As promised, I follow up on Wednesdays Track that Started it All feature (Get at that HERE) with Jason Lyman’s full interview. The story Jason tells about the 1990’s and what happened at the height and decline of the scene as we moved into the early 2000’s suggests how the club culture persisted into the early 2000’s downtown. He also provides wonderful background on Quality, his experiences, and where he thinks we are all going. But let me get out of the way and let you hear from the man himself!
LA: How did you get into dance music?
JL: Man, I have always been into dance type music ever since I can remember. As a kid in the early 80’s I was huge into rap and electro. I loved to breakdance. A lot of the kids at my school did. As I got into high school, I dj’d a lot of school dances and would play remixes and b-sides to popular songs. I also started getting into some industrial music as well. Nine Inch Nails, Ministry, Front 242, etc. When I went to Ohio University in 1992, I was introduced to groups like The Prodigy and went to a electronic Dance music night where the dj played mostly industrial and Depeche Mode type stuff. In 1994 I had started hearing about Raves that were happening back in Dayton where I was from, and really wanted to go. I had met some people in Athens who were going, and in 1995 I went to my first rave called Harmony in Akron, OH. Moby played there, along with Derrick Carter. I was in awe. My eyes were probably wide open all night, just taking everything in. After that night I was hooked.
LA: What is it about House Music that captures your artistic imagination so much?
JL: I think that house music just captures everything I love about music in general. House music can be so many different things and elicit so many different moods. It can be jazzy (I love Jazz), it can be funky (I love funk), it can be techy (I love techno)… It can be very musical OR very electronic sounding. And I love it all. I have always had a way of being able to sense what the crowd would like. And when I am listening to new music, that is what I think about. I always wonder how the crowd will react, and honestly I always wonder how my DJ friends and peers will react. House can just be so many different things.
LA: How did you become a part of the Columbus dance music scene?
JL: Back in College at OU, my friends and I had a crew that would travel pretty much every weekend to raves all over Ohio. We mostly identified with the Cleveland/Akron scene as that is where a lot of my friends were from, but we did come to Columbus quite a bit because it was close, and they were doing some great parties here. We really liked what ele_mental was doing with their events and labels and artists, we liked what Collective Intelligence was doing with their parties, and it was always just a good time here. When I graduated from OU in 1997, I decided I wanted to move to Columbus. I did not want to go back to Dayton, although I did have friends there as well. I still wanted to remain close to Athens, but wanted to be in a bigger place. I had dj’ed a few times in Columbus and knew a lot of people here so it just seemed like a good fit. Soon after I moved, I was offered the chance to take over a Wednesday night weekly at a place called Maxwells with my friend James Temple. We renamed the night “Middle” and featured mostly local Columbus djs playing house and techno. Occasionally we’d have a drum n bass guy play as well. Once a month Residual Records (Titonton and Tj’s label) would host one of the Wednesday nights and bring in bigger names. It was a great night full of dancing smiling people. A place where we could try out new tunes and get cheap drinks. We would also host after-parties at this spot for different parties that took place in Town. One of the best was for Tilt. It was during this time that I really got to know Doug Holmes (Dj Doughboy) Jeff Pons, and Mike Poe. These guys were getting ready to become residents at a new club in town, Red Zone. I started playing there with them after a bit and it just kind of grew from there.
LA: How did you get your start DJ’ing?
JL: Well I had mentioned that I dj’d in high school, but that was mostly playing pop remixes with the occasional scratch thrown in. But I always loved being able to drop a song that got people to dance or put their hands in the air. But after I started getting into underground parties, I wanted to really learn how to dj, so that I could play at these parties. I loved the music I would get exposed to every single weekend on these massive sound systems with 1000’s of other people. A friend of mine had turntables and a mixer, and we all just started learning. Initially it was really hard. Not like today where the computer will tell you and show you if you aren’t matching the beats right. My friend James gave me one single dj tip that made everything just click for me. After that we would just have dj jam sessions all of the time. We would have a lot of house parties as well. In Athens there wasn’t really anywhere to play our music at the time. So after a little while, we started hosting a weekly, and a few monthlies there.
LA: Do you remember the first set you spun? What was it like?
JL: I remember the first set I spun at an underground event on the main stage in front of a room full of people. It was in Akron at a place called The Attic. Anyone who went to parties back then knew about the attic. The place was crazy. I was opening for Dj Dmitri of Dee-Lite. I was EXTREMELY nervous. I remember when it was my turn to go on, I put the first record on the turntable and went to put the needle on it. My hands were shaking SO bad I literally had to just drop the needle on the record and then cue it up. My heart was pounding. I told myself I just needed to get through the first mix. Once I did I started to settle in. The crowd was dancing, which was good. At the time I was playing this sort of west coast, San Francisco style breaks and house. Not a lot of people were playing it just yet but it was getting bigger. About half way through my set I look over and see Dj Dmitri standing in front of a speaker dancing and pumping his fist. After that the rest was easy!
LA: What does the act of DJ’in mean to you? How does it make you feel?
JL: Djing to me is more than just playing music. Anybody can play music, especially today with the software and equipment out there. But to me, Djing is about taking the crowd on a journey. There are not many things out there I like as much as djing. Being able to read a crowd and watching them react to what I am trying to do musically. This is why I absolutely LOVE to play for longer than an hour. To really be able to capture a crowd and take them on your musical journey and be able to react to what they do and have them react to what you do is an amazing feeling. Exposing people to new and amazing music, giving them something they didn’t even know they wanted… It’s a huge rush for me. That is why when I am djing, I always have a huge smile on my face, and I am ALWAYS dancing around behind the decks. My favorite djs are the ones who do this… Richie Hawtin, Magda, Josh Wink, etc. These people really know how to capture a floor and hold them where they want them for hours.
LA: You have been DJ’ing in Columbus for a long while. What is it about this city that keeps you here and artistically engaged?
JL: You know that is a tough question. Columbus has always had GREAT people. I have so many friends here and I have been fortunate to always be able to dj. I have a great group of friends whom I consider my family. We have had some world class events in Columbus over the years. I have watched the music I love draw 1000’s of people, and draw 100 people. It’s gone up and down. But the people who have remained are just as in love with the music as I am. I have been to other cities and seen the same thing we have here. Sure it may be on a bigger scale, but it’s the same type of people. I even lived in San Francisco for a year. But I came back and don’t regret it one bit. Right now there is an amazing group of younger guys and girls who are very educated in the history of this music and it is so refreshing! I love seeing these folks out at our nights and digging what we do.
LA: What were the main influences behind creating quality? What made you start your own promotions crew?
JL: I started Quality with a good friend of mine, Doug Black, back around 2004. The main influence was that I was tired of there being no music I liked being played at clubs around town. The bigger clubs had all started to close down a bit as Park Street opened up. Most of what was being played was trance or progressive house. Just not the stuff I was really into. I was still playing here and there, and people seemed to be digging what I was playing, so I wanted to bring those types of artists to town. I had the opportunity to bring Kaskade to Columbus on a Friday night after my a friend of mine who was supposed to host him in Dayton had his venue fall through. Kaskade was nearly as well known as he is now, but he was starting to make a name for himself in the deep house world with the OM Label. The cost was cheap, so I approached Mike Gallichio about possibly hosting the show at Global, in the Long Street district. Mike agreed so we did it. The show was crazy. WAY more people than I thought would show up. We needed about 200 people to cover the costs of the show, and I want to say we have close to 800. After that Doug and I were approached to start doing monthlies at Global, and Quality was born. We had acts that djs knew, but were not really that big at the time. JT Donaldson and Lance Desardi, brett Johnson, Diz to name a few. We had a few bigger names as well like Josh Wink, Doc Martin, Ian Pooley, and Kaskade a second time. It was a great run there. After a while that night sort of faded out and Long St closed. Doug moved to Chicago for work, and I teamed up with Mike Poe and did a series of Quality’s at the Carlile Club (now Mynt). Same concept, different club. Dj’s like Johnny Fiasco, Joshua IZ, and The Sound Republic. I really liked that club. Great layout and incredible sound. After that we did a few events at Spice Bar that went well, a few at Lotus (now Double Happiness) that went well, and a few at Bristol Bar that went well… We took a little time off, and then about 15 months ago Jeff Pons and I got together with Scott Litch and started this most recent incarnation at Basil. The basil thing has just exceeded all of our expectations and is probably my favorite night to promote and dj. It’s just a blast.
LA: How do you see quality? What does Quality Stand for? What do you guys hope to bring to our scene?
JL: Right now, I think Quality is in a really good place. The last year or so has been really exciting for us. The night at Basil has just grown and grown. Every month I see new faces, which is so exciting. We honestly wondered at the start if people would come out to hear this music, because of the rise and popularity of DubStep ad Electro. Those nights were really taking off, which was good for them. But what we found was that people were really yearning for a low-key place to go and hear deep sexy music. We figured out that the people who were coming out to our night didn’t care who the dj was, but they knew the music would be good. So that’s how we’ve done it. We focus less on who is djing, and more on providing a great atmosphere with really good music. And people have responded well. Basil has just made a great venue for this. It doesn’t take a million people to make it feel packed. With the new expansion, it really allows us to grow as well. This next year we are going to try out a few new ideas, but won’t stray too far from what has worked for us. We will be bringing in some new folks to play with us, as we love adding in other dj’s vibes to what we do. As far as what we hope to bring to the scene… Honestly I just want to provide a place where people, including myself, can go and hear the music we play. And I want a place to be able to expose people to this new amazing music. That is what I have always done with Quality. It hasn’t changed. The venues may not be as big as when we started, but the vibe is still the same. There aren’t a lot of nights in town that play what we play. I think that is what makes us unique.
LA: 1990’s Columbus dance music is always talked about as a mythical time in our scenes history. What was it like back then? Why do you think we were so huge?
JL: Honestly, it wasn’t just Columbus. Back in the mid 90’s, the Rave scene in the US just exploded from coast to coast. However, I always felt that the Midwest was a very special place to be during that time period, and that Ohio in particular had a lot going for it. During that time, Chicago House and Detroit Techno were the 2 powerhouses in the EDM scene. Drum and Bass played a part as well later on. But Ohio was so great because we got the best of both of those worlds. So on any given weekend, you had world class dj’s playing to 1000’s of kids from both Chicago and Detroit. I really think this is why I play the stuff that I do. It’s a great mix. I really like very techy sounding things, but at the same time, I love that discoy Chicago type of sound. Getting to Columbus specifically during that time, It was just the fact that we had really good people here, and a lot of them. The university certainly helped that. The early club scene here also helped that. Clubs like Mekka spawned a lot of the early ravers in this city. Then you also had the ele_mental crew that were really into exposing Columbus to this new sound that was coming out of Detroit. But they weren’t just playing records, they were actually making the music too. Columbus just had a big combination of all the right things to produce a very healthy, and varied scene. From smaller house parties to giant raves with 1000’s of people. If I had to pick one party that I felt defined the Columbus scene during that period, it would have to be Metamorphosis. This was the result of different crews coming together to showcase the very best of what Columbus was capable of at that time. There were big parties before that, and even bigger parties after that, but THAT party I felt was the calling card for the Columbus Rave scene. It was right downtown, inside and out, a great line-up of who’s who in Electronic Music at that time, and with the different crews coming together, it was just really really special.
LA: Why do you think dance music in Columbus lost popularity in the late 1990’s?
JL: I wouldn’t say that dance music lost popularity in the late 90’s. Actually, just the opposite happened. I will say that UNDERGROUND parties lost popularity, but that was because of a huge law enforcement crackdown that took place. You just simply could not throw all night warehouse parties in Columbus anymore without getting busted. There were some exceptions of course, but in general the police put the squash on that. But in terms of popularity… We were pulling in 800-1100 people into Red Zone every single Friday night. And we had dj’s like Josh Wink, Stacey Pullen, Derrick Carter, Kevin Yost, Halo, etc who would come and play. The very late 90’s and early 2000’s were great for Electronic Dance music’s popularity in Columbus. It had really just changed venues. Some people didn’t really like going to the club, but I didn’t mind it. I certainly didn’t mind playing there for all of those people on that massive sound system. I was still playing a lot of the same music I was playing before so nothing had really changed for me. Plus, you could buy drinks. I think the music and the scene just grew into something a little different. Some people liked it, some didn’t. Pitch Control Productions also put on the Clockwork Sunday’s parties which allowed us to go until 4:00am instead of the normal 2:30. So these parties were as close as it got to the old warehouse parties. And they were PACKED.
LA: What was it like in those times where dance music wasn’t very big? Were there still events going on?
JL: What happened after a while was that the club scene started to grow. People saw the success that the red zone, and later fabric, had and wanted a piece of it. SO you had all of these other clubs opening up downtown doing the same kind of thing. That was both good and bad. Obviously having a selection of places to go is a good thing; however the crowd didn’t really grow. So you had everyone trying to pull from the same group of people. All this did was cause attendance to decline. Some places remained open, and some did not. I also think that Electronic music in general was declining in popularity. So there weren’t any younger kids getting into it like we had when we were younger, and all of the people who had been in it for a while did other things. So because of that there was a gap. You could only get large amounts of people to come out when there was very large acts in town. Like Tiesto, or Oakenfold, or Sasha, etc. There were always smaller events that went on. There was a group of people who still very much loved the music and did whatever they could do to keep things going. There was a lot of eb and flow for while. Sometimes you’d catch a good wave, like we did at Global with the first incarnation of quality, and then that would go away. For me, I just played whenever and wherever someone would have me. I never changed what I played just to be able to dj somewhere. I just couldn’t. If that meant I didn’t dj for a while, then that is what happened. I still dj’d enough, and was still fortunate to be able to play in other cities as well. Having all of those connections from the early days… I just met some really great people and made some really good friends.
LA: What has it been like being part of the group of people helping to bring Columbus dance music back?
JL: That is a good question. I never really thought about myself, or what we do, as helping to bring anything back to Columbus. I’m just really glad that people are enjoying what we do. I feel like Columbus is in a really good place right now, with a lot of very diverse things to do in terms of nightlife. I have to think that the Sweatin crew played a huge part in bringing dance music back. The MBFP guys have always been around and have really become huge in bringing out massive crowds again, Then you have the Get Right and O-Gee parties, The Juicy parites, roeVy, etc… There is really a lot of different things going on, and everyone is able to be successful to a degree, which is fantastic. Look at what the What’s next Ohio party did… That is fantastic! There are a lot of reasons for that, but I’m just happy to see it all work. I’m glad to be a part of that with our night as well.
LA: With your deep knowledge of our scene’s history and contemporary landscape where do you think our scene is right now?
JL: As I mentioned, I think Columbus is at a very good place. You have a lot of younger people involved again, which is key. We didn’t have that for a long time, and it suffered because of it. There was a period of time where if your bar or club didn’t play hip-hop or banging electro remixes of pop songs, nobody was going to come. You now have a very educated group of younger people who have varied musical interests and help to support ALL of these parties. Most of all, I think the FUN has come back to our nightlife. All of these events are about just having fun and having a good time.
LA: What would you deem the ideal future for the Columbus EDM community?
JL: Just continue to grow and continue to try and get new people interested in what we do. That is important. We are all doing a good job of that right now.
LA: What do you think has to happen for us to get there?
JL: The key is to WORK TOGETHER. Columbus isn’t that big of a city in terms of EDM crowds. When you work against each other, it only means less attendance for everyone. Be inclusive, and work together, and everybody does better.
LA: Do you think it is possible for us to create one cohesive Columbus EDM community?
JL: I think it is already happening in some respects.
LA: What are your goals for the next five years musically?
JL: Honestly, I don’t really look that far ahead. Things can change so fast around here. I just want to keep playing the music I love for as long as I can. If that means putting on events, then I will do that. If it means just being able to dj once every few months, then I will do that. I am really happy with where we are right now. Both the Quality night, and our latest endeavor, GROOVE at Exile. This is quickly becoming my favorite night to play music because I get to play whatever I want and people eat it up. I would say look for that night to get really big over the next year. I am really exited about it.
LA: If you could share any lesson from your experience in our scene to share with the younger generation what would it be?
JL: Just do what you like to do. Play the music you like to play, not the music you think other people want you to play. Put on events that you want to put on, and have fun with it. I do this because its part of who I am. This music is a huge piece of my life. I can’t change what I love. I have been doing this for close to 18 years now… I’ve seen it all. I am most happy when I see people getting down and enjoying what I am trying to do with the music and my events.
Are you excited to hold down your city tomorrow at Quality? Are you ready to explore a new sonic universe that you may have not listened to in a while or haven’t heard at all? Well you best be dancing next to me on the floor at Basil tomorrow at 9:30 when Jason Lyman, Michael Poe, and Jeff Pons start off Qualities infamous after Gallery Hop Party. You know I am gonna go HARD. Event Details are available by clicking the Quality Logo Below. Can’t wait until then? Well hit up their party Groove at Exile Tonight (Event Details Here)