When hard rock heavyweights Guns N’ Roses sang “Welcome to the Jungle” off of their landmark 1987 album Appetite for Destruction, they were referring to the metaphorical jungle of Los Angeles - a city where dreams, just as much as nightmares, can come true. And given the high volume of competition, especially in the music and entertainment industry, it’s dog eat dog. But inside the celebrity skin that casts its veil over the City of Angels lies a rarity - a gentle giant, passionate about music, life, spirituality, and the people he surrounds himself with.
Edgar L. Montiel (Decoding Jesus) broke into the electronic music scene in 1998 following his high profile collaboration with dance legend Superstar DJ KEOKI. Since then, he’s been at it non-stop, working with artists like EVAN GAMBLE LEWIS, DEPECHE MODE, MISSING PERSONS, MOBY, SOUNDSEX (Miko Franconi), RABBIT IN THE MOON, MELLEEFRESH, the FUTURE SOUND OF LONDON, and JACKAL (Scott Weiser) of JACKAL & HYDE. The list of artists that he’s worked with goes on and on. Now as the founder of Let’s Beat Milo Records and Keoki Records, he has become one of the keepers of LA’s independent underground EDM scene.
We had the opportunity to talk to Edgar about his music, his record labels, and his perspectives on the industry today.
How did you get your start as DECODING JESUS and then as the founder of Let’s Beat Milo Records?
Back in the early 1990s, I used to be in the synth pop/industrial group Decode 3, and we were signed to a Hollywood indie label. We were influenced by bands such as Depeche Mode, Nitzer-ebb and FRONT 242, always using technology as our means of making music. By the mid 90s, my image as a bear (a big husky hairy male in the gay community) didn’t go right as a frontman and I was asked to drop the weight, which I was totally against. It was then I realized the band wasn’t working out anymore and we parted ways. At that same time techno started to come in and I delved into it - eating, sleeping, and crapping techno. One day I went to a desert rave in Arizona and a representative of VRG Records recognized me as the frontman for Decode 3. We started talking and soon I began releasing tracks under the alias Magna Charta. Then I worked for LA's major techno label Moonshine Records and later signed to Cleopatra and Hypnotic Records as the artist Decoding Jesus. By that time, the mp3 revolution made CDs and vinyl obsolete, and sustaining a deal that would put out your music was becoming a thing of the past. Nobody was buying CDs, so labels were either dropping artists or having non-exclusive deals with them. But out of that, I started Let’s Beat Milo Records just to get my music out under the same alias Decoding Jesus. By 2007 I signed Superstar DJ Keoki to LBMR and licensed many of our KEOKI vs. DECODING JESUS music productions to other labels like Moist Music and other indie electronica labels worldwide. The rest is history.
The name of your label is Let's Beat Milo Records. Why name a record label with such a name, and who is Milo and why are you trying to beat Milo up?
Funny, I always get asked that question. Let's start out with why I named my label LBMR. In the early 2000s, the music industry was declining because of the mp3 revolution with outlets like Napster being at the forefront. At this time I was thinking about starting my own indie electronica label, not having to deal with the rejections of the bigger labels and the reminder that they're making little to no sales. But before I made the action of launching I was still under contract. I was to write a Big Beat track and during the final production stages, I had to give it a name. My significant other George came into my studio and I quickly said, "I will call this song ‘Myelofibrosis’.” He was not very happy with that name because a few months earlier he was diagnosed with myelofibrosis. Just to make him feel happy I decided not to call it that and instead we named it ‘Let’s Beat Milo Together’. A few weeks later the song was in a compilation CD and we had to celebrate! Unfortunately things just got worse George’s cancer was not letting him progress even after extensive treatment. To make a long story short, I had power of attorney over his affairs and health. On June 3, 2001, I stopped being selfish, pulled him off life support, and gave him back to God. I turned 31 a few days later with my music career taking off. But I’ve never felt so alone. I became a widower and a single man - lost, confused, and angry. But as time went on, the major wounds began to heal; still I had minor ones affecting my life and my profession. I then started to meditate and listen to DEAD CAN DANCE; their music helped me find a much smoother path, a personal conduit to keep on living. I had a new lease on life and in honor of my partner George and his fight against this cancer, I decided to go forward and launch Let’s Beat Milo Records, inspired by that track we both named together. So we both got on our boxing gloves in order to BEAT MILO - short for myelofibrosis. If you look at our font/logo you will see that right beside the word Milo, you will see a few red oval shapes. They are the blood cells infected with this damned cancer. And if you look at the LBMR artwork, you will always see Saint Michael the Archangel defeating Satan. Saint Michael was George's patron saint, so I see the angel as George defeating the Satan - the cancer.
What were some of the highlights of your career so far?
As Decoding Jesus, I would have to say a few, and that would be working with Missing Persons, Depeche Mode, The Future Sound of London, and Rabbit in the Moon. But I would have to also say the pinacle highlight of my career and what I am known for in this industry is for a track I wrote a few years back. It is about a person finding the right path in life and learning from their past experience, aptly called “The Path”, off of the album Leviticus. I released it on Let’s Beat Milo Records, and it received major recognition on iTunes as a must-have or a must-download track. I don’t remember the specifics, but it was a big stepping stone for me and the recognition soon followed. The press was all over it. A few years after, I re-released it in 2009 as “The Path 3.0”. Soon my publishing company licensed it to several commercials in Europe and had it played on an MTV reality show, a major movie and an EDM movie documentary. ‘The Path’ and ‘The Path 3.0’ are, to this day, my music gems. Nowadays I spend 98% of my time running Let’s Beat Milo and then launching Keoki Records thereafter. But aside from music, I also get booked for photo shoots for advertisement and acting. Recently I had a cameo appearance as Decoding Jesus in the gay hit comedy series “Where the Bears Are” for season 1, and they asked me to come back in season 2 and the upcoming season 3. So you can expect Decoding Jesus to be a recurring character in the series.
You noted how the mp3 revolution made CDs and vinyl obsolete in the early 2000s. Now vinyl is making a comeback, and you mentioned about a new 12 inch single release?
It’s funny though; last year, my investor told me that in a few years or so, turntables will be making a comeback, and I started laughing. Last thing I knew, Pioneer dropped a turntable the past week. So now we at LBMR are going forward with a new 12 inch single for Superstar DJ Keoki. To me vinyl has become an artistic statement, and I know this first hand because I have had vinyl and CDs out in record shops worldwide. Of course digital won’t go away, but bringing back the vinyl is a conduit of some sort that you can test your skills and let the public know of your craft as a real DJ. Spinning vinyl is an art and it requires learned skills. But at the end of the day, whether it’s a turntable, CDJ, or midi controller, it comes down to the music and how you are able to use it in order to push the energy in the crowds. And I’ve even seen amazing vinyl DJs work their craft on CDJs and midi controllers. It’s something that comes from within. Finally, if it all just falls down to this question, it would be, “Did you make the people dance?” If so, then you did your job, even if you used a flute.
Photo courtesy of Robert Jaros
Who are your musical influences?
I mentioned earlier acts like Depeche Mode, Nitzer-ebb and Front 242 - a lot of the industrial electronic bands from Europe have been a big influence. THE CRYSTAL METHOD, the PRODIGY, and other UK Big Beat bands are also major. But the biggest one, even hitting me on a spiritual level, would be a gothic band from the 80s - Dead Can Dance. Though known as a gothic band in the past, they are known today as world music. Their music is very ethereal sounding, that even the famous Hans Zimmer always works with them by scoring film music. I can say that Dead can Dance’s music always finds a place within my soul and I use it as inspiration, letting it tap into my inner energies and help me write my own music. They have a very inspiring sound and a personal message via their lyrics. If it wasn’t for that sound, my album Leviticus would of never been, nor would I not have been here today.
How did you come up with the name Decoding Jesus?
The name Decoding Jesus came from my old band’s name Decode 3, and the reason why was simply to let my original, long-time fans know where I was artistically and what I was producing musically. I also consider myself a spiritual person, but not a saint, and I’ve always believed that we are spirits in this world simply having a human experience to learn from. Whether it is a good, bad, or a tragic experience, it is your experience! Hence, we are always here to decode something, right? To learn about our lives and the lives of others - I know it would sound blasphemous to use Jesus’ name, and criticism was always an attachment from certain religious people. But the name, for me, is about us humans, since we all see ourselves as inherently good people. Thus, Decoding Jesus took on the meaning of personal self-discovery.
Let’s Beat Milo Records has been a fully independent electronic music label. Do you wish to see it expand and go more toward the mainstream?
We are totally against that. Let’s Beat Milo Records is a boutique, independent record label. We are a label that believes in the underground scene and in the artist that produce that style of electronica. But who is to say if some of our underground artists go big, becoming mainstream? We have no control over that. Remember at one point some of us have bills to pay, or sell out. The universe has its ways. In addition to this, I own a publishing company called DECODING JESUS MUSIC, and we do license the LBMR catalog to other major or indie labels, but we are very selective as to who we license to. We would never license our music to a pop, classical, hip hop, etc. record label. Would you sell Ragu spaghetti sauce to a Chinese restaurant? Though we don’t stick to one particular genre, as we cover electronica in general, our music might not match what mainstream EDM artists are spinning today.
Who are the artists currently on the Let’s Beat Milo/Keoki Records roster?
We have music from BOBBY DUQUE (who happens to be SKRILLEX’s brother) Jackal (Scott Weiser) of Jackal and Hyde, Evan Gamble Lewis, SOUNDSEX, THE DEVINE XPERIENCE, DJ Will:E, Cod3word, GSTV, Zombie Killaz, Rabbit in the Moon, SOUL PUNCHERZ, and many other original artists.
Aside from Keoki’s 12 inch single on vinyl, are there other releases coming out soon?
With Let’s Beat Milo Records, we will be releasing The Devine Xperience’s EP with radio edits and Keoki Records will be releasing the DJ edits - with remixes by Jackal of Jackal and Hyde, Decoding Jesus vs. THE DUKE AND THE KAISER, and DJ D-XTREME. In addition, for the summer of 2014 we are going to release The Duke and The Kaiser's second EP. We are very excited over that as well.
Do you have anything to say to your fans and your supporters out there?
First and for most, I want to recognize the biggest supporters in what I do - Warren Hernandez and the late George Rada. And I have a personal message to George: I will love you forever, and I would never change anything from our tragic past experiences we both faced together! It was our perfect life experience! It was always in our constructed blue print, even before you and I got here. I know now you are at the place from where we all come from. Lucky you!! I Love you... Your boy Edgar!
Secondly, I wanted to give a big shout out to David Christopher of Rabbit in the Moon; thank you for your hard work and music advice. To Houston Andrews, GLAM Magazine, Victor and Carrie Fonseca, Monty Richard Montelongo, Superstar DJ Keoki, SOUNDSEX, Kim at DIM, Electronic Music Alliance, Janine Jordon and Ken Jordon from The Crystal Method, my boys at the DJ List, DJ Mag, DJ WILL::E, GUSTAVO from GSTV, Bobby Duque, Evan Gamble Lewis, and all of the artists on our label: you’ve been with me and the label through thick and thin. I also want to give a special thanks to the gay community in LA, especially my boys in the bear community. They have been very supportive since the beginning, and I wouldn’t be where I am today without them. I started my career in the community, doing DJ gigs as well as having interviews with LGBT publications. Oh yes, and finally, don't forget to press LIKE on Decoding Jesus' Facebook fan page! And check out KXLU 88.9 FM out of LA, where I will be hosting in a couple of weeks!