drink.

Sindy: But not every day?

Joey: Nah, nah. And that's a bad thing, so I'm really hoping. And then you know what? The funny thing is, I heard this news: we only have until July, so maybe I'll extend it to July.

Sindy: So, would you welcome this ban?

Joey: I’m of the thought pattern that people should do whatever the hell they want. The advice is out there; obviously, it's terrible. The problem is that it's affecting many kids and teenagers, which isn't good. Fair enough. I understand that. So, I guess there's got to be a lot more, but how do you regulate this? It's so unregulated. There's got to be a lot more regulation, but I don't know how that works. It's got to be a lot stricter. Stringent, like smoking. But I'm not the think tank on this one.

Sindy: That’s alright. You don't need to have all the answers. I’ve been asking a few people about this recently. I'm just curious as someone who doesn't vape.

Joey: What makes you so interested in it?

Sindy: I see it as a health issue. I don't smoke. I did smoke now and then at parties, as you said, but I never caught onto it. And I'm slightly asthmatic. That was always a terrible idea. I just thought I looked cool.

Joey: Yeah, of course. I think that's half of it, right?

Sindy: And then vaping, I never latched onto, and I'm grateful for it because I've seen how it affects other people. I haven't seen anyone affected to the point of being hospitalised or something like that. But I see my friends constantly with a vape in their mouth, and I think, I'm glad that's not me. So that's where I’m coming from. But also, as you said, I think everyone's entitled to their own choices. But I feel like with young people and even kids that are 18, ‘kids’, are they really that informed? Do they know, or have they taken up this habit because their friends have?

Joey: I mean, it's a community thing. Everyone's doing it. People fall asleep with them. The other day, my friend told me this story about her friend, I feel wrong for saying this, but I don't give a fuck. But she's like, you know how sometimes you wake up in the morning, it's like 5:00 AM in the morning or something. You wake up and then go back to sleep. And then she'll wake up and see the vape and go [use it] and then go back to sleep. I'm lucky I haven't been there yet. I'm hyper-aware of the fact that I need to stop, and if I need to do anything, I get my mate to roll me a smoke. Thanks, Connie. I don't smoke anymore, either. I'm off cigarettes for some reason. I used to love them, but yeah, it is a problem.

Maybe you should join the, no, don't worry about that. You've already got too many things going on. Join the think tank on how we are going to stop it.

Sindy: I think one way is to talk about it, right?

Joey: Do you work in this stuff, or should we leave that off?

Sindy: I work in comms and investor relations but for a science company. I'm curious about it because I see how it impacts the music community. As you said, you go to a club, Glamorama, wherever everyone vapes. I had to put signs up in the studio because I could smell the vape. When I came in, I was like, guys, this room has no windows.

Joey: Exactly, yes. No ventilation, no vaping. How's Area 3000 going?

Sindy: It's good. It continues to grow and…

Joey: It's a powerhouse.

Sindy: Yeah. This year, we've got the biggest program we've ever had, which is really exciting. So, we increased from last year. I think we had six hours of scheduled shows per day, Monday through Friday. Now we're up to eight hours Monday through Friday. And there are almost 90 shows this year.

Joey: That's wild. Crazy. That's awesome. Congratulations.

Sindy: Thank you. Yeah, it's really exciting.  I’m getting to know everyone that's come on board this year because we've got many new people and…

Joey: I saw my mate has a show this year.

Sindy: So yeah, it's been very exciting but busy. It'll take a few months to get into the swing of things this year.

Joey: Excellent.

Sindy: So, back to you. What role does Melbourne play in shaping your musical identity?

Joey: Everything. Everything. It's so funny that you say that because when you go interstate and stuff, you don't realise how Melbourne we play if you haven't played interstate. Although I guess everyone nowadays is the fast up, bang, bang, bang, bang. So, it was cool because I play like that at certain gigs, like Glam, it calls for that. I like being able to do that sometimes. I enjoy playing diverse. This gig, this tour, and the gigs I played were quite housey, 126, 130 bpm, probably 130 maximum, which is still fast. But yeah, it's so interesting playing tracks that only Melburnians would get. And that comes from having listened to so many Melbourne DJs, the Cream, Boogs, Spacey, and Ben Silver, who we’re playing with tonight. These guys and so many others as well. The ones you, the Steve LEAs, even all my mates, Bosco, all the Northside crew, Melbourne Deep Cast guys, and Skylab. Everyone's got a particular way of playing, and sometimes it doesn't always translate, but Melbourne shaped me because I was born and raised a baby in this city. It's got a lot to do with it, and it's so good. We also get such a diverse variety of music. There’s something for everyone. But it is funny how sometimes it doesn't translate to other places. I guess it's on a track-by-track basis.

Sindy: Maybe just a vibe, like an overall vibe.

Joey: I think that Melbourne bounce sort of stuff. Not that I play it or anything. It doesn't work in Sydney, for example. That's just an example. I don't play that stuff.

Sindy: Do you have any advice for a young person, or they don't have to be young, actually, but someone new to the scene?

Joey: I get asked this a lot, to be quite honest. I'm not in a position to give anyone advice.

Sindy: What do you think gave you your biggest shot then?

Joey: Honestly, networking. You are getting out there, meeting people, being a part of the scene and the music. There's that culture where you’ve got to be a part of it, make friends, and be a part of the scene. A lot of people sometimes think that's bending or partying. It's not. It's being a part of it and creating connections with people you want to connect with. But also focus on the music. It's all about the music. That's a foundation. Just focus on that. Ensure you go out there; you always search and focus on that.

Sindy: Are there any upcoming projects or things for which we can stay tuned? Besides New York, of course.

Joey: Yeah. Are you coming along? Let's go. We're working on a few things, such as a couple of labels and maybe a new one with Jason Hodges, which could be cool. We're also working on a new one with Pinto. And yeah, there are a couple of things in the pipeline. There are new gigs and hopefully more interstate shows.

Sindy: Fantastic. It's been a pleasure hearing from you. But that flew, so we have to do this again.

Joey: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate you all the time. Always.

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