DJ Jamie J Sanchez is the past, present, and future of San Francisco's circuit sound.
His loyal fan base dates back to his early days as resident at the legendary Universe, and he's still packing local dancefloors at the monthly Industry parties he produces with business partner DJ Luke Johnstone.
Meanwhile, he's a dancefloor ambassador for San Francisco who plays huge parties all over the world, and a world-class remixer sought out by music labels who count on him to bring their hits to gay audiences. He's also a technical music master who reports for Billboard magazine, recently completed an internship at Rhapsody (check out the Tribal/Progressive House station he created), and is working toward a graduate degree in audio engineering at SF State.
In other words, Jamie J Sanchez is no damn joke, elevating the digital wizardry of house music to a form of fine artistry. He's as skilled as he is gorgeous, and to top it all off he's a sweetheart. Even as he's cranking out chart-toppers and reinventing divas like Mary Mary, Shontelle, Taylar Dayne or Kristine W with regularity, he's still keeping it real at Lookout (he's the guest DJ at Activate this Friday), and he's still inspiring and energizing our local circuit by importing talent like DJ Randy Bettis, who opens for him at Industry this Saturday night.
The Original Fag Hag sat down with Jamie J at his home studio to learn more about what drives him to keep on spinning while he's at the top of his game.
You're so much more than just a DJ. How did you get into remixing and producing?
When I first started out, at 18 in Phoenix, Arizona, I had passion but no technical skill. I would make mix tapes for friends, but it took me a while to learn to get the beats matched up, and that's when I started getting into the technical side, learning about what key songs are in, how to change the mood depending on the key you're in, and what keys work together.
I cleared the dancefloor at my first DJ gig, which is how I learned that you also have to pay attention to your audience so that you can connect with them. There's a lot more to being a DJ than just spinning music.
How do you make that connection?
It's important to do your research beforehand and prepare your set. You need to know what kind of night it is, find out what time you're playing and talk to the resident DJs to get a feel for what people expect and what sounds they are into. I know that if I'm playing earlier, it's my job to get people comfortable, to get them into the groove. People that are drinking tend to like familiar, pop stuff. If I'm playing late night or afterhours, crowds tend to be more adventurous and the sexual energy is higher.
Obviously, you have to look for what sticks while you're spinning, but you also need enough music to be able to switch it up. You also have to know your music and have your music memorized, so that you know not only what BPM it has, but what kind of energy it has.
A good DJ definitely has to play to the audience, but there's a balance between giving your audience what they want and introducing new music.
How is your approach to DJing different from your approach to remixing?
Remixing is very technical and solitary. DJing is more of a performance. The first song I ever remixed was "Got the Groove/Shhh..Be Quiet" in 1999. I had gotten a new computer at the time, and I tried a remix and it worked. The song is still good, and the experience taught me that if I was going to get serious about remixing, then I needed to learn more. I needed to learn about music and how to play music, and how to work with midi and samplers and synthesizers.
As I've been learning more about the art of remixing, I've been experimenting with new sounds and production techniques. In 2007, I decided to go back to school and get a degree in audio engineering. That's really taken my remixing to a whole new level. In the past 6 months things have really taken off, and I've been doing a new remix or two every week, which is something I always dreamed about but never thought would happen. To get paid for it is just icing on the cake, and to see a lot of my remixes charting on Billboard feels awesome!
What's your creative process when you're working on a remix?
It really depends. I'm working for Columbia and Motown now, and it's typical for the big labels to send over just the acappela versions. With independent labels, like Star 69 or Junior Vasquez Music, they sometimes will send the synth parts as well, or the hook. Personally, I like to get dry vocals, with no effects, so that I can just do my own thing. Sometimes I listen to the original, but sometimes I don't, because when I don't I can come up with something wildly different.
I usually don't get drums from the label, because they know I'll totally change that up. I always start with the drums. I could spend a whole night just on drums. I come up with 4-5 different sounds and then lay down the vocals, then the bassline. The bassline is really important. It's the bottom that holds up the whole song, and from there I can add synthesizers and special effects, apply compression, EQ'ing and experiment with stereo imaging.
Eventually, the song starts to take shape. It used to take me a couple of weeks to do one song, but now it takes more like 2-3 days.
How would you describe the signature sound of DJ Jamie J Sanchez?
I'm categorized as Tribal Progressive House, but really everyone has their own idea what those terms mean. I think of my style as tough, energetic, and driving.
People often say my style is "hard," which always surprises me as I know a ton of DJs who play a lot harder than I do. I just like to put out a forward-thinking vibe, with lots of tribal drums and bongos and congas and trippy sounds. I like to see people sweat and have fun. I lighten things up a little every now and again to let people have a break and get a drink.
How does being a San Francisco-based DJ influence your sound?
I do all my remixing here in San Francisco, and that has a big influence on my remixes. My sound is very San Francisco in that I like to experiment with melodies and key progression. Not to sound cheesy, but there's spirituality here. It's the spirit of the city, and it's not just in the club scene and the music scene, it's also in the history of the place.
So are you exporting and evangelizing the San Francisco sound?
With my remixes, the labels are really hiring me to bring their songs to a different audience, specifically the gay boys and international club crowds. Just as they hire Moto Blanco (who will be making their U.S. debut at H.O.M. on February 1) to get their songs on the radio, or Paul Oakenfold or Tiesto to make songs more trancy and accessible to European and straight audiences, they look to DJs like me to move a circuit party, which means they come to me for drums and bass. And in places like Mexico and Brazil, they like a harder sound, with minimal vocals, and that's why they come to me.
One of the things I love about my career is that I get to do all these different, cool things. I DJ, I remix, I produce, I work for Billboard, I promote and produce parties, I get to travel the world. One of the things my mentor Audrey Joseph (of Universe and Pleasuredome fame) taught me is not to put all your eggs in one basket. If you want to make a living and be successful in this business, you really have to diversify.
I took that to heart and that's why, in addition to DJing and remixing, I produce and promote parties, which I've been doing with Luke Johnstone for several years. I love working with Luke because we're both coming at it from a DJ point of view. It's not that we want to make money or stroke our egos, we just want to be DJs and throw fun parties and introduce new talent.
And the best part of it has been that we've been able to both support other DJs and bring new DJs to our audiences.
How do DJs respond when they are invited to SF?
Usually, they're really grateful! San Francisco has such a good reputation around the world. People here love the music, and crowds support it. Everywhere I go, people love San Francisco.
And Luke and I love bringing in new talent, because we just know they're going to rock it. Like with Moto Blanco, we're very excited to introduce them to SF, especially now that they've just been nominated for a Grammy. And with Rosabel, (Ralphi Rosario and Abel, who will be playing Industry on February 21st), it gives us a kick when other promoters around the country catch on and start hiring the DJs we've brought in. These guys are where they are for a reason, because they're the best, and you just know you're going to have a great time when you put them on the decks.
What other DJs are you listening to these days? Who inspires you?
Right now I'm really digging artists like Thomas Gold, Jerry Ropero, Relight Orchestra and The Cube Guys. I play their stuff a lot when I spin at The Endup. At Industry and Fresh, I play a lot of remixes by Escape, Alexander & Mark VDH, Paulo, Tony Moran, and Wayne G. I don't get starstruck very often, but there are certain artists who, if they came into the studio, I'd hang on every word they said, like Chus & Ceballos, Ralphi Rosario, Danny Tenaglia, and the Pet Shop Boys.
Where do you currently hold residencies?
Right now I spin at Industry, Fresh and – starting soon - HO.M. at the all-new, ultra-amazing InFusion Lounge. I also play monthly at Lord Martine's party, Activate at Lookout, and at The Endup. I play once a month at Here in L.A., and I also play Karmabeat in Mexico City a few times a year. This year I'll get to Dallas, Puerto Vallarta, and Montreal. I usually play Brazil twice a year, and Asia, Australia, and Europe on occasion.
All that traveling makes it really hard to maintain a relationship, so I've got to give my man a shout-out. He puts up with my schedule and all the DJ politics. And he is one of my best critics. Being in a relationship with a DJ is a very difficult thing, there's a lot of missed birthdays and holidays, and you really need to be with someone who understands all the temptations, traveling, and entitlement that goes with the job.
What's your favorite kind of night to play?
My favorite is when nobody's paying attention to me, because everyone's dancing, having fun, and smiling. I love it when I see people with their hands up in the air. I like to have a packed dancefloor when the crowds are up for new sounds and new music. I'm a Billboard reporter, so I get all the new music sent to me by the labels. I love it when I get to break all this new music to my San Francisco crowds.
What's next for DJ Jamie J Sanchez?
I'm getting ready to launch a new website that will include the release of a free CD for download (you can sign up at www.jamiejsanchez.com). I've got tons of new remixes for Columbia and Sony. I'm playing Fresh in March and making my debut at Parking in Montreal the night before. I'm also playing Elevation Gay Ski Week in Mammoth in March, as well as the Naked Sword afterparty for the GAYVN Awards. If that weren't enough, I'll also be completing my audio engineering degree from SFSU.