Jay Daniel is an individual who’s made quite an entrance into the house music scene. With a rich musical background, the relative youngster is already asserting himself as a major player in his hometown of Detroit after 3 years in the game, with a depth of knowledge that betrays his youth. He’s already revered as a top calibre DJ, and with a release on Theo Parrish’s seminal Sound Signature already under his belt and more to come on the likes of Wild Oats, it looks like this could just be the start of something special in the Motor City.
We managed to catch up with him to chat about his friendship/rivalry with Kyle Hall, what it’s like to have a legendary house vocalist for a mother and the romance of Detroit. He was also kind enough to create Hyp Mix 148 for us. Expect to hear a whole bunch of classics, both old and new, to enjoy whilst your peruse what Jay had to say.
I guess a good place to start is with your mother, Naomi. I feel that a lot of people tend to exaggerate how involved they were with dance music from a young age, almost like it’s a competition, but with you it’s the real deal. She sung on a bunch of Planet-E classics, including ‘Stars’ and ‘Feel The Fire’, which must have had an impact on you as a youngster. What was your involvement with dance music like from a young age?
Growing up, my Mom listened to a lot of eclectic music, stuff like The Yellow Jackets, Les McCann, Seal, that kinda stuff and I’d say house music didn’t have as much of an effect on me as that stuff up until later in my life. When I was younger, I knew about house music, it was pretty prevalent because of my Mom and living in Detroit. House music is pretty heavy in terms of its presence in the music scene here, but it didn’t occur to me that I even liked house music until I started DJing. I always liked my Mom’s records, but it’s impact didn’t hit me until later.
Yeah, I think I heard somewhere that you didn’t start DJing until the age of 19, which, whilst it’s obviously not old, it’s not especially young. Was there a tipping point when you went past just being into your Mum’s stuff and wanting to become involved in it in a broader sense?
When I first started DJing, I didn’t know what I wanted to play. I was just going to record stores here and checking out the dance music section. I was just digging for the most feasible stuff to play out in party situations. DJing actually triggered me liking house music rather than vice-versa. Being around Kyle was a big reason as well obviously…
Of course. You’re pretty closely associated with Kyle Hall, I think it’s fair to say he was one of the guy’s responsible for bringing you into the limelight. How did your relationship with him start up? Was it a childhood thing or something more closely linked with you entry into house music?
I met Kyle through a couple of high school friends and we didn’t really click initially. It was weird meeting someone who was as knowledgeable about music as me and was actually making music as well. I was kinda jealous at first (laughs). But later we started to hang out more, then I started to DJ and he kind of showed me the ropes. Watching him helped out a lot. A good thing for young DJs to do when they’re starting out is to watch other DJs, and develop a sense of style. He put me onto a lot of artists and somewhat put things in context for me.
Now that he’s played the role of mentor to you and you’re on a similar level do you think there’s a lot of competition between you. Whenever the older guys from Detroit (and Chicago) talk about their relationships with other producers it seems like they’re constantly trying to outdo their contemporaries…
There’s always been a competitive nature between us. The whole premise of our night, Fundamentals here in Detroit, is us going back-to-back. It’s based on the clashing of our two creative drives, you know? Between him & I it’s pretty prevalent, but in the city as a whole, I don’t think the competitive element is there as much as it used to be. It’s a lot more ‘lax now.
Do you have any plans to bring any material out together? He’s been pushing Funkinevil recently, is there anything like that on the horizon for you two?
We work on productions pretty often; we have a couple of tracks we might end up releasing eventually. But for now they’re exclusives.
As I said earlier, there’s a whole lot of legends in the Detroit scene. When you’re from the younger generation, can it be a bit intimidating trying to compete with the likes of 3 Chairs?
I don’t think so. People tend to group us together because we’re all from Detroit, but we’re all separate entities really. We’re kind of on a different level, but those guys are really supportive of what we’re doing. I’m not in the place to say I’m going after these cats, you know what I’m saying? They’ve been at it for thirty years and I’ve been around for all of three years. It’s just different ways of perceiving the music.
You must be doing something right, as Theo Parrish is bringing out your first release on Sound Signature. How did you get involved with the label?
When 3 Chairs played at TV Bar back in March of this year I gave Theo a CD with some tracks that I made. He didn’t get to play them out that night, but he ended up playing them overseas and he was feeling them. He hit up a friend of mine, Gehrik who’s a house dancer here, and told me to give him a ring. I thought he was just gassing me up, so a month went by and I didn’t ring him. I still had his number and Gehrik got at me again saying to hit him up because he wanted to release the tracks. I had the tracks for a while and was just sitting on them, so I thought I might as well just get in touch. I met up with him and gave him two more tracks and he liked them, it all happened right then and there. After a few hours it was a done deal.
That’s awesome! I think that the content of the EP is quite varied, do you think this is because you’re still finding your feet as a producer maybe?
Yeah man, I’m still trying to get my sound together and tune my ear. Those are amongst the first few tracks that I ever made, so I was still trying to ground myself and get my sound down. I borrowed one of Kyle’s synthesizers and it was just me messing around and practicing on the MPC.
Was it all made with hardware then?
Yep. An MPC1000, a Korg DW8000 and a Juno 106 on one of the tracks.
Have you ever tried using computers, or is it not something you feel comfortable with?
I feel comfortable using a computer for stuff like this, searching the internet and corresponding with people. But for sitting down and making music? It just doesn’t feel as serious to me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m on the computer a lot. Probably a lot more than I should be. But I need the physical aspect of the gear, using the jogwheel on the MPC and the pads, playing the keys and all that stuff. I think it adds to the creativity.
Are you classically trained at all?
Nah, I don’t really have any idea how to play keyboard. It’s just me noodling around really. I play the drums, but I’ve never been taught. I have a sense of rhythm and I think that’s the most important thing in DJing and producing. You have to have your own timing, that’s what separates you from other artists. Having the rhythm down is definitely really important.
Your sound definitely borrows from the past, with mid-90s deep house being quite prominent in your DJ sets especially. Is that sense of history something you think that’s important to keep in dance music?
Yeah, for sure. I think that when a record’s out it’s always relevant. You always hear people saying how music is timeless and that’s definitely the case with records. They don’t die. People nowadays are constantly putting out MP3s and whatnot, the whole thing is just so fast-paced and there’s so much more material to process. I don’t think this necessarily hurts, but being able to relate to the past helps to keep track of things.
You’re also releasing something with Kyle over at Wild Oats by the end of the year. Is that going to be more of the same in terms of the sound or something a bit different?
Not really, it’s more melodic and not as hard as the stuff for Sound Signature. Some of the same elements are still there, but it’s not necessarily a continuation.
I’m going to move onto a couple of questions about a subject you’re probably sick of having to talk about, Detroit.
(Laughs) Not at all, ask as many as you want.
I think in Britain and Europe in general, people tend to romanticise Detroit as this place where everywhere you go, people are listening to techno and house. I assume that’s probably not the case. What do you think the current scene in Detroit is like now compared to what people perceive it to be?
I think that people assume that the Detroit scene is what it was 20 years ago, when Carl Craig and all these dudes were heavy in the scene. I think the modern scene needs some reviving because it’s gotten kinda wack. People are having fun doing parties and things, but the standard has definitely been lowered. In order to keep Detroit at the forefront, I think it’s integral that people are playing good music and putting their best foot forward in all areas, and this isn’t necessarily happening at the moment. You can’t just do a party. You want to create experiences and get people on the same wavelength where nothing else matters except the music.
Do you think that this kind of revival is possible with the current economic state in the city? Are things getting better?
I’m not sure how much the economic state has to do with parties to be honest. I definitely think that these experiences do affect us though and help maintain positive energy. I think what’s most important is the youth, aspiring dj’s/producers who are even younger than me. There are a few cats, like my boy John Lawyer, David Robinson and Generation Next (Big Strick’s son), they are more important than I am. They can help continue the legacy and keep the stream of consciousness flowing. If you don’t contribute and inform the youth then it’s going to die.
When you talk about your friends it sounds like a real family thing, does it feel like that?
Yeah man. I feel like I’m representing them when I’m out there playing. I feel that communal experience is important, not necessarily so people can live vicariously through me, but so I can help spread their name whilst I’m out there. Detroit is a pretty close-knit thing when it comes to electronic music.
Have you got any plans to come to the UK in the near future?
Yeah, I’m gonna be touring throughout November.
I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for talking to me Jay.