If you've walked by Bar Smith on a recent Wednesday evening and had your eardrums assaulted, its probably Jason Ayers' fault.
The bass-loving beat-juggler and his long-running SubConscious night have (literally) been shaking the downstairs walls at the downtown Phoenix club with a storm of subharmonics and plenty of thrum. While the hipsters and moombah cats reign supreme up on the Bar Smith rooftop during The Scenario, Ayers and such cohorts as Issa and Dehga blast out drum 'n' bass and jungle tracks.
SubConscious hasn't been the only place to catch Ayers doing his thing, as he's a longtime veteran of the local DJ scene dating back to the early '90s. The dude's also an after-hours impresario who's both put on and performed at underground parties and wee hours wingdings for well over a decade.
Ayers recently spoke with Up on the Sun about his love of D'n'B, the after-hours scene, his abhorrence of the current popularity of dubstep, and other topics.
Name: Jason Ayers
AKA: DeepFreq/Consumer C
Current gigs: Taking a break from the weekly this summer to focus on production. We'll be doing a Sub:Con Afterhours series starting in June.
Preferred EDM genres: As Deepfreq -- jungle, drum & bass: neurofunk, minimal, halftime, liquid funk. As Consumer C -- '80s freestyle, early '90s funk, classic hip-hop, dub reggae.
How did you get into the DJ game?
Back in high school, I was into car stereos and building speaker boxes. I had a large collection of CDs I'd always have in the car. I would always figure out a way to take over the stereo at house parties. I really enjoyed changing the whole mood of an environment just by changing up the music. Around the same time I would go to all-ages afterhours events at The Works and Atomic Cafe, looked up to DJs like Markus Schulz and DJ Randall (RIP). I started collecting vinyl, but didn't buy Technics turntables until 1998.
The main reason I took up DJ'ing -- I wasn't hearing locals play the styles of drum 'n' bass that I was into at the time.
What's your musical background?
I was into playing guitar and producing before DJing.
Origin of your DJ name(s)?
Deepfreq Productions was my promoter name when I threw a couple of raves in the '90's. Deep frequency as in bass. I never intended for it to be my DJ name. A promoter wanted to book me after hearing me play at my house. I didn't get back to him in time with a DJ name so he just listed me as Deepfreq. I also produce under the name Consumer C.
What's your attraction to bass (D'n'B or otherwise)?
I enjoy feeling music as well as hearing it. The addiction started with the car stereo hobby and love of hip-hop. Later, I was blown away by the massive sound systems at raves. I used to enjoy dancing to minimal and Detroit techno and considered Jungle/D&B "undanceable," but loved the basslines. I love all kinds of dance music, but DJ'ing wise I picked Jungle/D&B as my focus.
Were you one of those cars that would blast bass at stoplights?
No, most of the time I kept the windows up to maximize the air pressure.
How have you kept your hearing over the years?
I haven't -- I developed tinnitus in my late teens. It got worse when I took up DJing, so I started being selective about it. For example, I just have a stock stereo in my car these days.
Have you ever played bass so loud that you broke something?
Besides circuit breakers? Three tequila bottles at Bar Smith, a light fixture at ICYC, a glass shelf at Studio 3D and many random things at [Quincy Ross'] old neighbor's place.
What's the difference between D'n'B and jungle?
Jungle is a type of drum 'n' bass. The confusion is because the D'n'B genre name came after jungle had already established itself.
Has D'n'B advanced much in the last decade or so, or has it just evolved into other genres?
Ask any accomplished producer in any genre of electronic music and they'll all agree on the same thing: The D'n'B producers, allthough not the most popular, are always at the forefront of production. Drum 'n' bass is audio nerd porn.
Who are your favorite drum 'n' bass artists of all time?
Optical, D-Bridge, Calibre, Marcus Intalex, Shy FX, Roni Size, Tech Itch, Big Bud...I could go on and on.
What are the origins of your long-running night SubConscious?
In 2001, me, Adam Filipkowski (DJ Egorock) and Misty Chapman (Suont), had grown tired of all the agro/testosterone dominated D'n'B events that were going on in Phoenix and Tempe at the time. It seemed like most of the DJs were playing nothing but the dark, horror movie, teched-out shit and were clearing dance floors. Fights had become a weekly occurrence while less and less women were attending: total sausage fest.
So what did y'all do?
The three of us were into all kinds of D'n'B styles, but the soul and R&B influenced Liquid Funk subgenre that was emerging had really stuck a chord. We wanted to feature the funky and playful side of the music and encourage people to start acting like fucking adults. I came up with name Sub:Conscious as a nod to the subwoofer minded sound and designed the logo. We wrote up a proposal to do a Thursday night weekly event that won over the management of Sky Lounge. We has a simple plan: the first DJ would play downtempo to warm up the uninitiated, the second DJ would play funk/souful D&B, the last DJ could play the hard/agressive D&B. It worked.
We had the place packed consistently for months and were bringing in all kinds of new people into the fold. A big indicator of our success was when I saw both mohawks and dreadlocks dancing together every week. After we saved up enough money and got an investor, we started brining out the big names in D'N'B such as Klute and Andy C. The night changed hands a few times but ended up be the longest running D'N'B weekly, albeit under different names and management.
How did the recent resurrection of SubConscious come about?
In January of 2011, I resurrected the Sub:Con name by throwing a reunion party at Bar Smith. The night was such a success, we were asked to host another one a month later. After that, I couldn't step foot into Bar Smith without being tempted by Senbad to start promoting a monthly event. I fended him off for almost a year until I finally gave in and started a Wednesday night weekly in November of 2011. We've had a great run this second time around, although its been challenging not being able to use the upstairs (Scenario does their thing up there on Wednesdays). We managed to make enough from the cover charge to buy our own sound system, a completely custom, hand-built monster that was used for raves for the last four years.
Craziest shit you've seen at a gig?
At the end of a rave in '98, we found a live chicken in a cage with an unopened packet of turkey gravy mix, sitting next to the speakers. The venue is now Alpha Book Center on Seventh Street.
What bygone local club you miss the most?
What's better: Performing in a club or at an after-hours?
I feel sorry for any local DJ that hasn't experienced playing a quality after-hours event in downtown Phoenix. The crowd is absolutely nuts and ready to hear something new. Clubs usually have people asking for requests or bros that think they are too cool to dance.
What's the attraction of after-hours parties?
The funky people and lack of pretentiousness. I love it when a new person shows up and is bewildered by the lack of accommodations for their pampered-ass suburban life. They don't last long. So as the night progresses, you only have people left that are there for the music and laughs.
Is the morning sunlight at the end of an after-hours party a painful experience?
I love it! The morning light is gorgeous and I always embrace it by switching the vibe to reggae and hip-hop. Sister Nancy's "Bam Bam" is very effective at washing away any bad vibes. I love "landing the plane" at the end of an event. Physically, I'm absolutely spent and exhausted, but mentally I'm at peace knowing I've made people dance and did so without resorting to playing mainstream EDM.
Which artists have been working their way into your sets as of late?
Anile, Skeptical, Seba, Lynx. They are continually evolving the halftime and minimal sound I've been digging for the past year. Production quality by Seba in particular is incredible on a large sound system.
Favorite track of the moment?
"Scuba" by Need For Mirrors. Has that "creature" sound Dehga and I have been caning recently.
What's involved with creating a set?
After buying some new tunes, I'll practice mix ideas and start grouping them into pairs, sometimes three or four together. Then I'll go thru my vinyl record collection and pull out a few tunes I know haven't been played in a while and do more pairing. I can spend hours debating on what to use as an opening track as I consider this very important to setting the tone for the whole set. The rest is put together in real time during the performance: I throw something out to see how the dance floor responds, then adjust accordingly. It's a two-way communication when I play.
How do you pick the songs you mix?
The drums have to absolutely be on point: creative fills, builds, flares and change ups. I don't care how great the rest of the song is, the drums have to be runnin'. After that, it has to pass the "stick in my head" test. About 90% of the Drum & Bass coming out that I'll listen to is horrible: I compare it to diving for pearls.
Do you use exisitng tracks or your own creations/mixes?
I try to throw in at least one of own tracks in every set. I like the idea of doing edits, but then again: isn't that what live DJ'ng is all about?
How do you go about crafting your beats/music?
I've been using Logic since 1998 so I'm very comfortable doing everything within it. I always start with the drums, usually chopping and rearranging an old funk break. "It's a New Day" by Skull Snaps has become the foundation my sessions lately. After the drums are rolling, I'll go to work on the bassline using a simple sine wave that's either sampled or generated. I make extensive use of sidechain compression, bus and aux routing to create the majority of the effects and even melody. I avoid using popular plugins and prefer doing foley work instead. Most producers these days are just cranking out forgettable tunes using presets: I don't want to sound like anyone else so I steer clear of what's popular. Fuck Massive.
What's your take on dubstep?
I was into the first phase of dubstep when it was actually influenced by dub reggae, grime and D'n'B. DJ Terra and I were the first locals to play it in Phoenix at a weekly (Essential Wednesdays at Sky Lounge). But as it got more and more wobble and midrange focused, I felt it lost its soul. I now refer to it as, "Either a car alarm going off or a car that won't start" music. And as for the "bass music" genre descriptor that's been thrown around lately, it's not appropriate: most brostep and moombah these days doesn't hit below 40hz or do anything beyond playing a one-note 808 kick. Listening to people talk about "the drop" in 2012 dubstep is cute.
Because drops have been around forever, correct?
I don't know when it started, but D&B heads used it the most in the '90s. "Whiplash" by Future Cut has a great vocal sample saying "Drop!" and that came out in '99 -- still brutal.
What's your opinion of dubstep DJs?
I saw both Caspa and Datsik perform a few months ago and it was painful.
Caspa was an originator, one of the early Dubstep pioneers. I was surprised to hear him play a Skrillex tune and others that simply don't push air. Datsik was blowing up speakers at Comerica Theater, yet the crowd was still fist bumping and cheering to flaccid basslines.
What's your opinion on the moombahton movement? After all, the cats from The Scenario play a ton of it upstairs at Bar Smith during SubConscious.
Although I don't personally care for the sound, the musicologist in me has enjoyed watching the rapid success of it. Maybe it's too soon to call its demise, but I don't exactly see people clamoring for it as much these days. It's been over a year since Dave Nada or David Heartbreak played here and the hype bubble has only gotten smaller since. Maybe it's blowing up elsewhere, but I personally don't see it happening in Phoenix. I have a lot of respect for Melo, Pickster and Mendez who've been seeing success out of state for their production work.
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What's your opinion on newbies getting into the DJ game?
I feel bad for those that missed out on the small window where vinyl ruled the world. The experience of collecting records, shopping at stores, interacting with the crowd instead of a laptop screen...I feel blessed I got to experience all of that.
What misconceptions do people have about you, if any?
They think I'm in the same local promoter game they're all wrapped up in. I have a business I've been running for over ten years doing application development; dance music is just one of my creative outlets. I also get accused of playing politics by some because I don't book them to DJ. Truth is, there's only one reason I wouldn't book someone that I've actually heard play before: I don't care for their DJ'ing skills. It's amazing the conspiracies people come up to explain otherwise. They'll blame the entire state before questioning that they may actually have shitty taste in music.
Any gigs you'd like to plug?
Lazer Sword on June 9th -- location TBA.