By Zachary Schepis
Photo courtesy of Jesse Futerman
Jesse Futerman is a DJ from Toronto, Ontario worth keeping your ears peeled for. He manages to fuse together influences as disparate as avant-garde jazz and house music into a sound that grooves as much as it inspires inquiry. It’s not often that you’ll hear Alice Coltrane blowing along to a funk blast beat, and it’s these kinds of sonic challenges that keep Futerman’s music fresh and innovative.
Just last week he released Hidden Basement, the third installment in his “Basement EP” series. It features an assortment of previously unreleased tracks, b-sides, and remixes. What this album might lack in unity, however, it makes up for in diversity of ideas. Hidden Basement showcases Futerman exceptional taste for samples, and an even better capability with arrangements. BTR catches up with the young DJ to hear a little bit about the inspiration that makes the music possible.
Tell us a little bit about your musical background. Where did it all begin?
I was pretty young, probably around seven or eight, when I was introduced to piano. It started with lots of pop music, and before long I was beginning to hear it happen in my head. I started making tracks and exploring the world of live editing, and this eventually had me moving to turn tables and beat making. I guess I was around 13 or 14 when I started producing music with samples.
What inspires your songwriting process?
A number of things really. The biggest well that I draw from is personal experiences, whether they’re good or bad. Of course, another large influence will be whatever I find myself listening to at the time, which for me right now is mostly sampled selections. At the end of the day it all boils down to what I’m feeling.
I hear a lot of jazz in your tunes—would you say that it has been a big influence on your creative vision?
Oh yeah, more so jazz than almost anything else–more than any singer or band. My dad used to play it all the time when I was young, but it wasn’t until I was 13 or 14 years old that I started getting into the more spiritual, esoteric stuff. Artists like Alice Coltrane, Music Inc.—it blew my mind. At that point I wasn’t smoking any weed. The music in and of itself was a drug experience.
How did you discover this avant-garde material?
It all started when I heard Madlib mention some of these artists in an interview, these black jazz records. I ended up going to this record store called Cosmos, and the guy there really schooled me. I owe a lot to that guy.
Last year marked the anniversary of Madlib’s album Shades of Blue. Are you a fan?
At the time it was released yeah, it was definitely a big influence, but more so some of his other release. Quasimodo, for example, I find myself gravitating more towards. In retrospect, I’m not sure I really like Shades of Blue. It comes across pretty weak, with the exception of “Mystic Bounce”. It just didn’t sound like the whole record was handled with the greatest care. Especially a song like “Dolphin Dance”… you know he supposedly had these master takes, and more could have been done with that. He started getting people from Tribe Records, and they realized that Madlib can’t do everything. But all in all, the record was still a big influence on me.
You’ve got a fantastic ear for samples and arrangement, how long would you say it takes you on average to put a song together?
That’s something that’s always changing. I’ll be in the studio, working on a tune and all of a sudden I’ll hear a sample; it’ll just kind of pop into my head. So I’ll hit up my iTunes library, or go check out my record cabinet, and it can end up taking anywhere from one day to three months. Finding all of the material can take a while. Heavier tracks like “Life Is A Gamble” have a lot of time put into them while there are some that only end up taking an hour or so.
Album artwork for Hidden Basement.
Your newest release, Hidden Basement, is a collection of unreleased tracks. Some of it was supposed to be released on another EP—why did you decide on going this route instead?
It’s funny, I was going to make this EP with a really cheesy name (laughs). I really wanted to have a nice collection of hip-hop and jazz, all done with live instrumentation. None of it materialized, but it has now—especially the live instrument stuff. Now it’s all going way deeper and has the potential to go a lot farther. But releasing Hidden Basement for free was a great idea. I had this one friend in particular who really wanted me to release it all to the public.
So you’ve been experimenting more with live musicians these days. What’s that been like for you?
Honestly man, it’s been a dream come true. It’s been two people really who have been making it all happen. There’s Jacob Demenlin, from Berkeley, and he’s really been a crucial part of all of this. He transcribes everything, and lays down some really nice electric piano, his Rhodes, on the tracks. Then there’s Leland Whitty from BadBadNotGood (BBNG), he ended up playing sax and flute on some of the tunes. Jacob is going to India so Liland is taking the forefront. The weirdest thing about working with a guy as talented as Leland was it just worked from the very start. It just came through really solid.
At the moment we’re still producing a lot of the material but we’re shelving it for now. It started off being for this new MC, Haleek Maul. We worked on the stuff in this kind of back-and-forth collaboration. It’s what the future of my music will be. I won’t do what RJD2 did; it won’t be full on compositions. It will still be samples.
BBNG have gotten a lot of acclaim the past couple of years. How did you cross paths with Leland?
I have some mutual friends with one of his brothers, and I’d met him once before. I really respected his work and wanted him to come into one of our sessions, and we ended up seeing eye to eye. But to tell you the truth, I really gotta give it to Jacob, he put a lot of work into the music.
Hidden Basement, showcases a lot of different styles and influences, which I think listeners find refreshing.
Thanks, I certainly hope so. There were a lot of influences that went into the making of it.
Some of the tracks sound more uptempo, and almost house-style. Do you see yourself moving more in this direction going forward?
Yeah for sure. I’ve made some 12 inch house records, and I’ll be dropping another one later this year. It’s been all sample based, but lately I’ve been leaning towards more soul, groove, and funk. I think it’s about striking a nice balance. My full sets have a lot of elements of house, but also with my original music in the mix.
If you could choose, what would an ideal gig look like for you?
Oh man (laughs). I’d really like to do what Fourtech does—play a wide variety of sounds, ranging from hip-hop to jazz to soul to funk. I’d like it to be an education, what I think every good DJ should be striving to provide. Hopefully everyone gets excited.
What’s in store for 2014?
Well, I’ve got management now, which means I’ll be touring in the near future. I’ve also got a booking agent in the works, and you’ll see another EP and producer. I’m pretty excited that it’ll be done with a very talented group of rappers and singers. I’ve been focusing a lot on softer work, and there’s harder stuff too.
Rappers and singers?
Yeah, it’s really exiting. Nick Price hit up Movement exclusively, and ended up getting something like 20,000 views in seven days. I’ve been working on a track with him, hopefully it will all see the light of day. There’s another one coming out through Yours Truly with Jacques, who is a very talented DJ.