Music is often looked at as a means to bring us together and to take us far away from the troubles and challenges of our daily routine. Today, a great divide exists between the clubs that offer house music and its derivatives, and the clubs that feature what has been called mixed format or mash-up. Without going into all the convolutions and left turns that got us here, my addled memory remembers people like Mark Ronson and Stretch Armstrong—and I’ll throw in Kid Capri and Funkmaster Flex into the mix—as innovators who took music without labeling it, and mushed it all together to put smiles on our faces and movement in our feet.
To many in the house community, this type of music has little merit. They are true believers who worship at the altars of DJs who require stadiums and 6 figure fees. The mixed format types are doing well with a global movement of table service and venues with a multi-city presence. They bounce around from city to city as their names are used to fill seats and sell bottles of swill that wholesale at 40 bucks, but retail with a sparkler, a strawberry, and a hot server for $500 and more. To some, this era marked some sort of end to some sort of perceived era of glory and nightlife perfection. To those young men like Jesse Marco, they are public enemy number one. They see these guys and a few gals as sweet faced pretenders with the computers doing all the work.
In some cases, the point is valid, but the technological revolution that allows almost anybody to try to DJ (even me) creates even more competition, and those who ride to the top have earned it. I could spill off a handful of superstar names like Cassidy, Sevigny, Jus-Ske, Mel DeBarge, Ani Quinn, and Rashida, who have risen through the ranks. But no conversation about this type of player can be complete without mentioning Jesse Marco. He has made his mark in a short time, and became undeniable just about when he turned legal. Yes, there was a time when he was not old enough to drink , but he is now one of the most sought after New York-based DJs. Jesse is smart, polite and respectful, but you can catch a hint of brashness when the dimples come out. DJs need that sassy side. I asked him a few questions. We are sitting in the basement of Snap, which I’m building, 10 feet from a new DJ booth which I’m also building. I’m building a great deal of DJ booths lately. Are there enough DJs in New York to fill them? Yeah. Are there too many? Absolutely not. If you’re a DJ and you love what you’re doing and people are liking what you’re doing that’s good, you should keep doing it. If you’re a DJ and what you’re doing is the contrary, then you should stop. I may be stopping soon, but that’s a whole other story. I’m not knocking you. Everyone else does so, don’t worry. You’ll have to stand in line. How old are you? 22. You’ve been DJing in clubs before you were allowed in them. Yeah .The first clubs I was up in were Snitch and Vella, when I was around 16. Snitch was one of my favorite places. Well, I was carrying other people’s records and doing that whole thing. How did that happen? When did you decide you were going to be a DJ? My best friend growing up got turntables for Christmas Where did you grow up? I grew up downtown in New York, in Union Square. I had friends of all types; poor, rich, everything. One of my friends had turntables. He had the scratch records and this hip-hop record, and he was like, ‘Yo listen to this, watch me do this,’ and I was like ‘What?’ I got turn tables after that, the little starter kit ones, but you know, it was just a hobby, it was just something I liked doing. And when did you know it was going to be a career? It became a business after I knew what I wanted to do, after I decided just to do it all the time, no matter what, or just be around an industry based on that. Whether it was interning for record labels or carrying other DJs records, I just chose to surround myself with it.
That opportunity is no longer there because nobody carries records anymore. Now a DJ can carry his own computer. He doesn’t even need the headphones anymore. Yeah, but you can have someone download music for you too, I guess. I have not gone to Serato. I’ve been fighting it. I like CDs. I like the feel of going through the book and finding the record; the spontaneity. It’s a great feeling. Is that feeling lost in Serato? Is there something in the Serato that has to be fixed? It’s not lost because it just depends where you’re playing. Depending on the venue, or wherever you’re playing, especially in New York bottle service clubs, which I’m trying to get away from, to be honest, you kind of have to please the audience. It’s a game, like Donkey Kong. How many bottles can you sell with your music, and that’s how you get hired, let’s be honest. And of course, you’re hot. The girls like you, the guys like you. There’s a certain image you need. Yes, but maybe it’s more along the lines of, this person comes in and how hyped up can you get this guy? I can do that all day, and there’s more things you can throw in and be creative with that, which can be fun, but that’s not really what I’m trying to do. So you’re moving more towards being an artist rather than a worker bee. Oh yeah. The difference is that everyone’s gotta experience all different facets of what they want to do to really hone in on what they like. I’ve been around the world twice at a young age, and people have given me great opportunities all over the world to DJ, and I love it. But right now I have a record deal, I have music coming out, I’m recording music all the time. I still do the clubs because I enjoy it.
Tell me about your music. The word mash-up has been used—maybe overused—and sometimes not really recognized. House culture doesn’t recognize mash-up DJs as being talented. Many people discount the entire genre. Is it a genre? I think if a DJ is wack, or not good, and he’s playing a bunch of pre-made mash-ups, there’s reason to tell the world that he’s no good. You’re saying the word match-up as opposed to mash-up? Oh, mash-up, but I don’t even know what the words mean anymore, to be honest. It means you mix genres, and you mix records up, the easiest example being a hip-hop track with a rock track. Think, Aerosmith and Run DMC’s “Walk This Way.” I think Mark Ronson really started it, and Stretch Armstrong, too. Funkmaster Flex and Kid Capri from the hip-hop side also did it, and there were many others who weren’t afraid to be locked into the labels. Tell me about your music, and where are the lines blurred between hip-hop and rock? Is it all just good music? To me it’s just good music. The whole proverbial line in the sand, it’s all bullshit. If you’re a good DJ, you play good music. You make people dance, and people respect that. It’s about taste and timing. I’m a rock and roll dude. I go to rock clubs like White Noise on Friday night, or Lit. If you like rock, you’re gonna like my shit. If you want to hear hip-hop, you have listen to you. I don’t play it. When I’m in that booth and I’m putting on Alan Vega, The Hives, Iggy, or The Verve, somebody will walk up to me and say, “You got any Gaga?” And I’m sure you get this all the time, but how do you make records that are unbelievably great but completely played out, work in a club? Do you just abandon it or give them what they want? It’s a balance. You know that they want to eat dinner, but you gotta give ‘em a little appetizer, you gotta be courteous, but maybe you throw a little flare in there and make ‘em laugh, and then you drop the steak that they want.
So you give them what they want, but you manipulate it into your set. You sort of teach them. Well, yeah. I mean, it’s all about having fun, so if you’re giving them what they want, they’re not going to have as much fun as if you play around and have fun yourself. There’s an old saying in the business: “That particular DJ plays to the DJ booth.” Meaning, he’s only playing for himself and the four or five friends that are hanging out with him—the crowd is being short-changed. They like what he’s doing but want to hear the other stuff also. How much do you learn from other DJs? I’ve learned a lot from a shit ton of people, to be honest. Do you still go out and hear a DJ and go “Jesus, shit, what was that track?” I go out sometimes, but not to clubs, unless it’s a really awesome DJ. I’ll go see Clark Kent or someone like that, someone old school. With them you know what you’re gonna get. Who was the greatest DJ you ever saw? Gotta be DJ AM. He was my favorite DJ and, coincidentally, I became friends with him, which I was very lucky to do, and he did a lot of stuff for me. The last time I saw him, he was playing with I can’t remember I think it was at Quo. They were tag-teaming. Oh you mean Jazzy Jeff. That was crazy That’s right, I knew I was missing it. It was fucking unbelievable. Yeah, I was there too. I opened for them that night. Yes you did. It was unbelievable. Yeah, it was pretty unbelievable. But feel like everyone likes to talk about him and Mark, and I’m more like rest in peace, he was our friend, and that’s it. Where are you going to be when you’re 30 years old? I’m going to hopefully still be DJing, not so much, probably doing more stuff that I like to do. Producing? I’m producing right now. I have a record deal with Atlantic, so I’m doing that, and a couple of singles I have are coming out in December. Roll out in December, push in January. And I’m working with other artists. Is it all encompassing, or do you have other interests? It’s far reaching. I have interest in film and TV, and writing, clothes and fashion, and all this stuff. But it’s good to have a focus. I think a lot of people try to do too much. I mean, just on the table now, I’m starting a label called Canvas Creative Group, and we’re just gonna be a digital label, release music and stuff. Coincidentally, I acted in a movie last year that’s coming out in March. It’s a Todd Phillips movie called Project X. I can’t really talk about it, but it’s pretty cool.