Kaskade. Benny Benassi. Above & Beyond. While you may be familiar with the superstar residents that headline Marquee Nightclub, a DJ who’s climbing the ranks also regularly calls Marquee home. With solid, original productions, revered bootlegs, such as his versions of Snow Patrol’s “Chasing Cars” and Axwell’s “Heart Is King” vs. R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion,” plus his Concentrate podcast, Blake Jarrell has been a fixture at Marquee since the club’s opening. Although his name might not be the biggest on the billboard yet, he’s found the right balance by spinning between the local opening DJs and the major headliners to ensure the party progresses properly, making him an artist to watch.
You tour with and open for Armin van Buuren quite often. How did you first meet?
After Hurricane Katrina I moved from New Orleans to Chicago, and I was in school and interning for a local event promoter. Whenever I would flier at an event, I would always bring a CD of my productions and give the DJ my CD regardless of what their style was, just to see if they would like it and if I could get a response. I did that for an Armin show. I was passing out fliers outside of Crobar and handed a CD to Armin, and he called me the next day and his manager picked me up. His record label signed me, and we have been friends ever since!
When you play Las Vegas, do you get to work in your original productions since it’s so commercial out here?
Yes! Actually, I got my start by remixing pop songs, so I’m able to work those in. But then I also have my own original productions, which were more on the trance-y side. I’ve gone back and edited some of those tracks to see what’s better on the dance floor and mash them up. When you are playing before a headliner, you never want to leave them with a slamming track, a banging track or just a “hands-in-the-air” moment, so I tend to play more for myself in the last 15 or 20 minutes of my set, sort of get back to educating the crowd. That way I’m doing that and also giving the next DJ a good transition into what they want to do. They can have their moment when they come onstage and blow it up from there.
Speaking of your original tracks, you’ve been naming them after beautiful locations around the globe. How did that start?
I have always liked nature and tropical islands, and I just got this idea that started with the track “Boracay.” I went to the Boracay Islands in the Philippines, played a gig there and it was so beautiful I wanted to try to encapsulate my experience that week into a track. If you listen to the track you would conjure your own images of the island and sunshine and beaches. People responded to it really well, so I just kept doing it with places that I was going to and really liked—and even places that I haven’t been to yet that I want to go to—and the fans love it. So, I keep doing it.
Have you thought about making any gritty tracks and naming them after ugly places?
It’s funny you say that. The B-side to “Boracay” was “Manila.” It’s not a horrible place or anything, but it’s very industrialized and very fast—the roads are dominated by dirt bikes. Everyone is on dirt bikes or on these city buses that are really loud, with lots of exhaust and gears. So for the B-side track I made this new dark, sort of grinding thing that the bass line matches how a dirt bike revs off.
So, where’s the “Las Vegas” track?
You know, [Chuckie] just did one about Vegas, so I want that one to run its course before I name one after Vegas, but I definitely will. Vegas is really important, and it’s changed me a lot as an artist in a very good way.
What would say is your favorite bootleg you’ve done?
Probably Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here,” because I didn’t think that I would be able to remix it. I didn’t add a whole lot to it, but that was kind of the point. I wanted it to still sound like the original song, but I wanted it to work on the dance floor, so it’s basically reconstructed just enough to work but still is the same exact song. And because I was able to meet that challenge and get it done, I think that’s my favorite one. And, also it has some emotional context to me too, you know? It’s a great song.
Going back to what you said a little earlier about how your original tracks are a little bit trance-ier, why do you think that the word “trance” leaves a bad taste in many people’s mouths in Las Vegas?
Not just in Vegas, but everywhere. I am not exactly sure why. Maybe it’s not the cool genre of the moment, or maybe because it had its moment for so long that people want to put attention on something else, I guess, as the “cool” genre. The genres are so amalgamated and there is so much borrowing of sound and techniques from everything. When I listen to a Swedish House Mafia track, it doesn’t sound like house to me, it sounds like trance. It’s just slowed down a little bit.
What was your first exposure to dance music?
My brother Shane, he’s 10 years older than me. I was about 15 or 16, and he was in his clubbing age. I had been exposed to electronic music, but I was a guitar player in a rock band and didn’t really appreciate electronic music. But my brother would bring home CDs from the local DJs that he was going to see at the clubs in New Orleans, and I’d listen to them and got into it, but not really. But then he brought home the Sasha [Global Underground 013: Ibiza] CD, which compared to the other music that he was bringing home, it was a lot more intelligent, a lot more progressive, a lot deeper. As a musician I was able to listen to it and [feel] there’s a whole lot more to this than I thought. I just became obsessed with it at that point. I had to make that music. I had to do anything I could to be a part of it. And that’s when I started producing and DJing—just went straight into both at the same time.
You’ve been at this awhile now. What’s the most embarrassing production in your catalog?
There was a track that was released by accident. It’s a track that I did called “Sluggish,” and it was only about a minute and 20 seconds long. It was a completely experimental mess. This friend of mine was running a digital record label and he’s like, “Yeah, I’m doing this compilation”—it might have been for a charity thing or some promotional stunt or whatever—and he’s like, “Do you have anything you can send me that’s something you haven’t released that you would want to put under a different name or something like that?” I sent that track and a few others’ clips of things that I was working on or whatever, and he ended up just releasing the track without getting back to me and put my name on it and I was like, “Oh…” But that was a long time ago.
Any pseudonyms you’ve released productions under?
Yeah, I have sort of a techno alias called Thrasher. Thrasher is a skateboard magazine. I named all the tracks after old ’80s skateboarders. I also did a track under the name Weightless, and the reason why I put it under a different name is because I sampled Lil Wayne in the track and I thought I might get caught for the sample, but the sample ended up being from a mix tape which is illegal anyway.
Since your downtime is usually in the winter and Chicago is freezing, would you ever go back to New Orleans?
Not for the time being. I’m spoiled with O’Hare International Airport. I can get anywhere in one or two flights, and New Orleans’ airport is really not up to par with that. But New Orleans is a great place; it’s where I’m from, it’s contributed to who I am for sure, the people there are great, the food is the best in the world. I think after my career—if it ever does end or if it slows down or whatever—I may end up moving back there, but I don’t know. I kind of like Chicago, too.
Not that you aren’t busy or anything, but do you have any plans for a full-length album of original productions?
Yeah, I kind of started one. It’s an island-theme album of instrumentals that are in my island-theme sound. I’ve got about seven or eight of the tracks almost done. I really want to do the album, but I also think that [to] maybe release these as singles would be a better idea. But we’ll see.
What does being a resident at Marquee mean to you?
Everyone is saying that Vegas is the new hot spot for electronic-dance music, and I totally agree. I saw it coming years ago. I started playing at the Palms, and I could see it happening then. Then Marquee opened and I moved there, and it’s just been amazing. Every gig there is always packed and having that much enthusiasm over the music in Vegas, I never thought that I would see that. But it happened. So playing there, it feels like how DJs feel when they have a residency in Ibiza. It’s another mecca for this music, and it’s important to be playing there, and it is a great experience.
You headlined Marquee Dayclub last year, but do you think you’ll ever headline at the nightclub?
I’d love to! I think there are so many resident headliners, it’s just all about having the right time to put me in. I would definitely love to headline there, for sure.
What’s most important thing for new listeners or clubbers to know about you as an artist?
I don’t really like the whole genre thing that’s been going on for years. It’s finally sort of melting away, but I’m not really a trance DJ, I’m not really a house DJ, but if you want to call me that, that’s fine. I just do my thing, and the thing I would say is if you come to my show, don’t expect a very specific sound outside of my original productions. The other records that I play are always all over the place and they’re from house to techno to electro, trance whatever. I just play music that I enjoy, that I think other people will enjoy.