The boundary-pushing DJ and producer hasn’t disappeared; he’s just been living the Entourage lifestyle in the Hollywood Hills... and releasing some really good records. Mixmag tracked down the man who invented fidget to find out what’s next.
Photos: Michael Melwani
Published in Mixmag November 2011
It’s late evening in down-town Los Angeles and the sun has already set. Mixmag is sitting in the passenger seat of Jesse Rose’s car, listening to old-skool hip hop courtesy of the local radio station. Driving with Jesse is hilarious: his days as a young tearaway on London’s Ladbroke Grove haven’t quite left him. When the cops in front don’t see the lights turn green, he cheekily beeps them. When a lady almost cuts him up, he wags his finger to get a rise.
Right on cue, Tupac’s West Coast anthem ‘California Love’ comes on as we turn into Skid Row, a district infamous for the homeless people and drug addicts who line the streets. The fortunate ones have old tents to sleep in; a few guard their own shopping trolley filled with scraps they’ve collected from the streets. But most lie dejected on the sidewalk. Motionless, some look like corpses. Such abject poverty in the centre of a city provokes a morbid sense of fascination, and Jesse slows the car to walking pace. His gleaming white Mercedes draws quite a bit of attention: the locals look up and start moving towards us, but slowly, as if in a zombie film. Further down the road one man walks into the middle of the street: he might be planning on blocking us so that others can smash our windows. Jesse steps on the gas, swerves past him, turns left and screeches to a halt – the traffic lights are red. On this junction there’s another potential threat: dressed in an LA Raiders top, boxfresh sneakers and with a hard stare, a man approaches the Merc while reaching into his pocket. Perhaps too many episodes of The Wire has amplified the danger in our minds, or perhaps it’s real; either way, we jump the lights, the wheels squeal, horns honk and the Merc accelerates up East 6th Street, back towards the glitz of Sunset Boulevard. “Fucking brilliant!” says Jesse.
And so Mixmag learns that Jesse Rose likes to take risks. Usually, though, it’s with his music. And these gambles are the reason he’s one of the best DJs in the world right now. His success is all the more incredible considering there’s been no ‘big hit’ – no ‘Pjanoo’ or ‘Put Your Hands Up’ to catapult him to the top of the DJ heirachy. On the contrary, Jesse’s first ever release under his own name – ‘A sided’ on Switch’s Dubsided label – was a weird record, and quite a gamble for a debut tune. But with support from Villalobos and Derrick May, it was soon in the bags of both house and techno DJs worldwide. The 2006 follow-up, ‘You’re All Over My Head’, was even stranger. The track broke down into a full-on folk sample before ripping back into an infectious electro groove.
“I took it to Dave (Switch) and I was panicking,” says Jesse. “I was convinced it would ruin my career.” In fact, the track blew up and sowed the seeds of future Switch and Jesse productions that would become known by the media as fidget house. It wasn’t the first time Jesse had helped invent a new sub-genre. Back in 1998, under his Deeper Sound Of Bristol moniker, Jesse released the ‘Tec House Living’ compilation on Subversive. Along with the likes of Terry Francis, he was among the first to champion the combination of Chicago beats and Detroit synths, kickstarting the tech-house scene.
The day after the Skid Row adventure, Jesse shows Mixmag the flip-side of Los Angeles. The first port of call is a restaurant called Geoffrey’s. Set in the Malibu area, overlooking the sea, it has a country club feel, all jumpers on shoulders and chinos. This is where many of the scenes in the US series Entourage are filmed, and Jesse excitedly lists the film stars he’s seen there. Having only moved to LA from Berlin six months ago, he admits he’s still buzzing from the lifestyle: the valet parking, the palm tree-lined streets, the juicy truffle burgers that put the UK’s efforts to shame. “For me, LA is like a girlfriend that you’ve just started going out with and talk about so much that friends think you’ve gone nuts,” he says, eating his lobster salad.
But while the City of Angels excites him, he’s even more excited about his forthcoming compilation series, ‘Made For The Night’. The idea is to give people a deeper insight into what an artist is about. The collectable box sets (of which Jesse’s will be the first) will comprise a club mix, a mix of the artist’s own productions and remixes and a DVD showing a snapshot of their lives. Having recently moved his monthly residency from Berlin’s Panoramabar to Watergate, he intends to take the concept into the club, giving DJs an opportunity to really demonstrate their skills. Watergate’s second room will also allow him to showcase acts like Flying Lotus and Four Tet, of whom he is a huge fan. This year will also see Jesse release the follow-up to his 2008 album “What Do You Do If You Don’t?” The title is undecided, but what is clear is that the quality will be high. “When I make a single, its purpose is to fit into my DJ set. The album is different. It’s how I feel on that day. There might turn out to be a few hip hop tracks on it. But if there are, they’ve got to be at least as good as Timbaland records,” he says.
Lunch over, our waitress gets her 25 per cent tip, the valet moves the Mercedes an unnecessary couple of metres to justify his existence and Mixmag is whisked off to Soho House; with its panoramic views of the city, the private members club is a regular haunt of the Hollywood elite. Jesse was a member of the Berlin branch and so is allowed in. “They’d never let me otherwise!” he jokes, showing Mixmag the photo on his members’ card. “I look like a Russian convict!”
There are no familiar faces this time, but Jesse recounts how he was recently on the table next to Denzel Washington. He overheard the film star mention funk records, and couldn’t resist getting involved. “The guy knows his stuff,” says Jesse, who grew up on a diet of soul and boogie thanks to his father, a talented musician whose influence on his son runs deep. “My dad believed in doing music for the love of it. He turned down lots of record deals. If they asked him to change a lyric, that was it: deal off,” he says. Consequently, his father never made much money, and on this 50th birthday Jesse wanted to buy him something special. “I offered him a flatscreen TV, a car, a studio for the house... but all he wanted was a trip down the Thames that cost three quid. He didn’t need the money; with his mates round every night jamming, he was rich in other ways. He was humble and generous. He was also my best friend.” When he talks of his father there’s a quiver in Jesse’s voice. He died last year, and the wound is still fresh.
Night has fallen, and the next spot on the itinerary is a club called El Cid. Unfortunately, this weekend there are none of the warehouse parties LA is becoming famous for, but Virgo Four are playing a set here and the locals are digging their deep house. Jesse buys a big round of drinks; not out of flashiness but a desire to make sure everyone is having fun. While he likes having a nice car and some disposable income, he isn’t a poser. He hates having his photo taken, and would rather engage in boyish banter than talk about his achievements. In fact, his character is expressed by the names he’s given his labels: Made To Play and Play It Down. The former was created to release underground tracks with no mailout and no promotion. But then ‘Calypso’ by Round Table Knights went massive, so he started ‘Play It Down’ to put out limited pressings of unpretentious, solid house grooves. But then ‘Doing Your Thing’ by Oliver $ sold 20,000 copies. “I’m trying really hard not to sell records,” jokes Jesse, “But I’m a failure!”
The DJ’s career has followed much the same path. He never intended to take over the world. But it seems there’s still a market for a no-nonsense DJ who makes underground records and puts them together expertly.
Mixmag hits the floor, where the Americans are busting out extravagant moves to some deep disco. The sound system is crisp, the atmosphere is warm and the crowd are friendly. And while Jesse’s company is a ‘hoot’ (as they say in these parts), Mixmag’s only regret is that we didn’t catch him behind the decks. Make sure you don’t make the same mistake.
Jesse Rose’s ‘Made For The Night’ compilation is out in November