September 21, 2014

Blake Jarrell: Vegas, Baby

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Las Vegas – Sometimes you have to look back to move forward. Such is the “dilemma” for popular DJ/producer Blake Jarrell.

In an EDM world of copy-cat tracks and relative sameness, Jarrell says he wants to re-evaluate his own studio approach. He’s made his name with hands-in-the-air trance tracks, but these days he’s leaning toward making more groove-oriented material, the kinds of things influenced by legends like Sasha and Danny Tenaglia.

His issue, he admits, is that he’s a Las Vegas resident—at the ever-hot Marquee Nightclub, no less—and in Vegas things are good. Real good. Why change up and upset the tastes of tourists when Sin City has effectively replaced Ibiza as the epicenter of global-DJ talent, if not all of dance music?

So, these are the conundrums of living the DJ life in Las Vegas. It’s not that the fans aren’t there. It’s not that the venues aren’t mind-bogglingly adorned. It’s just a question of how far you can carry that audience beyond its norms. These are problems that, to many DJs, aren’t really problems at all.

Before such dramas ever arose, Jarrell established himself through island-themed productions such as “Boracay” and “Barbados,” plus “Dubai” and “Say What You Will,” and esteemed bootlegs of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars,” Axwell’s “Heart Is King” vs. R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.” Plus, there’s his long-running Concentrate podcasts.

That Vegas came calling shouldn’t have been a surprise. With an education in audio production/music business, the 29-year-old talent has been on that track for quite a while, since his days as a young DJ in New Orleans and Chicago. With that in mind, we sat down with Blake Jarrell to talk shop and discuss his front-row seat to the ever-expanding EDM empire that’s Las Vegas.

DJ Times: It seems like everyone’s essentially copying the same idea in electronic-dance music these days. What are your thoughts on that and the current state of the productions you’re hearing?

Jarrell: I’ve noticed in the past two years that everyone’s bandwagoning. It’s so formulaic now that you can take tracks, open them in Ableton or Logic, view the WAV form and see that everybody’s building the same arrangements at the exact time, the same BPM…

DJ Times: The builds and drops are in the same spots.

Jarrell: Exactly. It’s cookie-cutter and everybody’s running with that formula because it works for now—or it did work. There needs to be a change—I’m getting bored with that. I get a thousand promos a month, if not more, and listen to music constantly. When I have to hear the same thing over and over again, it makes me almost not interested in the music anymore.

DJ Times: What are you digging? You must find things you like, maybe from other genres.

Jarrell: I do a lot to find newer sounds, look for newer labels—and I don’t just listen to trance and house promos. I’ll listen to a dubstep or chill-out promo or whatever’s being sent to me just so I can be inspired by something else. I’d say out of a thousand promos, 900 of them are bandwagoning on an Avicii, Alesso or Nicky Romero studio trick. Also, not just the studio techniques, but bandwagoning on the same feeling in the tracks: It’s very aggressive, in your face, give-it-to-you-now, hands-in-the-air, and no restraint. That is losing what dance music is really supposed to be about.

DJ Times: What are your studio inspirations? You had to start somewhere, too.

Jarrell: When I started listening to electronic dance music, yeah, I got into rave-y stuff at first, but I didn’t understand the dance part of it until I started listening to Sasha, Danny Howells, Danny Tenaglia and people like that. Their dance music—which I consider real dance music—is all about being locked into a groove, being hypnotic, and having tension and release. I’m trying to get back to that with my productions, too.

DJ Times: The sounds have changed, haven’t they?

Jarrell: It’s hard, because you get inspired by things that are going on, so you start trying to mimic them a little bit and sometimes you mimic them too much on accident and you’re like, “Well, I need to release a track anyway, so I’m just going to put it out.” Another big problem with dance music is that people are just putting out too much stuff because they think they have to have releases constantly to stay relevant, and I don’t think that’s really true.

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