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From EDM to WVO: The Crystal Method’s Ken Jordan on activism, environmentalism, and culture [Interview]

It’s hard to predict how dramatically and quickly life can change. Just four years ago, Ken Jordan was still active as one half of legendary duo the Crystal Method, and now he’s living in the Costa Rican jungle, creating a life of elegant rural simplicity with his wife Janine. After moving out of LA for good, the couple have been hard at work on a permaculture farm, food forest, and a variety of other environmental initiatives. We were able to catch up with Ken and Janine at Envision Festival, held only a couple hours’ drive from their estate, after Ken’s presentation as one of the many educational talks at the event.

Clearly veterans of the scene, Ken and Janine show no signs of fatigue on this Sunday, the final day of the festival. Together for over 13 years, there’s no doubt they could write a book solely about being part of the global electronic music scene for so long, but it quickly becomes clear that they’re passionate about something more these days. Although utterly professional in their demeanor, crisply dressed (and even a couple minutes early for our meeting,) the pair have the distinctly laid-back air of people who have been living in and enjoying Costa Rica’s “pura vida” way of life for some time.

While out at Envision’s 2020 gathering, CE sat down to talk with Ken and Janine about their efforts over the past four years.

CE: In 2016, you retired from music and moved to Costa Rica. What brought about that lifestyle change?

KJ: I’d been in the Crystal Method for 23 years. I was proud of all the work we had done, but different things just became more important to me, and how I wanted to live the rest of my life with meaning and purpose. Living in harmony with the earth and nature, growing food and permaculture, being a good steward of the earth, all of that became more important than continuing to work on EDM. That will always be part of me, and I’ll occasionally do things–my partner and I are doing something together in April in Denver–a benefit for DanceSafe called FundRager, I’m excited about that.

When I decided to retire I worked it out with my partner where he can continue to be the Crystal Method, he’s still doing great, he has a new album out called The Trip Home. I feel really good about that, we’re still doing great, we have a great relationship, so it worked out the best for everyone.

ken jordan crystal method

Ken performing with the Crystal Method before his retirement.

KJ: So we had been coming to Costa Rica for 10 or 12 years, we had built a beach property near Santa Theresa, and we’re coming down a lot, fell in love with the country, met a lot of amazing friends, and one of those friends was starting an eco community nearby. That was really interesting to us, we were in a transition, we had sold a big house in LA, we were transitioning, and all the options kept leading us back to Costa Rica. I considered keeping one foot in LA and the band, and I didn’t think that would really work and I’d be shortchanging both of them, so I decided to retire–

JJ: Well, in your workshop, you say something a little bit different, you gave more credit that around the same time you built the beach house…

KJ: (laughing) OK, so a couple things happened at once; around the same time I built the beach house 13 years ago, I met my wife! She had an environmental nonprofit, The Green Wave, and that was the catalyst for changing my worldview.

My views and thoughts on everything started to change, and different things became more important.

ken janine beach

Ken and Janine on the Costa Rican beach near their new home.

CE: Let’s talk a little about The Green Wave and what that entails.

JJ: I had already had a catalyst, a spiritual, really intense thing happen a couple years before, which sent me on a journey that eventually led me down to Pavones, Costa Rica. I was there and I had another mystical experience, totally sober, where the earth spoke to me and asked me to help. I was at the point where I wanted to move somewhere tropical, teach yoga, and write, maybe go to festivals occasionally. And the earth spoke to me and asked me to help on a more profound level, just showing me the macro of what was going on, and just so much information. I thought, “I get it, but how do I connect all of this? What do you want me to do?” It’s almost like how people talk about ayahuasca, where so much information comes in and you don’t know how to integrate the experience. How I’ve always handled that situation is to just start doing something, where I don’t know exactly what to do but to just start.

garden start

Seedlings on the property that will one day be part of the vast food forest.

It led me to a bunch of research, which then led me to call an old friend and express my deep concern for the earth. At the time, I was in real estate, and I thought The Green Wave would be a real estate venture, where my commissions would go back to environmental efforts. What we ended up finding out, is that you can’t have a nonprofit real estate company in California. People find ways, so maybe I could have gone down that path, but either way, right around then I met Ken. We started getting serious and we cohabited pretty quickly…and my focus turned to education. This was around 2006, and it was a new surge of people waking up, and I wanted to just educate our community about what was going on.

Back then we threw an event called EarthDance, in 2008, even though I’d put in the paperwork for the 501(c)3, it takes about 18 months to go through, so I couldn’t raise money for Green Wave anyway, so we gave the money to EarthDance and helped out some projects down here in Costa Rica. So anyways, Green Wave now is mostly an umbrella fiscal sponsor for three projects down here in Costa Rica, and also a fiscal sponsor for Electronic Music Alliance.

KJ: The three projects down here are 1. an environmental school called Futuro Verde 2. The Karen Mogensen reserve and 3. the Wild Sun Rescue Center in Cabuya.

JJ: We get them to work together on different levels, we have Jeremy from Wild Sun come talk to the kids at Futuro Verde, and the kids will learn about and go to the Karen Mogensen Reserve. The idea of social permaculture is important. We heard the example of wanting to help out in a nursing home, working with an orphanage and the two groups can benefit a lot from each other. In a way, we’re trying to create that model of these organizations acting together. At this school, even though they’re already environmental, they weren’t really teaching permaculture, so this way of approaching it is just systems thinking, and we’re introducing that into the school.

CE: So as far as the Electronic Music Alliance, how does that fit in?

JJ: I wanted to create a platform for the electronic dance music community and festival culture to give back. You see at these transformational festivals that there’s already a way to give back and activate people, but at the more mainstream festivals, there hasn’t really been that. So that’s kind of the conversation that we have on our board of directors. We have people from Insomniac and from Disco Donnie Presents on our board, and because of those conversations, they’ve implemented programs on their staff–and I’m not saying EMA should get the credit–but it does help. I’ve seen them start beach cleanups and more, and they’ve really started to do it on their own. EMA is more like a think tank, so we like to start them off and see them run with these ideas.

Something that I’m working on with the Event Safety Alliance–they came out with a book in 2012 after a stage collapse–one of our board members said we need better laws, we really need codes that will be upheld in court. I’ve been working on that since we came down here about four years ago.

Los Angeles was trying to ban electronic music events back then, and we took them to court and we won, so there can still be electronic music events in Los Angeles. It was helpful to know and work with a cast of people who could help. I knew that eventually I would need to rely on this list of people to help out with these kinds of issues.

CE: So as far as Costa Rica goes, there’s actually a facility here, you guys actually have a farm here? 

KJ: Yeah, we have a permaculture farm. Our house and our property is part of an eco-community. It’s not a commune, but it’s kind of like-minded people around the area, there’s about 15 right now, and at the max it will be about 30 or 40.

JJ: If you saw Stephen Brooks (editor’s note: Envision co-founder) give his permaculture talk, we figured we’re on the right path because he was listing all the things we’re growing, jackfruit, breadfruit, and so on.

ken janine farm

One of the functional and aesthetically pleasing gardens on site.

CE: Was meeting Stephen how you found out about Envision?

KJ: The first year we experienced Envision was in 2015 when I played at the Luna Stage, and we’ve been coming back ever since.

CE: Is this a unique experience compared to other festivals you’ve played?

KJ: We’ve been to other really good environmentally conscious festivals, but it’s really thorough here. They really thought out everything and keep figuring it out. I’d like to know how many people here are actually really involved in helping and volunteering to put this on, it’s probably a huge percentage. When you come here, you’re really a part of it, everyone is contributing and you don’t feel bad, like you’re leaving the place a mess. Like Sarah said, it’s a regenerative experience, where we’re making things better when we leave. There aren’t mounds of trash everywhere.

CE: You put on a workshop this year, about waste vegetable oil and its usage.

KJ: That came about because I drove it here one year, and I needed a hose to siphon the oil into my tank, and Janine suggested that I ask the guys at the Eco-Hub for a hose. So I did, and told them about the car, and they suggested that I put on a workshop, so now I do!

ken wvo

Ken filling up the reserves of waste vegetable oil to run his famous WVO car.

CE: What does the future look like for Green Wave and the work that you’re doing?

JJ: Short-term goals, for the Karen Mogensen reserve, we just put out a new fundraiser to buy a piece of land for the reserve. It’s currently held by a known poacher, and it’s deforested land, maybe not that he personally deforested, but he hasn’t put trees back on it. There is some old-growth forest, but a lot of that reserve is only fifty years old. It’s an amazing piece of land, it provides fresh water for six local communities, so we want to buy it back and reforest it, which should take about five years. We have the infrastructure ready to reforest it, so just funding that is one of our short term goals.

I presented the idea to the EMA board, to “play it forward,” where we encourage people to do something at least once a year. Life’s hard and we want people to feel like they can achieve a goal; if you’re an artist and you’re running around the world, it’s tough to do, so once a year felt like as often as some people have a chance to do something. So that was our goal this time, and how everyone with their own skills and connections can help with that.

KJ: For Wild Sun, the animal rescue, they’re right in the middle of this Scarlet Macaw reintroduction project, so we’re helping them through that at the moment.

JJ: The Scarlet Macaw program has a good tie-in, where I painted Katie Bunny like a macaw. She’s a performer who’s sometimes on the Mermaid Stage here at Envision, I took a picture of her at our house last year, dressed like a blue macaw, hoping to inspire people to embody art! I had an artist paint the picture of her, but in red like a Scarlet Macaw. Now we have some friends who want to help throw a benefit for those birds sometime within the next year.

For the school, it’s just continuing with the permaculture infusion. Last year we put in a new, very modern chicken coop that just looks great! We also started them with the beginning stages of a food forest. We’re still working out how to get permaculture in the curriculum, our permaculture specialist is contracted through Green Wave to help with the school. We’ve figured out that we need to approach it slightly differently, by talking with teachers, but it’s very much moving forward. It seems like it’s the only school in Costa Rica that has permaculture as part of the curriculum, that’s not a specialty permaculture-based curriculum.

KJ: We want our property to be educational as well. So in March, we’re starting to do open houses, and we’re starting to do workshops also. We’ve been there four years, so everything is still pretty young, but the idea is to have it be educational and eventually people can see that it’s a fully working permaculture farm.

JJ: We have a lot of information and signs there so people can see what will be there. Futuro Verde has been there to look at it.

KJ: Rancho Delicioso, our eco-community, the founder of that is the founder of a yoga resort that’s ten minutes away. I teach yoga there, so I try to get them to come look at it and get inspired. Even though it’s not a mature food forest yet, people see the potential because they can see the signs and the beginnings, and people can check out Ken’s car which is inspirational as well.

CE: Envision is special because of the prevalence of what we talked about earlier, which is those ‘aha’ moments where people have these tremendous moments of awakening or realization. For someone who is experiencing that for the first time and now wants to get involved in regenerative efforts, how do they get started on this path?

JJ: We have a lot of resources on the website, or people can always reach out directly to me! If it was something that I thought could be addressed to more people, I might make a blog post about it. But they should feel free to contact the Electronic Music Alliance directly.

Permaculture Action Network has some great resources, as well as New Mundo, there’s the WOOFing movement. Through them, you can go to a place where there’s listings, and they will take on volunteers and you can get involved in a community.

KJ: Check out greenwave.eco or the Green Wave Facebook page! We’re happy to help.

Electronic Music Alliance can be found here.

The Green Wave can be found here.