It’s not every day you’re asked to call a bonafide electronic don, just months before there’s a chance he’ll never give another interview about dance music and club culture again. Needless to say, then, dialling into L.A. it was clear this one needed to count.
Having relocated to the Californian mega-city around eight years ago, giving up an enviable life in Berlin at the time, where he was, amongst other things, a resident at Berghain’s lighter, brighter upstairs, Panorama Bar; Jesse Rose is nothing if not a risk taker who enjoys embracing the unknowns in life. As the British-born player is quick to explain.
“When I moved from London to Berlin, everyone was like ‘you can’t move to Berlin now, you’re just taking off’. I was like ‘nah, I just fancy moving there’. Then I left Berlin for L.A., gave up the Panorama Bar residency and everything that was going on, and they were all like ‘you can’t leave Berlin, you’re nuts’. I think you should always do the things that everyone thinks you’re crazy for doing, as that’s usually the best thing to do at the time.”
It certainly proved to be a clever move. While initially he was stuck in a transatlantic commute from hell- flying across the States and back to Europe almost every week for responsibilities in the booth, soon the U.S. electronic underground found renewed fervour. More so, Los Angeles quickly establishing itself as one of the go-to centres of the scene.
“I love it here, I love the diversity of it. You can go to a dirty warehouse party downtown and hear Harvey play on a Friday, then go to Malibu and lie on the beach on Sunday. All the different bits of the city that you can get into. It’s 88 cities in one, so there’s so many different things, which for me is important.
“You could live hear for your whole life and not see it all or do everything. In Berlin I felt I had seen a lot in the first few months and then after that we were going to the same restaurants, same parks. Even after eight years here I’m not even close to knowing what the hell is going on in this city.”
Rose will soon have more opportunities to get his head around his adopted home, mind. In 2016 he announced, rather unexpectedly for many fans, that this year would be his last on the road, having spent the previous 25 in-and-out of parties, delivering astute house and techno soundtracks to heads from England to Japan.
“Announcing the final tour in December, I then wanted to do all the festivals and clubs one last time that I’ve loved over the years. The tour has just been insane. I can’t think of a year when it was so extreme in the last few. But amazing. People have really gone the extra with whatever it is. I played at Womb in Tokyo, and half an hour before the end they dropped this thing down that said ‘We wish Jesse the best in the future’. It’s as I imagined, when I thought about what a final tour would look like, but then it has definitely passed what I could have dreamed of.”
This won’t be the last we hear of him in terms of music overall, though. Old habits and all that. After finally hanging up the headphones, Rose’s long term plans involve establishing a creative agency with some long-standing cohorts, which will assist in the sonic and artistic development of talent on the rise. For a guy who has already proven himself a deft hand at running numerous labels, it seems like a logical retirement plan, but even then the reality is understandably daunting.
“You know your first girlfriend, who you’re really in love with, then you split up and you thought your world was over, and it took a while to realise that actually you probably shouldn’t have stayed with that girl as long as you did. I know this is the right thing to do in the long run. But of course this is all I’ve done for my whole life and DJing in these amazing clubs one last time is definitely bitter sweet. There’s six weeks to go now which is insane, but I’m looking forward to new challenges and doing new stuff.
“I haven’t been in my house for more than a week in about five months. I’m there for three days in a row. In the last week I’ve been in maybe three continents. It’s amazing but it’s intense. I think for the first few months I’ll definitely be wondering what I’ve done, what did I say - that sort of thing. Then hopefully it will kick in and I’ll be able to smell again and get back to being a normal human.”
It almost seems like a stupid question to ask- what will you miss most from leaving behind one of the most desired careers on the planet? But then you can’t help but want to know.
“Absolutely I’m going to miss travelling. I love it, flying around the world and seeing new places all the time. It’s a weird world where you’re super tired all the time and jet lagged but it’s always something new. Even though this year I’ve mainly focussed on places I’ve been saying goodbye to, I’ve also done some I’ve never been to before.
“Last month I was in Marrakech, places in China and Asia. That constant new will definitely be missed. And also the different people you meet, lots of characters. Most people won’t be meeting 100 new people a week, but for sure you can in this job. At dinner, in the club, the drivers, hearing all their stories is quite engrossing.”
There are good and bad sides to everything, though, even when things look rosy from the outside. As anyone who has the opportunity to travel regularly for work knows only too-well, with many flights come a significant number of associated challenges. Not least actually getting some down time at home.
“I won’t miss being ill. During this tour I got sinusitis and it lasted about three months. It messed with my balance, it went into my inner ear, and you’ve just got to carry on and turn up to the show and do your job. It’s not easy, but you can’t cancel as they spent months promoting it and loads of work has gone into it.
“To be honest it’s just really difficult to be healthy. On the road you just have to eat what’s knocking about- on planes, in airports. So I’m looking forward to just being healthier. Also seeing my girlfriend once a month. I don’t want it to come across negatively. DJing is the greatest job in the world, and if you’re lucky enough and worked hard enough to get it then pinch yourself every week and take every opportunity.”
There have been plenty of those. Almost impossible to summarise without going into far too much detail, Rose’s heritage is impressive, to put it mildly. The Berlin residency referenced in the opening of this article, before that a home from home at sorely-missed London haunt Plastic People; a mainstay presence at some of the planet’s most respected festivals; a ridiculous 200+ releases, both original and remixed, not to mention lifetime membership to some of the world’s most legendary club venues. But in many ways, the dance scene is almost unrecognisable from the one he first cut his teeth on in the late-1990s.
“There’s always good stuff going on. People who say there is no good music have just stopped searching hard enough. But I do think it’s a pretty sad time at the moment. With the knowledge of what it was like when I started people used to go to a club and focus on dancing. Get away from their weeks. Not care about how they looked, they’re there to dance until 7AM. Now it’s very rare to find places where people are actually going for that reason.
“More and more they are going to take pictures of the DJ or hook up or watch the confetti cannons. Playing at Robert Johnson in Frankfurt about three weeks ago with Roman Flugel and Ata, people walked in and started dancing and then if they wanted to talk they left the dancefoor. If they’re going for a cigarette they leave the dancefloor. They are there to get into it and do their thing. And it kind of resonated with me that when I started playing at places like Panorama, Sub Club, Plastic People, the reason they were legendary is people went there to really indulge themselves in music and DJs and dancing. At this moment in time there needs to be a bit more thought about it.
“I was in the Majorelle garden in Marrakech and everyone was arriving and then immediately just getting their phones out- picture, picture, picture. I guess culturally that’s the thing now. Not so much being there, more showing you have been there. But at the same time clubs can create something that helps people get into a different vibe. If there’s no photos then there’s a reason- peopled don’t want to be photo’d when they’re just dancing and having a good time. Robert Johnson doesn’t have a set of rules when you walk in, but somehow they have set something up where people understand it.”
This may sound negative, but the reality is, to paraphrase Rose, really good venues for dark, dirty, sweaty affairs are few and far between in 2017. As such it’s important to show some respect.
“It’s more the minority than the majority. I’ve played maybe 110 shows this year and I’m naming a handful of clubs that seem to do it properly. Warehouse Project is another one, because it is dark and there’s that warehouse feel to it. But you’re talking about the majority where people have to really think about why they are there.
“But then it’s personal choice. If you’re setting up a bottle service club and someone is there because they want to be there and that’s their thing then fair enough, that’s the thing they like doing. But when it’s supposed to be an underground thing and it’s supposed to be about music, that’s when it becomes disappointing when it’s not.”
After so long in the game, Rose is also clear on the dividing line between ‘proper’ and ‘everything else’. Intrigued, I ask exactly where that distinction sits.
“I’ll tell you what an underground club is, the difference between that and a commercial place. An underground place is where you go to hear music that you don’t know, a commercial place is where you go to hear music that you do know. So if a crowd goes to a place and want you to play a particular song then it’s overground, if they don’t then it’s underground. I thought of this about a year ago when I was asked by a tech dude or something.”
It’s unclear whether philosophy will also keep Rose busy once this last tour is done, but you can’t help but see where he’s coming from with that perspective. Similarly his view on the idea of packing up the day (or night?) job for pastures new, which brings us back to the beginning of our conversation. Just because something is great doesn’t mean it should continue, and even when you opt for change that change doesn’t have to be absolute.
At 39, Rose has spent most of his adult life following paths of his own devising, which suited the period of time in which that route was taken. So why should anything change now just because he’s stepping out from beneath the strobe lights?
“The papers ask ‘Oh so, you know, are you doing an LCD Soundsystem?’ I’m like, LCD Soundystem, one of the fucking biggest bands of a generation? I’m a DJ who plays underground music. It doesn’t need to be that crazy. I’m going off to start this company now, but things might change in a few years.
“Yeah, it’s like people might as well say ‘do you promise this is definitely it?’ If you said ‘I’ve done this writing thing for ages and I want a change now’, but then in five years time thought ‘you know what, I kind of fancy doing some writing again’, that’s absolutely fine. It doesn’t need to be so final or serious, do you know what I mean?”