Jesse Kivel: Unpacking the 90s wedding DJ style

Ryan Reed on April 5, 2021

Photo credit: David Kitz

The heart of Jesse Kivels debut solo LP Infinite Jess is “Northside”, a bittersweet indie rock blast that subtly mixes seemingly irreconcilable genres: the breakbeat-style drum loops draw from the raw energy of the new Jack Swing; the bass guitar roars like vintage shoegaze; and the electric guitars sparkle like Smashing Pumpkins from “1979”. This mix-and-match mentality goes without saying for Kivel, a former member of the LA synth-pop duo Kisses and above all a part-time wedding DJ. “Sometimes that is also the exercise [in DJing]: Put things together and see through things that feel different, ”he says. This kind of maneuvering happens “quite organically” for the songwriter. But he also realizes that on “Northside” he “unpacks this whole era of 90s music” and draws on genres that would normally not exist side by side in the same cut. “I thought, ‘I need a breakbeat for this track,'” he notes, delving into the early recording process behind Infinite Jess. “When you listen to Primal Scream or Candy Flip, they’re beat-driven records. But these bands also overlapped with Oasis and Blur. I wanted to put them all together – it makes sense to me because they happened at the same time. Oasis would probably have freaked out if there was drum programming on one of their records because that’s not rock[1]and roll, but I loved that mix and thought, ‘How can I make all of this useful?’ ”Kivel strikes a tricky balance throughout the album, filling every track with musical surprises (the fretless bass and the sexy synth ambience of “Desert, Moonlight”, the airy electronics and the vocoder of “Perfecting the Art”) while maintaining a meditative breeze. For Kivel, it is liberating to be freely involved for everyone under his own name: after years of trying to live up to the expectations and mystique of a particular project, he now feels free to go anywhere. “It’s very personal to have your name on one [record], “he says.” Once you have a project name, give that third party weight like, ‘What do Kisses fans want?’ When someone asks me, ‘What do the fans of Jesse Kivel want?’ I thought, ‘One, I don’t know how many fans there are.’ And second, I would say: ‘I have to decide that.’ ”

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