Welcome to DJ Debriefing, a series of LWE features where we ask DJs about the music they’re actually playing, their processes, and their gear. Our latest interview subject is Jason Kendig, the San Francisco-based DJ best known as 1/4th of the Honey Soundsystem collective. Raised in Detroit, Kendig cultivated both his taste for the best of house and techno and an indefatigable work ethic. These skills have been sharpened to dangerous levels since he joined Honey Soundsystem eight years ago, and now he can be found showing them off around the world quite regularly. I’ve been lucky enough to catch him in Chicago a handful of times over the last year and he’s blown me away every time. His selections seem prescient, as if he knows what you want to hear before you do. Mixing with care and grace, Kendig makes it hard to leave until he steps down from the booth. LWE is offering eight full hours of Kendig as proof, taken from an intimate As You Like It event earlier this year. You can find it at the end of this interview with one of dance music’s most promising selectors.
What kind of mixer did you learn to mix on?
Jason Kendig: The first mixer I ever had was an old Radioshack Realistic mixer (probably from the 70s or 80s) that had illuminated VU meters before upgrading to a Numark DM2002X. After I moved to San Francisco I switched to an Allen & Heath Xone:62. I taught myself to beat match using a turntable I found at a thrift store and a turntable gifted to me by my grandma from her old hi-fi stereo system which had a little rotary pitch control.
Tell us about an early DJ gig (or series of gigs) that helped make you the DJ you are now.
My first residency was at a club called Motor which was located in Hamtramck, an enclave within the city of Detroit. It was a Tuesday night weekly called Family thrown by Adriel Thornton that ran from 1997-2000 that really pulled a diverse section of people from the techno/party scene and the more musically open minded gay scene. Playing every week along with Derek Plaslaiko and opening for an incredible array of local and international talent really helped shape my musical aesthetic and helped it grow. I’ll never forget the time Derrick May scolded me for not turning down the headphone volume before he went on. To this day I try and make it a point to turn down the headphone volume when I trade off.
What is your usual selection process for packing your record bag before gigs?
It varies from gig to gig, but I consider who I’ll be playing with and what my time slot will be. Pulling from recent acquisitions, either from Discogs purchases or a visit to a record shop. My record collection is only vaguely organized. The majority of the newer additions or recently played selections are in stacks around the perimeter of my studio, while the older records are somewhat sorted in an Ikea bookshelf by era, genre, and region; and, if there’s enough, by label or artist. Sometimes I wish I had a divining rod to help gravitate to where a particular record might be.
When I’m sorting digital tracks it’s usually organized in a folder created for the specific event, though it can be a little challenging after a few months trying to recall when I might of acquired a song. I just haven’t got around to utilizing the Rekordbox app. I still prefer the tactile and visual experience of vinyl.
What’s one unexpected item you always bring with you to gigs, and why?
Maybe not everytime, but often I’ll have Haribo gummy bears with me. Sometimes Josh Cheon will surprise me with a bag when we play together. I guess I have a bit of a sweet tooth.
Do you enjoy playing B2B? Who are some of your favorite B2B partners?
Absolutely! Playing back to back with someone can be a lot of fun. It keeps you on your toes. Mentally calculating the crowd’s reaction and cataloging what records you brought with you against what your partner is selecting. When you’re on a mutual wavelength it can be electrifying. In the past I’ve loved playing with Mike Servito, Carlos Souffront, and Derek Plaslaiko. and I always have fun playing with the Honey Soundsystem boys.
What are a couple of the records you can always reach for if you notice the crowd isn’t feeling what you’re playing?
Depending on the context, something Cajmere/Green Velvet-related is a safe bet. Vin Sol’s “House Freaks” got the most screams at a recent show, though.
Are there any other tracks that when you first heard them you didn’t think that they would work in a club context, but then you actually tried it, it worked better than you expected?
A recent one that comes to mind is Skee Mask’s “Torpor 12” on Ilian tape. My friend Bret turned me on to it. Really cool atmospherics, and it works well when blending with other cuts.
What would you say are some of your favorite or go-to tool tracks?
Point G (.G) has been releasing a bunch of records again recently. Really fun for mixing and maybe bridging between tracks. And this old Tan-Ru record on Trelik has been in my bag a lot lately. It has these really great tribally percussive elements and crowds always seem to get into it.
What is your favorite time of day to play? And perhaps a favorite length of time?
Whereas there is definitely a rush when you step up to the decks during a peak hour, warming up the room can be a lot of fun. Testing out records you might not normally get to play out. Of course the late night slots are a lot of fun too, playing for a crowd that’s already primed up and ready to keep dancing. That’s when you can start to pull out the weird tracks.
Ideally, a set would be at least three hours. But often, at least in the clubs in San Francisco, you’re lucky to get two hours. I have a tendency to over pack for gigs so there are always tracks you wish you could get to but then you run out of time.
What would you say is the oldest record that’s still in your DJ bag? What about the newest?
In my current bag, Ish, “Don’t Stop” on T.K. Disco from 1978 is technically the oldest. Maurizio’s “M4” is probably something that I’ve owned the longest that I still pull out regularly, even for home listening. As far as new, the Paranoid London album is really hot. I love the track “Lovin U (Aww Shit).” I just wish they’d put it out as a single so it could be cut louder.
Do you have favorite tracks to end with?
It depends if I’m setting up someone else or if I’m playing the closing set. Recent closing selections have been: Romanthony, “Up All Night”; Black Rascals ft. Cassio Ware, “So In Love”; The Juan Maclean, “Running Back To You”; George & Glenn Miller, “Touch Your Life.”
Now for some gear-oriented questions: What kind of headphones do you use, what kind of needles do you use, and what is your favorite record bag?
I’ve been a fan of the Sennheiser HD25-1 II. They’ve lasted the longest out of any of my previous headphones. And I recently procured a pair of Shure M44-7 needles. They really do make a difference for both tracking and volume. Even though I might fantasize about a Rimowa flight case, my UDG trolley has held up surprisingly well through the years considering the beatings it’s been through.
Do you have any musical aspirations beyond DJing?
As far as making music, I still like to mess around at home in my studio and create tracks. Even if it’s just for the joy of creating grooves and the sound design aspect of it. But like so many others say, eventually I get bored with the tracks and move on to the next idea. So maybe an aspiration should be to put the finishing touches on them and get them out to the world? Occasionally I’ll test out tracks I’ve made on the dance floor to gauge reactions and to hear these creations on a proper sound system. At the end of the day I love playing music for others. And there is a lot of incredible music out there to discover.