Aces: DJ Umi
The Foshizzle Family co-founder discusses a few of his favorite tracks.
While we here at Tone Madison would never expect a DJ to simply dump their entire record bag full of secrets out in front of us, our goal with this column, Aces (as in “aces up the sleeve”), is to chat with some of our favorite local residents, as well as visiting guests, about a few of their favorite, fail-safe floor destroyers.
For this installment of Aces, we chatted with Madisonian deep-house gourmet Jordan Ellerman, who DJs and produces slippery house cuts as DJ Umi. Ellerman, who co-founded the Madison-based Foshizzle Family DJ crew, is known for pumping out deep, tasteful, and organic-sounding selections with soulful vocals, smooth keys, and slinky basslines. Ellerman can be found spinning at his shifting monthly residency at Nattspil, as well as his sporadic appearances at Foshizzle Family’s residency at Tavernakaya. We sat down with Ellerman to talk about videogames, working a room, and the trouble with sequencers.
Tone Madison: What pulled you into the world of electronic music?
Jordan Ellerman: Videogames! I grew up playing cello and listening to classical music. Videogame music is a great intersection of classical and electronic elements. There were also plenty of Sega games that were filled with crunchy 16-bit techno. I've always had an appreciation for electronic music, but didn't delve into house and techno until I moved to Madison in 2008 and started djing.
Tone Madison: What's your favorite video game score? Also, what kind of stuff were you DJing when you started out?
Jordan Ellerman: Oh boy it's hard to pin one down. Final Fantasy X had a great soundtrack. The track for Blitzball, "Blitz Off,” is especially memorable. There was also a Batman game for Sega that had some great techno jams. More recently I've been a fan of Disaster Piece's work on the Fez and Hyper Light Drifter soundtracks. When I started DJing, I was playing mostly electro. Eventually, I jumped on the UK Funky wave and found my way to proper house and techno.
Tone Madison: Do you remember one of the first tracks you heard that pulled you to the other side?
Jordan Ellerman: Yeah, there was this Chaos In The CBD release called "Dusty Sundays" that really made me realize how much I loved the more minimal side of house music.
Tone Madison: That one sounds like a beauty. Enveloping dub-techno meets swingin' house.
Jordan Ellerman: Definitely. Chaos In The CBD are at the top of my list for current producers. Absolutely love everything they put out.
Tone Madison: How do you feel like all these years of DJing inform your original tracks? Do you try to be mindful of where a particular track would sit in a DJ set or anything like that?
Jordan Ellerman: DJing in Madison for so long has definitely worn down my ego. I used to be more stubborn and played whatever I wanted to hear—regardless of the crowd's response. DJing used to be my sole creative outlet and I was selfish in my approach. Nowadays, I view it with a more service-oriented mind. As far as organizing tracks goes, I generally have a specific time of night or venue in mind.
Tone Madison: I completely feel you on that one. When I started making electronic music, it was a pretty selfish endeavor. But I eventually realized how beautiful it is to make a genuine connection to the room you're playing for and started giving that aspect a lot more consideration.
Jordan Ellerman: Oh yeah. When the DJ is on and the whole room is with them, the feeling is unlike anything else. I saw Hunee play in a small hotel bar during Sonar a couple years ago. The hotel was closing down the next week, so the owner had brought a bunch of his friends to the party and they were clearly not into electronic music. Before the music started, the room was divided and the vibes were hella weird. Hunee opened up and coaxed a dance floor out of thin air. The atmosphere did a complete 180-degree turn within the first 20 minutes of his set.
Tone Madison: Yeah, not many folks pull that off. Why don’t we start chatting about these tunes you sent over? The first one you picked out is this Mr. White track “The Sun Can’t Compare”— this beautiful vocal-acid tune.
Jordan Ellerman: I first heard this track a couple years ago at TV Lounge. Jarvi and Sassmouth were playing back-to-back for Smartbar's Movement opening party. I really love the vocals. The lyrics are great and Mr. White has such an amazing voice. I usually play this towards the end of the night, as the vibes are settling down.
Tone Madison: You don't hear a ton of nasty acid tracks with soulful melodic vocals on them. This one occupies an interesting space.
Jordan Ellerman: Definitely. I love the claps. This track is pretty chill, but those claps make it a jam.
Tone Madison: I'm also pretty stoked on this Scott Wozniak remix of Jill Scott’s “Whatever” you picked out. How did this one enter your life?
Jordan Ellerman: I'm not really sure exactly how this one got into my library. I came across it when deleting a bunch of old tracks. The download was years old but I had no recollection of ever hearing the song. I immediately connected with the lyrics. At the time, I was in a relationship and focusing on serving my significant other without reservation or questioning. This song is my absolute favorite jam to play out. I like to end the night with this one. It definitely keeps the party dancing after the lights come on.
Tone Madison: I’m huge sucker for those organic drum sounds and the Rhodes. It’s so smooth.
Jordan Ellerman: Yeah I usually lean more towards organic sounds and melodies that don't sound like they were churned out of a sequencer.
Tone Madison: You mean like super on-the-grid, inhuman sounding stuff?
Jordan Ellerman: Yeah. I'm not against sequencers or anything, I just think house music is at it's best when someone is wailing on a keyboard
Tone Madison: I get you. I think this is why I love Glenn Underground and Kerri Chandler so much. So many wandering melodies and meandering chord progressions that feel very live and human. Next up we have "Midnight In Peckham" by Chaos In The CBD. This definitely sounds like a sunrise jam. I really dig those minimal piano stabs. How would you use this one?
Jordan Ellerman: I think this track works really great in an outdoor setting. I've played it at numerous Foshizzle Fridays. I have some great memories of playing this song. It always makes me stop in my tracks and soak up the joy and beauty of the moment.
Tone Madison: Seems like the kind of track that leaves enough open space that you can walk right into it.
Jordan Ellerman: It's nice and minimal. Perfect for long mixes in or out.
Tone Madison: Finally, we have Dego And Kaidi’s “Acting Up On Shit That Don’t Count.” Really dig the jazzy chords and slanted rhythm. What can you tell me about this one?
Jordan Ellerman: I picked up a copy of this a couple years ago at Gramaphone [Records in Chicago] and have been in love with Dego And Kaidi ever since. They occupy an interesting spot between jazz and house, but without falling into the lo-fi jazz house genre. Love using this one to break up the usual four-on-the-floor slog. The lyrics are hilarious and accurately describe a common sentiment I have.