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Juno Plus Podcast 73: Jay Daniel

The Detroit-based newcomer signals the changing of the seasons with an hour of jazz, soul and hip hop.

Making your debut on a label as revered as Theo Parrish’s Sound Signature tends to ensure people sit up and take notice. It happened with Marcellus Pittman back in 1999, it happened with Andrew Ashong last year, and it’s most certainly happened with Jay Daniel. Released back in September, the Scorpio Rising EP presented Daniel as a producer whose style was wedged somewhere between the scuffed, rawness of Kyle Hall and the underlying warmth of an Omar S track. This auspicious debut hints that Daniel has plenty more to offer and complements his growing reputation among the new generation of Detroit talents as a highly skilled DJ.

A debut set at last year’s Movement festival led the Boiler Room crew to christen Daniel “one of the most exciting new discoveries we made in Detroit,” while he also presides over the Fundamentals night with Wild Oats boss Kyle Hall. This was reason enough to extend an invitation to Jay to become the first Detroit resident to contribute a Juno Plus mix this year, and we were pleasantly surprised with the results. As happy as we are when an invited producer or DJ drops a chunk of unreleased material from their contemporaries, it’s also nice to see someone elect for a different approach as Daniel has done, sifting through his collection for a wonderfully blended 59 minutes of soul, jazz and hip hop.

We took the opportunity to quiz Daniel over email on his introduction to DJing, how he came to release on Sound Signature, what he has planned for the future, and the best place to go digging for records in Detroit.

Hi Jay, how are you doing sir?

Hey I’m doing well, getting ready to eat.

Thanks a lot for doing this mix, is there a particular theme to it?

Yeah, basically right now I’m tired of the monotony & quantization of drum machines. I wanted to make a mix that brings more of a human element to the table. I find that jazz/fusion, soul, even hip hop has more of an emotive quality to it. I wanted to make something that’s conducive to the seasons changing. Special shout-out to Rick Wilhite for this one btw.

You got into DJing in your late teens, correct? Was there a specific moment or record you heard that got you hooked on the idea?

Yeah, when I was 19. There was this Nice N’ Ripe record that sampled “Nights Over Egypt” by the Jones Girls that got me hooked. Also at that time I’d practice DJ’ing with Manny aka MGUN a lot and he had a lot of house records that made me really want to delve into dance music.

What was your first proper gig like?

It was at Cass Cafe with Manny. It was pretty bad, I was nervous and unprepared. I had only been DJing for 2 months at the time though so it’s excusable, haha!

Now you do the Fundamentals party with Kyle (Hall), how long has that been going for?

We’ve been doing Fundamentals for almost 2 and a half years, and we’ve switched venues a few times. To be honest it’s pretty hard to find a venue in Detroit with a good soundsystem & an overall energy that meshes with underground music.

I’ve seen the photos on Facebook and it looks like quite the communal event, MGUN hanging out and Omar S on the decks, any particular Fundamentals highlights for you?

I think that one in particular was the best. It was Kyle’s birthday and it was the first time we’d brought in a guest DJ. That space is dope, it just got really hot after a while.

You’ve started to play international DJ gigs this year, how has that experience been for you?

Man, it’s so enlightening. It’s like taking a break from the normalities of life. Lots of time for rumination, experiencing cultures different from your own. Also witnessing the love that Detroit gets on a worldwide level is crazy.

Can you explain what Watusi High is?

Watusi High is my soon-to-be record label. It started as an idea for a creative collective, something to house me & my friends’ ideas. A channel of a sort, that’s still the case but I decided to make music the focal point. Watusi or Batutsi is a Rwandan tribe, it’s also a dance similar to the twist. Apparently people used to say “you’re doing the Watusi” when you’re buggin out. I found that out from a friend of mine, haha!

Let’s talk about your production work; I believe there’s an interesting story behind your Sound Signature release?

Yeah, I gave Theo “Brainz” & “No Love Lost” on a CD when the 3 Chairs played here at TV Bar back in February. He ended playing them in Italy or Spain and was really feeling him so he reached out to a mutual friend of ours who gave me his number to speak with him. Initially I didn’t think much of it, but a few months went by & he told me again to hit him up & I did. I gave him 2 more tracks that day and now it’s materialized into SS051.

Given the environment you’ve grown up in, was there a sense of inevitability that you’d be drawn towards making music?

When I was younger I didn’t want to get into music because I was scared that I’d end up hating it if I got too deep into it. I remember when I was 11 I met up with Carl Craig because I was interested in learning to DJ. Carl told me all about the technical side of it & I was all “Blahhh.” It wasn’t until I moved back to Detroit that I saw it as being inevitable. I had dropped out of school, & started working at a natural food market. I always had a passion for music, and since I couldn’t see myself going back to school I decided to give it a go. Also watching Kyle & his success was a contributing factor. In 2012 I began producing, mostly out of necessity since that was the next logical step for me as a DJ.

It’s been stated you have a release on Wild Oats due later this year too, anything more on the horizon release wise?

I have something else planned but I’d rather not speak on it too much. That and my label which I hope to start soon.

Finally where are your favourite spots to go digging in Detroit?

Hello Records without a doubt!!!!!!

No tracklisting was provided.