Miguel Migs and Jay-J, two stalwarts of the San Francisco House scene have had a profound influence on electronic dance music, from their West Coast digs, spanning across the globe. Their early beginnings at Moulton Studios, and famed SF institutions like the End-Up, gave rise to a tight, nu-disco sound heaped with elements of funk and soul and just the right amount of San Francisco psychedelica.
With 20+ years of collaboration between the two dj / producers, Magnetic chatted with this iconic and influential pair ahead of their “Essential” party at Art Basel this weekend to chat about inspiration, studio technique, and some of their favorite projects to date.
Nutritious: How did y’all meet?
Miguel Migs: It was sometime around the mid 90’s era time frame in SF, and we were both frequently playing a party called Kit-Kat at a venue called the End-Up, but one specific memory that comes to mind is that we were both renting studio time and working out of the same little recording studio our friend Tyler Stone had at the time. And that’s mainly how we first connected.
Jay-J: I too remember the shared studio with Tyler and specifically I was working on a remix and in those days with lots of analog gear, the mix down sessions had a lot of moving parts and set up required. I was way behind schedule and Miguel had the studio booked after me but I asked Tyler to reach out and see if I could take his session to complete my mixdown rather than having to go back in another day and re-eq and level everything on the console, all outboard effects and everything. He of course was agreeable in what I think became his trademark laidback style and easy going nature. Which, looking back was a good personality match for me as well so it was easy to eventually work together in many other capacities.
N: What was the spark of inspiration for your first collaborations?
Jay-J: Soon after that first studio booking conversation Tyler had decided to move on from that studio and I decided to open my own spot. Tyler suggested Miguel just start working with me at the new studio. He was there from the beginning, booking as much studio time as he could and we just worked like a couple days or so every week for a few years. At the time I was working on House music with Miguel and a few other folks while trying to build the Studio Business, but the studio became so busy with folks wanting to work there on House Music that the reputation just grew and grew. Migs was definitely my most consistent studio client for a long while with him and I sitting together regularly. After working to help him harness his creative vision for so long it was a natural thing to collaborate. We set aside some extra time to actually work on shared ideas, in between our own busy productions schedules.
Migs: After our friend Tyler closed her studio Jay-J opened Moulton Street Studios and i was one of the very first regular clients from day one. I would book as much studio time as i could possibly afford to work there. And so usually a track or remix would have to be rushed, created, mixed and finalized in just one afternoon sometimes from start to finish. It was a great space to work that they created, and I didn’t have my own recording set up then, just my synth work station at home. Jay’s abundance of tech/engineering skills and knowledge were always very inspiring, allowing for the creative process to flow there in a very professional and productive work environment. I recently found a bunch of old studio session invoice bills from that time frame and it brought me right back there! And we also had fun creating a few collab releases together along the way as well. A lot of history at the that studio space!
N: One of the early successes was your collaborative “In The House” compilation for Defected. How was producing that?
Migs: The details are a little bit blurry for me as to how exactly that DJ mix compilation came about 🙂 But Jay should be able to explain that one a bit more! It was a double pack DJ mix CD compilation with unmixed vinyl offered as well. We selected our track lists and and created our mixes, both complimenting each other nicely for the experience, and as a package it offered and captured a nice feel and vibe for the era in time that resonated.
Jay-J: I remember starting the production and remix relation ship with Defected and after a couple singles and remixes had been completed Simon Dunmore inquired about a Mix Compilation based around this West Coast / San Francisco type house sounds we had started to become known for and Miguel and I got to work. I personally felt a decent amount of stress over the tracklisting, which tracks to use and in what order and all that it takes to plan a set that in essence is captured in time and listened to over and over. It has to be well prepared and tightly mixed as a few fleeting beats being nudged back in time in a live set is completely different from that nudges being captured forever. Miguel and I chatted a bit about what songs we were using to make sure we didn’t plan around the same song and shared a few ideas but ultimately we just each did our thing. I know that Simon and the entire defected team was amazing to work with from the beginning of the track selection they offered access to the Defected Catalog but encouraged us to feel as free as we wanted to come up with the songs we wanted. Everything else from there, song licenses, prep for release, photoshoots, and press organization was quite impressive to me. I was just a guy who loved making and playing house music and they had this organization that was so put together. I very often still hear from folks about the compilation things like “I played it over and over until it broke”. I am grateful for that project and proud of how it came out.
N: Do you have a favorite production you’ve worked on?
Jay-J: I have many for different reasons. I always try to have my newest be my favorite so it’s hard to list but here are a few that are memorable. “Keep on Rising” on Defected as it was one my first solo releases as I had done a lot of collaborations before that. The remix for Jill Scott “He Loves Me (Lyzel in Eb) which went on to be Grammy nominated for “Best Remixed Recording” as it was the first time I really heard many, if not all of my own musical influences play something I had done. Hard to beat that feeling. Latrice “Illumate” as an album project that Kaskade and I worked on together co-writing and producing with and for the great voice of Latrice (who sang and wrote “Keep On Rising” among others) as it was extremely fast paced, multi-location, yet highly creative and collaborative process. My album “Love Alive” as it was just an experimentation of genre’s and ideas rooted in working with some great Singers, Co-Writers and Musicians. “Happiness” was Coca-Cola / 2008 Olympics project was pretty amazing to be apart of. Built around visual artists and music artists creating around a theme and resulted in collectors edition bottles, booklet and CD but mainly working with great musicians and the vocal talents of Lucy Woodward. There are a bunch of other remixes I’m proud of.
Migs: Difficult to choose just one, but probably my album called Dim Division. (Ok, also Outside The Skyline and Shaping Visions) Of course every album is a creative exploration and expression capturing something very personal, but that project as a whole had alot of personal meaning for me with the songs and my writing process at that time frame.
N: What music do you like to listen to?
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Migs: I have always loved and listened to all different styles of music from Blues, Classic Rock, Reggae, Soul, etc… So it’s a mood thing.
Jay-J: I spend so much time working on, creating, mastering, remixing house music that I often find myself listening to things outside those genres. From 90’s Hip Hop, 80’s rock, 70’s Disco, Soul and R&B from all decades equates to fun car rides with my wife. Driving in solitude I usually find myself listening to Apple Music chill but mostly NPR radio.
N: What music are you working on now?
Jay-J: House music remixes, originals and some downtempo funky stuff, a new disco/groove oriented label called “Shaggin’ Wagon” on the way. A few collaborations with some new talented voices here in LA.
Migs: Always working on various new tracks, writing new songs, doing remixes – the “in-progress” folders never stop growing! I’ve been holding onto way too many unreleased songs/tracks and should start releasing some of them soon.
N: What’s the vision for your record labels?
Migs: I started Salted Music mostly as a creative outlet side project, to release some of my own music productions and as a vehicle for other artists as well. The vision has always been to stay creative and release music we enjoy, from Deep/Soulful/Funky/Nu Disco sounds – we have always tried to keep things interesting, artistic and diverse, keeping the DJ and dance floor in mind as well as the listener.
Jay-J: Shifted Music has been rooted in House music dance floors and the club vibes I love, groovy and vibey, disco, tech influenced chunkier stuff too. Downshift is Hip Hop inspired downtempo and anything slower and more mellow than the Shifted Music releases. The new label Shagin Wagon with have a disco edit type feel to it, a bit raw and percussive and dubbed out.
N: How has your production workflow changed through the years and are there any plugins you find yourself consistently using?
Jay-J: I of course started with analog studio back in the 90’s but then the entire studio was stolen so had to start from scratch and in 1999 I began rebuilding with an all digital studio. Quite the opposite of hat was happening at the time in studios and many folks looked upon my setup with disbelief. I slowly started adding in analog bits and build a rather large hybrid set up of high end gear intertwined with a digital back end. After many years of continued analog training for my ears, I slowly started relying more and more on an all in the box rig. The early days helped me so much in that I appreciate the sound of transients in analog domain and with the plugins and processing available today its much easier to capture that vibe in the box. I switched to Pro Tools from Logic in 2005 and just basically am too old to switch again but I teach a ton of students who use Live and Logic and even Reason so I am pretty versed in all DAW’s. I use a lot of different tools and really have an incredible arsenal at my disposal. I think the important aspect of these tools is getting to know them and how they sound to align what I’m trying to do with the tool most suited for the job. EQ’s wise I use a lot but the Sonnox EQ has been at my fingertips since the early 2000’s so I know it really well. Compressors wise, also a ton but I use MJUC and consider it my desert island plug-in. Plug-in Alliance has become a staple as they have so many tools and I use many of them in mastering as well as mixing.
Migs: I have always loved the entire process of sitting in my studio, writing music and crafting a song. But I try and keep my set up fairly basic. I have never been a big tech oriented artist and I have always learned to work with what I have for the most part, if the system is stable and I can focus on the creative artistic flow of things then I am happy! Jay is a great source of technical knowledge and I usually refer to him for tech related assistance. I still work in a similar way as I always have, using Logic because that’s what I’m use to, and working with a range of plugins as most producers do – but I do love the Sound Toys plugins, and I still use a lot of Waves plugins as well. There are so many to choose from and its easy to get lost in the production rabbit hole sometimes, going through millions of sounds/reverbs/delays/effects and over analyzing them. I tend to dive deeply into the sonic sound scape aspect when I’m creating, the complexity, dimension and layers within my work. I’m just wired that way, of course sometimes less is more, and its a work in progress!
N: Tell us about the Art Basel party! & Any songs definitely going in the bag / on the sticks for this one?
Jay-J: I have been working on these Essential parties for several years and Miguel has most often been tapped to play these events. Miami is a special place for me and house music dating back to the early WMC/MMW days in the early 90’s. Since discovering the whole Art Basel experience and the combination of music AND art this weekend has become my new favorite to play, and enjoy.
I don’t know for sure what I will play but I don’t think my particular sound has changed much through the years, it will be fat baselines, some disco-ish grooves, some vocals sprinkled in and lots of vibe. At least I hope it comes together like that.
Migs: The past few Essential Art Basel events Jay and Mark [Brickman] put together have been very consistent with a really nice vibe and crowd in the heart of Wynwood, so I’m stoked they asked me back again to play this year also – always fun playing music with these guys. The connection with Miami in itself is a long one, we have been going to the WMC/MMW and playing events down there every year since the late 90’s (for almost 25 years now!) and these Basel events have a very similar feel as well connecting the art, music and creative communities.
As for the music, it’s always a very spontaneous process of selecting music at each event and how it all flows and feels. But will definitely be playing some of my own custom edits and test out some new material as well as throw in a few classics.