Snuggled deep in the warm embrace of a soft leather sofa, surrounded by anonymity and the subtle smells of a Saigon street market pervading through the air, Shoreditch House seemed a gazillion miles away from the kind of place to meet an international superstar DJ.
Swigging occasionally from a glass of coke and surreptitiously sneaking a drag on an electronic cigarette, Jesse Rose is evidently in his element as he tells all about his myriad music projects and regales us with stories of carving out a road for himself in an oft-homogenised industry.
What is so compelling about this man, from the off, is just how grounded, professional and focused he is. There is a sense of purpose about the way he speaks, as you would expect from anyone who’s done more than a few interviews, but what is most striking is the gleam of childish exuberance in his eyes; it’s infectious and nourishes the soul, giving you a sense that you have had a pseudo-spiritual experience.
To be clear, there is no suggestion that Jesse is the second (third, fourth or any other number for that matter) coming. It is just abundantly clear that there is something more to this guy than a collection of memories forged from a career spanning nearly three decades.
“I constantly want to make the best possible releases. I only make it [music] so that people can feel something; it’s not about chart positions, or shit like that.”
His passion is clear to see in his face and the way in which he raises himself up from his reclined sofa position. He tells of the 12×12 project that he is here to promote and immediately ‘fesses up that the tracks are already ‘finished’ but being tweaked based on road tests. You might think it’s a sneaky PR stunt, but Rose is adamant when he says it’s more about creating the best possible album.
“People don’t really digest albums anymore, so I wanted to give them a way of consuming it and for me to keep getting feedback from dance floors. It’s almost like an interactive album I suppose. I binned, like 30 tracks along the way. I’m hoping that this is a collection of really quality stuff.”
When pushed a little more on the matter, his genuine belief in what he is doing jumps out and is inescapable to see. “I was brought up with my dad being a musician who never signed to a major [label] because he was all about integrity in music and making music from the soul. I hope, in some way, I reach that level of integrity. I’ve produced the way I wanna produce, run my labels the way I’ve wanted to run labels, DJ’d around the world the way I’ve wanted to DJ and been very, very lucky.”
Upon further investigation Jesse shares that the death of his dad (three years ago) created a moment of reflection in which he realised the “subconscious” way in which his musical experiences were a kind of reflection of his dad’s integrity.
There’s a glimpse of nostalgia in his face, as Jesse giggles and recounts that when he and Switch started out they had to draw a line down the middle of a plate of food; so that they would share the plate evenly with their meagre means. He seems almost incredulous that not long after he was turning down £100k deals because, “they just didn’t feel right, you know?”
Things certainly seem to be going right now though. “For the first time in my life I’m able to truly do exactly what I wanna do, to the extent that I can make any type of music I feel like at any time. I have access to world-class singers, all kindsa people and a real optimistic energy. It’s inspiring for me on many different levels.”
Life in the Hollywood Hills certainly seems to be agreeable, but he will never forget his roots or the journey he’s been on. “I feel like a Londoner, a patriotic Londoner, you know what I mean? My dad was Italian, my mum’s Jewish. I wasn’t brought up with any sense of nationalism, but I always come back to London to find out what’s breaking. Music, fashion, art, whatever, chances are it’ll break here before anywhere else.”
But this ‘breaking’ thing is a blessing and a curse for a man who is obsessed with the idea of authenticity. “It’s like, when a scene hits a certain point it just becomes cheesy. I mean, I did my first compilation for Subversive, called Tech-House Living. For me, the idea of tech house was the idea of putting house with techno and mixing it. But then, it became a genre and then it got cheesy and it died.”
It was around this time that Jesse was looking to move on, just as the ‘scene’ was starting to build. “If it doesn’t represent me as a DJ, then it can’t happen… It’s the only way I know if it’s good or not!”
He recalls how he put one of his many labels on the back burner as a result of it being “almost a scene in itself. Made2Play was borne to allow Jesse to release the tracks that he would play at the peak moments in his sets, but the growth of the commercial elements within the scene and his move to Berlin meant that he was looking for something more subtle. “I’ll get there in a different way… Its all stripped back now for me to be on point.”
He looks back fondly though on his “small part” in breaking artists such as Riva Starr, Zombie Disco Squad and Roundtable Knights. There’s a pause, a wry smile and then another story about a more recent label birth. “No one was supposed to buy Play It Down! It was supposed to be the smallest label ever and Oliver Durand ruined it by having the biggest record of 2011! Zero promotion somehow became a promotional tool.”
Serendipity is a word that comes to mind throughout most of Jesse’s stories. Back in 2008 he was DJing at Razmataz in Barcelona after Henrik Schwarz. Schwarz suggested that they play back-to-back; himself playing live and Rose DJing alongside him. The crowd “went nuts. Rose booked him for Panorama bar a few months later and they ended up B2B, for 6hrs. After that, there were calls to their agents for ‘BlackRose’ to play and that was it, the birth of yet another exciting collaboration.
“It’s an honour to work with Henrik. He’s like an original, like Kevin Saunderson… It constantly surprises me how he loves to work so much together.”
The tone and pace of his voice has changed and there’s a tangible feeling of retrospection. It is as if there are two people inhabiting Jesse’s head at any one time. He tacitly agrees, “I’m a Cancerian, I love home-cooked meals, setting roots, being grounded, you know. I’m super sentimental as a person; I look back at relationships, friendships and whatever, but I’m absolutely NOT sentimental about killing a project. I’m quite pragmatic. I’ve written albums and deleted the whole thing because it didn’t feel right for the moment.”
He’s animated again now and as he takes a drag from his e-light another, slightly different, wry smile cracks across his face. “I don’t know where that come from, but my mum’s a psychotherapist, so she could probably work it out.”
As the giggles subside, his minder (read manager) starts to lurk with intent. There is a sense of finality about this wondrous liaison. Partly in recognition of this and partly as a seemingly natural follow-up from his really open sharing, he finishes with a comment that seems to sum up Jesse’s verve, humility and endless drive to do more.
“Work, music, drink, have sex, watch movies. That’s it. That’s the full spectrum of my life… Fuck! I actually do exactly what I wanna do. It’s a trip man.”
Astute? Hell, yeah. Self-assured? Naturally! But, he is also humble, compassionate and genuine. He talks about his desire for musical integrity in all that he does, and there is a sense that this has spilled out into his life in general. He speaks warmly and graciously about his collaboration partners, in particular Switch, and is genuinely eager to meet new people and develop himself and them in a partnership. Maybe his mum would have something to say about that too…?