November 07 2016

Going Deep with Jay Simon

New York-Le Bain
We sat down with Atlanta's deep house prodigy before he plays Le Bain on Friday, November 11th.
LE BAIN: You’re based in Atlanta, but you’re from Chicago. How did those two cities influence your approach to music?
JAY SIMON: No doubt the strongest influence on what I do currently is informed by a Midwestern dance music sensibility, namely from Chicago and Detroit. I grew up listening to a lot of RnB, which during the '80s and early '90s was a hugely diverse musical genre, and that diversity definitely influenced my "anything goes" approach to soulful dance music. Growing up going to a huge Baptist church in the Atlanta suburbs with an amazing music program played a strong early influence as well, in addition to early '90s hip hop production. Although I didn't grow up listening to underground house, one of my dad's best friends was Byron Stingily, the lead singer of Ten City, and my uncle was a local DJ in the '80s and '90s. 
"I definitely like to sneak in some Atlanta booty bass classics."
How did you get into dance music?
I ended up getting deeper into underground electronic music in middle school. Years after I had already been DJing, I finally got to check out my uncle's record collection, which included a ton of records that I play, and even a few I wish I had, from the Logg LP on Salsoul, to rare deep garage records from Vil-N-X. Naturally, I didn't grow up in Chicago in the '80s, but it was reaffirming to know that I had come by it honestly. In Atlanta, I listened to a ton of Southern rap as well, and I definitely like to sneak in some Atlanta booty bass classics if I'm playing electro.

You also spent some time in D.C.
I moved to Northern Virginia my senior year of high school, and most of my initial social dance music experiences via parties or clubs were between D.C., Baltimore, and NYC. My taste had already developed pretty strongly before I moved there, but I did meet some friends who were also into various forms of underground music, and that's where I started my label, Must Have Records, and began trying to produce.

"[Technology] has created a gross devaluation of music itself."
You’re part of a younger generation of American dance music producers and DJs who stay true to the originators while pushing the boundaries. Do you feel like you're a part of that scene or do you fly solo?
I mostly just flying solo really. The majority of my musical development has occurred outside of the influence of a scene. Even now, most of the music I find that I like and play is just through my own personal digging, or through a few friends who also aren't so involved in the current scene. I don't really like to go with what everyone else is doing, and due to my diverse style, I can stay true to myself while doing completely different styles. If I feel like a sound is getting too saturated and I'm getting bored with it, I might let it cool off then come back to it later. 

As far as music is concerned, do you think technology brings us together or tears us apart?
Technology is a double-edged sword. It's allowed me and many others access to great music that would otherwise go unheard, and the ability to connect with like-minded individuals across the world. At the same time, it's created a highly disposable culture of shameless followers (quite literally, "Yo! Follow me on Instagram"). There's a lot of lip service, fashion, and posturing, but very little real innovation or emotional content from my perspective...and there's a gross devaluation of music itself. Even the resurgence of vinyl's popularity speaks to this, with people seemingly more interested in the object itself rather than the music.
"One" by Seven Davis Jr. (Must Have Records)
You’ve been described as a "soulful" DJ, but you said, "it's more in a sonic context as opposed to any sort of qualifier for emotional content.” Can you illustrate that with one record from your label?
For me it's a sound, just like funk is a sound. If you're versed in that style, you can recognize it. As far as something on my label that exemplifies that sound, it may be an obvious choice, but I'd say Seven Davis Jr's One EP, specifically the title track. It just has that bittersweet sound to it that I look for, but is becoming increasingly hard to find.

You pitch yourself as “your favorite DJ’s favorite DJ.” Who are the two DJs you have the most respect for?
One I can say easily is Julien Love. He's a South African musician and DJ living in Melbourne, Australia. He is probably the most talented producer and DJ I know personally. His taste is incredibly diverse, yet at the same time he has his own sound, and his personality really shines through with whatever he's doing. I'd consider him an expert in funk, disco, reggae, house, and all things funky in-between. If I am on the fence about something musically, he's the guy whose opinion can really make the difference for me. 

"It's a beautiful thing to see thousands of black people sing along to Touch's "Without You."
Another DJ you have in mind?
I have respect for several other DJs, but I want to give a shoutout to Cullen Cole. He's an Atlanta DJ who has been playing since the mid '90s I think. Cullen and Kai Alce were the main people bringing the dope deep house acts to Atlanta way before this music had any sort of wider appeal. For someone who has been DJing for so long, he has no problem bringing out obscure, deep, old school cuts or playing some dope new shit that that is overlooked. Rarely do I hear DJs actually playing the true sound of underground deep house. He is one of them. 

What’s the greatest thing happening in Atlanta’s dance music scene right now?

There are several really talented DJs living here, some of whom have gotten more recognition outside of the city, like Kai and Stefan Ringer, but also people like Reggie Dokes, Cullen Cole, Danny Fernandez, Michael Scott, Curt Jackson, and Ashleigh Teasley. House in the Park has continued to grow as well, which is an annual free event held every Labor Day Weekend. I can't think of many parties where you can catch Moodymann and Theo Parrish in the crowd when they weren't even booked to play. It's a beautiful thing to see thousands of black people sing along to Touch's "Without You" in a sweaty outdoor pavilion.