While pop culture would have us believe that tales of up-and-coming DJs originate from a small town and culminate in the neon underworld of the Los Angeles club scene, DJ Nate Lowpass (Nathan Maretsky) found his success in the opposite direction when he relocated from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. "I arrived here with a bag of records and a trash bag full of clothes," he says.
Maretsky's in a bit of a rush when we first meet up at Club Elevate for his weekly set, but it gives me a moment to take in the fluid way he sets up his turntables and the rest of his DJ gear. He is a man of intense focus, but the way he laughs and cracks jokes with bar staff as he's priming his equipment hints that this focus comes from a place of creative joy. Once he feels confident with the setup, he retires to the club's back room, where the thumping bass and kaleidoscopic lights are a bit less prominent.
Maretsky, 30, is a California native who spent his formative years hitting up downtown raves and clubs. This lifestyle prompted some of his friends to purchase turntables, which flipped a switch. "Buying records is an addictive habit," he says. "I've been a drummer my whole life, so the rhythmic side of mixing is what really sucked me in."
When asked how he went from an L.A. club goer to a successful DJ in SLC, Maretsky pauses before responding. "I came out here because my mom lives here. I got mixed up with the wrong people when I was out there," he says. "I ended up with a crazy drug habit when I was 18 or 19. I was strung out and homeless." As with most recovering addicts, he describes a moment of clarity that spurred him to take action. "I was able to see that if I kept doing this, I was going to die."
Maretsky's expression turns somber as he reflects. He looks like a man who faced down something terrible, defeated it and is moving on. He speaks with a discipline and focus that he'll demonstrate during his bass-heavy, rhythm-centric, structured set later tonight. "Within 24 hours, I had left my job, my girlfriend, my apartment, my friends and about 80 percent of my belongings," he says. Something else he left behind was his habit. "In February, I'll be celebrating 10 years sober."
He spent his first year in Salt Lake City attending recovery meetings and working "early as shit" unloading trucks. Eventually, he scraped up enough money to get his own DJ equipment. "I was able to convince my dad to help me buy my own set of turntables," he recalls. When Maretsky wasn't working or mixing records in his basement, he spent most of his time hanging out at Mechanized, a now-defunct record store that used to be a haunt for local DJs during the early 2000s. "All the big DJs were working there at the time, and that's how I met all the key players," he says.
Three years ago, Maretsky and fellow DJ Al Cardenas started Recess Club, a regular Thursday-night event at Club Elevate (although the 2016 season has wrapped up). The concept, he says, was to highlight house and techno music, but it evolved to be solely "about focusing on music that is not as popular in the scheme of all electronic music." Recess is also meant to be a welcoming environment. "It's kind of blossomed into this positive thing with a consistent crowd and a good vibe; in the three years we've been doing this, there's never been a fight or altercation." Recess Club also prides itself on welcoming touring talent. Tonight, Maretsky is geeking out about the imminent appearance of two of his biggest influences, Bristol-based DJ Will Clarke and L.A. DJ Sage Armstrong.
As for his own music, Maretsky describes his approach as "freestyle." He likes to read the crowd and anticipate the type of music they'll want to hear on a given night. His stage name provides a clue to his sonic tendencies: A low-pass filter is like a bouncer that lifts the velvet rope only for low-frequency sounds, like booty-shaking bass. "My general style always has a funk, disco and hip-hop influence," he says. "It's definitely geared toward women. If the women are dancing, then the dudes will start dancing."
The formula is working for him. Maretsky recently signed with Jeremy Moreland's V2AM and L.A.-based indie label Killpop Records, and is set to release a single, "I Hate Milk," in two weeks. When the next season of Recess Club starts up, the DJ invites everyone to check it out. "Anybody who's interested should just feel free to come out. It's a very judgement-free kind of environment."