Fun, Done | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Fun, Done 

Local DJs Nick James and Jesse Walker Just Wanna Dance.

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Nick James takes two steps forward; Jesse Walker takes two steps back. They come together. Why? If you don’t know, you better ask somebody. For those unfamiliar with the theory repopularized by the once-great Paula Abdul, consider this: James and Walker’s professional relationship resembles that of Outkast’s Big Boi and Andre 3000.

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Both artistic duos function despite their members’ radically distinct personalities. The latter, a Grammy-award winning hip-hop sensation, balances one emcee’s schizophrenic flamboyancy with his mate’s stoic grip on tradition. The former, local DJs lighting fires under Salt Lake City booties, spin rhythms playing James’ life-affirming, soul-healing energy off Walker’s chill, seemingly effortless aesthetic. Known as the Preacher and Scientist, respectively, they weave together threads of African-disco and electro-French grooves into Just Wanna Dance, a monthly party that, though wildly popular, will wrap this November.

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“It’s like when a movie star dies young, or a rock star,” Walker says in a quiet, measured voice. “It’s the idea of being smart enough to kill it when it’s at its peak.”

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At its peak and, perhaps more importantly, completely stress-free. Prior to JWD’s inception, Walker and James were burned-out on weekly gigs at various downtown clubs. While still stoked on music, both found it increasingly difficult to summon the necessary time and energy to throw a successful party. Plus, they were getting a little old for consecutive all-nighters.

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“Even as people who love house music, we don’t want to go out more than once a month at our age,” Walker says. “There are people who do, and I did when I was younger, but I think our party’s aimed at people who have seen that and done that but still love the energy and want to participate.”

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James, who nearly retired before Walker roped him back in, now refuses to pursue anything labored.

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“If I’m not having fun, I’m done,” he says, adding that so far JWD has more than satisfied his need for glee. Besides the diverse crowds that pack the dance floor month after month (aging boomers, hipsters straight and gay, half white, half black'even local singer/songwriter Lisa Marie’s grandma made an appearance, shaking it until the lights came on), James is particularly thrilled by the unique interplay he and Walker share on the ones and twos.

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Together, they conduct the crowd’s movements, anticipating each night’s flow by starting with a slow number, helping newcomers break out of their shells. Walker then bumps things up a notch, throws in a great vocal, waits for the peak. James jumps in with 15 minutes of drums, letting everyone sweat it out before Walker responds with a super-phat vocal. The floor clears out. They start again.

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“The art of DJ-ing is watching where people are at, feeding them energy and allowing them to feed it back,” James says, adding that when the crowd grows tired, they’ll slow things down while revelers grab a drink, a seat or some love. Their attention to dancers’ needs has inspired rave reviews among, well, former ravers. They’ve received comments from people who’ve been clubbing since the good ol’ day-glo Play Skool days when DJs recognized that music is a journey, not just beats.

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James and Walker travel off beaten paths, experimenting with different genres, playing what they love and never taking anything without a serious grain of salt. They even pepper the evening with professional Dance-O-Lettes and eye candy courtesy of Chris Howard, a self-proclaimed media alchemist whose treasure-chest footage includes clips from KBYU’s old-school, tri-level aerobics program and bits of ’80s-era self-defense videos.

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“She’s a high-fashion model by day, guardian angel by night,” Howard says of his latest find. “These are just brilliant things that fell off the pop-culture map.”

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Howard salvages visual trivia that time forgot, projecting images behind Walker and James while Amanda Howland, principal JWD dancer, leads her anti-go-go crew in moves designed to tap the crowd’s inner J-Lo or Crazy Legs. Besides a choreographed half-time show, the action unfolds spontaneously. The dancers are simply there to remind attendees of JWD’s mission.

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“It’s called Just Wanna Dance for a reason,” Walker says. “It’s not I’m Too Cool to Dance. It’s about the music.” It is not, as other dance parties emphasize, about sex. While Walker and James support techniques employed by Andy Calloway to promote I Love Ibiza (see Live, p. 52), the last image they wanted on their fliers was a half-naked woman rising out of the water.

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“We’re pretty friendly with Andy. I have huge respect for what he’s done. It’s different from how I would do it, but this town couldn’t ask for someone who’s more dedicated and passionate about what he’s doing. He’s poured so much time and energy into it. I’ve seen so many great DJs because of him,” Walker says. “But Ibiza is slutty girls. Hooking up. We’re exactly the opposite. I believe if you bring people together just to have a good time they’re going to hook up naturally. It doesn’t need to be that outspoken.”

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