Justin Jay | Genius Loci Festival 2019
Justin Jay was a classical pianist. Dexterous and methodical, his fingers resurrected the souls of Mozart and Chopin with ease as his mind was a flurry with sonatas and nocturnes, waltzes and mazurkas, clefs and trills. Though as an adolescent, he preferred the sounds of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and wanted to play in rock bands, he lacked the skills and confidence to make the transition from sheet music to jam sessions. But that was a different time, a different life, and a totally different genre.
Since then, he discovered the computer. Now, the born and raised Angeleno is a sought-after DJ and producer, known for his releases with the heart-palpitating, bass-slathered house music label known as Dirtybird. He rubs elbows with electronic royalty like Claude VonStroke, Jamie Jones, Disclosure, Tiga, and George FitzGerald, just to name a few, and has been praised by the “global ambassador for electronic music” himself, BBC Radio’s Pete Tong. It’s nothing but plane rides, dazzling lights, long nights, free champagne, dark clubs and festival stages for Justin Jay.
However, despite his meteoric success at a young age—he was signed by Dirtybird during his first week of college at USC—he already began to feel the inklings of burn-out creeping in. Though he is still immersed in the electronic music scene, with an upcoming performance at Genius Loci Festival in Baja, Mexico, he was ready for a shift.
“I had just graduated from college and was already touring nonstop,” Jay tells me. “But inside there was this feeling that something was wrong—I was under a lot of pressure. So I put the brakes on everything because I was getting bad anxiety and that’s how I was able to realize that I really wanted to explore singing and writing songs and playing in that band that I never got to play in when I was in eighth grade.”
So, he conjured his impassioned junior high self and got together with his college buddies Josh Taylor and Benny Bridges and started playing. In 2015, Justin Jay’s Fantastic Voyage was born and though he was afraid of turning off his die-hard dance music fans with this softer, instrumental incarnation, his new style garnered support by friends and fans alike. One of his most popular tracks released in 2016 titled “Let Go,” a wistful song about liberating oneself from the past in which he advises us to “let go or be dragged,” was even used in a Lincoln MKC commercial. You know you’ve made it when your song becomes subliminally affixed to a luxury automobile.
Balancing his newfound love and longtime dream of being in a band with his continually progressing DJ career has not been easy, but it has been necessary for his sanity. In fact, Jay is playing two sets at Genius Loci—one as his DJ identity and the other as his eighth-grade-dream-materialized identity. Singing introspective songs about heartbreak and growth is just as important to him as vibrating the dancefloor with his bouncing pogo stick house beats. Both are welcomed by fans in equal measure.
“It's a lot deeper of a musical experience to sing your songs and perform live,” Jay shares. “I can have really profound moments DJing as well, I love both so much, and they complement each other really well, but with the band, you're rehearsing, you're dealing with all this equipment, things are going wrong all the time, it's chaos and you're crying and it’s all this effort but then when everything works out, it's amazing and so rewarding.”
On the heels of releasing part one of the three-part concept album “Everything Will Come Together,” Justin Jay’s Fantastic Voyage is indeed living their name. The album follows Jay on an introspective journey through anxiety, loneliness, love and hope. We implant our own emotions and memories into each track, navigating through the ebbs and flows of life together, even though we may not know him personally. Releasing the album in three parts gives Jay a chance to share his evolution over a longer period of time, much like the biorhythm of life, instead of rushing through his feelings and jamming them into one record—like adapting a book into a series rather than a one-off film.
Though Jay has already lived a life more vibrant and glamorous than the average Joe could ever dream, his promise to continue making music will be kept. Not because the promise is made to his fans or friends, but because the promise is made to himself. Music is as much a necessity for his survival as air, water and food.
“Songwriting has been one of the most cathartic creative endeavors I've ever explored,” Jay says as he describes the importance of the Fantastic Voyage project. “I was nervous that people would hate my singing and songwriting and would abandon me because they liked me for club music and DJing, which I still love, but as an artist it's so important to just go with your intuition even if it's scary or even if you think people might not like it, cause that's the whole point.”
Check out Justin Jay and Justin Jay’s Fantastic Voyage perform at Genius Loci Festival on June 20-24 in Baja, Mexico—a 2-3 hour drive south of the California-Mexico border. For tickets and more information go to www.geniuslocifest.com
See more photos below.