INTERVIEW | JUSTIN JAY
For many, the college experience is a combination of getting a higher education and experiencing the best party years of one’s entire life. For Justin Jay, the party has just begun. The former Dirtybird freshman of the year has spent the last four years of his life playing gigs around the world while also earning his degree at the prestigious University of Southern California. Freshly graduated, Justin is headlining a tour for the first time of his life, appropriately titled, “Mom, I Graduated!”
“… it’s been crazy, doing so many really fun shows, there has been way too many highlights to even count. Especially in America, it is just such an exciting time for house and techno music, because people are just so open minded. I don’t think I’ve ever played so much weird,
vinyl-only released, weird Berlin music and seeing American kids who might have been listening to house and techno for that long freaking out over it is so cool.”
Justin recently concluded a brief tour on the east coast, where he spoke about his success as a musician and provided insight to students at The New School in New York, as well as Northeastern University and Harvard University in Boston. The student has become the teacher, and Justin is humbled by it.
“Just getting to talk to kids who are really interested in music. I mean, I haven’t been doing music for that long, so I don’t have that much wisdom to impart compared to others, but just being able to talk a little bit about my personal experiences and hoping that it helps these kids in their own journeys, it’s really incredible man, and I just hope to keep on doing it and to become a better teacher.”
Freshly graduated, Justin has more time to focus on his career, but the feeling is bittersweet. There are many aspects about the college lifestyle that Justin will miss.
“Honestly, one of the things that was cool about being in school while making music was being subjected to so many different styles and kinds of music that I wouldn’t have been subjected to otherwise. Most of my homies didn’t listen to the same stuff that I did. I had a lot of friends who listened to such forward thinking, artistic music that it made my stuff look so cheesy and commercial! And then I had other homies who only knew about Skrillix.”
Justin’s young success can be rooted back to his upbringings when his mother forced him into piano lessons at a young age, which he resented greatly. However, he was able to utilize the skills he gained on the piano after taking a music production class in high school.
“I hated practicing, but she forced me to do it,” Jay said. “Just getting comfortable on a keyboard is what brought me to making music on a computer, because all of a sudden my keyboard can become any sound imaginable. From guitar or crazy bleeps, whatever, that was the coolest thing to me. I was also lucky that my parents were very supportive, but I had to earn it, so that made me work hard.”
It was also during this time that Justin’s love for the Dirtybird label began to blossom. While he had a handful of Claude VonStoke and Justin Martin tracks in his iTunes library, Justin explained that he didn’t entirely understand the Dirtybird sound until he heart Claude VonStroke’s epic release, “Mr. Spock.” Justin went bonkers after hearing the track live when he attended Ultra Music Festival during his senior year of high school.
“Justin Martin overwhelmed me real quick, in the middle of his set he dropped “Duck Face,” and then he dropped “Mr. Spock,” and then he dropped this bootleg version of “The Music Sounds Better With You”, by Stardust, and I didn’t know he had a remix of it, and that just did me in, it was amazing.”
Upon initially moving into his college dorms, Justin’s parents didn’t allow him to bring his keyboard and speakers along with him, in hopes that he wouldn’t let his artistic talent distract him from his academics. However, after a quick turn of events, his parents granted him some leeway.
“Crazy enough, [during my] first week of school I had heard back from Dirtybird on a demo I had sent,” Justin exclaimed, “So my parents were like, “Fine, you can have speakers in your room.” And once things really got going they were as supportive as possible, and being able to have that, I was so lucky.”
With the success of his first release on the label, Justin Jay quickly became the youngest member of the Dirtybird crew – a title he still holds. Even with his early achievements, Justin remains thankful, and continues to look up to his fellow Dirtybird artists in the same way the he did when he was only a fan.
“I’ve been kind of the baby of the family, I still think I am the youngest kid, even after four years! I was really, really young for the squad. Honestly, I’ll let you know, I look up to so many of the artists on the label in so many ways, because they are just such legends!”
He has the upmost respect for the entire crew, and spoke about the Dirtybird family with great enthusiasm.
“Justin Martin just has the best personality of any human being that I’ve ever met, he’s just the nicest, funniest and coolest dude ever, and he is such a pleasure to be with, always, but taken to a superhuman level, he’s like an Alien, it’s crazy.”
“And guys like Eats Everything, as a DJ, technically dude just blows my mind, every time I see him I am constantly torn between going to the dance floor and just jumping around and dancing my butt off, or just sneaking behind the decks and just watching what he does.
“And J. Phlip, when she plays, I’m Shazaming every song because she just plays the coolest records out of everyone that I know. And Kill, Frenzy, Ardalan, everyone, all of these guys are so cool and I feel like I had so much to learn from all of them. And it’s cool because everyone is just really into the music and everyone has just got great vibes.”
Outside of his immediate connection to Dirtybird, Justin Jay currently spends a lot of his time working with artists that he met during his time in college. For his most recent visit to Bang Bang, Justin brought good friend and fellow artist Ulf Blonde to warm up the dance floor. The two met in the dorms during their freshman year of college, and the two have quite a story together.
“He was the coolest Swedish kid who lived in my dorm hall. We were both into music, making music and stuff, and yes we became friends really quickly.”
Both Justin and Ulf have served as great inspirations to each other since meeting, eventually becoming roommates and moving into an apartment together during their junior year at USC.
“I made a song titled, “You Give Me Butterflies,” and it was totally inspired by the type of music that Ulf was making at the time. Ulf is one of the dudes who really pushes me to pick up my game, because he comes up with the most beautiful melodies when he makes music, but he also has gotten really into minimalism, minimal tech house type stuff which has been really inspiring to me.”
Most recently, Justin and Ulf have also combined their forces to host a string of house parties in the USC area. Their last party, titled Fantastic Voyage, was held earlier this month.
“The whole idea is that there are certain parties that are really cool, black and white sort of vibes, chin stroking, [where] the music might be the freshest, coolest stuff, but it gets a little too serious, and it’s not that fun,” Justin said, “and there are a lot of parties that are really fun and it gets sort of crazy, but it’s not that musically substantive, or artistic, which is totally fine … We are interested in this little niche in between what is not too cool or not too silly, just kind of in the middle.”
“[We] just wanna have a good time with the homies, it’s as simple as that.”
Justin has also been working hard on his Justin Jay and Friends project, working closely with guitarist Benny Bridges and singer songwriter Josh Taylor. The project is intentionally ambiguous, and gives each artist a chance to work on something different from what they are each used to doing. Their latest single, “Karma,” was inspired by an incident that Josh had with a belligerent party-goer.
“It was a party night at USC, and he bought a dominos pizza after a great evening, and some kid came up to him and slapped the box out of his hand just to be a bully. And the kid, it was a drunk kid, slapped the box out of his hand and was like, “You wanna fight bro? You wanna fight?”
“Nah man I’m cool, but that was really messed up.” Justin continues, saying, “His full pizza was just on the cement, on a gross parking lot, totally cashed. And the guy didn’t apologize or anything, he just wanted to ramp up the aggression and fight.”
Josh never got mad, and instead felt sympathetic for the drunken bully. “Karma” serves as a message that what goes around comes around, and there is no point for useless negativity.
“It’s the sad irony of seeing someone who is being mean, and who is bitter at the world, and it’s like, all they are going to get back is negative energy, and you get what you give. And it’s a shame, because the hook of that song, and the little breakdown bridge, the lyrics are, “That attitude is going to catch up with you.””