"Your search for a smiling, swift-handed turntablist has ended," reads the banner running across the top of Seattle DJ Jason Schell's website. And for cheerful, party-enhancing deck rocking, you could do much worse than Schell. In the vein of eclectic crate-diggers like DJ Supreme, Schell rummages around different eras ('60s through now) and genres (hiphop, soul, house, drum 'n' bass, breaks) with funk being the most consistent element in his sets.
On mix discs like 2003's Beat Fusion (as Jason Estrellado) and 2005's Home Skooled, Schell deftly and cleverly transitions among styles and decades like a guy who'd rather lose his left eye than see dancers leave the floor.
Schell began spinning as DJ D-Cypol on the Pittsburgh-area rave circuit in 1995, but gradually burned out on the music's synthetic sounds and the monotony of matching uptempo 4/4 beats for several hours. Schell gravitated toward funk and hiphop through his love of jazz.
"I absolutely love horns, funky bass lines, and soul-filled singing," he says. "I was playing jazzy drum 'n' bass for a while and still love jazz/funk-influenced house, drum 'n' bass, and breaks. Living in Philly around a strong jazz and hiphop scene helped a lot, too. I feel like funk is a jazzy kind of dance music, so it made sense to start buying records and spinning it.
"I started listening to a lot more hiphop DJs that were tricking up their mixes more," Schell continues. "Hiphop appeals to me as a DJ because it allows for quicker, more hands-on mixes."
Home Skooled has a few newer hiphop cuts by Danger Mouse, RJD2, and Latyrx, but most of them seem to be over a decade old. Unsurprisingly, Schell believes mainstream hiphop has declined since the mid-'90s.
"Most of it is really pop music. But sometimes even pop music has a good producer behind it. Plus, there's an inherent advantage to not being someone who only plays the newest stuff; you can handpick your favorite tracks out of more than a decade of music production. I guess I'd rather mix good music than new music. Plus, I think the diversity of my mixing style is one of my strengths as a DJ. I play music for people who like music... not just a small genre of music like rap or breaks or whatever."
A high-school art teacher by day, Schell hopes "to start or be involved in a more 'holistic' club night that features the music I like (hiphop/funk/breaks), maybe some breakdancing, definitely some visual artists, perhaps some music production. I'm not sure it's possible, though. Anyone with a club and similar interests, get in touch." DAVE SEGAL
Jason Schell plays Jai Thai, 2132 First Ave, 770-7884, Fridays, 10 pm–2 am, free, 21+.