Listen to DJ Jay Simon’s Mix “Spirit”
I met Jay three years ago at an illegal after-hours party in an east Atlanta loft. He was working the door, aggressively shaking his head and gesturing with his hand that my friend and I were lying when we said that we’d already paid to get in. The person working alongside him shrugged and pushed us inside. I didn’t see him again until about 6:00 am. He came up to me to tell me that he had noticed me and my crew on the dance floor and wanted to know what we were all about.
Since that night we’ve spent hours shooting the shit in his apartment. I brought the beer and he taught me about the history of dance music and DJing. We’ve organized parties together, he’s brought me into scenes I would not have experienced otherwise. I’ve brought him into completely unrelated milieus. We are friends.
Originally from Chicago, Jay Simon made his way to D.C., where he became part of the club scene. After living there for nine years he eventually moved to Atlanta, GA, where he’s become a prominent figure in the underground dance scene as well as in dance and deep house circles by and large. Jay founded his own record label in 2011, Must Have Records, and continues to distribute dance music through it on his own. He’s currently working on his first solo album which will be released by Must Have.
When he told me about his new album, I decided to chat him up about his experience with DJing, and to get a closer look at what is going on behind the curtain.
Beyond simply making people dance, is there a type of experience you hope to engender when you DJ? What is your approach to DJing?
I love to make people dance but that’s not the main reason I DJ. I want to show people where I come from, educate them, inspire them. If I can create a memory for someone, to touch them emotionally, that’s more important to me than making them just dance.
You initially got into dance music through gaming. Can you tell us that story?
Basically when I was around 14 I was playing the fighting game Street Fighter (Street Fighter III: 3rd Strike specifically) in tournaments pretty seriously. I’d travel around with some of my older friends, two of whom were DJs. On the way to a tournament in South Carolina, one of them put on one of Mark Farina’s Mushroom Jazz mixtapes. I was hooked. I was always into funky, weird rhythms and a lot of minor chords. Dance music was a natural progression as I used the internet to learn more about underground music generally.
You were in the dance scene in D.C. for a while and have DJ’d all over the world. What’s special about Atlanta? Has the city changed at all since you’ve been here?
Atlanta’s underground dance music scene, especially over the past three years or so, has really grown. A healthy mix of veteran DJ’s, up-and-comers, as well as a lot of young curious people has created a surprisingly healthy environment, especially considering the size of the city. Atlanta, like basically all major cities now, is becoming increasingly gentrified. Despite this, there are still a number of people committed to keeping underground parties alive. Notably the No Lite, Kudzu, & Morph crews.
You also distribute music through your record label, Must Have Records. Why did you start the label and what are your ambitions with it?
I started the label primarily as an outlet for artists I felt were underrated and deserved an opportunity to have their music released. I wanted every record to be great, and although there have only been four releases so far, I feel I’ve stayed true to the music and my ethos of literally striving to put out must-have records.
You’re releasing your debut EP soon. What has that process been like? What can people expect? Will you be touring anytime this year?
It’s mostly tracks I’ve done over the past five years or so. I’m really slow with making music. The tracks themselves usually come together quickly but I don’t actually make music that often so it takes a while. I’ve played a few of the songs either in mixes or live over the years and a few of them have always received great responses from audiences, fellow DJs, etc. As far as the music itself, it’s a mix of styles and tempos. Some experimental deep acid, disco sample shit, some beatdown house, hopefully a little something for everyone. If you like ‘em all that’s great too! As far as touring, get in touch. I’m always down to play.