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Even though he's barely old enough to get a drinking wristband at the gate, Justin Jay's ascent to house relevance has been intertwined with the rise of HARD, the Los Angeles-based festival and event series. It's a story that'll culminate with a set at HARD Summer this weekend, but begins in back in Jay's high school salad days.
"I think I was in 10th grade when I first heard about HARD Haunted Mansion," he tells THUMP. "It had the craziest lineup ever, like, Deadmau5 and Justice. Ironically, my parents wouldn't let me go because they were scared about a crazy dance music party on Halloween."
Jay's musical tastes went beyond the main stage, though. Even before he was old enough to club, he was a dyed-in-the-wool-house aficionado. "When I was in high school, I was just a huge, huge fan of all Dirtybird's awesome DJs: Claude VonStroke, Justin Martin, J.Phlip. I loved all their music, I was totally obsessed, watching all their interviews. Getting to see them play was really inspiring."
Jay was barely out of high school when he found himself on the exalted Dirtybird roster. "I got signed from sending demos through SoundCloud. I finally heard back from Claude during my first week at USC. I was still warming up to the freshman dorms. It was one of the craziest moments of my entire life. I was definitely doing some laps around the dorm in my boxers, freaking out."
Pseudo-rock star moments ensued as the newly liberated young-adult was able to actually attend his first HARD one summer, parents' worries be damned. "All the Dirtybird guys were playing," begins Jay. "There was this girl that I was with, we were just kinda friends, but she was really, really hot. As we walked by the main stage, I noticed that the drums sounded kind of familiar. I realized it was the first song I put out on Dirtybird, called 'How Goes the Dynamite.'"
Understandably amped up, Jay seized the moment and went in for a first kiss.
"It was a pretty triumphant moment, super cheesy," Jay concedes. "Even though they were playing the song as background music in between sets. No one was dancing or anything, but I thought that was the coolest thing ever. I had butterflies and was light headed."
Those butterflies will have subsided by the time he hits the HARD stage this weekend. Still, Justin Jay's rise has been indicative of a trend amongst untz-prone youths around the country. "When I first got signed, I had one friend on my floor who had heard of Claude VonStroke," he says "[Now], underground dance music as a whole is starting to resonate with college kids. When I was starting school was when these kids were really finding out about dance music, through Avicii and Skrillex, and now they're really interested in the type of music that we've been pushing for a while. It's really cool to see them so open-minded and excited about it."
From Le7els to Dirtybird… may it be so.
Justin will be performing at the Pink Tent at 3:05pm on Saturday at HARD Summer.
Top photo credit: Joe Climan