Chicago DJ duo Jackersize have been playing together for over a decade. The group made up of Jerome Gilbert and Michael Palmeri can be seen playing all around the city. Stylin’ Out Network sat down to discuss Chicago’s evolving club scene, why they decided to get into music and their goals for the future.
Was being a DJ something you always knew you wanted to do or was it something you fell into?
Jerome: DJing never seemed like it could be a job or a career, at least in my thinking at the time. Before YouTube, I was just a big movie head. Watching a lot of movies was a part of my life so mistakenly I wanted to be involved with them as an industry, which some people do and that’s great but I got enough of a taste of that industry to not want to be a part of it in any way ever. DJing you can just personally do on your own and it’s a very social thing, when it’s not super isolating and alone digging through the record store for hours by yourself preparing all of it. It’s just fun to hang out and do it with your friends and have something to promote.
Why did you want to be in a duo?
Mike: You share the promotional responsibilities. You double the amount of people who come and see you play. We have a shared interest in very similar music but different takes on it. Jerome buys records that I like but I don’t buy, and I buy records that he likes but probably doesn’t buy. Having similar goals and just being able to do what we want to do and not worry about the other stuff. We’re both motivated by the same things so it just kind of made sense. Since we’ve been doing it our friend groups have definitely overlapped quite a bit. It’s been really nice to have support.
Jerome: If you have two groups of friends to promote to, you'll have a better party. That’s always been the case for us, even a lot of friends in the dance music world. At least we have some regular normal people who are halfway down to hear what we're doing.
Mike: Not only the external support but having another person working towards the same goals as you makes a lot of the unseen shit – buying the records, spending time in a record store, taking out a guitar center credit card cause you need new equipment and then sharing that burden with someone else – makes those more difficult/stressful, less enjoyable experiences of this that people don’t talk about a little bit more bearable.
How has the club scene changed in Chicago over the past decade?
Mike: Bottle service wasn’t really a thing when I first started going to clubs in Chicago. I was playing these bottle service clubs, and these really rich guys would basically dictate the music that was playing in the club. I said fuck it and just tried to find something different outside the realm. The music scene in general, this isn’t unique to Chicago, but overall, it’s cliquey. You got your group of people who do this club and you got the group who did this club. If you’re not hanging out with them, good luck trying to play there. If they’re only hearing the same sort of voices, then those are the same sort of representation you’re going to have musically in the clubs. House is always going to be a staple, there’s always a couple people who are going to like techno, there are cliquey things that will rise and fall. A lot of these venues now they’re playing house but four years ago they were playing dubstep/brostep, EDM. That shit’s not cool anymore so they’re kind of going to the next cool thing. My whole thing has been a little bit more timeless and not like “oh what’s popular and trendy.”
Is there any venue in Chicago that does it right?
Mike: The only one that consistently does it right is Smartbar. And that place has been around for 30 years and they’ve been doing the same thing for 30 years. Really music focused, really artistically driven.
How has streaming changed DJing?
Jerome: A lot of the times the music I engage with now is just through a computer. You have everything at your fingertips and you just call on any genre or era. It’s amazing that we didn’t have this reality, certainly not 10 years ago when I got into this. I got into this because it felt very secretive to me and having a DJ gather music still felt very valuable and rare. I was younger, I’m going out and whatever, I was like oh that’s cool I would like to contribute to that craft or that art form. And still, an awesome DJ will have unreleased promos or just have great music and that’s still enjoyable to me but it’s unfortunate to me how it’s a little cheapened by the fact that I could make you all a great mix or playlist or you all could just pull out your phone and have your own 20 song playlist that you like better than anything I could do for you. What’s the point?
Mike: What’s the role of the DJ? Cause to me that suggests, why would I go to a place where I would play the same music you already have and know or listen to any time on the radio or whatever streaming services you prefer? That’s why I think our move is to dig deeper into a forgotten or lost catalogue or generation of music that consumers nowadays might not have paid attention to or been exposed to and finding songs from that era that sound modern, sound timeless and really get people moving. And that to me is the joy is playing a song that people never heard of that might be one of their favorite songs. I can go to any bar tomorrow night as a DJ and bring a USB drive with Lizzo and Drake and people would dance and sing along. But where’s the fun in that? That’s just shooting a fish in a barrel.
You want to introduce people to new music?
Mike: I want to introduce people to music that’s worth their time. I want to introduce people to music that I think is worthwhile for them. To me, that suggests a level of curation and understanding how things are put together in a DJ set, and nowadays if I don’t play a song immediately then I’m gonna have the same person come up to me 2 songs later asking why their request wasn’t made so it’s a really delicate balancing act.
Why are young people not going out as much?
Mike: People who historically are able to go out nowadays are seeing they do not have the financial means to do so. You talk about people who are young enough to want to stay out all night, but those people are saddled with student debt, might not have great jobs. Might have high rents, might have costs of living expenses that might not have been there 5 or 10 years ago. Covers haven't gone down. When you go out to a club, you’re gonna spend a lot of money. You’re talking about a $20 cover just to walk in the door, it’s not like beer is $3. Beer is $6 or $7 or $8. The industry hasn’t quite shifted. They just don’t have the fucking money, and I don’t blame them. I don’t have the money; I can’t do that every week. That’s why we try to keep our events as affordable as possible. If it’s a $10 walk in fee, make it BYOB. Save some money somewhere. You don’t want to hit these people over the head. They’re leaving the comfort of their own home. Let’s make it an enjoyable experience where they don’t feel like they’re getting ripped off.
What are your goals?
Mike: Make enough money to buy a really nice rotary mixer. Have a loft somewhere where I can spin all the records I want really loud and invite people to come over and listen to them. I don’t need to be playing Smartbar every week, I don’t need to be a gigging working DJ. My goal is to do whatever the fuck I want. I don’t aspire to be on any regular radio rotation, tour, anything like that. I want people to like what we play and that’s about it.
Check Out Jackersize’s mixes, DJ videos, and their weekly Spotify playlist “Red Hot Records” at stylinoutnetwork.com/jackersize