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Moulton Mettle

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Dy-no-MITE!: Jay-J confronts the mainstreaming of deep house.

Deep-house legend Jay-J answers questions about the past, present and future of the San Francisco Sound

By Amanda Nowinski

After 10 years of owning the dance floor from the DJ booth, Jay-J now works the deep-house crowd from within his very own recording studio in the Marina district. Named the Moulton Street Studio, the space is home to many of the city's house producers, including Chris Lum, Pete Avila, Julius Papp, Marc Jellybear, Tyler Stone and Miguel "Migs," to name a few. Busy churning out fat sexy beats and booty-shaking grooves around the clock, the studio's artists have attracted the attention of major house labels such as Nervous, 8-Ball, Velocity, Soul Shine and Logic.

An early pioneer of deep house in San Francisco, Jay-J began DJing at San Francisco clubs in 1990, when Marc Jellybear gave him his first break at the now infamous Love. After this initial spin, Jay-J went on to play the city's largest venues--Release, the Sound Factory, the (now defunct) DV8, and Kit Kat--and soon began traveling the States and Japan. Following his numerous 1994 co-productions with Marc Jellybear on the Pound America label, Jay-J started to build an impressive discography which now includes mega-diva Joi Caldwell's "Crying Eyes" (Eight Ball) and the House Dawgs' "Praise" (Nervous).

Metropolitan: Considering the amount of white-label house tracks that come out every week, being a house DJ must be an expensive and competitive venture.

Jay-J: Hundreds of house tracks come out every week, and they aren't necessarily hook-driven songs that are going to catch on and appeal to many. DJs are going to record stores every day, going through those hundreds of new records and picking 10--and they're only bringing 200 records into a gig. So within a two- or three-week period, you've bought as many records as you can carry--anything over three weeks old stays at home.

If you look at radio, the whole philosophy there is that you play the same song over and over again, pound it into everyone's head, they'll eventually like it, then they'll buy it and everyone makes money. Whereas it's the total opposite with DJs in the clubs. If you go to a club and you have a three-hour set and play the same song three times, people will be like "This tired old DJ better buy some records."

Metropolitan: Commercial American radio doesn't have the guts to play real house music. But do you really want underground house music to have the kind of mainstream success it has in Europe?

Jay-J: Well, of course. The message of the music is usually very positive, and the music itself is uplifting. When I'm out to a club and I'm dancing all night or even just a little while, I get that release, I get sweaty, and most times I go home with a smile on my face, a lighter heart. So do I wish more people had that opportunity? Definitely. And the only way that's going to happen is if more people are exposed to the music. And the only way that's going to happen is if there's more commercial success.

Metropolitan: But keeping house underground keeps it special.

When I say I hope for commercial success, I'm saying that with the understanding that it's not going to have the same sort of commercial success as hip-hop did. I'm saying that house music needs to be more widely distributed and better understood than it is now. But don't worry--the anonymity of most of the house producers will keep it pretty much underground.

Metropolitan: It seems, though, when DJs achieve a certain degree of commercial success, they no longer get as many club gigs in their home towns. Look at EFX here and Frankie Knuckles in New York. Does their sound become passé to promoters and clubbers, or are they just too expensive?

Jay-J: Most of the big-name New York DJs don't even play in New York. Masters at Work rarely do a gig in New York. Part of the reason is that the style of the music in the New York club scene is really hard--and most of the big name DJs don't play really hard. But still, they're hugely popular and get paid shitloads of money to come play in San Francisco, Europe, Asia or wherever. But in New York, they're billed as 'house legends,' and the music in New York is this very aggressive, not soul-oriented, Junior Vasquez-type bullshit.

Metropolitan: Will that happen here?

Jay-J: Hasn't it already? Have you been to Nikita lately?

Metropolitan: Uh, no.

Jay-J: Neither have I, but I asked someone the other day--what type of music does Jerry Bonham play? She said, "Hard techno." Well, OK, that's Junior Vasquez style. It is happening here. There are small parties here with a great local vibe--there's all kinds of underground stuff like that going on. But if someone is to ask, "What is the SF sound?" They'll open up URB magazine and won't see ads for "good times, come groove with us" kind of parties. You see Nikita with Jo-Bozo from Germany, or something.

Metropolitan: As far as big-time promoters go, Martel and Nabiel remain true to the San Francisco deep-house sound at Release.

Jay-J: Because of the success of their party, they have been booking the type of music that I think is worthy of exposure--they're getting it out there to people. There's definitely something to be said about that event. Marques Wyatt, Deep Dish, Julius, Doc Martin and I play there sometimes. Not to mention [Martel and Nabiel] make a shitload of money on that party.

Metropolitan: The Moulton Street Studios seems like a good place to chat up famous house producers.

Jay-J: The who's who of house culture can be found at Moulton Street Studios from time to time. When Disciple comes into town, he'll come here; so do Victor Simonelli, the Deep Dish guys. When I first starting producing house, there was no way I could have afforded to work in a place like this--now people can work in an environment where they can explore their talent without having to work against the limitations of cheap gear.

Metropolitan: With all this talent surrounding you, have you considered starting up a new label?

Jay-J: If I started a house label now, I would move to New York. Running a house label isn't just about a nice vibe and people stopping by. It's all about--where are you going to press the record? Where are the distributors? Where do you have access to the big-name DJs? It's all in New York. When DJs travel to New York, they can walk up one block and hit 50 house labels. They'll check in, say "What's up?" face to face--that's the place you want to be.

Distribution is what matters most for the house labels. It doesn't matter how many fucking DJs you hand that record to, how many are playing it--it matters if the distributor can move the units and put it into the hands of the people overseas. That's the state of the music right now.

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From the May 10, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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