“You want the party in the back,” says the bouncer at the front of the new Union nightclub. One up-down look at the attendees and he knows who belongs to the hip-hop birthday party taking place at the front of the club, and who belongs to Los Angeles’ latest monthly event kicking off at the back: Plugged In, presented by JSTJR and Late Night Laggers.
JSTJR (pronounced “gesture”) or James S. Tomaszewski Jr. is a recent Los Angeles transplant, originally from the tiny town of Keene, New Hampshire. The prolific bass music producer was still in college, working on his classical percussion degree with a music technology focus at Keene State College, when Diplo began dropping Tomaszewski’s bootleg of Major Lazer’s “Bubble Butt” into his sets. A few months later, in early 2014, Diplo messaged JSTJR through his SoundCloud, asking him to produce the drum track for Major Lazer’s “Light It Up.” Tomaszewski’s original version has recently been released as the JSTJR VIP remix.
Fool’s Gold and Smog Records quickly followed Diplo's lead, and Tomaszewski was on a roll. “That time period felt so good to me,” the 24-year-old says. “I had blogs putting me as ‘artist to watch’ and ‘JSTJR is going to blow up this year.’ That stuff really gets to you when you’re a kid in New Hampshire. It starts affecting you in a bad way. I started thinking, ‘If I’m going to blow up this year, then I should really start trying to do things that will help me blow up.’ But that’s not the reason I was getting attention in the first place. My vision was definitely clouded and I had some creative turmoil. One good thing happens and you feel like you’re going to go straight up. No one realizes it’s such an up-and-down.”
It’s only been in the last six months or so that Tomaszewski has refocused his attention on the music he was doing at the start of his career — before it was officially a career. Not unlike Diplo, Tomaszewski’s skill is in taking indigenous sounds and repurposing them into contemporary dance music. Instead of having predictable drops filling in his trap-based arrangements, you’ll hear zouk bass or baile funk, moombahton or tropical bass.
“I always make sure that I’m doing something new,” says Tomaszewski, whose formal percussion education not only had him studying marimba, timpani and snare drum but also familiarized him with a broader range of drum styles, which he took further by pillaging the Internet.
He says, “There are seven really big carbon-copy tracks right now that are exactly the same with one sound switched out. It’s festival culture that breeds that kind of production, because those songs are awesome at a festival. They pop off. Every DJ plays them. Everyone screams. That’s what you want, right? But I just don’t feel comfortable releasing a track that sounds like something else.”
That mentality goes hand-in-hand with Tomaszewski’s intention with Plugged In. Somewhat of a spin-off of his party JSTJR and Friends, which started at a club called the Middle East in Boston and went on the road for a few dates, Plugged In brings together musician friends to support and celebrate one another without having to have a festival stage to make that happen.
If the first night of Plugged In last month was any indication, JSTJR has hit the mark. The event is well-attended by a mostly young crowd, distinguished by yoga pants–clad music lovers with their own brand of controlled, slow-motion, tai chi–like dancing. The party feels like a no-frills reaction to over-the-top festival production — even if the siren-filled music could easily fit into that setting.
“I like to play 30 seconds to a minute of each song and feed off the crowd,” Tomaszewki says. “That’s a lot easier when it’s a club setting and you’re right there, they’re right there, and it’s super-personal.”
A JSTJR set might start at about 100 beats per minute with a twerk/trap song, then move into a moombahton track for 30 seconds, followed by an unrecognizable Brazilian track that he throws over a recognizable trap song, working his way through styles such as house and kuduro with increasing BPMs until he hits 175. All of this could happen in under five minutes.
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“I really enjoy club culture and I want to breathe new life into it," says JSTJR. "I want to make it a place where my friends and I can do our thing, playing cool music, instead of feeling like our sets have to be super high-energy so we don’t lose the attention of the people by playing a slow song because everyone is on drugs and waiting for the next big drop. It might be less musical, but it’s fun, and it’s something a little different.”
The next Plugged In featuring JSTJR, Paul Devro, C.Z., Sha Sha Kimbo and Late Night Laggers, plus special guests, takes place at Union (formerly Jewel's Catch One) on Thursday, March 31. More info and RSVP at PluggedIn.la.