Jem Stone, the alias of the prolific artist and musician Jem Panufnik, is a name synonymous with pushing boundaries in underground art and music. Since the late 90s, Jem has been a driving force, co-founding the legendary Finger Lickin' Records, a platform that showcased his multifaceted talents – graphic design, DJing, and record production.

A master of many forms, Jem's distinctive "comic-funk" style graces everything from record sleeves and posters to tattoos and beer labels. His artwork has been exhibited across the UK and US.

But the groove doesn't stop there! As a composer and producer, Jem boasts a massive repertoire under various aliases, including Jem Stone and Soul of Man. His infectious beats have graced esteemed labels like Tommy Boy and Ghettofunk, while his remixing prowess has touched artists as diverse as Kraak & Smaak and Smoove & Turrell.

Now, Jem embarks on a triumphant new chapter with his imprint Bona Fido and is presenting his latest album "The Legend Of Kaptain Karnival".

Interview

Can you describe the concept behind your new album and what inspired you to create a "psychedelic Hero’s Journey"?

With a ton of tracks aimed at DJs and dancefloors behind me this time I really wanted to make an album that would go back to storytelling in some way, and with a massive visual element. I’ve been doing a fair amount of music for theatre, dance and immersive events on the side and it reignited a passion for narrative, using live musicians and give license to be totally free in style and tempo. The initial spark happened during lockdown, already a few tracks in and it was becoming increasingly filmic and visual in my mind, and the idea of a musical book took shape.

Musically I really wanted to get back to the kind of grooves that don’t need to answer to no nobody: 25 years ago I was listening to William Orbit, Kruder and Dorfmeister, Quantic, plus labels like Tummy Touch and Mo’Wax, and as Finger Lickin’ became more streamlined-breaks I found myself quite jealous of their non-specificness - I have always had a problem with “genres”!

I’d also been playing with this image of a dilapidated circus monkey, something simultaneously so funny and sad, and without getting too deep I not only found it symbolic of many conflicting human emotions but also the notion that to another distant or alien civilisation this masterful creature, that dresses in finery and performs complex acts, may not be a clown but actually perceived as some kind of god. So, Kaptain Karnival became this icon that represented both faith and frivolity, depending on what you thought you were searching for. Personally, I think I was looking for a bit of mischief…

How does your experience as a graphic artist influence your music production, especially for this album?

For years I struggled to get the two forms to unite until we started Finger Lickin’, at which point it was a pretty obvious but a lightbulb moment nevertheless to create some powerful branding and imagery to go with the grooves. At that time breaks was still mainly disco bags and plain labels. From that moment the art and music became fused, and I massively got into visualising not just my own Soul of Man tracks but also for Plump DJs, DrumAttic Twins and all the other artists. So since then, it is instinct to imagine visuals to the music and vice versa.

For this project it was imperative from the off to have a visual angle as it really helped give me the freedom to create with abandon instead of being bogged down with how to introduce different sections, like we all find ourselves in a loop doing whilst hammering out club track arrangements. I could see it more as a film score and I could afford to be more lush and slowly paced.

Could you share any specific challenges you faced while creating this album and how you overcame them?

Funnily enough the creation was amazingly fluid. Lockdown also managed to help me secure the involvement of some very prestigious musicians normally on the road including clarinet and sax player Ben Castle, who has worked with everyone from Quincy Jones to Radiohead, and brass maestro Dom Glover who has played with Brand New Heavies, Groove Armada and Primal Scream. We worked remotely and they were able to send me stems from their respective home set-ups. What’s more, instead of me giving them just musical suggestions my direction was more abstract, describing characters and scenarios, like crazed drunken elephant (Moose Knuckle Sandwich) and sleazy ostrich (Knead Us to Temptation) - and they certainly rose to the challenge.

Is there a particular track on the album that holds a special meaning to you, or that you think fans might be surprised by?

Late Night Check-in at the Neon Tuxedo Hotel was a track that really took a life of its own. I wanted it to be this kind of 80s film noir: flashing neon signs reflected in the urban sidewalk puddles kinda thing. The groove came pretty quickly, but once I dropped in the amazing musicianship of Ben, Dom and my old Prophets of Sound cohort Dylan Barnes, it really became that story. It’s deep but infectious. Michael Douglas could easily stumble out of a dark corner with undone bowtie and Brigette Nielsen’s red stiletto marks on his face

What are your future plans for your music and art? Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re particularly excited about?

Right now, the focus is on Kaptain Karnival: as well as the luscious hardback book of illustrations simultaneously coming out on Velocity Press I’m staging an exhibition of images from the album at the Farsight Gallery in London at the end of July which will then travel around UK (check kaptainkarnival.com for details). Musically I have just finished a smoky, jazzy house remix of Modal Projekt for Freshly Squeezed, and there’s some more juicy disco breaks on the way from Midnight Heist, my project with Lee Rous from Plump DJs. I also have a fantastic Ursula 1000 remix of the next track from the album to unleash in September. It’s all systems go!

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