A&E » Arts

Play that funky music, white boy

UK “liquid funk” DJ Utah Jazz hits Tommy’s Sunday


Much has been made about Utah Jazz's name, particularly in the U.S. where rabid fans of the namesake basketball team have sent him some particularly confused hate mail.

"When MySpace started there were a few messages from people logging on wondering, 'What the hell is going on here?'" Jazz says from his home in North London. "They just couldn't work it out, which is kind of fun."

He claims he never chose the name to be cheeky. He just liked how it sounded at the time. Say it aloud, right now: "Utah Jazz." See? And anyway, he was into the jazzier end of drum'n'bass at the time and was looking for a moniker with more pizzazz than his given name, Luke Wilson (also a source of confusion for some North Americans).

"Now I'm kind of stuck with it. I never really anticipated being in this situation where I'd be touring all over the world," he says.

But tour the world he has, and has been dubbed by DJ Magazine "the most underrated D&B producer out there," honouring his second LP, 2010's Vintage , as the "album of the month." The album's fine-tuned interpretations of liquid-funk -a more laid-back subgenre of drum'n'bass -earned similar critical praise from around the U.K. His 2008 debut, It's a Jazz Thing , received praise from circles outside the drum'n'bass clique. He's now one the rising starts in London's saturated electronic scene, infusing the skittering beats reminiscent of classic d'n'b with all the soul of Motown's glory years.

He was introduced to London's electronic scene through his older brother, with whom he shared a room during his childhood. His brother would play pirate stations like Kool FM and Weekend Rush, blasting jungle music that, at the time, annoyed the living hell out of Jazz. But he had to listen to it and over time, the rhythms stirred something within him. As the music became more atmospheric over the next couple of years, it drew him in completely.

He toiled through London's drum'n'bass scene for the next decade and a half, landing a monthly residency at 19 years old at London megaclub Fabric and scoring a record deal with V Recordings a few years later. He earned his big break in 2006 by remixing the Roni Size / DJ Die jungle classic, "It's a Jazz Thing."

"It was really big at the time because that was when vinyl was still shifting a lot of copies and that was V (Recordings)'s biggest vinyl single of that year," he says. "It was good for me because it was slightly more dance floor (than other singles)."

His tracks are a minefield of old disco and funk samples, crafted like jigsaw puzzles one sound at a time. A fervent crate digger, he'll scour all the vinyl he can handle and make huge storage banks of samples to make tracks out of later on.

"It could be anything really - vocals or trumpets or strings, practically anything, and I'll store them and then go back through them when I'm trying to get a track done on a main riff, then work all the other samples around it," he says.

Some of these samples could take years to make it on a track, but once all the pieces are together, Jazz says he'll have the track finished in half a day.

He's currently working on his eagerly anticipated third album, which he hopes to have completed by the end of the year for release early in 2012.

"It's just a case of trying to fit it all in, really, with the touring," he says. "I was really busy toward the end of last year and now I'm being a bit more selective with what I'm doing and take some time off, to get some studio time in."

He's playing Whistler as part of a two-day trek to Canada before heading back to the UK. The Whistler gig is the second show in the summer-long Summer of Bass festival at Tommy Africa's featuring seven major UK drum'n'bass and dubstep DJs. organized by Whistler's own DJ Phroh. Passes for all five shows can be purchased for $99 at Tommy's or Hempire.