The airwaves of Los Angeles’ KCRW reach into the Coachella Valley at 89.3 FM, so you may have heard the work of Jeremy Sole, a delightfully eccentric DJ who plays salsa, disco, jazz, soul and blues.
You may have also heard him at DJ Day’s ¡Reunión! Show, held Thursdays at the Ace Hotel and Swim Club; Sole is a regular guest.
Sole has had an extensive career as a DJ and radio host. He’s performed at Coachella and has been around the world with some big names; in fact, he was the last DJ to open a show for Ray Charles. He’s also worked in the studio with Ms. Lauryn Hill, and has remixed David Bowie, Femi Kuti, Thievery Corporation and many others.
During a recent interview at the Ace just before he took over the mixing board from DJ Day, Sole began with the story of his childhood in Chicago.
“There were no musicians in my family, per se,” Sole said, “but I think from a really early age, my parents realized how much I loved music. My mom would always make a playlist of what she was going to play when she picked me up at school. I’d get in the car, and it would be ultra-corny, like Alice Cooper’s ‘School’s Out.’ It started being really thematic, where every moment of my life had a song to go along with it.”
Inspired by the hip-hop movement in the ’80s, Sole began DJing, in addition to skateboarding and doing graffiti art. He described himself as a “punk” when it came to his home life and school—and he eventually left both for a garden apartment that he shared with several of his friends, which led to him DJing house parties, some of which helped him and his roommates pay the rent.
“We would draw up fliers and go to Kinko’s. In fact, most of the next 10 years back then was spent at Kinko’s,” Sole said. “When we did those house parties when I was 15 years old, we promoted them to other high schools. We’re talking about ’89 or ’90, when there was a big gang problem in Chicago, and we’re promoting in public schools. Schools are assigned primarily based on where you live, and one school would be one gang, and another school is another gang. We had a room full of people where if I didn’t keep them dancing, they were going to be fighting. It did a beautiful thing to me: I realized that music is a great unifier.”
Sole explained that DJing, to him, involves knowing what to play, how to present it, and being able to inspire a crowd. While I was in the same room with him, I could tell that Sole is good at reading both individuals and crowds.
“I’m a sensitive dude,” Sole said. “I have to be to tap into those energies around the room. If multiple people are not on board with my vibe for whatever reason, that’s fine. If there are people who are making fun of me, or they think it’s dumb, I’m picking up on that, too. … I delineate between being a service DJ and the art-oriented DJ.”
Sole eventually got married and moved to Pomona, Calif. He began to throw loft parties that Sole said were attended by “everyone,” including metal heads, punk-rockers and others who don’t often attend dance parties. He also spent a lot of late nights in L.A., which strained his marriage at the time, he said.
His first DJ residency in Los Angeles led to his work with KCRW, an NPR affiliate.
“I was DJing at the Temple Bar in L.A., which was a great club and is now unfortunately gone,” Sole said. “They really did usher in a lot of new and amazing music at the time that has since blown up. Temple Bar opened up a second club nearby, and this one was going to be an all-DJ-based club. They let me pick a night, and I said, ‘How about Fridays?’ They said, ‘Well, we kind of have to book the people who play the hits and pay the bills on Fridays, so how about Thursdays?’ So I did Thursdays. I was blessed by having scenarios where people were coming just for what I was doing. (It turned out) the people who played Fridays weren’t just people who played the hits, but big DJs in town—one of which who happened to be Jason Bentley.”
Bentley is now the music director at KCRW.
“I didn’t even listen to the radio, and I didn’t know he worked at KCRW. One day, I got a call from Anne Litt at KCRW, and she asked, ‘Have you ever had any urge to be on the radio and do a radio show?’ I said, ‘Honestly, no, none at all. I don’t even listen to the radio—no offense to you or your station.’ She said, ‘I think you’ll find that we’re quite the different kind of radio station. Nobody tells you what to do. In fact, you’ve already been vetted, and we’ve been watching your career.’
“It took me awhile to realize how special KCRW really is; The New York Times said it’s one of the most popular radio stations in the world. KCRW is founded on the idea of eclectic radio. If you’re the hard-rock station, there’s no doubt that people are going to tune into that, but this is for everybody, and everybody might not like everything all the time. So we don’t have to just be eclectic; we have to be constantly eclectic.”
Sole’s eclectic taste, style and talent has led to him doing things he never imagined himself doing, such as performing at Coachella and touring around the world. However, Sole remains humble and modest—a man who wears his heart and creativity on his sleeve.
“My success and my career is not just that I’m playing onstage, but that I’m playing on stage with ‘that band,’” he said. “That’s what’s big for me, and I can’t believe I can say that. DJ Day would consider me a friend, peer and equal, but he was a hero to me for so long, so maybe that’s the propulsion that made me realize that I have something to offer, too.
“You’ll always hear me brag that I have the coolest friends in the world; the people I know blow me away constantly. How they chose to surround themselves with me is beyond me.”