Aces: Geoff Kaster of Jiggy Jamz
The DJ and owner of Madison's only dance-focused record store talks with us about some favorite tracks and his new location.
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, 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, we spoke with veteran, Madison-based selector Geoff Kaster. He's a DJ and the proprietor of Jiggy Jamz, which is pretty much the only record store in Madison that's truly devoted to dance records of all genres—ranging from house to techno to trance to jungle to hip-hop—new and used. For years, Jiggy Jamz was run out of Kaster's home as an online business entity, before he moved his insane stash of wax, CDs, and mixtapes into a small office in the basement of a nondescript building in the Maple Bluff area. Its walls were covered in DJ ephemera—old mixers, vintage promotional slipmats for elder Midwest rave entities like Massive and Drop Bass Network, and of course records upon records.
The back room of that first location served as Kaster's office, order packaging area, and hangout zone where he kept a couple Technics 1200s and a mixer for visitors to jam on. If you were lucky, he'd start throwing down himself—showing you the headiest old-school deep house or downtempo cuts you've never heard. It's also worth mentioning that while Kaster still does a lot of online sales, he always gives special deals to customers who show up in person, and he has a stash of records that he will only sell in the shop to folks who come through. This includes a bunch of bonkers twelve-inches from now-defunct, Wisconsin-based maniac techno imprint Drop Bass Network.
Jiggy Jamz's insane curation is a direct reflection of the decades Kaster has spent being a serious supporter, collector, and DJ in several threads of underground dance music and hip-hop in Wisconsin. Neatly organized by genre, subgenre, respected record labels, and notable artists, Jiggy Jamz may have the deepest selection and most reasonable prices on new and used dance records in the state—at least for a rabid collector like me. Kaster recently moved his shop to a much larger space at 1734 Fordem Ave., in an east-side shopping center couple doors down from a Chocolate Shoppe Ice Cream location. We sat down with Kaster to talk about a handful of his favorite tracks, his goals for the new location, his roots in industrial music, and why you should care about Richie Hawtin. You'll be able to catch Kaster opening for Toronto, Ontario-based DJ Ciel at Robinia Courtyard on Saturday, May 19, and opening for Derrick Carter on July 14 at the High Noon Saloon.
Tone Madison: How did you find electronic music and dance music? How did you get sucked in?
Geoff Kaster: Well, I was a skater kid growing up, and at the time it was punk rock and heavy metal music. It was bands like Ministry and Meat Beat Manifesto that kinda started dragging me in through the industrial channels—Wax Trax Records and that whole subgenre of craziness. It kind of bridged the rawness of punk music and the electronic side of things, which is a little more rigid. I kind of liked the rigidness of electronic music—that formulaic beat and structure. That's what kind of drew me to it. I grew up in Dallas, Texas. I was there from about 1980 to 1991. I was a junior in high school—skater punk action. [Laughs] I moved here directly from Dallas in the summer of '91. I was 14 years old. It wasn't by choice, but I grew to like it here.
Tone Madison At what point did your relationship with dance music transition into you becoming a DJ?
Geoff Kaster: I was always interested in it, because music was a big part of my dad's life—he always had records playing around the house. Then, when I started getting into industrial music and that type of stuff, you had to dig it up on vinyl at the local record store. Before I moved here, in Dallas, my buddies and I would think we were gonna enter these DJ mix contests and we would use our cassette decks and pause and record and try to make mixes that way. And then we started hearing the winners and the stuff people were doing and we just had no idea—no clue. So, when I moved here, it was a couple years of transition, and then I started getting into the rave scene through stopping at record shops and getting flyers. Once I saw how it was done and started meeting people who were into it, that was it. The second I saw two turntables in action at a rave party, it was over. [Laughs]
Tone Madison: So eventually your relationship with EBM and industrial music gave way to electro, techno, and house?
Geoff Kaster: Yeah, the whole rave culture—all the way from the UK techno breaks of the early '90s into the classic Midwest techno that was coming out of Drop Bass and Minneapolis' Communique Records. Also, that hard-edged New York sound. Once I was exposed to that, Chicago starts to shine its influence on you, and that's how I started to fall in love with house music.
Tone Madison: You were going to a lot of raves at that point. Would you say there was a particular DJ set that you caught at a particular place that just kind of pushed you over the edge, where you thought "Fuck, I need to do this, this is for me"?
Geoff Kaster: Yes, absolutely, and it's kind of a wild story. There was a rave party called Deep Freeze and it was on the southwest side of Madison in a warehouse. John Acquaviva was booked to play that night and he showed up with Richie Hawtin—just tagging along with him. So, after John Acquaviva played, which was an amazing set, Richie Hawtin started to play and they had these radio transmissions that came in through the system. His set, between him playing the most minimal, crazy acid cuts, and then having that random element of the radio transmissions over the system, just blew my mind. I immediately went and bought some Plastikman records and started playing acid house music for months straight at my friend's house because I didn't have turntables at the time. [Laughs]
Tone Madison: There are so many DJs out in the world. What is it about Richie Hawtin—what he does and how he does it—that you think makes him such a point of reference for so many people? I've talked to so many folks over the last two decades who've said, "I saw Richie Hawtin and it was the most mind-blowing experience of my entire life." What is it that you think makes his sets so transformative?
Geoff Kaster: For better or worse, he's always pushed the envelope. He has always done something that nobody else is doing, he's always trying something different, and he's never afraid of complexity—putting different medias together in the same set. His music—you have to really listen deep to hear it and be the type of person who can let that music soak in and feel it. At the time, a lot of DJs were really focused on that high-energy, club atmosphere, serious dance music, and he wasn't afraid to make really minimal, simple acid music that still took you on a ride. He was able to play a full hour of that and people would freak out, when everyone else was playing the hardest, most in-your-face, and catchy music. He also created timecode vinyl. He was the catalyst for playing a song digitally on a record through your laptop. So, like I said, for better or worse, as that's not necessarily great for me from a business standpoint. [Laughs] But I totally respect all media, so that's not a problem for me.
Tone Madison: The diplomat over here—"I totally respect all media." [Laughs] But yeah, I agree that there's something really engaging about an extremely minimal, but effective performance. When I saw Terence Fixmer at Even Furthur a couple years ago, there were so many moments where I was pretty sure there was only like a maximum of six things happening at any given time. It's just about the flexing of those elements—how they mutate subtly throughout the track. This is in contrast to, say, Perc—who I also really like, who plays much busier, crazier shit that's kind of bananas. Anyways, so you got into the rave scene and started DJing. How long were you gigging regularly? You were also a hip-hop DJ, right?
Geoff Kaster: Well, when I started playing house music, the rave scene was pretty big. I'd say it was late '97 when I actively tried to start making tapes and could hold my own as a DJ. I didn't play out that much as a house DJ—I played for Nick Nice a few times at the Cardinal, a few afterparties, stuff like that. Sometimes people would book me to play downtempo in the morning at a rave as things were winding down. That was pretty much the extent of it. In the late '90s, early aughts was when I met my friend Chris—aka Why B. He taught me how to juggle records a little bit. I always loved hip-hop and bought the occasional record by A Tribe Called Quest or De La Soul, that type of stuff—New York underground. From that point on, I just couldn't stop playing hip-hop. It was feeding my curiosity to learn more beyond blending two beats together or composing an hour-long journey. It was more about quick thinking and creating something totally new with just two or three inches of sections of two or three records—doing stuff like that. That's when I was playing out a lot more between Madison and Milwaukee, and Chris and I were doing our own shows. So, from 2000 to 2002 is when I was playing out pretty heavily.
Tone Madison: That's one thing that's always impressed me about seeing you play, even when you're messing around at the shop. You actually have those old school hip-hop chops—you can scratch and do quick breaks. I'm not saying that if you can't do that, you're not a valid DJ or anything like that, but it is something that has been lost with a lot of people who are DJing in the house and techno world.
Geoff Kaster: Right, well, it's a whole new monster. Once you start go down that road—learning battle tricks and scratching and stuff—it just becomes an obsession. I'm guilty, I've definitely incorporated a lot of that in my overall style of DJing. It could make things better or it could make them worse. [Laughs] You could get trickier and more complicated, so you've got to keep up on your skills. I get rusty sometimes.
Tone Madison: As long as the technique doesn't overtake the musical component, then it's the best.
Geoff Kaster: That's the tricky part of it. Keeping that balance. Figuring out when you're trying to do too much or make things too busy or putting two things together that just don't make sense. That's also the complexity of hip-hop, you're dealing with words and stories, so you have to think about—from one transition to the next—not just the beats, but the message. The Wheeled party was a monthly that was a different theme every month. My buddies Why B and Angeles curated it. It had two rooms, which supported different styles of music. They always had a different featured monthly artist, which would either be live visual art or just pieces that were displayed. It was the whole ball of wax. I modeled everything I did after that. The costume Halloween parties were epic. It was just such a good time. And then Shindigz was a party that I started kind of in the same style of Wheeled. It was one room of sound here in Madison above Fyfe's Corner Bistro, in the ballroom upstairs.
Tone Madison: OK, so you DJ'd for a long time and it kind of tapered off. So, when and how did Jiggy Jamz begin to take form for you?
Geoff Kaster: When I was a hip-hop DJ, my first mixtape was called Jiggyjamzphunk. It was kind of hip-hop, graffiti style. I wasn't the greatest hip-hop DJ at the time, but I managed to put together an hour I was proud of. So I was playing out with my buddy Why B quite a bit and at most of his shows, he would do a CD giveaway for the first 50 to 100 people through the door. So, he asked me to do another CD, so I did the Jiggy High series, which was two volumes of mostly hip-hop and funky party tunes. Then, he and I started doing four turntables together. He wanted to do a Jiggyjamzlive mix where we just dropped bombs and remixes on four turntables for an hour and blew peoples' minds. And we did it. We were successful at a few shows and we recorded them and had small-run CDs done. Since then, people started calling me Jiggy Geoff K, so Jiggy Jamz and Jiggy Geoff K have stuck with me ever since.
Tone Madison: What were a couple of your favorite hip-hop cuts to DJ back in the day?
Geof Kaster: Oh man, Black Sheep's "Strobelite Honey," De La Soul's "Roller Skate Jam," and Slick Rick's "The Art Of Storytelling."
Tone Madison: When you were doing hip-hop gigs, were they dance parties or was it more in the background?
Geoff Kaster: It was a mix of both—depending on the venue or the situation. Most of the gigs I played in Milwaukee were about getting the dance floor pumping. So I was playing some of the more upfront party jams, but still golden-era stuff.
Tone Madison: How did the shop come together?
Geoff Kaster: I'd amassed this huge collection of records from being a DJ for so many years and I wasn't really DJing out at all, except for random friends' house parties. I wasn't trying to make a living at it, at least. So many collectors come to the realization that they need to pare down their collection to make some space. I tried selling my stuff as lots and didn't have the success that I wanted, so I started exploring other options. I tried my hand at eBay and other marketplaces and found myself selling less of my own collection and going out and digging. I love to digging and I'd dig to find stuff to sell. I was looking for collections to purchase, too. From that point on, it grew from there in my house. Once I got a good online presence and found it to be less of a risk, I moved it out of the house—which was great because it took up over two bedrooms in my house. I moved into that office space in Cambridge Square and the rest is history.
Tone Madison: Yeah, that was a cool spot, but—as I'm sure you're aware—it was hard to explain to people where it was. "Well, it looks like an apartment building, but it's actually an office building, and it's in the basement." I really enjoyed going down there. I'd be on my knees in there for like three hours, just digging through boxes.
Geoff Kaster: Many great friends and times were had in the four years I was in that spot. I liked the personal and truly underground feel. [Laughs] It was a great little lilypad, but it had its drawbacks. No doubt about that.
Tone Madison: So, you're in the new space now.
Geoff Kaster: 1,200 square feet!
Tone Madison: How would you describe the emphasis of your curation?
Geoff Kaster: I lean toward stuff made with drum machines and electronics. I'm definitely a niche within a niche, being about DJ culture- and vinyl-focused.
Tone Madison Sure, but I think it's something this city had needed for a while.
Geoff Kaster: And Madison has always wanted it. There are so many people who are into this kind of stuff here. I think between here, Milwaukee, and Chicago, there's a pretty large contingency of heads who like to dance to electronic music. Don't get me wrong, I love rock'n'roll and all sorts of music, which is why I stock little bits of it, but that's not my focus. There are other shops in town who have been holding that down for a long time and I'm happy to send business their way too.
Tone Madison: Ok, so let's get into the tracks you picked out. The first one we've got here is "Ford Trax" by Baby Ford. How did this one enter your life?
Geoff Kaster: Well, it was one of those days digging at the record store, looking for new stuff. Baby Ford was really popular in the techno and club scenes, so I bought "Children Of The Revolution," because I'd heard it on the radio. I was pleasantly surprised when I'd heard "Ford Trax," the B-side, because it was like nothing I'd heard before. It was good, deep, cerebral, and minimal. It was a sound I hadn't really been exposed to and it really grabbed me.
Tone Madison: Yeah, it kind of bridges a gap between EBM and Mr. Fingers.
Geoff Kaster: That's why I think I fell in love with it. It's a versatile track and even though it has some sort of dated sounds, it's still a timeless song that could be played anywhere in the mix and hold up with any of today's tracks.
Tone Madison: Would you say this was one of the tracks that pulled you from industrial into house music?
Geoff Kaster: Absolutely. This was the late '80s and I didn't get exposed to deep house or Chicago house until later in the early '90s. I kind of had to hunt for it and once I moved to the Midwest and got exposed to Chicago house, that was it. That was when I started buying all kinds of house music at Nice Music, Nick Nice's epic record store.
Tone Madison: Where was Nice Music, exactly?
Geoff Kaster: It was on East Johnson Street, across from the Caribou. Nice Music was single-handedly one of the best record stores Madison has ever seen, as far as dance music is concerned. Trim Records was the next best thing, which was run by a really great group of guys too, who I'm glad to call friends. Nice Music was around from the mid-to-late '90s, I think. Maybe '96 to '99? It was only open for a few years, but Nick Nice transformed the landscape of dance music in Madison.
Tone Madison: The next tune is Daniel Wang's "Like Some Dream I Can't Stop Dreaming." This is kind of a cool one—it's got some wacky percussion going on over a more rigid rhythmic backdrop. It's a cool disco-house vibe. How does this fit into your patchwork when you're putting it into a set?
Geoff Kaster: You play a song like this when you have the audience in the palm of your hand. Everybody's dancing and having a great time and you just want to play something that feels good and keeps it going. You can even build off of it. This is one of those tracks that isn't nearly as effective until you have a dancefloor already going. It brings out the disco-boogie in everyone that they never knew they had. It was one of those tracks that all of the best Chicago house DJs were playing and whenever I heard it, it just made me feel so good. It's one of my favorite tracks.
Tone Madison: OK, up next we've got the Chez [Damier] and [Ron] Trent's Vocal Dub of Inner City's "Share My Life." This one is such a pounder.
Geoff Kaster: That's what so interesting about it. If you listen to the original track, there isn't much that you can hear in this remix. It's a great example of a song that can have a completely different remix that's 180 degrees from the original and just be a jam. It's definitely a complex track that opened my eyes to the power of a remix. Also, beware, it's not easy to mix.
Tone Madison: If I'm not mistaken, I think there's some kind of warning on the label that's like, "This is for underground use only."
Geoff Kaster: That's right, "Not for radio play. Not for general release." [Laughs]
Tone Madison: So if you get this record, don't even think about playing it on the radio.
Geoff Kaster: I want to say it was only released in the UK and never released in the US, which is funny because it's American artists remixing American artists. [Laughs]
Tone Madison: There's just some magic that happens when Ron Trent and Chez Damier's sensibilities come together.
Geoff Kaster: Those two, as a pair, are in my top 10 ever.
Tone Madison: Alright, so next we have the "Love From San Francisco Mix" of Hot Lizard's "The Theme." I love the warped synth sound on this one. It sounds like this is something you might play earlier in the night. How does this one end up working out for you?
Geoff Kaster: Kind of, you're building upon something. Sometimes I play a speech over it and adding things like that can make it more effective. This song is one of those incredibly DJ-friendly tracks that you can mix into something else for a long time and build into something on your way up. You're trying to really grab people.
Tone Madison: It really transforms when that bassline kicks in. I always appreciate a B-section.
Geoff Kaster: Right, I was just gonna say that the thing I love about that track is that it's like a tale of two tracks. The intro can be mixed for a long time, but once it gets into the meat of the track, it goes into this beautiful symphony. This one's from 2001, when music was starting to get more refined and digital was playing a larger role in the production, in contrast to the '80s and '90s when it was a bit more raw.
Which leads me to my next one, "Interset" by Fresh And Low, which was released on one of my favorite labels—Guidance Records. It's from 1996, which is one of my favorite years for house music.
Tone Madison: Oh man, I love Fresh And Low.
Geoff Kaster: This track is just the epitome of deep house. It's from a 12-inch called Wind On Water. This track is so, so deep. It builds nicely, there are constant changes, and it's not stagnant—almost lounge-y. And it has a beautiful vocal in it. I heard this on one of Miles Maeda's mixtapes, which is easily one of the sexiest deep-house mixtapes I've ever heard. It's called At 7AM, Hovering and you can probably find it on his website. This is suited for the end of the night when people have been dancing their brains out all night long and they want a beautiful soundtrack to the sun coming up and ease off the adrenaline rush of dancing all night long—or all the rushes for that matter.
Tone Madison: So what's next for Jiggy Jamz? What are you planning to do differently now that you're in a larger, more convenient location?
Geoff Kaster: Having more space allows me to build a little bit more of a community around the scene—electronic music and DJ culture. Secondly, being able to support local artists. I'm going to have a monthly featured artist wall where local visual artists will have a month to show their work. I wasn't able to do that at the old spot. I'm also hoping to make a collaborative space where electronic musicians or DJs can get together and work on projects. So, that's something that's going to be different at this new space. It's always been in the back of mind, but there was just know way I could do it in the office. [Laughs] Other than that, I look forward to being able to carry more inventory.