EDM, DubStep, Moombahton, trap, nu-disco—subgenres have overtaken modern music categories. DJs categories as well. We now have “big-room DJs,” “small-room DJs,” “DJ/producers,” “festival DJs,” “DJs who don’t really DJ,” “bar/lounge DJs,” “your favorite DJ’s favorite DJ” … Them Jeans stands tall—literally, at 6-feet-8—as a DJ/producer who seamlessly swerves in and out of various subgenres with a signature sound. A teenage graffiti artist who tagged under the name “Jeans,” Southern California native Jason Stewart stumbled upon DJing, not knowing it would become his E-ticket to touring the world and becoming a tastemaker.
Stewart today hosts the hilariously impromptu podcast Tall Tales and is the driving force behind the infamous Dim Mak parties in L.A. But he is hard to peg: His remix/bootleg résumé reads like a hipster’s iTunes library: SBTRKT, Flight Facilities, Bloc Party, Childish Gambino, Sunday Girl, Glitch Mob, Munk and Diplo. “I love all kinds of music, and every day there is a new subgenre of music for better or for worse that has a horrible name,” he says. Stewart is widely known as an electronic DJ/producer, although his taste and style exceed his reputation for producing and DJing trailblazing sets of the next best electronic thing. Catch Them Jeans on March 19 at Insert Coin(s).
What were some of the first records you purchased?
West Coast rap and Southern rap are primarily what I DJ’d at first, but I’m into all kinds of music. I was also into a lot of electronic stuff like Air and Björk, so I would try to make those work together.
You started on vinyl, but your tech rider says CDJs. Why CDJs instead of turntables now?
After traveling around, a lot of places have neglected to maintain the quality of their turntables. A lot of things can go wrong with turntables, and a lot of times it does. You can forget your needles one night and you’re screwed, a ground wire is chewed up, spilled drinks, or somebody bumps a table and the needle skips. I’ve had those situations happen too many times, so I made the transition to CDJs. If I was in a perfect world I would still be playing on turntables.
What’s your take on all these young DJs rushing to be headliners without becoming strong openers first?
A lot of kids are DJing who have no idea how to work a room or be an early player. Kids who just want to play all the hits and burn the headliner are a problem. They don’t realize that they’re not impressing anybody by knowing all the popular songs of the night and slamming them all into their opening set. Equally, a lot of young producers get lucky, get a hit and all of a sudden call themselves DJs without knowing how to read a room and hold a dance floor.
Would you consider yourself more of a structured-set DJ or an off-the-cuff set DJ?
When I’m playing a short set I will structure it according to where I’m playing and map it out. If I’m playing all night then I’ll just start somewhere and see where it takes me. I like having the peace of mind in knowing that if I’m playing a short set I have everything and I can really be ahead of myself. If I’m just freestyling it, many times you stumble upon new mixes and new transitions from songs that you didn’t think would go over very well that really work.
Many venues and DJs have lost sight of what “open format” means. What’s your interpretation?
“Open format” used to mean that you could play a little bit of everything, but now it means that you’re playing mostly Top 40. I have always been an open-format DJ in the true sense; I will play dance music, rap music, some weird experimental music.
What has been your best DJ moment thus far?
The ability to tour and travel. I’ve been on a Japanese tour, an Australian tour, China, South America, Europe—essentially doing what I love. I’d love to play more festivals, I’ve played EDC a couple of times; it’s always crazy playing in front of gigantic crowds. My most enjoyable times are playing where the crowd respects the DJs, the crowd is with you and trusts you to do your thing, and they’re really into it.
If you weren’t DJing, what would you be doing?
Hopefully having my own restaurant or being a chef. I definitely plan on doing that in the future.
What is this new EP? What else do you have coming up?
I’ve got a new EP out on No Brainer records March 15 called Vowel Play, and a remix for Flight Facilities out on March 19.
That’s the same night you’ll play Insert Coin(s). Have you played in Las Vegas before?
I’ve actually played over the years in Vegas, random bookings, opening for other DJs or people taking a risk on me. In Vegas, you guys are working an uphill battle. Just like every other city in the world, Vegas has a small amount of kids who really know what’s cool. Whenever those people come to Vegas, it’s probably few and far between so hopefully they’ll support these new Downtown venues and contribute to a cool scene and culture in Vegas.