Talking with Jesse Wright: Music Curator of The Woogie Stage

In the wide wobbling world of Woogie wonders few have the words to really explain the music, the evolution of the art and the vibe that make this stage so incredible, quite like Jesse Wright. When he set out with Sammy Bliss of the Pocket Underground to create their own special corner in Lightning in a Bottle few could have predicted it would become one of the most iconic stages in the music festival scene, but over the years the art got bigger, the bass got beefier and the lineups got better and better. Artists like Pumpkin, Mikey Lion and Nick Warren have emerged as must-see breakout artists while in their prime and Wright is often attributed for bringing such flavors to the festival with a keen eye for talent and an affinity for experimental sounds.

To learn more, we caught up with Jesse Wright and he kindly took some time to speak with us about the history of the Woogie and the talent that gets booked there. He even shared a few trade secrets that aspiring DJs wont want to miss.

woogie for webHow did you get involved with the Do Lab?

Back around 2000, Sammy Bliss and I started a little dj crew called Pocket. We had our very own space in Hollywood with our own sound system where we threw some serious underground events. We would usually have two rooms going, one all down tempo, the other was house, progressive, techno, breaks…even electro. We invited most of our friends to play and always encouraged them to experiment, push themselves and ultimately it was a space to play our hearts out.

Eventually we started taking over the house room at Spundae and inevitably, at least one of the Flemming Brothers would end up hanging out with us. So when they decided to add a dedicated house music stage to LIB in 2006, they came to us for sound and enough djs to play non stop from Friday afternoon till Sunday night. And we did. But I think we started Thursday afternoon and went till Monday at around noon or so. I’m not too sure. The best part was that our stage was in a clearing surrounded by trees and you couldn’t see us from the rest of the festival unless you happened to be wandering in the area. It was awesome!

How do you go about curating fresh talent for dreamy events like the Lightning in a Bottle Festival and Woogie Weekend?

Were always searching for artists that are championing their own, unique style within their genre. Artists that can pour their hearts out into the crowd and are willing to take creative risks that they wouldn’t normally take at a club gig. So for those that I’ve never seen in person, I search out as many of their live recordings as I can find and crank ‘em up at home to try and get a feel for what they would do on stage.

When people visit a stage you’re managing what’s the lasting impression you hope to leave them with?

I want them to feel like they just walked into their best friends birthday party. That they are completely surrounded by people who are in love with what they do, 100% supported, relaxed and able to dig deep and do something truly special . When its time to play with the crowd, I want them to feel the energy circulating from their music, through the structure, sound and lighting, into the crowd and back to the them. This circular energy flow is a huge part of what makes the Woogie such a warm, loving space.

The process starts with their arrival at artist relations, they get a lift to the stage where Brooke, our back stage manager will give them the lowdown on where everything they need is so they can relax after their flight and not worry about finding a safe place to leave their bags. After that, shell hand them off to Myself, Sammy and Brutus (biggest and best stage tech ever!) We go over all their technical requirements and make sure everything needed is on hand, explain how were going to do any gear swaps. Once were all feeling great about everything, Ill usually suggest they check out the dance floor and feel it out, maybe walk around the festival a little so they can really understand what were all about. Once their up and runnin’, one of us is always close by and paying close attention, just in case. Full support. And that’s just a fraction of it.

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Talk about a time when music changed your life. What did you get from the experience?

I think it was my 9th or 10th birthday, my Dad gave me tape player and 3 tapes. They were: Cream Off The Top, Jethro Tull Acqualung, and Jimi Hendrix Axis Bold As Love. Up to that point, I’d only listened to music if someone else was playing it. Now I had the chance to really get into each album and when I did, I remember thinking Oh My God, All my friends need to hear this! I set about trying to make sure everyone I knew heard this amazing music the way I did. This had its challenges but I’m still seeking out unique, soulful music and playing it for people who might not otherwise hear it. Its why I became a DJ. And now, I get to do it on a grand scale with the Woogie! Stoked!

What are some of the top career pitfalls talented up-and-coming DJs ought to avoid?

Years ago, I had the opportunity to play right before Max Graham (one of my heroes), I think it was at Avalon. After watching his set like a hawk, I asked him to give me the best advice he could. He simply said Play only what you absolutely love. At the time, it seemed like some pretty generic advice, but ultimately, that was the best advice Id ever received as a dj. If you’re playing tracks only because you know people will jump and dance and throw their underwear at you, you’re not being your amazing authentic self and people will always pick up on it and inevitably cut the dancer/dj conversation short.

What is something that is often overlooked that is incredibly important to do for yourself if you’re an aspiring DJ trying to make it?

Great question! Seeking out great new music is a huge part of what we do. However, if you find yourself frantically searching Beatport an hour before your gig because you feel like your collection is played out and then you show up with your USB sticks loaded with a thousand (probably more) tracks, its time to take an inventory. Go through your oldest tracks, then work your way forward in time, find the gems, get to know them intimately and play them out. Having the newest tracks doesn’t make a great dj, besides, the pros are getting those tracks months ahead of you. The ability to play with the crowd and know your collection so intimately that you hear the next track before you even think about what you’re going to play is crucial. This is the foundation to building a proper set.

To my friends at Lightning in a Bottle, thanks for this interview and to everyone, Thank you for placing your trust in The Woogie, for making it your home, and for loving us just as much as we love you. Can’t wait to see you!

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