Local Music Issue 2019 | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Local Music Issue 2019 

Turn it up to 11, boys and girls. Our rockingest issue is here!

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BEN ALLEN
  • Ben Allen

ON THAT HUSTLE
Nicole 'Choice' Jaatoul personifies the hardworking ethos of SLC's diverse DJ scene.

BY NICK McGREGOR

Depending on who you talk to, Salt Lake City's nightlife scene circa 2019 is either at an unrivaled apex of endless options, or bogged down by an internet-saturated, selfie-obsessed generation more concerned with clicks than connection. But one point can't be argued: There's never been more diversity and representation on the city's stages than there is today.

Women, people of color, gender-bending drag stars and every sexual orientation under the sun rub shoulders every night here. That's particularly true in the DJ and electronic music community, where a recent explosion of new venues, open-minded cliques and themed parties has transformed the menu of options from a vanilla one-sheet to a multi-faceted novel.

Telling that whole story would require such a novel—perhaps even a trilogy. But one name that's been jumping off of gig posters and stacked DJ lineups is Choice, the on-stage moniker of 33-year-old Nicole Jaatoul. From the pulsating sensuality of her set at New City Movement's 20th anniversary party last fall to a Valentine's Day fundraiser for Encircle, an LGBTQ family resource center in Provo, to her forthcoming China Doll party for LGBTQ fans at Garage on Beck later this summer, Jaatoul exudes a whirlwind energy behind the turntables and a fierce presence in the community. And she does all that while holding down a demanding day job as a massage therapist, which perfectly personifies the hustle required to make it in Salt Lake City.

Jaatoul, who grew up outside of Detroit, first moved here from California in the mid-2000s to attend massage therapy school. She then spent a few seasons in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., before landing in Salt Lake City for good in 2010 and hasn't looked back since. Inspired by the Motor City's long history of house and dance music, she says Frankie Knuckles' "The Whistle Song" first caught her ear and turned her on to upbeat grooves. But although she loves electronic music, she says her first attraction to DJing came from hip-hop, soul, reggae, funk and breakbeats. "I used to follow the Funk Pirates, a group of all-vinyl DJs, around Southern California," she reminisces. "I would stand right in front of the DJ booth and watch them mix thinking to myself, 'I want to do that!'"

In 2005, while working at a Guitar Center in Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., she began learning the ones and the twos from a co-worker who moonlighted as a drum 'n' bass producer. Channeling all of her influences, which had expanded into the kind of trippy electronic pop found on Bjork's early solo albums Venus as a Boy, Violently Happy and Telegram, Jaatoul's new mentor taught her how to mix using old Dieselboy records.

During her stint in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., Jaatoul started playing house parties and building sets in her bedroom, but when she returned to Utah, she still didn't consider herself a proper DJ. "Then I was introduced to Yokchi Chang and Al Cardenas, who started Nightfreq the previous year," she says. "They had a DJ in their crew, Mama Beats, and she booked me my first SLC gig opening for her at W Lounge."

That support extended to Abby Laine, one of Jaatoul's oldest friends. "Abby has always been my No. 1 supporter, and I wouldn't be a DJ if it wasn't for the Technics SL-1200MKs she gave me," she says, referencing a set of turntables. She expanded her repertoire by working with collectives like New City Movement, Nightfreq, Quality Control, Clan:destine, New World Presents, Kelle Call, The Red Door, Flare, Riche, Telepath, Alchemy, DJ Chaseone2, Bo York, Concise Kilgore and many others. Eventually, Jaatoul became one of the city's most in-demand spinners of vinyl.

She remembers her time at Switch, formerly known as The Fallout, as particularly inspiring. "The promoters invited me to play my favorite underground selections and gave me time slots I hadn't played before," she says. "They were very encouraging and supportive, not just to me but to all of the talent that came through there. I've received so much love and support over the years, and I'll keep supporting back."

Lately, her list of upcoming events has expanded with bi-weekly residencies at Alibi (next gig: March 23) and the aforementioned China Doll party at Garage on Beck (which starts March 28). And so has her work as a massage therapist. In the winter, she travels to and from Park City seven days a week doing outcalls for the ski crowd, a schedule that's both demanding and rewarding. "I love doing body work, and I love to DJ, but holy shit, sometimes it can be really exhausting juggling the two," she says. Asked about her future plans, she turns pensive, the strain of two careers obviously weighing on her: "I don't know if I will always do shows. I'd like to put the decks away for a couple of years and start making my own music. Sometimes I just want to go back to being a bedroom DJ, but I do have dreams of playing vinyl sets around the world. Who knows? Anything's possible. I took two years of welding when I was 16 and I might still be certified."

But it's precisely her versatility and voracious appetite for music that makes Jaatoul such a skilled DJ. Open-format sets are her specialty; at one memorable Battle of the DJs contest sponsored by City Weekly, she ran through every genre imaginable during her 30-minute slot, confusing those looking for one particular strain of electronic music but giving those of us looking for something different a thrill. You can chalk that up to how much of a fan girl Jaatoul still considers herself when it comes to electronic music; she says she spends far too many hours scouring the internet for imported records to build out her treasured collection. And that's what matters in today's Instagram-dominated world: a real human being spinning real vinyl containing real music that speaks to her heart, gets the crowd moving and keeps the community moving toward a brighter, more all-inclusive future.

"The scene in Salt Lake City has changed," Jaatoul says, "but the community has always been pretty tight. Parties were much simpler in the old days: a dark room, a fan, people dancing and sweating and nobody on their cell phone, that's for damn sure. Today's scene is different, but I admire how hard people push themselves and each other and what this city has achieved."

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Lee Zimmerman

Lee Zimmerman

Bio:
An accomplished writer, blogger and reviewer, Zimmerman contributes to several local and national publications, including No Depression, Paste, Relix and Goldmine. The music obsessive says he owns too many albums to count and numerous instruments he’s yet to learn.

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