The Golden Boy
Houston house producer-remixer DJ Jake Childs has a lot going on. His label, Uniform Recordings, is moving into a warren of offices behind Atomic Music on Montrose. Artists and labels from London to California are picking up his jazzy, plush deep house tracks. The national and international dance music press has called him the "man of the moment" and dubbed his music as "right up there with all the usual suspects." He just signed a deal with San Francisco's Om Records, one of the most respected labels in the electronic music field. He's also got a two-leg European fall tour coming up that will land him in nightspots from Croatia to Brussels to Ireland. At this year's Winter Music Conference in Miami, Childs was extremely gratified to hear his records being spun by the world's top DJs at America's biggest dance music event. Like Paul Wall, he's "got the Internet goin' nuts": Google "Jake Childs" and "playlist" and you get more than 2,000 hits -- on American, British, German, Croatian, Italian and Belgian sites.
A few years ago, Childs told everybody who would listen that it would happen this way, but most people just blew him off. "A long time ago, I went into his bathroom and he had written the labels that he wanted to go after on his mirror," says local DJ and dance-music maven Gracie Chavez, who serves as his informal, quasi-publicist. "I thought, 'Wow, this guy is driven!' But back when he first started putting his music out there, he was always saying, 'Oh, I'm gonna get my stuff played on here,' a lot of people doubted him."
"They all thought I was a bullshitter, man," says Childs with a smile.
"You talked about it so much, but finally when it started happening, it shut a lot of people up," Chavez says. "He has a love-hate relationship with most of the producers and promoters here."
"I don't blame the doubters," Childs says. "They're just being human. You can't blame 'em for being human."
Neither can you blame Childs for gloating a little, but that's not what he's about, at least not today. Right now, he's more interested in showing a reporter his budding music complex, the place where his dream to raise Houston's house scene to another level is taking place.
Here's an office where his Agenda Media public relations, bookings and management firm soon will set up shop. (Inland Knights is his prime bookings client right now.) There's where the label business will be conducted, and not just that of Uniform. Paul Dyne's Heights Music and Chello's Housetown Records also will be based here.
"I'm trying to get a bunch of people fired up," Childs says. "I can show them the tricks of the trade. Well, not really tricks, but stuff like distribution. I learned a lot -- I've had Uniform for a while, and I've learned the ins and outs."
Over here is the studio control room, complete with mixing board and computers, not to mention keyboards, guitars and a trumpet. Childs, the adopted son of a father who was a trumpeter in a navy jazz band, can play all of those instruments.
"My dad taught me how to play them," he says. "I'm not the best at each one, but knowing them gives weight to my productions."
And weighty his productions are. Each of his Uniform releases comes out on one of three color-coded imprints -- Black, White or Gray -- that clues listeners in on what to expect.
"The White is pure and jazzy but with organic elements," he says. "Black is also jazzy, but it has synthy elements. And Gray is totally off-the-wall, trippy stuff. I wanted everything uniform, in black and white."
Each style fits under the house umbrella, though, and this tripartite label reflects the many shades of house. In much the same way that KTSU touts its programming as "jazz in all its colors," Childs says the Uniform name is meant to convey that there are many tones to his music.
"There's a house music uniform," he says. "People have different ways, but if we all like house music, that's our uniform."
Childs moved through a bunch of other outfits before finding his current, well-fitting gear. As a child in Austin, he was into "cheesy rock -- stuff like Quiet Riot and Twisted Sister," he remembers, and adds that more death-type metal bands like Slayer and DRI were next in his musical bio. A gangsta rap phase followed, and then, after he moved to San Antonio, he got turned on to techno.
One thing all those song forms have in common is a high level of aggression. Childs says that was how he felt at the time. "I'm slowly, surely calming down," he jokes, but he still possesses more nervous energy than a hummingbird pumped full of sugary espresso.
Childs moved to Houston to attend art school, and it was here that he discovered MK Ultra, the KTRU radio show hosted by Houston's rave scene godfather, Chris Anderson. Childs also discovered Houston's then-young house scene, which once had an important outpost in a southwest Houston underground warehouse club called Middle Earth. "I was like, 'What the hell is this?' But I started getting into it, and it was a really good time."
He started making music of his own and affiliated with the Scooby Doo Crew -- with whom he would do live PA shows -- and the production company the Dance Junkies. This was when his big talking started, but he backed up his blab with action.
"In the beginning I would make a track and mass-mail to a bunch of labels that I thought would dig it," he says. "I would send, send, send, and every now and then one of them would take one."
He had also made some key friendships with people like Chicago house legend Johnny Fiasco, San Francisco house pioneer Chris Lum and Houstonians LBO, Paul Dyne and Chello. With their support, Childs launched Uniform in 2002 and released his first record, "Soulquarian," a CD-only promo that featured Sista Stroke. Since then, the roster has expanded to include Johnny Fiasco, Jacob London, No Assembly Firm, Pete DaFeet, Black Soul, Matt Bandy, the Swirl People, Natural Rhythm, the Inland Knights, Santiago and Bushido, and Vernon and Decosta, among others.
And he doesn't have to mass-mail his tracks anymore. "Now the major [dance] labels are asking me to send them my first picks," he says. "They're coming after me now, and that's really cool."
Childs sees his calling in quasi-mystical terms. His motto is "There is nothing new under the sun," and that includes music. "I don't create the music, I'm just a tool for it," he says. "I like to say I conjure music -- you don't want to take too much credit for it. You could say I'm a good conjurer, a good listener. I bring the music that's already out there in and deliver to other people. It's bringing people together, communication in its purest form."
And bringing people together is Childs's current mission. He wants to shake the sleepy Houston house scene awake. "I just really don't get it here," he says. "I don't understand the lack of PR. There's not enough fliers, not enough e-mails. Things like the Ben Watt show at Boaka Bar getting packed out are badass, but that was, what, 500 people? Chicago's just as big as us, and there were 1,200 people in Zentra there on a Tuesday night. Where are all those people here?"
He's hoping to find them all this month when his new monthly night -- to be called "Free" -- kicks off. "I want to bring the big names in house music down here and have them play for no cover charge," he says. "Mark Farina, Q-Burns, Johnny Fiasco -- have guys like that play for free. I got the hookups with those guys, and I want to educate the people down here that you don't have to pay ten bucks. If people get involved in the scene here, it helps everybody." (The first installment of "Free" will be July 14 at Mantra with Q-Burns spinning.)
Childs is hoping that some of his Houston friends and associates can catch hold of his rising star. "Now that I got those ties, I can help my friends Nathan Castle and Lucas Keyzer," he says of two young producers he often works with. "If they make a track, I can tell these labels about it, and I've got their ear. I can hook 'em up. I'm not gonna let anybody just use me for that, though. But if I've got it, I'm happy to share with people who are genuine."
And once he's conquered the house world, he's got loftier goals ahead. "Here's the plan -- and it's all communications in a sense: Music first, then I want to get off into film production," he says. "And then -- and I hate to use this word -- but I want to get into politics. I may not be the smartest motherfucker, but there's things that just need fixing. Bugs in the code. I want to help out as much as I can."
A house producer/remixer-turned-politician? Laugh all you want. Childs is used to it.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.