If you’re in Las Vegas, and you see a guy subconsciously karate chopping to the rhythm in the DJ booth, that’s probably Jason Lema. Named Best Resident DJ by this publication in 2012, the local spinner holds it down multiple times a week at Marquee Nightclub & Dayclub, as well as at Create in Los Angeles. We caught up with Lema between weekend sets to chat about his Miami roots and his recent foray into producing.
Was there a particular moment that made you want to become a DJ?
I first came across dance music in Miami, my hometown. Back when I was 19, I used to listen to early hip-hop, Depeche Mode, rock. Then I started going out and got exposed to different genres of house and breaks. In the ’90s, I started DJing as a hobby, just for fun to see what it was like, and bought some turntables.
But it wasn’t until you moved to Las Vegas that DJing took off as a career?
I lined up a couple of gigs at V Bar, and my first residency was at Ghostbar. Then I moved around and started playing more house-y stuff. I started doing Risqué at Paris Las Vegas, then started my own circuit party out here called Midnight Snack with a buddy of mine, Doug Gibbs; it lasted for about three years. Right around that time Tao Group came to Vegas, and they were shopping around for DJs—they needed somebody who was going to play house in their restaurant. I started my relationship with them and it’s kind of been a blur since. When Marquee opened, it gave me an opportunity to showcase more of my electronic side.
Since you don’t want to step on the toes of the headlining DJs playing after you at Marquee, how do you get into their minds to prevent playing the same thing?
I feel like I tailor it to every guy. My early sets are going to be exactly what I feel is good: deep tech house. But, depending on the DJ, I try to do my homework to see what they’ve been playing. Say it’s Armin [van Buuren]. I’m definitely going to go light, nothing over the top, and keep the BPMs slow and smooth—just kind of tease the crowd. Build it up, bring it down. Every DJ is going to be different. If it’s Kaskade, I know he likes soulful songs, so right before he goes on I try to keep it deep and soulful.
Winter Music Conference/Miami Music Week has become massive. Being that you’re from Miami, what changes have you noticed at these events?
When the conference came to Miami, it was still really small; you had to know the DJ or somebody to get in because these were all label parties and industry. They didn’t care about the cover; they cared about getting the right people in there to hear Danny Teneglia play for 300 people. So I started to go out and meet DJs and make connections. It was very much about the music—not that it’s not now, but it was a really special feeling to see all of these industry people breaking out new records.
Who are some of your DJ idols?
Danny Teneglia, Icey—growing up in Florida it was all about breaks and a very cool sound. Carl Cox. George Acosta was a local guy in Miami at the time. Then there was Oscar G; he was awesome.
What sound are you aiming for with your productions?
I’ve been working on [original] music for about a year now, and I’ve got a couple of tracks that are going to be released soon. One is with singer Christina Novelli, called “Magnetic Nights.” I have a big range from deep techy stuff to progressive. I like some hard electro stuff, too. So my first track is very light progressive with a chunky sound and a really good vocal. I also have some other stuff that’s going to be a little bit more aggressive. I definitely want to get a nice vocal, something distinct that you can enjoy. A vocal really leaves an imprint and gives you something to think about.
When everyone is singing along, that’s kinda cool, too.