Right now I'm between a rock and hard place," declares Jay Jaramillo, who was recently laid off from his job at Denver Health. "And there's a part of me that wants to take my music by the horns and just run with it."
That wouldn't necessarily be a bad thing — and the timing couldn't be much better. Influenced by the likes of Glitch Mob, VibeSquad and Spork, Jaramillo began toying with the idea of electronic production under the name Project Aspect five years ago, after attending a Sound Tribe Sector 9 show and after-party. Since then, the producer, a co-founder of the Mile High Sound Movement, has built up a good deal of momentum in the scene for both himself and his crew.
Performing almost constantly, MHSM has become an undeniable driving force in the scene, and Project Aspect has likewise earned a spot as a go-to opener for acts like PANTyRAID and STS9, whose 1320 Records imprint has issued three Project Aspect releases — two original scores and one remix album — in the past year and a half. "It all started out trying to get your name out there by playing as many shows as possible," Jaramillo says of the early days. "Three years ago, I was taking anything I could get." This often meant playing up to three shows per week and jumping on any billing possible. Still, these gigs — like the time he played the Bluetech and Heyoka after-party on a relatively modest PA — created exposure for the rising producer.
Project Aspect, 2:30 a.m. Saturday, August 17, Syntonic Stage, Arise Music Festival, with Michael Franti, Xavier Rudd, Michal Menert and more, Sunrise Ranch, Loveland, $95-$160, arisefestival.com.
And he's done it all while working twelve-hour shifts every day. But now, freed from the constraints of that grueling schedule, he has considerably more time to work on his music. "For the past three years, I've worked at Denver Health to pay the bills," he recalls. "I'd tell my co-workers that I played music, and they just thought it was cute."
But music is no mere hobby for Jaramillo. Grinding away on Ableton Live in his apartment, he's developed a distinctive sound that nods to his hip-hop roots while also paying homage to the Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and Rolling Stones records his dad played for him growing up. Evolving out of rock into the anti-authority, punk side of things, he first picked up the guitar before he tried his hand at making electronic music.
Jaramillo's complex, layered compositions take listeners on a finely tuned path of glitch and bass, making for a trip that stands apart from the mainstream monotony being peddled to the masses these days.
Like any artist trying to find his voice, Jaramillo has worked tirelessly to create a distinctive sound, one that directly reflects his original vision and has a positive message. His tracks feature grinding bass lines that are unique to his style, making a Project Aspect track instantly recognizable.
Jaramillo isn't the sole guide on this trip, nor is he interested in that. Although he's had the good fortune to rock venues from Red Rocks to the Fillmore, playing stages up and down the Front Range, he's far more comfortable sharing the love than being the object of it. "It's all about distributing love among each other and a sense of community," he says. "I just really want to give back what I've learned. At first you want to play every show and be on every bill, but now I can help my friends get opportunities I didn't have when I was first starting."
This is precisely the sort of outlook that inspired Jaramillo and a handful of emerging, like-minded local artists — including Zack Karuzas, his longtime friend and collaborator, who performs under the name Kruza Kid — to found the Mile High Sound Movement. Jaramillo and company have been hard at work in a synergistic effort to propel the scene forward.
The collective helped carve out a burgeoning scene at Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom that continues to grow. "Throughout the past couple of years, we have really been trying to build profiles on our friends and homies who show the same dedication to their music that we do," Jaramillo says of MHSM. "This year, we were honored to host the Hummingbird Stage at Sonic Bloom Music and Arts Festival." Jaramillo and crew have attended and played Sonic Bloom steadily for the past four years, but were offered a new opportunity at the 2013 edition in Georgetown.
The Mile High crew curated a night of music from ten different acts, some of whom were making their very first appearance at a festival. "I'd like to see all the artists in MHSM be on festivals," Jaramillo declares. "I hate seeing all these big festivals popping up with the same headliners each year." And it's not just the Sound Movement he's interested in trying to help push forward, but the scene itself.
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"Denver has been blessed to have this music culture...this electronic movement," he marvels. "People here have this understanding of complex music, and with the movement, we have all this influence around us making it easier for us to keep creating." Jaramillo sounds equally invigorated by the prospect of taking his show on the road, particularly after steadily grinding it out here for the past few years, where the scene has notably embraced and helped nurture Project Aspect and other rising producers, thanks to a seemingly unquenchable thirst for new music.
"I feel a little rinsed out in Colorado," he explains. "And when I play out of state, I'm getting thrown into a whole new world and market, and I still get that nervous feeling." Branching out, he's been able to perform in such unlikely places as Sioux Falls, South Dakota, where fellow MHSM artist and collaborator Ronnie Weberg lives. It's on road trips such as these that he gets the chance to reach new markets. "Every out-of-state show is just like any first show I've ever played," he adds, "so I might play a show in Kearney, Nebraska, that's only been exposed to the mainstream, and my music is really different."
Jaramillo and Weberg (who's probably known better by his stage name, Unlimited Gravity) create music together as Unlimited Aspect, and were recently featured on an MTV webisode focused on Denver. With his ever-present ear-to-ear smile and long curls tucked under his MHSM hat, Jaramillo reps this place like it's his job.
And for the time being, at least, it kind of is.