AYLI Podcast #88 – Jordan Poling

Not all house music commands you to jack your body. Some house music — cool, crystalline house music with delicate beats and melodies like a winter breeze — sets the soundtrack to a mood just as well as it turns up a dance-floor.

That’s the shade of house music that Jordan Poling, a recent transplant to San Francisco from Brooklyn, explores in his productions and DJ sets. He came up in New York’s mid-aughts dance music scene, and cut his teeth at Halcyon, the city’s legendary record shop. His own productions, propelled by driving grooves and filled with intimate detail, take after NYC’s contemporary deep house sound, but feature his own unique twist.

This Saturday, Aug. 31, Poling supports his friend and compatriot Levon Vincent — maybe the best-known of NYC’s new deep house maestros — for an intimate gig at Monarch. He’s performing a hybrid live/DJ set, which he touches on below, and has mixed the latest edition of As You Like It’s podcast series. Read more about him below, and catch him in the club this Saturday.

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CZ: Tell me about where you’re from and how you landed in the Bay Area. 

JP: I’m from Columbus, Ohio, and ended up in the Bay Area after about 10 years in New York. I moved here for work, and because I think this is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. I also really appreciate the fact that there is a really high percentage of people involved in dance music here that are actively contributing to the culture. So many fantastic artists and people involved.

CZ: Where did your love affair with electronic music begin? Similarly, when were you introduced to DJ culture? What’s kept you hooked?

JP: I heard happy hardcore and Boards of Canada when I was 15-16. Super contrasting combination, but somehow in the IRC w4r3z world the music found me! I decided then that I wanted to make electronic music.

I didn’t know much about DJ culture until a few years later when I got my first pair of turntables. Shortly after that, I started running a 3 story warehouse with a friend in Cincinnati, and got pretty immersed into the culture. I was just making stuff on FruityLoops before that. Working at the record shop Halcyon in New York was my true education in dance music, and my introduction to the people who shaped me as an artist.

What’s kept me hooked is communication. I think too often these days people forget that dance music can communicate something with substance. It’s really easy to get caught up in the hype, as opposed to focusing on what you want to say. Nothing is more pleasant than communicating how I feel through music and having other people respond. To me, this is the central point. When I perform or play someone a song I wrote and people relate to it, I’ve just experienced a central characteristic of humanity.

CZ: When did you start producing your own music? Do you have a musical background? When did you pick up DJing — and how does it relate to your production practice?

JP: I was 16 and wanted to be like Boards of Canada! I played violin, guitar, and sang in musical theatre/a barbershop chorus prior to making electronic music.

I started DJing at 18, so about 14 years ago. It really picked up when I was working at Halcyon. That was somewhere around 8 or 9 years ago, probably.

For me, the relationship between DJing and production is all about creating context for what I want to say. I have a message to give, and if I place some familiar or contrasting things around that message, I can better communicate it. Macro and micro kinda thing, I suppose. This is where my interest in doing hybrid live/DJ performances comes from. That context also teaches me more about what I want to say, and how best to say it.

CZ: Tell me about your AYLI podcast. How’d you put it together? Was there a concept or a plan? Is it fairly representative of your own DJ sets?

JP: I put it together out of some old and new tracks that I made or have been listening to. I recently went through a pretty tumultuous life event and channeled that into the mix. It’s all about illusions and our willingness to accept them, even if they are destructive or not “reality” — whatever that means. Not sure if there was a plan, it just ended up coming together as a result of how I felt. I did tracklist it out and had intent with each song.

Maybe 3 or 4 tracks are something I would do on a dancefloor, but most of it isn’t. I think it’s important to communicate in the most effective way given the medium that I am working in. I took the opportunity to play some stuff that I wouldn’t normally, and that hasn’t been heard before.

CZ: For the gig on Saturday, you’re playing a hybrid live-DJ set. Tell me about this setup — how does it work, and what kind of opportunities does it afford you that either strictly live or strictly DJ does not? 

JP: I’m bringing out an Elektron Octatrack, RYTM, and Analog Keys. I mix between the live stuff and tracks I am DJing. 

The opportunity provides the breadth of a DJ set and the depth of a live set. I can paint broad strokes while DJing and go really deep with the live stuff. I can do little layers and edit songs I’m playing. Let a high hat or kick ride, and be playful. It’s fun! It also feels like I am hearing everything for the first time with everyone in the room. I love that feeling of discovering something together with everyone.

CZ: Are you involved in any musical projects besides your own solo productions? And on that note, is there anything coming down the pipeline in terms of releases? I noticed you recently put out a 12″ on Recondite‘s Plangent label.

JP: I am! The last track on the podcast is an experimental jazz thing that Fred P and I did together a number of years ago. It will come out someday, haha. I thought it was about time someone heard it and it speaks to how I’m feeling at this point in time. I also have a project with Tin Man. He’s probably rolling his eyes at this interview because I need to finish a bunch of music we are working on!

I am actually doing something pretty different from my past work at the moment, but it’s too early to talk about in specifics. I am working on some music under a different alias. More of a techno sound.

Yeah Lorenz picked the only 4 tracks that I made post moving to SF out of a batch of 12. Killer ears! He’s a true artist and I’m very lucky to have had the opportunity to work with the label!

CZ: Who inspires you — as a musician, a DJ, or both? How do you find yourself seeking to push your own skills?

JP: My friends! Cory James, Soramimi, and their label Dusk Notes. Fred and Johannes. Levon. I mean, there are so many. I am also really inspired by people like Nils Frahm and Erased Tapes stuff.

Recently most of my skill-pushing has come from a technical/conceptual perspective. I’ve learned a bit about how to say something I’ve wanted to communicate for quite a long time. This has opened up some new territory for me musically.

CZ: Last but not least, what’s some music you’re listening to lately? Could be new, could be old, and could be made for the club or not — what’s got you hooked?

JP: Don’t sleep on the Dusk Notes Bandcamp. Some serious shit encoded in there.

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