For the past 30 years, the Cincinnati dance music scene has been fortunate to enjoy one of the more technically sound and diverse DJs, Nautigroove (real name Jason Brooks). From his initial love of Trance to House music and everything in between, he’s suddenly found himself back at the forefront of the local and regional scene with the resurgence of Trance and Progressive music.
I recently sat down with Jason to relive some of his more memorable moments, at least the ones that can be printed, and also talk about his role as one of the more recognizable and consistent DJs in today’s market place.
Returning from Italy in 1998 when Epic Trance was popular, Jason and his brother Todd, who would carry his heavy record crate around, played events around the area. When performing, Jason often saw people in front of the stage, crying from the journey he was taking them. “I couldn’t believe how much that music moved people,” said a smiling Jason. “Of course, sometimes it was chemically-induced emotion, but still! Those are the best memories.”
Speaking of moving people, Jason recounted an event in Indianapolis where he noticed a club-goer spinning in circles with his hands out next to the DJ booth. “I knew it was about to be a problem, but no one came up to him,” Jason laughingly recalled. “I took my eye off of him for a bit then noticed people pointing at him. I looked at him again, and this time he’s naked – and still spinning to the point of getting dizzy and falling into the monitor. I caught the monitor, stood it back up, grabbed his arm, and opened the back door that was near the DJ booth, and pushed him out.” He continued, “When I came back, I was right in the middle of a mix! Both volumes up, left and right channel, fader in the middle, perfect timing! And, the guy? Well, he was feeling it, too!”
Growing up, Jason wasn’t interested in sports or other everyday childlike activities. “I was the kid that everyone knew had the new music because I would always record songs off of Q102,” he recalled as his eyes focused on the ceiling for a moment. “I used to go to Caddy’s at age 13 for ‘teen night,’ and I remember being captivated by the DJ and what he was doing. I befriended him and was able to watch him in the booth. Right then, the bug caught me.”
His mother, Peggy, had a considerable influence on him and would set the tone for his introduction into dance music. At age 15, he begged his parents to buy him a mixer. “I think they bought me a 3-channel Gemini PMX1000,” Jason questionably said. “I first hooked up my mom’s all-in-one stereo and re-rigged the wiring into a channel to play a tape, then a record. I tried to keep it on beat, and away I went!”
He left for the military at age 18, where he allowed practicing his craft during his downtime in California and Europe. “When I was on temporary deployment with the Air Force, guys would say, ‘Why are you bringing records with you, Brooks?’ I would tell them, ‘I’ll find someplace to DJ, trust me!'” And, so he did. His time with the Air Force and Army saw him in Turkey, Spain, Italy, Germany, Ireland, and the Azores Islands in Portugal where he could play his records.
Returning from Europe in the fall of 1998 and having amassed more vinyl – mainly House and Trance – he began to play 2-3 events a month. “I was able to build through my House sets like normal at 125 b.p.m., but progress to where I began ending them with Trance at 136 b.p.m.” As this progression took place, he noticed a change with the crowd by saying, “The end of my sets were insane! People were going nuts, so little by little, I phased House completely out of my sets, and by mid-1999, I was known as a Trance DJ.”
Jason was admittedly lucky that during this time, there were perhaps two other DJs in the midwest playing Trance. “But, these guys were playing hard. They were almost playing GOA at 138 b.p.m. to 140 b.p.m. and it wasn’t working. You can’t play that hard during a 10:00 p.m. – 11:00 p.m. time slot around here,” Jason described. “I was fortunate enough to build my name and hit the main stage at good set times playing solid Progressive and Epic-style Trance. And, it worked until 2007 when the rave scene died out and playing Trance was unheard of around here.”
Technically speaking, according to Jason, there’s a difference in the style of mixing when playing House compared to Trance. “You don’t need to lead-in as much when playing House,” he said. “Most of the songs will break down within the first minute of the song, so it’s quicker mixing. You have to be on beat, of course, but you can play around with the bass more – bass drops, ins and out, filters, etc. You have to know what you’re doing with House, but with Trance, it’s on a whole other level. Everyone believes their music is intelligent, and rightfully so, but Trance is different.”
He continues, “When you think about it, Trance is a state you put one in with repetitive beats, and its music is composed almost like a classical piece. As you follow the song through, you’re in tune with it. It’s vital to learn to mix long, know the buildups and breakdowns, and when to start the next song to get it ready. As a proper Trance DJ, you’re going to be in the mix for quite a while, and it’s essential to keep the audience in a continuous motion. In essence, if you mix out of a Trance song too fast, you literally break that person’s trance even though you’ve beat-mixed the next song perfectly.”
Never pre-programming or playing the same set twice, Jason admits he has songs he’d like to play but stresses the crucial element of reading the crowd. “You’re shooting yourself in the foot if you design a set because you’re reluctant to change it up. I’ve watched good DJs bomb because they’re playing gut-busters at the wrong time due to the crowd not being built-up yet.” He continued, “If you’re good enough to be asked to play, it’s your responsibility to understand if something isn’t working with your audience and change it even if that includes backtracking.”
Jason also holds steadfast to the idea that unless a vocal track has at least a 150-second lead-in, you never play two in a row. “You’re telling a story, and you have to know whether you want to bring the energy higher or deeper throughout your set, and playing two vocal tracks in a row is a big no-no.”
Until recently, Jason featured for twelve years as a House and Progressive DJ – we’ll call it Progressive House – because the foundations of Trance were built around that sub-genre along with Melodic Techno. And, it’s this foundation that club-goers are slowly awakening to that is making it cool again to like Trance.
“I’m an entertainer at heart. I think my experience in playing different genres to bar patrons to mega-raves has given me the experience to know what moves an audience. I think there are a lot of DJ’s that discount the need for progressing their time even if it’s just an hour-long House music set. People recognize that I’m going to start at an area opposite of the DJ before me. I like to start with a fresh palate by beginning with an intro and build the energy within the crowd through progression.”
The last few months have seen a resurgence, of sorts, for the 44-year-old Bellevue, Kentucky native, and his love for the Trance sound. He credits his opening slot for Marsh (real name Tom Marshall) earlier this month as a turning point for reigniting his passion for DJing the music he loves, and has his sights set on the next chapter of his career. “It’s been a while since I’ve opened for someone big or played along with a well-known producer. But, I was impressed watching Marsh play. To see someone who has put his heart and soul in making the songs in a studio, then playing them live is something that intrigued me. He knew what was coming up and got excited with himself by composing a story with his music. It was so cool to see and hear because he was feeling it on a different level.”
Then, there’s the other side of it. It’s a proven fact in this day and age that few artists have the proper ability to both produce and DJ. Markus Schulz and Dave Seamen are two of the few that come to mind, but more likely than not, you’re either a great producer or a great DJ – not both. Jason falls into the latter category as he explained, “I know without a shadow of a doubt that I know how to play Trance. I’m not perfect, but I know how to format the music to take you on a proper journey, but I can’t produce.”
Although he’d like to learn from producers of the genre that are classically trained musicians or have gone to school to learn production techniques in Europe, Jason realizes that he’s getting older. The resurgence of Trance in Cincinnati is beginning to retake shape, and he wants to be a part of it. “The time is now for Trance, and I want to ride this wave again,” he confessed. “The scene is beginning to recycle, and I’ve gained a bit of notoriety by getting my name back out there the past couple of years, and I want to be at the forefront of it.”
Jason Brooks is the owner of In The Groove Productions and has mentored numerous DJs. He currently enjoys a roster of approximately 20 diverse artists that perform both locally and regionally.
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