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Spin City

New City Movement’s DJ Jesse Walker brings Salt Lake’s underground house music to the surface.



When people think of hotspots for house music and its followers, a few cities come to mind. London. New York. San Francisco. Las Vegas. But Salt Lake City?

Sound AffectsOnly when vocalist Zabitha Z. Zoome revised the chorus of the band’s theme song from “We’re Thirsty Alley” to “We were Thirsty Alley” did it really hit home: Salt Lake City’s weirdest collective of musical virtuosos was one encore away from being finito.

Psycho-jazz performance-art terrorists Thirsty Alley played their last show together at the Dead Goat Saloon this past Saturday night and, thankfully, there was a crowd there to witness it. Since at least half of the quintet’s decade together was spent in underground obscurity, it was good to see them go out in front of a packed club, not to mention on top. The past year saw Thirsty Alley playing more high-profile gigs than ever, winning the title of Band of the Year in City Weekly’s 2000 local music poll and our Showdown to NXNW to showcase their bizarre wares in Portland, as well as releasing their ultimate recorded document, We’re Thirsty Alley.

Not bad for a devoutly uncommercial act with a clown drummer, but according to Thirsty Alley’s official statement to the press, “Our attempt to produce a song which will nudge the Wasatch Fault during the Winter Olympics is proving fruitless. It is also becoming increasingly difficult to convince the legions of Tikizizi wildebeests (our greatest fans) that it is possible and facile to dance to four different time signatures at the same time. Consequently, the members are heading their separate ways.” You’ll never hear that kind of break-up tale on Behind the Music, kids.

Following an incendiary opening set by instrumental jazz-fusion unit Off Balance (they may look like your high school AV club, but they absolutely kill—see ’em), Thirsty drummer-author T. Ludit (alter ego: Bob Smith) took the stage to render the poignant “Sacre Coeur” one last time … the tears of a clown, indeed.

After Ludit’s expressive intro, Zoome (Tara Duff), multi-instrumental genius Dick Suave (Dale Lee), guitarist Roland Roland Roland (Ralph Mason) and bassist EdwardEdward Shovelhead (Butch Moon) tore through a two-part musicale that covered familiar tunes, brand-new surprise compositions and even a few vintage cuts from the group’s 1995 CD, American Studies. Between the outpouring of impossible music, Zoome’s dizzying costume changes and the everything-must-go garage sale of Thirsty Alley merchandise, there wasn’t a dry seat in the house. Godspeed, cadenza warriors.

—Bill Frost

On the surface, Salt Lake City seems an unlikely choice for a burgeoning house music scene. But after all, it was the launching pad of Ryan Raddon, one of the area’s original DJ/house producers who’s since moved to San Francisco after signing with OM Records. Of course, underground music isn’t something to be seen. But rather, heard. And felt. The pulse of electronica is alive and well in the city. Thanks in part to Jesse Walker.

Graphic artist by day and DJ by night, Walker’s beats and rhythms motivate clubgoers. His DJ career officially began with spinning at various clubs and parties, ultimately for Salt Lake’s clubland crowd. “I originally moved to Salt Lake in ’94 and was promoting a party at The Vortex when I first experienced truly great house music,” Walker recalls. “I had the pleasure of dining with Doc Martin and a bunch of other local DJs before he rocked our world one night at ‘Wild Planet.’ I was never the same; I knew house music was for me.”

Walker’s influences include Garth and Jeno from Wicked, Mark Farina, Frankie Knuckles, Marques Wyatt, Joe Claussell and, of course, the many Salt Lake DJs who’ve always supported him: Steve Santoro, Ryan Raddon, Shawn Phillips, Chris Sick, Nebula and Johnny Law.

Formerly known as DJ Send, a moniker created in homage to the “send” button of e-mail and cell-phone fame, Walker quickly found his niche as an electronica artist. He now goes by his given name, because as he puts it, “I felt it would be a clearer representation of the honesty in my music.”

What’s Walker’s take on Salt Lake City’s current club scene?

“Salt Lake’s a very funky place, if you know what I mean, with lots of people participating in the electronic music revolution. I just think it’s different everywhere you go. We have our own set of rules we’re bound by in this city, but so does everybody else. So many people have supported our scene from the beginning and continue to do so by educating, trying new approaches and seeing success where they weren’t at different stages in the past. By doing that we can take it to the next level. A level not measured by any other cities’ standards.

“Sure, there’s a much wider array of elements at play with clubgoers in larger cities. You have a broader spectrum of cultural diversity from which most know more about the music they’re dancing to and how to be unafraid of expressing themselves through it. On the other hand, you also have longer lines, bigger egos, expensive cocktails and more drug problems. Really, every city has its positives and negatives.”

Walker has the outside perspective to make such an observation. Beyond Utah, he’s made his presence known, most recently with international clubgoers during his successful European club tour. Already the subject of an MTV interview, as well as the Salt Lake City representative for the e-zine UndergroundFiles.com, Walker has established his credibility with critics. His promotional CD, Jetset Discotheque, earned critical acclaim from Deeper magazine for its tribal movements, beats and fusion of sound. With tracks described as organic, eloquent and even “so good that it makes you almost cringe,” Walker’s honed his skills to the next level.

Despite the glowing reviews for his recording, Walker, a self-professed perfectionist, still harbors reluctance to subjecting his music to the permanence of CD. Purists agree the music is best enjoyed live, where the audience’s energy can influence the groove just as much as the DJ’s subtle mix changes. “I’ve recorded my CD and am working on another. But it’s hard to commit just one set of music to anything permanent because you’re never sure if it really represents your style. My first CD took like six years.”

It’s easy to see that Walker is passionate about the scene. And he’s not alone. He’s found solidarity in the form of New City Movement, a house music collective of like-minded DJs and artists fostering the growth of Salt Lake’s scene. NCM includes Walker’s mentor Sergio Hernandez, Hennessey, Dirty Dave, Dan Morris and Shylock, all representing via the club circuit and private engagements. NCM was brought together by more than a love of electronica. Walker and NCM also promote design and fashion. In fact, their design work includes everything from graphics to furniture and interior environments. They want to transform Salt Lake and surrounding venues aesthetically, as well as musically.

“We have DJs getting booked all over the country from Utah,” Walker notes. “Many of whom have produced and pressed their own tracks. I think Shawn [Phillips] has brought a lot of attention to the scene because of the amount of high-profile talent he’s been booking at Axis. In turn, he’s flying out to New York and L.A. all the time to play and has some substantial remix credits.”

From time to time, everyone has envied the DJs’ ability to control a dance floor with the subtle nuances they derive from a turntable and a mixer. Walker sees it as a two-way street. “I’m only trying to give back to others the experience that has been shared with me. I believe that everyone is a DJ. We all have music we want to share with others. And this medium simply allows me to take that passion to another level. It’s fantastic to feel like you’re guiding people through their own enlightened journey.”

DJ Jesse Walker spins Garage and Deep House regularly at Club Blue, 60 E. 800 South, on Tuesday nights; and Zipperz, 155 W. 200 South, on Fridays. NCM info: www. NewCityMovement.com