The mere name "Simply Jeff" can pack thousands of dance kids into raves and clubs all over North America. But on his Orange County home turf, the man Simply Jeff might as well be a dumpy extra from an Adam Sandler movie.
Sure, Jeff Adachi co-owns the much-loved Costa Mesa techno-indie record shop Dr. Freecloud’s Mixing Lab. But he also does the store’s shit work:he answers phones, orders records and even takes abuse from customers when he botches orders, as we saw on a recent visit.
"I think one of these tapes is a house tape," sneers a kid with a pierced lip who demanded jungle music. Jeff good-naturedly apologizes. He’s got a lot of things on his mind right now, and being the Rodney Dangerfield of record-store clerks is not one of them.
The chunky, chin-bearded DJ/ producer recently released two major albums—the first full-lengths in two years from the 33-year-old techno brainiac. In April, New York label BML put out Funky Instrumentalist, a hip-hop mix tape on which dozens of musical ideas race against one another on some unseen sonic freeway. He saved his underground mixes for his new label, Phonomental, where he remixed himself and such producers as Omar Santana on Simply Jeff Presents RMX, which also came out last month. Both sound a lot like the classic funky-breaks techno found on his 1998 album Funk-Da-Fried, but no one in the techno world is complaining about Jeff’s apparent lack of ambition to evolve his style. Indeed, he does good business playing raves and clubs almost every weekend. His reputation for selling out raves earned him a prime slot at the gargantuan Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last fall. Dance labels regularly sell out their Simply Jeff catalogs, although the numbers are relatively small (LA-based label City of Angels has moved all 10,000 copies of Funk-Da-Fried, which is now out-of-print).
Funky-breaks techno hasn’t been particularly hot for a couple of years, but Simply Jeff has maintained his allegiance to the genre since it busted out of the San Francisco rave scene in the early ’90s. The style got big in 1996 and 1997 when the Crystal Method and the Chemical Brothers grabbed some mainstream attention with their funky-breaks-influenced beat, but it took a dive in 1998 when jungle and trance bum-rushed its place at the head of the techno class.
A lot of OC techno producers who started playing breaks with Jeff gradually changed their sound —Fullerton’s Q, for one, has added tribal rhythms and shorter song lengths on his latest Überzone project, which will be released by Astralwerks in late summer. But while the techno world has turned, Q guarantees that Jeff is in no danger of becoming the music’s Stodgy Old Man.
"He always improvises," says Q. "He’ll use Godzilla samples, cartoons, old-school records and a cappella vocals in his sets. Most DJs have records stacked in the order they’re going to play them in, but Jeff’s not afraid of taking chances."
For his more experimental work, Jeff releases records under the not-very-well-hidden moniker SJP—there’s absolutely no reason to fiddle with the success of the Simply Jeff identity. "When people hear the Simply Jeff name, they know it’s going to be funky, that it’s not going to be a rock & roll tune," Jeff says.
Brand loyalty has apparently paid off, and he hopes to get bigger, but he’s not betting his vinyl life on it. Jeff would rather be doing the same things he did during most of the ’90s—playing raves, producing and working at Dr. Freecloud’s, the sort of ambitions frowned upon by your standard record-industry megalomaniac. Jeff’s approach grows out of his truly unfunky state of mind, called "regular guy"—kind to newcomers (he often helps up-and-coming DJs find gigs, Q says), loyal to his girlfriend of more than eight years, a guy who holds no grudges. His parents were held in U.S. internment camps during World War II—a sore point for many Japanese-Americans but not really an issue for Jeff. He’s proud of his heritage, but admits, "Sometimes I forget I’m Asian."
Jeff’s well-adjusted musical life had its beginnings in ultraprocessed cheese: he was turned on to the late-’70s schlock rock of Journey and Elton John while hanging out at the roller-disco rink near his family home outside Sacramento. The B-boys in his neighborhood slapped his taste upside his head when they started break dancing to Grandmaster Flash a few years later. Jeff wasn’t a good dancer, but he had a big record collection inherited in part from his parents, so he was given the job of blasting the bass and the beats.
His musical obsessions turned into a vocation after high school. He migrated to SoCal, where he attended the University of Sound Arts trade school and interned at KROQ. His career was poised for takeoff when former KROQ DJ Swedish Egil made him a mix DJ at rave station MARS-FM. But his luck crumbled when MARS went off the air in 1992.
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No rave promoter wanted to hire him to play their parties, and he didn’t want to go back to KROQ to make a career spinning Pearl Jam. He was in a bad position—his girlfriend was helping him pay bills. It was time for a serious career makeover.
He ditched his working name, DJ Spinn, and transformed himself into Simply Jeff. People had to accept him for who he was, or at least his new persona. They did—he slowly started making a name by producing his own music, which got him gigs in places like Las Vegas, Dallas, Florida and New York.
Despite opening Dr. Freecloud’s with Ron D. Core in 1994, he’s never played OC regularly. Not that he hasn’t tried—he played a funky-breaks night that Q opened at the Tiki Bar in late 1998, but it was dropped because of poor attendance (Jeff blames poor promotion). He says he’d like to play his home county more often in the future, but there are some advantages to keeping his local profile low. Life gets simple every time he returns to OC: he can concentrate on his music and leave the world of frenzied raves behind, both physically and mentally. For Jeff, OC is an easy place to be who he is.
"I’m pretty much an average guy," Jeff says. "An average guy who likes music."